An Interview With Tonya From Scratchmade Journal

Today, as part of the year-long nature journaling series I am running here on Raising Little Shoots, I am very pleased to share an interview with Tonya from Scratchmade Journal.  A home educating mother and keen naturalist, Tonya is an inspiration to many in the field of nature journal keeping. Without further ado, on to the interview!

Hello Tonya, I am delighted to have you here on Raising Little Shoots! Please could you tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve been married for more than 20 years and am a work-from-home and homeschooling mama to two children, ages 13 and 15. I love to be outdoors in any fashion– sketching, exploring, traveling, gardening, hiking, etc — as long as it doesn’t require coordination or running. (ha!) We are currently building a homestead on 7 acres in the rural Appalachian mountains in the eastern U.S.

When did you first begin to keep your nature journal and what got you started?
I raised my children on many of Charlotte Mason’s educational principles, so nature journaling is not a new idea to me. But as our children grew older, they didn’t maintain the passion that I had for nature study and journaling. Though we didn’t stop doing these activities altogether, I allowed them to focus on their own artistic passions, but I really missed that time in outdoor study.

Two years ago, my family and I went through a very difficult period. One day, I just started doodling the trees and small things that I could see from my window. Doing this made me want to discover and journal more about the natural world around me, and I found that the wonder and beauty of nature stilled my soul and kept my mind focused on the grander picture. I found peace and joy again through nature journaling, and it greatly helped me through that challenging season of my life.

Have your journals evolved from when you first began to keep them?

Oh my, yes! Especially in regard to sketching materials. When I first began, I tried a little bit of everything — markers, brush pens, colored pencils, etc. I soon discovered that I loved the surprise and flow (and yes, also the mess) of watercolor. In my mind, the unexpected delights of watercolor seem to mirror those found in nature, so I’ve stuck with it.

Please could you share with us your favourite journaling supplies?

I journal almost solely in pen and watercolor. I will say that, when it come to artist materials, I’ve learned that you usually get what you pay for. It was so hard to shell out for my first artist-grade watercolor set and papers, but I’ve never regretted it! You can peek into my everyday sketching kit here. I carry this with me everywhere!

Would you share some of your favourite pages with us, and let us know what you like about them?

I journal about a lot of various things in nature, and I study a wide variety of subjects, but the pages I love the most are the ones that document an experience that we shared together as a family. For example, the Great Horned Owl that we were able to view for a half hour was the treat of a lifetime, and seeing the wonder of it on the faces of my children and husband… priceless!

great horned owl ©scratchmadejournal

I also like to journal our travels and places we visit. Of course, botanical and natural history museums are always high on our list. I love to document these types of things in our lives. My nature journal has basically become our family scrapbook

D.C. travel sketches -
I’m also a bit of a birding and mycology nut, so my sketchbooks are full of birds and mushrooms. Weird combo, I know!
mushroom sketches 7.jpg
What would you say you have been the greatest benefits to keeping your journals?

In the midst of a busy family life and the constant demands placed on wives and mothers — don’t get me wrong, JOYFUL demands, but demands nonetheless — journaling allows me a quiet place to rest and recenter my heart and my thoughts. It’s my way of keeping the busy-ness of life from crowding out the wonder, and since I am a Christian, it also allows me personal time for reflection, prayer, and worship. Nature journaling constantly shows me that, though I am small and insignificant, we are all part of a huge, wondrous, grand work of creation!

What advice would you give to fellow nature journals?

If this is something you deeply desire to learn and do, just do it. You don’t need space, training, classes, or fancy equipment. I’ve never taken a watercolor or nature journaling class. I barely even have time to read tutorials or watch how-to videos. And I have a tiny table set up in my tiny living room.

You definitely don’t need “talent.” Nature journaling is about observation and experience, and drawing and painting are simply skills to be developed. The real key is… do you have passion? If you have a real desire to do any type of art (or learn anything, really) then you will succeed. On the other hand, if you are loaded with “talent” but no passion, then this is not the form of creativity for you. No big deal; just find something else that gets your juices flowing!
Red-bellied woodpecker watercolor sketch ©scratchmadejournal
Where can we find you on the internet?

I blog at Scratchmade Journal, and you can also find me on social media:

An Interview With Kim Andrews From Learning Barefoot

  Today, as part of the year-long nature journaling series I am running, here on Raising Little Shoots, I am very pleased to share an interview with Kim from Learning Barefoot.  Kim is nature loving, home educating mum who is in the process of beginning a local nature-based school. Without further ado, on to the interview!

~ Hello Kim, I am delighted to have you here on Raising Little Shoots! Please could you tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you Lynn! I appreciate your having me here! Nature has played an important part of my life since I was a little girl. As children my sisters and I would spend hours outside playing in the dirt, building forts and exploring the woods. When I started a family of my own I began to feel frustrated by how many young children were choosing electronics over playing outside. I knew I didn’t want that for my own family. I am now home schooling my kids ages 7, 8 and 10.  I spend much of my time cutting out wooden toys with my scroll saw, reading beautiful books to my children, exploring by the river in our woods, collecting nature treasures and playing disc golf with my hubby at our local park. We love to be outside as a family! 

