It seems ever such a long time ago since I began my Calendar of Firsts back in January. But the year has rolled on, and each week I have added my observations about the natural world around me.
This morning I sketched my last entry: Week 52: Hoarfrost on Holly, and a Moorhen.
I have created a flip-through video so you can see all the nature happenings that I have recorded this year, and I do hope that you will consider keeping your own Calendar of Firsts (whether illustrated or not) in 2017
I have enjoyed dabbling with journals for many years, and way back when I was a newly-wed, I read a lovely book which suggested giving your journal a theme. The idea behind it was that exploring a theme would give your journal a strong focus to explore deeply.
I think this would be a lovely idea to explore a focused nature journal. Imagine how rewarding it would be to have a dedicated journal, whether it has been kept for a single month, or over several years.
I have been mulling over various ideas for themed nature journals, here are some I came up with. Please do let me know if you have any other ideas:
Your special nature place: Whilst it is interesting to visit as many different wildlife spots as possible, having a regular place for your nature study, enables you to really get to know this place and you will quickly become an expert on your own little corner of the world. Creating your own field guide would be treasure and an invaluable study.
A garden journal: Keep notes on the arrangement of your garden, what is planted and where, plus make space to record ideas and plans for future layouts. Record bloom times, fruiting times, harvest times, and general observations of your plants. Research the folklore associated with each plant, its traditional and medicinal uses. Explore non-synthetic pest control, keeping track of your success (or lack thereof!) in your journal. Keep notes on garden visitors; birds, insects, foxes, rabbits, and other mammals. Keep receipts and pertinent information of the provenance of your plants.
Tree Journal: You could choose to study one tree or several. Firstly establish the species. Is it a native tree? What lives in, on, and around your tree? Record when your tree blooms and fruits. When do the leaves change colour? What colours does it turn? What chemicals are the cause of these colours? Why is the folklore of your tree? What are the traditional uses for your tree? How tall is it? Measure its trunk circumference, take bark and leaf rubbings.
Weather Journal: Record the weather each day; measure and describe precipitation, temperature, wind direction and speed, cloud formations. Learn how to forecast the weather. Learn about weather folklore.
A bird journal: Sock your feeder well and record the visitors. Make notes or sketches of any birds you are unable to identify, then you can research later. Include times and dates, notes on the weather and also the food that attracted each bird. Record the bird’s behaviour and specifics such as size, colour and pattern, descriptions of the bill and feet / legs, the call it makes. Note also the courting and mating behaviour, nesting activity, winter residents, summer migrants, nesting behaviour, and how many broods are produced.
Rocks and minerals journal: Rocks are composed of minerals and are grouped into three categories:Igneous (volcanic) rocks Sedimentary (layered) rocks Metamorphic rocks (rocks that have changed over time.)
Minerals are naturally occurring, inorganic solids, with definite chemical compositions.
What rocks and minerals are you able to find in your own locality? Create sketches in your journal, record textures and colours, make maps of the locations of what you find. Draw thumbnails of sketches viewed through a lens or microscope. Investigate the history of your nature spot; was it once a mining area? How does this now affect the locality? Research the uses of the rocks and minerals you find.
Wild flower journal: This could be arranged by month of the year, or flower type, or by colour. Whatever appeals to your way of thinking. Record which are native flowers, which flowers that are classed as weeds (often the most lovely!) Research the folklore and Latin name (Officinalis denotes plants traditionally used in medicine and herbalism.) Make many sketches, take measurements, record colours and textures, include photographs and pressings.
It is a capital plan for the children to keep a calendar–the first oak-leaf, the first tadpole, the first cowslip, the first catkin, the first ripe blackberries, where seen, and when. The next year they will know when and where to look out for their favourites, and will, every year, be in a condition to add new observations. Think of the zest and interest the object, which such a practice will give to daily walks and little excursions.
I hope this is helpful & gives you some food for thought. Happy exploring!
I know many of you would like to start nature journaling. It’s really very simple; go for a walk, or look out of your window, and simply begin to sketch. Sometimes though, it is good to have a little more direction, so here are some ideas to get you going:
Begin a plant study, observe it for an entire year and record its changes. This could be a wildflower, tree, shrub, or plant growing in your garden.
Study the sky, the movement of the sun, sunrise and sunset times, and the hours of daylight, the position of the stars, and cycle of the moon.
Keep a nature journal all about your garden. Record what grows when, plan your dream vegetable patch, include layouts, sketches of plants, photographs. This will be a useful resource and a great treasure.
Spend 15 minutes a day watching your bird feeder. Record who visits and when. Follow up with studies on the individual birds.
