Winter Solstice Week: Exploring Nature With Children

Winter Solstice Week.jpg

This week in Exploring Nature With Children is ‘Winter Solstice Week’.

Here are some helpful links to get you going:

Happy exploring!

Announcing The New Phenology Wheel Guide!

I am so terribly excited to share with you my new Phenology Wheel Guide!

So many of you have been asking questions about our phenology wheels this year, that I decided to put together a short guide to help you along with your own wheel.

A phenology wheel is simply a visual representation of what is happening month by month, in the natural world around you.

The Raising Little Shoots Phenology Guide is a 33 page, photograph heavy guide, to help you step by step, set up your own phenology wheel for the year.

Keeping a phenology wheel is a smashing way for you and your family to connect both with nature and each other. A way for all the family to gather together to spend time nature journaling; it doesn’t take up much time at all, and is perfect for families who have children of different ages and stages. Everyone can work together, but at their own level.

At the end of the year you will have a superb record of the natural world in your own locality. If you were to keep a new wheel each year, imagine the wonder of being able to look back over previous years’ wheels, and all the memories that would stir.

The guide is currently priced at $6, and will increase to $8 on December 31st

Buy Ebook


Happy exploring!

A Nature Notebook from Charlotte Mason’s House of Education


As some of you will know, I had the pleasure to visit Ambleside, home of Charlotte Mason’s House of Education twice over the last couple of months. Whilst there, I spent time documenting one of the student’s Nature Notebooks from the Armitt archives.

It is with much joy that I share with you a PDF of the Nature Notebook of Monica Watson who was a student at Miss Mason’s House of Education.

This is a free download, but I would ask that you consider making a donation, however small, to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, England. The library is responsible for the conservation of the archives from both Miss Mason herself, and the House of Education.

You may donate here at the Armitt website: Armitt Donations

(Please do not send donations to myself, donate directly to the Armitt, thank you.)

Nature Notebook from Charlotte Mason’s House of Education


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 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 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 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.


Where To Observe Nature


In my book, Exploring Nature With Children, I strongly encourage you to find a ‘special nature spot’ to explore on a regular basis with your children. Getting to know a place allows you to build a relationship with that place. You know the birds that visit, the bulbs that push through the frozen earth in spring-time, the fiery colours of the trees in Autumn, you become a specialist in your own wee corner of the world.

I do, however, recommend visiting other places too. Broaden your horizons every now and then, add some variety to your nature journals, learn about different places and eco systems.

Here is a list of ideas of places you may wish to visit:

  • Your own garden: Changes in plant growth, soil types, visiting creatures, fruits and vegetables produced, records of new plants ‘weeds’ and medicinal plants.
  • The seashore: Tidepools, tides, birds, dunes, other wildlife. Be sure to bring home a collection of seashells to observe over the coming weeks.
  • Mountains: What is the mountain called, and why? To what range does it belong? How tall is it, and how are mountains measured? How are mountains formed? What plant and animal life makes its home there?
  • A local woodland: How old is the woodland? What trees grow there? Follow the seasonal changes, observe the woodland as a whole, or focus on just one tree. What other wild life is dependant on the woodland?
  • A pond or river: Is this body of water seasonal, or there all year ’round? How is it fed?  What vegetation grows on its banks? Record all the creatures you see. Take samples of the water, observe with a microscope, and find out about what you see.
  • The sky: Look up! What do you see? Observe weather patterns, precipitation levels, cloud cover. Where does the sun rise and set in relation to your home? How high in the sky does it climb? What constellations do you see in the sky. Do they change? Observe the moon, record its shape & position each evening. What happens if you observe later in the evening?


Our Phenology Wheels


A few years ago, we kept phenology wheels that combined the natural world with the liturgical seasons and festivals. Rose and I have decided to each keep one again for this year.
The larger section for each month is where we will record the natural world, the smaller section is for the festivals; January’s being Epiphany. (We both chose Epiphany to record.)
There really are so many different ways to keep a nature journal!


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.