~ When did you first begin nature study and what got you started?

Over the past 5 years I have read many books and articles on education. About two years ago is when I discovered the Charlotte Mason philosophy and I fell in love. Living books, poetry, music, art and nature study? Yes please! My first nature book was Nature’s Anatomy and from there I was hooked. I began to follow your Instagram page and bought my first set of watercolors. Drawing and painting have never been gifts of mine, but I have learned so much though nature study. I love learning new things.


~ Please tell us about how you make opportunities for your family to enjoy spending time in nature.

We are so blessed to live near the city, but still have several acres of land to explore in our own backyard. Our property also borders a river bringing in unique flora and fauna for us to enjoy and study all year. The kids are always more than willing to walk down to the river and explore with me. Taking family camping trips is also a great way to get everyone out in the woods for an adventure. Finding a spot with a creek to splash in always a hit with the kids. I think it’s about finding things outside that your family truly enjoys doing together. It is easy to make time for nature if everyone is enjoying the activity.

~ Would you share some of your favorite pages from your family’s nature journals with us, and let us know what you like about them?

One of our favorite pages in our journals is filled with dried pressed flowers and plants from each month. This has been a wonderful way to see the changes in our own woods and the kids always get excited to when they find a new flower to add. We hope to eventually go back in and label each flower and leaf.


This was the first nature journal page my son ever did.  I will always cherish it for that reason alone.


~ What would you say have been the greatest benefits to spending time out of doors with your family?

As a mom, time in nature has been a life saver. When I am feeling overwhelmed I will tell the kids I am going outside to walk around the yard. I take this time to soak in some energizing vitamin D and calm down. I come inside better equipped to parent. Also, when tensions are high between the siblings I have found that bringing everyone outside for a change of atmosphere does wonders. We may go for a walk, have a backyard picnic or simply throw frisbee together. The outdoors seems to lift everyone’s spirits.

~ What advice would you give to other families who would like to spend more time in nature?

My children were really excited when we first bought their nature journals. It is a wonderful first step. When we take our journals out for a nature study adventure we are also sure to pack a magnifying glass and bring our camera along. The kids love taking pictures of what they find.

I think the most important thing to remember is not to force it. Being outside without any formal study, just to play, is so important. During these times you can show your own excitement and enthusiasm when you make a discovery or something catches your eye. Soon your children will begin to slow down and notice these things as well. They will be so excited to share their treasures or findings with you. Before you know it they will want to identify them and nature study will begin.


The last piece of advice I would give is to truly let your kids explore. As a family we recently hiked to the top of Hanging Rock in the mountains of North Carolina. It took us well over an hour to hike the 1.3 miles to the top.  We were the family stepping off of the trail to explore the creek, smelling the flowers from a blooming tree and taking notice of all of the unique plants and gorgeous rocks along the way.  It is not a race, it is a journey. Enjoy the moment.

~ Where can we find you on the internet?

I am taking a break from selling books and wooden toys at the moment as I work locally to establish a nature based school. I do however post frequently on Instagram @learningbarefoot as well as my business Facebook page Here you will find our nature adventures, favorite books, homeschooing tid bits and more.



An Interview With Barbara McCoy from the Outdoor Hour Challenges

Barbara McCoy's profile photoToday, as part of the year-long nature journaling series I am running, here on Raising Little Shoots, I am very pleased to share an interview with Barb McCoy. Barb is very active within the home educating community, encouraging mums to get out of doors and study nature with their families with her Outdoor Hour Challenges. Without further ado, on to the interview!

~ Hello Barb, I am delighted to have you here on Raising Little Shoots! Please could you tell us a little about yourself.

Barb McCoy with family at Yosemite

I am a “retired” homeschooling mom of four children (one daughter and three sons) who found a passion for nature study as I introduced the outdoor world to my family. My husband and I raised our children to be active outside because we loved exploring the gorgeous setting we had living in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California.


There were some amazing places right at our doorstep like Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe. My desire as the children grew up was to introduce the idea of looking more closely at nature by keeping a nature journal. We were introduced to the idea of creating a record of our observations when we started adding a Charlotte Mason method to our homeschool. For me, this led to reading and creating a foundation for our nature study with the book by Anna Botsford Comstock, The Handbook of Nature Study. As I shared my thoughts and methods for using this book on my blog, my readers evolved into a worldwide community of nature loving families who learned along with my family with a weekly Outdoor Hour Challenge. Now that my children are grown, I still keep up this weekly habit along with my own personal nature journal.

~ When did you first begin to keep your nature journal ?

I have several completed nature journals on my shelf and the earliest dates are from 1999. That was back in the time period where I was often disappointed in my own nature journals so I didn’t create pages very regularly.

Ferns and Feathers nature journal

It wasn’t until 2008 that I was more regular in my nature journaling and I was more confident in my own style. What started out as a lesson in being a good role model for my children in keeping a nature journal, turned into a lifelong passion. I now find great pleasure in keeping my memories, thoughts, and observations in my journal.

~ Have your journals evolved from when you first began to keep them?