Record the weather. Cloud shapes, precipitation, wind direction and speed.
I hope this helps to give you some ideas. If you would like a regular nature study companion, you may find my book Exploring Nature With Children to be useful. A complete, year-long curriculum designed to guide you, step by step, through an entire calendar year of nature study. Completely self-contained, this book has all the information you need to make nature study happen regularly for your family.
I get a lot of feedback from readers via emails, comments on the blog, and via the Facebook group about how inspired they are to keep nature journals, not only for their children, but also for themselves. This makes me so very happy!
I really do believe that keeping a nature journal enriches our lives in so many different ways. For me personally keeping a nature journal brings me so much closer to the natural world around me; I notice things in both a macro and micro sense. I am much more aware of the seasonal changes, of changes in the sky, both day and night. I see the tiny details of whatever I happen to be sketching, details that would have ordinarily passed me by. Details that I do not see when I photograph a subject, or look at it just for pleasure. Nature study brings me closer to my Creator, and for that, I am forever thankful.
I also, unfortunately, sometimes receive messages or comments from people who feel that they cannot keep a nature journal because they “cannot draw”, or their drawings are “not good enough”
This makes me feel so sad, and so frustrated! There seems to be a myth that people can either draw or they cannot. This is so wrong! Would we tell a child who was struggling to read, “well, some people are born readers, others aren’t” No! We would teach them the rules, insist they practice by reading many, many books. It is the same with drawing.
I am not saying that some people don’t have a natural talent, but they still have to work at it, spending many many hours, months, and years perfecting their work, learning new skills.
Nature study is so much more than creating beautiful images. It really is in the journey, not the end product (though of course, we all enjoy the satisfaction of producing a lovely end piece!) But as we learn to draw (and of course, the only way to learn to draw is to actually draw!) we can still be learning about our subject, even if our finished piece is not what we would like, or bears no resemblance to what we have been sketching!
As we sketch, we observe each and every little detail. This is in fact the key to sketching success; learning to see. Sketching what you actually see, not what you think you see.
I have also been told that my work is too ‘arty’ for a nature journal. There are not enough notes, or that my work isn’t precise enough. I think that we must create our journals for ourselves. Comparison really is the thief of joy. I do not have the skill to paint photo realistic work. Nor do I have the time! But I have come to a place of peace, knowing that the journal pages I create each bring me closer to a subject I want to learn about and a Creator whom I love.
Some pages I am pleased with, such as this page of trees:
Others not so much! But I learn a lot from these ‘mistakes’.
We must keep trying. We must be prepared to invest time and be prepared to fail.
Let’s stop comparing our work, encourage one another in our endeavours, and keep learning.
“It is only what we have truly seen that we can truly reproduce; hence, observation is enormously trained by art-teaching.”
Everyone who has commented has expressed their desire to keep their own Calendar of Firsts, however there have been many questions, and I thought I would share some of the questions and answers here, incase it helps you with your own Calendar of Firsts.
I cannot draw.
Miss Mason had her students simply keep a dated list in the back of their regular nature journals. This is the ‘purest’ form of Calendar of Firsts, and will greatly increase your knowledge of the natural world around you.
I live in a place of very limited seasons, so this may be a bit more challenging, but I love the idea.
I think that just the simple act of keeping a Calendar of Firsts would help you to notice any subtle changes. Don’t worry about knowing what to look for in advance. Though the changes will not be as dramatic as for those of us living with the traditional seasons, there will be changes in the constellations, birds migrating from colder climates to spend the winter with you, flowers producing seeds and fruit, changes in temperature and rainfall, and so forth.
I have just begun nature journaling, so everything I see is a ‘first’! How do I differentiate my entries for my nature journal and Calendar of Firsts?
To keep things simple, you could keep a list of firsts in the back of your regular nature journal. If you wish to illustrate your Calendar of Firsts, the two can definitely cross over.
I would like to, but I feel concerned that my work won’t be as good as nature journals I see online.
Comparison is definitely the thief of joy. I would really encourage you to consider keeping a Calendar of Firsts. Please don’t let perfectionism put you off. I can guarantee that if you begin to keep a nature journal in January, by the time December comes around, you cannot fail to improve. I can see how much my own work has improved over the time I have been keeping nature journals.
Remember that nature study is a science not an art subject. Draw diagrams and write lots of notes rather than trying to create pretty pictures. Focus on the goal of learning more about the natural world around you. And imagine the sense of satisfaction you will feel when you look back over a years worth of diligent nature notes. Another idea that may lift the pressure, is to keep a family Calendar of Firsts, that everyone works in.
