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


Beginning A Nature Journal: An Online Course With Jan Blencowe


I have recently had the great pleasure to Beta test a wonderful new course by artist & naturalist, Jan Blencowe.

Beginning A Nature Journal is unlike any other course out there; it teaches all the needed skills, and then some, to creating your very own nature journal.


Jan is an excellent teacher, and the course is unbelievably comprehensive.

There are 10 modules, each containing multiple video lessons, cheat sheets, and PDFs.

  1. Introduction
  2. Materials and set up
  3. Learning to see, learning to draw
  4. Line work
  5. Colour mixing skills
  6. Watercolour
  7. Landscapes
  8. Layout / design skills
  9. Journaling
  10. The wrap up

Remember, this is not just 10 lessons, there are multiple video lessons for each module!


Beautifully presented, and professionally produced, this course will answer all the questions you ever had about the ins and outs of nature journaling.

Please do not worry if you have not so much as picked up a sketching pencil before; Jan will teach you the skills you need to create beautiful pages in your journal that will record your experiences in the natural world. Once you have completed the course, sketching and painting in your nature journal will become a joy.



Registration for Beginning A Nature Journal opens today, with access to immediate access to the Orientation Module, which has a welcome, an overview of how you can work through the course materials, a video on how to use the Ruzuku interactive classroom, the materials and supplies PDF, and a short video with suggestions on how to personalise your own sketchbook.

The classroom will officially open on March 20. You will then have access to the entire course. There are also four live webinar Q&A sessions scheduled. A reminder email will be sent to you on the 18th and you will receive an email on March 20th with a link to the course home page and log in.

They will initially be at a sales page that give details about the class.

When they click Register they will go to the enrollment page and can apply the coupon and pay.

Very shortly after that, they should receive two emails, a welcome email, and a start of course email.

Follow the link to the course sales page, which has a detailed description of the course and a registration button. The course costs $197 and Jan is offering an exclusive discount for my readers. Use code charlotte30 for a $30 discount, which is valid until March 15th 2017.

I was honoured to test this course for Jan, & I truly cannot say enough good things about it. Here’s to improving our journaling skills!




An Interview with Dawn of Ladydusk




Today, as part of the year-long blog series I shall be running this year, it is my great pleasure to share an interview with Dawn from Ladydusk here at Raising Little Shoots. Dawn home educates her three children, and has been blogging since 2001! She also works as a Virtual Assistant for Pam Barnhill as her team’s Community Care Coordinator. So without further ado, on to the interview:


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

Hi Lynn! I’m delighted to be here! I’m a Christian homeschooling mom to three always-homeschooled children ages 9, 11, and 12. We use the AmblesideOnline curriculum and enjoy it very much. We live in Central Ohio in the United States. Both my husband, Jason, and I are native Ohioans, although he is from a different part of the state while I live close to where I grew up.  I love to read and to blog and write about Homeschooling. I’m not very outdoorsy. I dislike bugs and dirt and intemperate weather, and in Ohio we get wide swings of either too hot or too cold.

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

It has been a number of years since we began and we’re very uneven with our Nature Study. I found our old, incomplete books for this interview and they say 2011 on the back. One of my intentions every year (and 2017 is no different) is to spend more time doing Nature Study.  Since I learned about it in our early years of homeschooling, I thought it sounded like a good means to get me to go outside more and I really wanted my kids to have all the benefits of Nature Study. In particular, I wanted them to observe and know the world around them; to see the natural processes that God had created.

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

We generally take our Nature Study materials with us when Jason drags us out geocaching.  A couple of years ago we made Nature Study Bags to carry our gear. Some of the straps need to be lengthened and/or repaired, but the bags themselves have been helpful in carrying notebooks and collecting specimens for observation.

Last summer we were able to take a Nature Journaling class on vacation at the local Nature Center. It was very good. One of the things the instructor suggested was using a black pen to do the drawing and then watercolor pencils for filling it later. I also really love Nature Journaling on vacation. It is so much more relaxing to me because I can usually go off by myself and draw at some point.