My journals have taken a tremendous evolution! I am no longer too concerned about making “pretty” pages or pages that look like an artist created them. I look at my sketches and writing now as a way to record my own impressions in my own style.

Birch leaf entry

Some days I take more care to sketch and some days all I really want to create is a list of items that I want to remember in the future. The freedom to make my journal whatever I want has freed me of being too critical. It’s like I used to tell my children, “There is no right or wrong way to make a nature journal page. Just get in the book!”

~ Please could you share with us your favourite journaling supplies?

I have tried a lot of different media over the years but I keep coming back to a few basic supplies.

Redwood page with prismacolor pencils

Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils: These are my “go to” journaling choice. I use the set of 24 in the metal tin, making sure to use rubber bands to hold the lid shut when I carry them in my bag or backpack. I also make sure to carry a metal pencil sharpener to keep my tips pointy.

Sketch Notebook: I have used several different sizes of journal but my favorite is the 5.5 in by 8.5 in Mix Media spiral bound journal from Canson. It is a great size for carrying and it holds up to watercolors and markers.

Pens: I use Zig calligraphy pens, Sharpie fine tip pens, and Prismacolor Premier pens. Sometimes I will slip in a Gelly Roll Metallic pen from Sakura just for fun.

~ Would you share some of your favourite pages with us, and let us know what you like about them?


I like the pages where I include a meaningful sketch and a story. These are the ones I like to flip back through and read over.


I also like to use photos in my journal which give the page a sort of scrapbook feel.


The other page formula that crops up in my journal quite often is the pages that use a colored box or background. These just make the page visually interesting and the colored boxes give me a place to put random thoughts and quotes.

~ What would you say you have been the greatest benefits to keeping your journals?

I have discovered that the key to creating a nature journal page that you are happy with is to have something interesting to document. If you are regularly getting outside and really looking at things in nature, you will have plenty to put on that blank page.

May 1st entry

There is a process to nature journaling: make observations, reason or think about a topic, and then express your experiences in a way that is meaningful. If you cut straight to the nature journal, without the observing and reasoning steps, that’s where you will get bogged down. You will be creating a personal relationship with nature and then a personalized record of that relationship.

~ What advice would you give to fellow nature journalers?

Take the pressure off yourself to create “perfect” nature journal pages. Don’t be intimidated! The point of a nature journal is to record things that inspire you and that you want to remember. If you want to be a better journaler, you must practice! Keep going until you find a style of your own. Experiment with different art media until you find something that makes you happy.

Where can we find you on the internet?

My home base is my blog, Handbook Of Nature Study. There you can find my weekly Outdoor Hour Challenges, my free newsletter, and many valuable tips and activities in the archives.

There are paid memberships, but there are plenty of free activities too. You can also find me on Instagram as @outdoorhourchallenge where I post weekly nature journal entries for inspiration and many images from my new home in Central Oregon. I am also active on Pinterest and a few of the boards you may be interested in following are my Nature Journal board and my Once a Month Nature Journal board.

An Interview With Alice Bettany From Sacred Seeds


Today, I have an extra-special treat for you here on Raising Little Shoots: an interview with Alice Bettany, the very inspiring herbalist behind the Sacred Seeds Herbal Project. Without further ado, on to the interview!

~ Hello Alice, I am delighted to have you here on Raising Little Shoots! Please could you tell us a little about yourself.

Hello, Thank you kindly for sharing my work, I am most grateful. I am a Sussex based lass, 35yrs old, married to a wonderful man hoping for our family to grow one day soon.  Nothing makes me happier than being in my herb garden and tending to my plant friends. Having dirt under my nails and the sweet scent of floral aromas around me. I have been inspired by the plant world through my mentor over the last 8 years which lead me towards a 3yr full time diploma in herbal medicine.  I qualified as a Herbalist approx 2 years ago and with my love of foraging and wild crafting I finally feel like I have found my calling in life. I feel like my strengths come into play with all kinds of community building activities, event organising and helping others to connect with the plant world.  I am inspired by diversity; in plants and people.  I am inspired by kindness, openness and the willingness to show vulnerability.

~ When did you first begin to find your passion for herbs?

I started foraging for food about 10yrs ago and this was how I met my plant mentor Anna Richardson, who continues to inspire me about all the many ways plants can be used. For medicine and food, clothes, baskets, cordage, shelter and as dyes.  It was working with Anna that I started to visualise my future as the community herbalist and felt inspired to follow through to start that journey. It feels like a lifetime of learning is still ahead of me as the plant kingdom is so huge, but a journey that brings me such nourishment and connection I yearn for more everyday.

~ Could you tell us more about your work with Sacred Seeds Herbal project?

I feel called to help others learn more about the plants on their doorstep, so a big part of my work is running workshops for adults and children.  I co-run a herbal home-ed program too.  On our workshops we will cover basic botany and plant ID, we’ll walk and wildcraft herbs then often spent the afternoon around the campfire making various food or medicines from what we’ve harvested. I grow alot of the herbs myself and have a few herb gardens I tend.  I want to raise awareness about ‘at risk’ herbs and sustainability issues within the practice of herbal medicine.  I hope I can be a bridge for more people to feel empowered to use plants as medicine from the plants in their locality.  I also make seasonal herbal boxes which is born out of my desires and ambitions stated here.