I can’t find the same journal that you have.
That’s fine! Use whatever is readily available to you, and within your budget. I would suggest going with the paper type/quality that you are comfortable with. Remember the work within is what makes the journal, not the book itself.
Help! Where do I begin?
With a Calendar of Firsts, on the 1st of Jan, write down what you see in the natural world around you. Focus on one place, that should hopefully make it less overwhelming. Then keep looking, what is changing? Flowers, daylight, shadows, the position of the sun, the constellations? Are birds reappearing from their winter in a warmer climate? Do you see them billing nests? Do you see young animals? Trees in bud, then producing flowers, then fruit? You really do not need to know what to look for in advance! The beautiful thing about a Calendar of Firsts, is that it teaches you to see, really notice, what is happening in your own locality.
I am really excited to see you keeping your own Calendar of Firsts in 2017!
It is a capital plan for the children to keep a calendar––the first oak-leaf, the first tadpole, the first cowslip, the first catkin, the first ripe blackberries, where seen, and when. The next year they will know when and where to look out for their favourites, and will, every year, be in a condition to add new observations. Think of the zest and interest, the object, which such a practice will give to daily walks and little excursions.
Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1 p. 54
This year, inspired by Miss Mason, I have been keeping a Calendar of Firsts; a place to record recurring seasonal events, such as the first snowdrops, the first apple on our tree in the garden, and when our apple tree loses it’s leaves.
Miss Mason had her students keep a list in the back of their Nature journals; this was their Calendar. I decided to add a little twist to mine, and illustrated my entries directly into a diary.
Many of you have contacted me about my Calendar of Firsts, and said that you would like to keep your own. I thought it would be fun to have a ‘Calendar of Firsts ~ along’. We can share what we are recording from the natural world, and encourage one another to be consistent.
I will start a thread in the Charlotte Mason Nature Journaling Group on Facebook, were we can discuss the ins and outs. Please do pop over to join the conversation! I would also like to feature other Calendar of Firsts right here on the blog. I think it would be lovely to see a wide range of Calendars. There is no need for illustrations, if you are keeping one in the traditional list form, that would be smashing, as would any illustrated versions. Would you be willing to share yours? If you are interested, please drop me a line at: lynnseddonhs at gmail dot com
We can also keep in touch on social media using the hashtags #calendaroffirsts #raisinglittleshoots #exploringnaturewithchildren
A lady on the Charlotte Mason Nature Journaling group on Facebook recently posted the question “If you had just one piece of advice for nature journaling, what would it be?”
I thought this was a great question, and wanted to share with you my answer.
My piece of advice would be to just do it. Go to your local art shop and pick up a journal for each of your children, and one for yourself. If you cannot draw, that’s all the better, because then your children will see you struggling to learn something new, and it’s a good reminder for us mums to have the feeling of the difficulty of pressing on with learning a new skill. Don’t get caught up in finding the perfect journal, just buy something with medium weight paper, medium texture (not too rough, not too smooth.) Get everyone a pencil. (You can also pick up coloured pencils or watercolours, but if you are feeling overwhelmed, just get everyone a pencil. Also buy a local field guide specific to your area. Mark off a time on your calendar once a week for nature study. Decide where you are going. Go to the same place every week. Your own garden (if you have one) counts. So does a walk around your neighbourhood. When the time for nature study comes, get everyone dressed in weather appropriate clothing and go for a walk. As long or a short as you like. Twenty minutes is fine. You do not have to set off for an all day Pinterest-worthy adventure! While you are out, ask the children to look for something. ‘Signs that autumn is here’, or ‘signs winter in on the way’, are some ideas, but go with whatever you like. Ask them to find a small nature treasure to take home. (No fallen tree branches necessary!) Once home, sit everyone at the table with their journals (you too, mum!) and have everyone draw what they brought home. Gently remind them to ‘draw what they see, not what they think they see.’ Give them hot chocolate and cake while they draw. As they ask questions, look up the answers in your field guide. Discuss. Done!
I am not totally sure that counts as one piece of advice, but I hope it is helpful!
This week I sketched some Hawthorne berries, a Sycamore leaf, and the full, Hunters’ Moon. The hedgerows are bursting with Hawthorne berries right now; the landscapes are abundant in such bright, beautiful colours.
My Calendar Of Firsts this week featured the Rose Hips that were in abundance on our Autumnal equinox walk, and the beautiful Garden Spider that has been building her web over my living room window for the past couple of weeks!
What a joy it has been to watch her each day.
You can see me painting the Hips in this week’s video.