Last fall we participated, for the first time, in the Nature Pal Exchange program here in the States. We were paired with a family from Louisiana who sent us some wonderful treasures. It was fun to compare and contrast the items we received with the items we gathered to send. This forced us to be out and observe, collect, and identify samples. Accountability seems to be a key for me. I had to send something to someone else, so it had to get done.

This winter, I’m hoping to make plans with another local Charlotte Mason family who we do some school things with already to get together to look at specimens or go out adventuring together on Friday afternoons.  I think that would be a lot of fun and, again, scheduled accountability is helpful!

One of the things I’ve been learning in this process is that you don’t have to draw in the field. With three elementary aged kids, drawing in the field can be difficult. Often mine want to get it done quickly so they slapdash something into their notebook and run off to play. The idea that we could enjoy nature, play, and draw at home (not sitting on the ground or balancing a book in my lap) was a big eye-opener to me last fall.  You can, of course, draw on site but there are a lot of ways to Nature Journal at home.  We can collect samples and draw them later or just put them in a basket to look through at leisure.  You can take pictures of something you want to draw and then draw it from the picture. Or, you can just be a peace and observe a creature and its behavior and then at home find a picture in a nature guide or on the internet to record the event – draw from the picture you found and then note any similarities or differences you find.

~ 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?


My son was probably 5 when he drew and labeled these and they’re just so sweet … Honeysuckle and all.



I love this bird’s big feet and beak.  My oldest daughter drew this when she probably was 6 or so. I’ve done a bad job of dating them.  


The next three are from our class last summer … my daughters liked the pen while my son eschewed it. My oldest drew an egret, son drew the oak leaf, my youngest tried out some of the spectacular spider webs, local lighthouse and the shore line.







The last two are favorites of mine. The first is near home. We have a rookery – or rather a heronry were a whole colony of blue herons have their nests. It’s a spectacular sight!



And one of mine from vacation. There is a walk back into an Estuary that has brackish water on the sound side of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  I drew this view from the end of the boardwalk where the Estuarine connects to the sound and across to the mainland. I like it because of the variety. You’ll note that I enjoy a lot of labeling and adding notes to my drawings.



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

One thing I love is that it forces me to put the phone or book down and be very present with my kids. We look, we talk, we question, we gather. Sometimes we struggle with complaining and arguing. Sometimes the weather is unpleasant. Sometimes we trudge along. Sometimes we see beautiful things and exclaim about them together. But the best part of Nature Study is going outside and being together.  

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

All of you should have your own materials to enjoy. You, mom, should draw too. Let them slapdash something while you’re out, but I’m excited about trying some of the ‘drawing later’ ideas I’ve been learning about – and will expect more concentration and effort when there are chairs and tables involved. But, my best advice is to find a friend and plan to do it together so it will happen.

~ Where can we find you on the internet?

You can find my blog and all my social media connections over at Ladydusk Thanks for inviting me to participate. I love doing interviews because it makes me really think through what we do and why.  Your questions were great!

A huge thank you Dawn, for sharing your family’s journey with us.


An Interview With Jan Blencowe

Jan BlencoweToday I have the great pleasure to share an interview with Jan Blencowe here at Raising Little Shoots. Jan is a prolific and experienced nature journal keeper who considers herself an amateur naturalist who’s always learning. After a long career painting she gradually began moving towards nature journaling as her primary focus, and it is with such joy that I have asked Jan to share some of her experience with us here today. Jan will be launching an online nature journaling course in spring of this year, so be sure to keep up with Jan via her social media so as not to miss out when that launches. (Links are at the end of the interview.) So without further ado, on to the interview:

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

I live along the southern shore of Connecticut, USA near the Long Island Sound, which is beautiful with water, marshes and woods all nearby. I love nature and I love making things. I’ve been a landscape painter for nearly twenty-five years. I’m an avid nature journaler, and consider myself an amateur naturalist who’s always learning. I studied art in college and earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1988. For many years I pursued plein air landscape painting and then began creating large landscape works in the studio. I exhibited in galleries and shows and have work in private collections in half a dozen countries, as well as some major works in public and corporate spaces