~ What is does typical day look like for you? (If there is such a thing!)

Depending on the seasons my work varies. In summertime it is the busiest as the majority of the plants will be in bloom and ready for harvesting. Processing the herbs to be dried or made into tinctures and tonics is time consuming. I will be unloading and filling up the dehydrator, straining and bottling oils or tinctures or tending the garden.  I may see a few patients for consultations and then spend some time in my dispensary making up personalised prescriptions for them.  I do also find myself doing a fair amount of admin and organising of events and community activities.  If I have some spare time, my hands will be full of herbs that are processing-in-motion.  I also spend a fair amount of time researching and creatively compiling the written information for the herb boxes.

Winter time finds me cuddled up with a herbal chai planning events for the following year and catching up with writing and blogs that have been waiting to come into fruition. There are many strings to a herbalist’s bow and I can tell you that it is very time consuming following this passion, or infact even all consuming.  I wouldn’t change it for the world though.


~ Do you have any favourite herbs?

Possibly one of the hardest questions to pose to a herbalist! Most dispensary’s will have at least 100 herbs in them, all for different symptoms depending on the constitution of that person.

For me it is fairly seasonal too, I tend to have love affairs with different herbs as the seasons change.  Right now I am in-love with  and appreciating lime blossom, yarrow, lavender and roses.  All of which I use in my private practice quite alot.  Herbs such as elder (flowers and berries), vervain, wood betony (my namesake), turmeric, ashwaganda and astragalus as well as medicinal mushrooms are probably up there with my favourite and most used herbs for myself and my patients.


~ What advice can you share with families who wish to foster a love and respect for the natural world?

The feeling of connection and belonging I experience through my love, appreciation and understanding of the plant kingdom helps keep me grounded, reduces anxiety and loneliness and fully enriches my life like nothing else before.  Do not feel overwhelmed or hasty to meet too many plants all at once. If you were to get to know just one or two plants each season, that’s 8 per year and in a very organic way you will find yourself having lots of plant alleys in no time at all.  I suggest to get to know those plants fairly well, follow them through the seasons in their different growing stages and maybe even save some seeds and try to grow them yourself in your own garden.  Look up a few different recipes for each plant and experiment with using it as food or medicine after doing your research.  It’s important to get yourself a few different good wild flower ID books to cross-reference. When a deeper relationship has been formed with certain plants, it opens our eyes to natures medicine chest around us and enables us to be more self sufficient in our families health needs.


~ Please tell us more about your quarterly Herb Boxes, and where we can find you online.

I produce quarterly, hand-made, small-batch, herb boxes. They compile of between 3-6 ready-made seasonal herbal products with all of the instructions on how to make those products yourself again at home as well as plant profiles to hep you have a deeper understanding of a few select plants contained in that box.

You can buy a one-off box or sign up for an annual subscription with options of upfront payment saving 10% or monthly payment plans to help spread the cost out.

Find out more on my website.


An Interview With Celeste Cruz

Bio Photo Today, as part of the year-long nature journaling series I am running, here on Raising Little Shoots, I am very pleased to share an interview with Celeste Cruz.  Celeste is very active within the home educating community, and blogs over at Joyous Lessons. Without further ado, on to the interview!

~ Hello Celeste, I am delighted to have you here on Raising Little Shoots! Please could you tell us a little about yourself.
I’m happy to join you here, Lynn!  My husband and I live in the Bay Area, California with our eight children: four boys and four girls, all ten and under.  We also have another baby boy on the way this summer!  We have a chaotic home that I try to “tame” through order and wonder — in our homeschooling and through our Catholic faith.  I am a runner, a reader, and a Charlotte Mason devotee.  I have organized a local nature study group for the past five years and through that time have become a lover of the outdoors and a nature journaler as well.  My joy is learning alongside my kids and encouraging other moms in the same journey.
~ When did you first begin to keep your nature journal and what got you started?
I grew up as a real homebody — my favorite thing to do on a beautiful day was to curl up with a book.  I didn’t hike, camp, or really do any outdoor activities other than distance running — which meant lots of hours outdoors but mostly plugged into my earbuds or chatting with running friends.  When my children were very small, we began the habit of a daily walk together, and all of us enjoyed noticing seasonal changes and the particular features of our local landscape.  But I was still very intimidated by journaling, having left any drawing practice behind long ago in childhood.  When my oldest two were starting kindergarten five years ago with the Charlotte Mason method, I decided that the best way I could cultivate my children an interest in journaling was to model one myself.  I stepped out of my comfort zone and began keeping both a nature journal and a Calendar of Firsts, per Miss Mason’s suggestions. I found it to be a soul-filling, life-giving practice and really fell in love with the process.  I have kept up those habits ever since then, now joined enthusiastically by my kids, who enjoy working alongside me. So the modeling worked!  But even if it hadn’t, the habit has been worth it for its benefits to me — that was something I didn’t expect.
~ Have your journals evolved from when you first began to keep them?
My journaling has changed in quite a few ways, actually.   At the beginning, I was very tentative.  I was intimidated by paint, which seemed rather unruly! 🙂  So I stuck with colored pencil or graphite even though I wanted to branch out — I let fear keep me from doing so.  And I drew mostly from photos or field guides.  I don’t think this is a bad way to begin!  It helps many people over the hump if they engage in ways that are comfortable to them.  But now I stretch myself to try and capture individuality, make comparisons, embrace mistakes, and paint processes and not just portraits.  Those are all challenges for me, but I can’t express the gift it has been to overcome my perfectionism.  My default is to journal in static, safe ways, but I’m pushing myself to represent the exploratory and get down what I’m noticing on paper without the strong filter that tries to hold me back.  Similarly, I now use watercolor, ink, pencil, pastels — I try not to let fear of a medium or a mistake keep me from recording in the mode I feel captures my observations best.  This year, I’m also committed to drawing more in the field.  So I try to look for new challenges and that has changed the look of my journals.
~ Please could you share with us your favourite journaling supplies?
I have experimented with lots of different starter supplies but have come to really like a portable kit, not just for field work but for trying to journal with little hands about.  The smaller the kit and quicker the set-up and clean-up the better when you have toddlers in the home! 😉
I pull most of my supplies from John Muir Laws’ recommendations along with a few personal favorites: a Pentel waterbrush, a Winsor + Newton Cotman pocket watercolor set, a couple drawing pencils (2H and 2B, usually), Prismacolor illustration markers in .01 and .005, and a white gel pen for highlights. I also carry a water-soluable graphite pencil for when I want something different, a hand sharpener, and an eraser.
As for journals, I have a couple favorites.  I like the Canson field sketchbooks in their large size along with Strathmore pre-cut watercolor cards that I tape in when I want to paint.  That’s a great option for those wanting to use quality watercolor paper without wanting to commit to primarily watercoloring (other media don’t always go down smoothly on textured watercolor paper).  But I now also use a little watercolor journal for when I’m out and about.  I’m still getting used to the smaller format but I do like being able to paint right onto the page.
And my two favorite books on the topic: The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling and Clare Walker Leslie’s Nature Drawing.  They both are philosophical and practical gems.
I am still very new to nature journaling, so take my non-expert recommendations for what you will! 😉
~ Would you share some of your favourite pages with us, and let us know what you like about them?
My favorite pages are those that respresent some way I have stretched myself as a journaler:
Journal 1
Here I took on a couple challenges from the Laws’ Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling with my kids in addition to my regular notes: I did a comparison of two live oak varieties on the left, and I did a far-away / close-up set of observations on the right.
 Journal 2.jpg
On this outing, I challenged myself to journal some events rather than just objects.  I have two events here: a chase between a squirrel and some woodpeckers, and some phoebes catching insects above the pond.  The results aren’t necessarily “pretty” but I felt like they captured my observations effectively.
Journal 3
This page is nothing special visually, but the process of working on it was a real challenge: my first time drawing moving animals (in this case, barnyard birds) in the field.  Our nature group took a trip to the farm and I took a half hour or so to follow the fowl around sketching.  These were all drawn from life, not photographs or field guides, which has always intimidated me when it comes to animals, and still does!  But this morning was one step toward overcoming that.
Journal 4.jpg
This is one of my most recent entries.  Most of all I’m loving all the spring color after a historically rainy winter for our area!  But I’m including it because it combines some of the recording tools I’ve been working with over the past couple years: making comparisons, keeping lists, asking questions, including both actual size and close-up drawings, and using tiny landscapes (John Muir Laws calls them “landscapitos”) to give a sense of place and season.
~ What would you say you have been the greatest benefits to keeping your journals?
The greatest benefit absolutely is relationship.  It is why nature journals don’t need to be works of art.  The goal isn’t the product, but the process — and not even the process of drawing, but of looking and noticing that happens through writing and drawing.  I have years of data in my book.  My journals are records of my own relationship with my local landscape and of new places.  It is a reference and a labor of love.  A side benefit has been a noticeable growth in my skills, which is added motivation to continue. 😉
~ What advice would you give to fellow nature journalers?
I’ll speak to homeschool moms who want to be nature journalers here, since I’m guessing that’s many of your readers: I get asked all the time how I foster an interest in journaling in my kids. I always answer that your best bet is to show interest alongside them.  Children can tell whether you think something is worth the time it takes or not, and our practices need to show our principles.  It’s very easy to send our kids outdoors; I do it all the time and my kids are the better for it!  But if that’s all you do — send them out to journal on their own — the child who takes that journaling and runs with it with lifelong eagerness is rare.  Most children need the atmosphere of shared enthusiasm and benefit most when a love for nature becomes part of the family culture, not just a box on their weekly checklist.  I’m not saying this is a foolproof method to raising journalers, because all kids are different and education is not a system!  Different students will respond differently, of course.  But my biggest suggestion is to join in with your children when you can, how you can, with what you can.  And you won’t regret it for the benefits you get from the habit either, so it’s a win-win!
~ Where can people find you on the web?
You can find me in a few different places!  I share the joys of a Catholic Charlotte Mason home education on my blog, Joyous Lessons — that’s my “home base,” where I write quite a bit about our nature study outings and schooling adventures. (There is also a companion Facebook page for those that prefer following that way.)  I really enjoy Instagram as a place to connect with other homeschooling mothers and nature lovers — that’s probably where I post most often.  Also, I moderate at the AmblesideOnline forums and help to organize retreats and conferences on the West Coast through Charlotte Mason West.