After a long career painting I gradually began moving towards nature journaling as my primary focus, and delight in exploring many of the other art forms that always intrigued me like mono-printing, stamp carving and encaustic. I’ve come to realize the deep truth that just living authentically is an art form and that making personal art rather than art that is for exhibit or sale is far more satisfying than anything I’d ever done. I love to keep a sketchbook and make mixed media art journals. I dabble in book arts, candle making and herb craft. I have an organic vegetable garden and tend several native plant gardens on our property. I occasionally write poetry, and give poetry readings with a local group. I’m very fortunate to live on a beautiful, wooded piece of property which includes a large beaver pond, a magnet for wildlife. That’s important because it allows me to do the majority of my nature journaling right at home. Sinking your roots into the soil where you live and really getting to know what lives and grows around you is such an important part of sensing and settling into a relationship with the natural world. It’s how we begin to see ourselves as belonging and connected to the greater whole and not alienated and separate from it.

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

I began back in 1999, sketching for a while then abandoning it for months at a time, then picking it back up again. I had no clear idea of what I was doing, I just knew that I wanted a creative outlet, something to nurture my inner life when my children were very young, but something that wasn’t overwhelming. I wanted to spend time outside in my gardens learning about plants, trees and birds. I was inspired by the book The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden, a book I still very much cherish and draw inspiration from. Beyond her stunning watercolor illustrations I was so impressed by her ability to recognize the common plants and wildlife all around her, and her knowledge of local folklore surrounding them. In 1999 we were four years into homeschooling, with my youngest of three children just five years old. I suddenly realized that one of my deepest desires was to gain a better knowledge of the natural world not just for myself, but so that I could pass it on to my children. One thing led to another and we came upon the Charlotte Mason Method and the adventure began.

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

My goodness yes! After not having done much in the way of making art while my three children were young, my drawing skills were pretty rusty and my early journals had rather badly drawn sketches randomly placed on a page. They were usually done in smudgy pencil, (so I could easily erase mistakes) or colored pencil and occasionally weak, tentative watercolors. Often just one lonely sketch sat on a big page with no thought to layout or design. At first this was just a way to “practice drawing”, so I did a lot of sketches of my pets. After a while I began to improve and started using Faber-Castelle brush tip artist pens in a Moleskine, and then a fine liner and watercolors. I’d say about six years ago I really started keeping a nature journal regularly, making entries nearly every day. I love to experiment and my nature journal is always evolving. When I look back through several year’s worth of journals it’s like walking along a spiral path. There are some places that I veer off and explore a certain thing, there are some dead ends, things I tried but that didn’t resonate so I moved on, but there are always things I keep coming back to and certain threads that keep getting woven in. That may be driven by an interest in a subject or a certain kind of pen, or a certain stylistic look that I’d like my pages to have. I never know where the next turn of the spiral will lead me and I love that about experimentation

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

I’m going to confess up front that I’m an art supply junkie. I absolutely love trying new things, and I have a lot of favorites, but I will try to narrow it down to my extra special, five star supplies.

I’m going to start with paper. Personally, I find the paper I’m working on to be the most crucial component of my nature journal kit. If my focus is going to be on watercolors, (most likely paired with a juicy brush pen filled with ink), and especially if I’m going to be making landscape sketches, then I’m going for the cream of the crop, my Garazapapel Handmade Watercolour Paper Notebook. This is an expensive journal and I fill it slowly over time. The paper is an absolute joy, especially if you’re experienced with watercolors. Having said that, for my usual, everyday nature journals I have a couple of brands I return to again and again. My most frequently used journal is a Stillman & Birn Zeta. It contains mixed media paper that is smooth, and very heavy weight. It takes any combination of media I choose to use, even when I’m ridiculously over the top with various combinations of media. I also like the Frisk Lay-Flat sketchbook, and the Handbook Paper Co. Field Journal Series for Watercolor made with Fluid Watercolor Paper. (I prefer the hot press version).

Pens are an ongoing fascination for me but here’s my “A” list, Lamy Joy fountain pen with a Fine nib, filled with De Atramentis Black Document Ink, Platinum Carbon Fountain Pen filled with either, black Platinum carbon ink or brown, De Atramentis Document Ink , and the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen for bold work. My favorite watercolor brands are QoR, Daniel Smith and Maimeri Blu. I also couldn’t imagine nature journaling without my Pentel Aquash water brushes, they are the ultimate in convenience. Any combination of the above materials could form the basis of a really versatile and serviceable nature journaling kit, and everything I listed I use practically everyday.