An Interview with Shirley Ann Vels


Today, as part of the year-long nature journaling series I am running, here on Raising Little Shoots, I am very pleased to share an interview with Shirley Vels.  I have known Shirley as an online friend for many years; we began home educating around the same time. Shirley is such a beautiful soul!  She has a gorgeous Etsy shop, which she and her daughter sell the most beautiful yarns, and other goodies. So without further ado, on to the interview!

~ Hello Shirley Ann, I am delighted to have you here on Raising Little Shoots! Please could you tell us a little about yourself.

 I live in Devon, England. I’m not English though, we immigrated to England 6 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa. We’ve been homeschooling our two daughters for 11 years using the Charlotte Mason philosophy which has brought richness to not just our education but to our lives in general.

Apart from my main ‘job’ as wife, mother and home educator, I am a freelance writer. In the homeschooling community I am a regular contributor to The Curriculum Choice and to Barb’s Handbook of Nature Study newsletter.

I would have to say that my Christian faith, family, home education and nature are what are most important to me and what I am most passionate about. I have been privileged to encourage and come alongside new homeschooling parents in their journey over the years. I love to impart my knowledge and experience of homeschooling, the Charlotte Mason method, particularly nature study, to new or struggling homeschooling families.

I am also deeply in love with England – always have been. I never quite felt at home in Africa, England is where my heart belongs. I feel privileged to live here and so love to share the beauty and historical heritage of this marvellous land on my blog.

~ When did you first begin to keep your nature journal and what got you started?

During our first year of homeschooling, I joined a Charlotte Mason study group. We would discuss Miss Mason’s philosophy and how to apply live it out in our homes. One of the topics was Nature Study and keeping a nature journal. Our groups’ leader had brought her nature journal along to show us and I was instantly hooked. The thought of observing nature so closely and creating a life-long keepsake appealed to my creative instincts. The very next day I went out and bought my daughters and myself our first journals and the rest, as they say, is history.

~ Have your journals evolved from when you first began to keep them?

Absolutely. This is one of the things that I love about keeping a journal, I am able to page back to my very first entry and see the progress that I have made in my drawing and painting skills. My first entries were scattered around my page without much thought into composition. I was literally just recording what I saw using Faber-Castel Indian ink pens with colour being added with colouring pencils. However as time has gone on I braved the world of watercolour paints and my skills have grown. Now I use watercolours with details filled in using Indian Ink.

My pages are a bit more thought out now but always a combination of my art and written notes – I love reading my thoughts and observations on entries. My style is very much influenced by Edith Holden’s Country Diary.

~ Please could you share with us your favourite journaling supplies?

Paints: I wouldn’t be without my Winsor and Newton Cotman Watercolour Whole Pan paints. There are 12 full pans of colour in a compact box which is perfect to take into the field. You can get watercolour pallets with more colour options, but I prefer to keep it simple and mix my own colours from the 12 I have. I think I would run into trouble with too many options.

Sketchbooks: My favourite journals are Stillman and Birns – Zeta. The paper is wonderful for mixed media and holds watercolour beautifully without bleeding through. You can get them in 7 inch X 7 inch (square) wirebound format or A4, however these are quite pricey so another excellent (and cheaper) alternative, one that I am currently using, is the Journal Co. Artists’ Sketch Book 5.5 inc X 5.5 inch. The paper is perfectly adequate for light watercolour washes with no bleed through.

Artist’s Pens: I use Faber-Castell PITT Indian Ink artist pens in all my work for adding detail and ‘fleshing’ my sketches out. These pens are affordable, great quality and come in a pack of about 4 for less than £10.00. The ink is waterproof too which means they are perfect for use with watercolours.

~ Would you share some of your favourite pages with us, and let us know what you like about them?

This snail is one of my favourite simply because it is the very first journal entry where I laid aside my pencil’s and picked up a paintbrush. The day before this entry I had purchased my first watercolour set. It’s a lovely reminder of the instant I took my ‘next’ step in my nature journal journey.

These butterflies painted in the summer of 2013 always make me smile. Our nature study challenge for that week was butterflies. Armed with a camera and with our journals and watercolour’s, we set out and spent a wonderful two hours sitting in a meadow that was full of little white flowers painting butterflies.

I love how this bee turned out. We were able to closely observe some of the bumblebees that were buzzing around the clover in the lawn. We captured a few in mason jars and sat outside in the sunshine painting them. I have to say that if you can sketch from a real-life specimen rather than a photograph it really seems to lead to much better drawings. Photographs, although sometimes necessary, can lead to rather flat looking reproductions in my experience.

I love the layout of this page and it really is something I want to do more often. We had newt’s living in our garden pond so were able to draw from close observation, but what I love about this page is the insert of a closer observation on one part of this semi-aquatic amphibian. AS you can see, I have lots of writing along-side my illustration.

This is the first entry in my new nature journal for 2017 and I simply LOVE how it turned out. This is my Handbook Paper Co. Field journal, it’s a square 5.5 X 5.5 inch layout. I’m loving the size and the paper quality is fantastic for light watercolour washes. This is the very first time that I am happy with how one of my bird illustrations has turned out. It’s not perfect, and looking at it I can see some things that I should have done differently, but I love it’s general proportions and shapes and I love the colour’s I managed to achieve. I paid attention to page layout in this entry and I think that 2017 is going to be ‘page layout’ year. I want to create a work of art in this year’s journal, take it to a new level. But this entry makes me feel that I have somehow crossed that invisible line in art skills and am moving onto the next step.

~ What would you say you have been the greatest benefits to keeping your journals?

We have experienced so many benefits to keeping journals, but the greatest has been the memories that I have created alongside my children in keeping our journals. As I page through my journal each entry evokes a memory of a walk, of conversations had, of snippets of life shared and enjoyed. My journal is not just a collection of artistic attempts at capturing ‘a flower’, or a ‘bird’, rather each page brings a sense of my place in this journey of life.

More obvious benefits are that my artistic skills have grown. It brings me great joy to be able to draw something I have observed, to capture a moment in the brief life of a living plant or creature, forever immortalized on the pages of my journal. The more time you spend drawing and painting, the more accurately I am able to capture my observations, and that brings a huge sense of achievement.

A very important benefit that has come out of our nature study and journal keeping is that it has been the catalyst for my eldest daughter’s career choice. She has recently graduated from our homeschool and is now studying Art and Design with the hopes of becoming an illustrator – more specifically a botanical illustrator. Her nature journal was a key part of her portfolio which gained her entrance into art college despite not having the ‘recommended number’ of GCSE’s! She continues to keep her nature journal as it brings her so much joy.

The great benefit that leaps to mind is that my knowledge and connection with nature is much greater and deeper than it was 7 years ago. I am in awe of the intricacies of God’s creation, of how each and every living thing is unique and so perfectly created to survive & thrive in its environment.

I’ve observed how even though technology pulls us forward into a fast paced, ever changing world, how wars scar our land and humanity, how very frightening our world can appear, nature keeps its annual rhythm. Moment upon moment, day upon day, year upon year, it keeps to its course. It is reliable, each year I know that spring follows winter, the Swallows will arrive sometime in March, Bluebells will bloom in May, the Perseid Meteor Shower will put on its annual display in August. Natures rhythm is reassuring, it is healing, restoring and instills a sense of peace when my heart and mind are anything but peaceful. It’s therapeutic.

~ What advice would you give to fellow nature journals?

I so often hear statements like, ‘I can’t draw’, or ‘I don’t know the first thing about nature’, but the beauty of keeping a journal is that you don’t have to. It’s a personal journey, you start off with basic skills and sketchy knowledge and you grow in knowledge and skill the more you observe and record. There are a few nature journaler’s that I follow in Instagram who’s work I really admire, reading their blogs they have shared that in the beginning they were just like you and me – no formal artistic training – just ordinary people who were drawn to recording what they saw in a medium that appealed to their creative sides. Now people like me look at their shared work and aspire to be as proficient in their own skills. One particular nature journaler, completely self-taught, now makes money from giving online watercolour classes and nature journaling workshops. In fact, many of my favourite reference books have just been ordinary people faithfully recording nature for the pure love and joy of it. Their journals have then been made into books and courses for aspiring naturalists to learn from. Some of my favourites are The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, Janet Marsh’s Nature Diary, and Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie.

Don’t allow lack of skill or knowledge keep you from keeping a journal. You are guaranteed to learn, no question about it. Like everything in life, the more you practice something the better you will get at it. If you stick with it, it will dawn on you sometime down the line that you are able to identify different wildflowers along your walks, or that you can distinguish between a Gold Finch and a Bull Finch. One step at a time I say, build your knowledge and skills one entry at a time.

Finally, buy the best quality journal supplies you can afford, especially when it comes to your journal. You are creating a keepsake that could be around a hundred years after you have left this earth, an heirloom to be passed on through generations in your family. A journal with good quality paper that can hold watercolour and hold your art work is worth paying a few extra £’s for.

~ Where can we find you on the internet?

My blog is called Under an English Sky. This is where I write about our Charlotte Mason inspired homeschooling, nature study, living in England, and living in tune to the years liturgical and natural rhythms. I also have a blog Facebook page where you can connect with me. I will often post snippets that I have come across that I want to share with my readers but really does not constitute a full blog post, recipes, moment captured, nature journal pages – that sort of thing.

I have an Instagram account which I post to throughout the week.

You can also find me on Pinterest. I LOVE Pinterest so much and am always pinning great ideas that I find on the web.

And finally I have an Etsy shop which I share with my arty daughter. We sell bespoke planner goodies, hand-dyed yarn (by me), and other yarny accessories.