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

Sept Sketchbook 1.jpg

September is my favorite month, the heat of August has usually passed, the humidity and hazy skies have lessened, yet the temperatures stay very warm and pleasant. Plus, everything begins to stir in September as the season moves towards the autumnal equinox. This page spread is a favorite because it captures so much of the feel of September. The marsh grasses are turning from green to golden and red, something I look forward to every year. This page continues a project I began in early summer, and that is documenting as many of the wildflowers in my area as possible. The American Pokeweed is a plant that Henry David Thoreau extols in some of his writings and I love it too. It’s a great source of food for local birds, and has gorgeous, rich colors for us to admire. The Seaside Goldenrod is very common, and the Bulrush was very interesting both the draw and to research. I found out quite a few interesting things about it. I’m especially pleased with this spread because as it evolved everything locked into place nicely. I began with the macrocosm, that is, the large rectangle which gives an overview of the habitat. Then I was able to place some of the plants that make up the microcosm, the smaller communities of plants and animals that make up the larger ecosystem. The tall bulrush on the right helps keep everything balanced on the page and fortunately, I left plenty of space to write.

Oct 2.jpg

I love this entry because it’s a testimony to what can be found in your own backyard, and how beautiful the common place can be. This was all done in one morning just walking through our yard. Witch Hazel and wild low bush blueberry are very common in my area. Collecting leaves and making a mandala on the ground gave me an interesting way to show the fading leaves in several stages of decay, from still mostly green to golden to brown. I think that shows an important aspect of nature. Things happen slowly and not always at the same rate in nature, it truly is a process, a gradual progression from one state to another. In the instantaneous culture of technology that we find ourselves in, I think the reminder that things take time is an important one.


This is a favorite because it is the record of an opportunity that I truly enjoyed, and I love the way I was able to slip the text into the negative spaces around the sketches. This was a day trip to a place not far from where I live but a place I’d never been before. It was a great sketching opportunity because the spotting scopes were already there set up for visitors to use and that made sketching the cormorants and terns so much easier than my usual back and forth between peering through binoculars, putting them down, making a few lines and then having to raise my binoculars again, over and over, until the sketch is complete. Being able to just glance over into the spotting scope and then back at my sketchbook was wonderful.

Pinecones 2.jpg

The pinecones are recent victory for me! They are a very complex subject, and like many plant forms they are based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, which makes them predictable, but still very complex. If I had been sketching these outdoors I would have simply focused on the overall impression of the pinecone, its general outline and texture. Bringing them inside for more careful observation gave me an opportunity to really slow down and try to draw exactly what I saw. I did not use a ruler or divide up the shape mathematically with intersecting lines, creating the precise numeric pattern of scales, because then I would have been creating an “ideal” pinecone rather than a unique individual. However, this was a study in careful, sensitive observation and slow drawing. In the field I work very quickly, but it is a nice counterpoint in the winter, to bring things indoors for careful study. The other “victory” was combining both watercolor and black and white pen sketches. I am such a lover of color that it’s really difficult for me to leave a pen sketch simply a pen sketch without adding color, even though I love the look of pen and ink and often realize that a simple line drawing is the best choice for a subject. So, I’m very happy that I had the presence of mind and the discipline to leave the end view of the pinecones as pen sketches to balance the full view that was done with watercolors.

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

I have a different sense of time. My life is now far more ordered by an awareness the seasons, what is melting away and what is just beginning to stir, then by the calendar pages. I follow the seasons of the year, being more productive and busier in spring and autumn, teaching more, taking on more projects and responsibilities, and taking it slower in the heat of summer and in the hibernation of winter. Observing, interacting and recording nature in my journals enables me follow the rhythms of the seasons with awareness and purpose. I’m also see more. I walk out of my backdoor and see the trees now, because I’ve identified them and know them by name. I see the weeds, grasses and wildflowers, I don’t just skim over them and ignore them as a blur in my peripheral vision because now I know their names, their bloom times, and the insects and birds that use them for food and cover. I notice the clouds because they predict the weather better than the local news station. Nature journaling has turned my experience of my own yard, neighborhood and region from a nameless crowd of strangers I ignore, into a congenial group of familiar faces I meet and greet. I look for the arrival of the swallows, and hummingbirds in spring, and the return of the juncos in the winter. I know which weedy patch will bloom first in spring and I look forward to the Sea Myrtle and Witch Hazel blooming in October. How much poorer my life was when I shut all of that out simply because I was ignorant of it. I hadn’t taken the time to stop and look, to investigate, ask questions and get to know what was quite literally in my own backyard. How much richer my life is now and how much more beautiful, complete and gracefully ordered and aligned with the greater workings of the universe. Nature is amazing and a wise and wonderful teacher.

~ What advice would you give to fellow nature journalers?

The most important thing of course, is to just begin. Don’t get bogged down in too many supplies, and keep your expectations focused on the process of being outside and observing. Do not under any circumstances allow your inner critic to berate you because you think your drawings are poorly done. Drawing is a skill which will improve naturally over time. The basis of all drawing is keen observational skills so focus your efforts there. Allow your entries to simply be records of a specific experience. Use sketches, colors, even just little color swatches, to capture what you observe. Use words. Most of us are more accustomed to describing something using words, so let your sketches be what they are (however inaccurate), and round them out with written descriptions, use arrows to point things out or makes lists of characteristic you observe. Nature herself is wild, fierce, abundant, chaotic and filled with variation, and surprises. Your nature journal should be the same.

~ What do you have planned for 2017?

I currently have three large projects going on in 2017. The first is an online nature journaling course that will launch in spring of 2017. That will cover absolutely everything you’d need to know to get started, and then some.   There will be instruction (over ten hours of video instruction), but it will also inspire, get you motivated and outdoors experiencing the joy and wonder of nature. It’s thorough, and a perfect introduction for the absolute beginner, while also introducing and explaining to more seasoned nature journalers and sketchers how I create the colorful, lively sketches that I’m known for. Plus, there will be plenty of bonus materials to download, extra videos, color mixing charts, a private Facebook Group, inspiring Pinterest boards, field journaling checklists etc. There’s also going to be a live portion (via the internet) because personal connection is really the best way to learn.

The second big adventure in 2017 is being enrolled in a program to become a Creative Depth Coach, once I’ve completed that program I’ll be able to use the transformative power of making art, primarily mixed media collage using found images, as part of my practice as a creative coach.

The third new endeavor is a local one. For the past several years I’ve been leading nature journaling retreats which weave a sacred dimension into a day of contemplative time in nature and creating nature journals. In 2017 that model will expand and I’ll be offering nature journaling retreats that incorporate Celtic spirituality at John Philip Newell’s School for Celtic Consciousness here in Connecticut.

~ Where can people find you on the web?

Faceboook is a great place to connect with me. I have a page called The Nature Journal Place, where I share videos, demos and posts of all my current nature journaling activities plus I update it regularly with my own nature journal pages.

I also have a blog called The Sketchbook Hypothesis: making art makes you happy, which covers nature journaling, as well as other forms of art journaling and sketching. It’s where you’ll find a Classes and Events Page and a free beginners guide to nature journaling that can be downloaded.

I also keep a daily Instagram account which is pretty much like following me around when I’m out nature journaling and doing other interesting stuff including brewing and sipping tea, making art journals, gardening, visiting art museums, and you might come across the occasional pic of one of my Sheltland Sheepdogs.

You can sign up for my mailing list and receive a free nature journaling mini-video class .

For those interested in my fine art landscape paintings, nature drawings and Spirit Doll mixed media sculptures just go to my website.

A huge thank you Jan, for sharing your wisdom with us.



Growing Up In England

Growing up in England

Jamie from Simple Homeschool has written a smashing book:

Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book At A Time

To celebrate, she has interviewed families all around the world and is sharing their stories.  I am thrilled to share with you that we are today’s featured family!

Please head over to Simple Homeschool today to read our story.