An Interview with Leah Boden


Today, as part of the year-long nature journaling series I am running, here on Raising Little Shoots, I am very pleased to share an interview with Leah Boden .  Leah and I have been online friends for many, many years, she is an incredibly inspiring woman, and super knowledgable about Miss Mason’s philosophy. Leah runs Modern Miss Mason,  helping you to facilitate the methods and lifestyle in your home through e-courses. So without further ado, on to the interview!

~ Hello Leah, I am delighted to have you here on Raising Little Shoots! Please could you tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Leah, married to Dave and we have four children aged from 14 down to 6. We’re Lead Pastors of Mosaic Church in Coventry and we home educate our children. Life before children varied from a degree in sociology through to family work within our education system with lots of travel in between but the constant factor has been pastoral and leadership work within the local church. I’ve been home educating for 9 years and have been both challenged and changed by the amazing impact on my children and on wider family life.

When I’m not with my children I’m running the family & children’s ministry within our church, speaking, writing and working on my used book collection!

Late last year we also launched ‘Modern Miss Mason’ which hosts a growing series of video based courses helping home educators find their freedom within the Charlotte Mason philosophy.

Being outside is a guaranteed re-energiser for me;  I also love reading and drinking coffee!

~ When did you first begin nature study and what got you started?

I wasn’t home educated but my mum is a nature lover and beauty seeker; growing up in a beautiful village in Yorkshire there was plenty of opportunities to walk, explore and discover the world around us. She didn’t always know the names of flowers, bird and trees and but she was faithful to point them out.

I remember as a teenager meeting a man who was training to work in a forestry team, he could identify every tree, bush and plant we passed on a walk one day and I felt inspired and eager to make that one of my goals in life; I wanted to know the names of things living around me!

Early on in our home school journey I began researching the Charlotte Mason philosophy; her advice to ‘never be within doors when you can rightly be without’ was music to my ears. When we started home educating our children in 2008 nature study was high on the agenda to incorporate into our days and has grown over the years.

~ Please tell us about how you make opportunities for your family to enjoy spending time in nature.

I’ve always tried to make it as natural as possible; we have a small yard with brimming flower beds, albeit slightly wild but hosting fruit trees, bushes and greenery. I think it’s important that our children first know their own garden, so they’re out there a lot, playing, exploring and touching the plants and trees. At the time of writing this we’re slowly packing up after 12 years to move to a bigger house which sits right on the edge of a park. We’ll soon be surrounded by mature trees, fields, a river and weeping willows. It’s a dream come true to be moving so close to nature; be sure to follow our days on Instagram!

We also have a couple of favourite nature hang-outs that we try and make an intentional visit to once a week. The local woods, a country park and a Wildlife Trust nature reserve. I always make the most of dry weather, and especially if the sun comes out – brooks over books is my general philosophy (although with the UK weather we do a lot of both).

~ Would you share some of your favourite pages from your family’s nature journals with us, and let us know what you like about them?


The Goldfinches were unexpected exciting visitors to our dusty miller plant in our front yard last year. Micah is our champion bird spotter and shouted at me to grab my camera, they were so beautiful and close up – we all journaled their visit.


Our whole family love the fly agaric and have pictures and ornaments representing then all around the school cabin. This picture marks the first day we saw one in the woods for real! A very exciting discovery and certainly lived up to its reputation.


One from my journal, I’m quite electric in my style! I love March, everything starts to stir just as you thought you’d forgotten what flowers looked like they appear in purple and yellow withstanding the later winter weather, March is always a favourite in my journals.


 This is a special page as it displays a few of my favourite finds from our trip to Florida last year. I claimed an introvert day alone by the pool and in between my quiet dips in the warm water and sipping on iced tea I painted.


 I love this page, it’s one of Sienna’s (my youngest child) first attempts at painting what she’d seen that day – I obviously annotated and displayed her work but you can clearly see what they are.

~ What would you say have been the greatest benefits to spending time out of doors with your family?

Being outside has so many wonderful benefits; walking brings connection and conversation, even if you don’t know the names of what is around you or care to know – just being together outside is good for the soul. We’ve probably dreamed our greatest dreams, solved the biggest problems and most definitely put the world to rights whilst walking in the woods with the dog!

We’ve learnt to be observant and respectful of the world around us. We’ve learnt to connect, explore and dig deeper – there’s always more to see no matter how many times you’ve walked that path before.

We’ve learnt to look up and down and enjoy the changing seasons from the clouds to the forest floor.

I love how Albert Einstein puts it: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

~ What advice would you give to other families who would like to spend more time in nature?

Make going outside a part of your daily or weekly rhythm, make it a normal part of family life and you’ll create a habit that will last forever.

Find a spot that you all love and visit there regularly, it’s amazing to see the same nature spot through the changing seasons.

Kit everyone out with the right clothes for all weathers, eliminate all excuses and enjoy the great outdoors in the sun and the rain!

Get a dog (wink), it forces you outside!

This is one of my new journaling habits which is to print photos and have the stuck or hung where my children can see them – these were printed this week from our February/March observations .


~ Where can we find you on the internet?

Instagram  &  my nature journal account on Facebook

Modern Miss Mason