photo of a page in a nature journal with the pencil drawing pictures and notes
dark eyed junco photo credit to Anna Stunkel

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Spending more time outside these days? Start a nature journal as a family or just for you. Nature journaling allows for meditative reflection, whether you stop somewhere on a trail, pick a spot in your backyard, or look outside your window. A nature journal is a space for you to be creative and let nature be the inspiration for what you create.

Here are a few tips to get your own journal started. Be sure to follow Baltimore Woods Nature Center social media for weekly journaling prompts and to see what our environmental educators are writing in their own journals!

  • 1. Select a journal-a sketch pad or notebook

  • 2. Choose your medium-pen, pencil, markers, or a paintbrush (or all of the above)!

  • 3. Find a sit spot-it can be the same every week or different! Try to find a comfortable spot with few distractions.

  • 4. Start journaling- spend as much or as little time as you like, but enjoy this quiet moment to yourself.

Nature journal entries vary by person and age. Try different methods and pick what feels right to you in the moment. Write a poem, draw something big or small, describe what you see and hear, share your thoughts and feelings, or write down questions to look up later. Use your nature journal to help focus your mind, take a break from technology, and connect yourself to the earth.

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram every Monday for the next prompt. If you’re just getting started, you’ll find a list below of topics we’ve already featured.

Weekly Journaling Topics

Week of December 26, 2021 – January 1, 2022

The end of the year can be a wonderful time to look back and reflect on important events, memories, and changes that have occurred. Some things have changed drastically and others have stayed relatively the same.  If you have regularly kept a nature journal through this year, look back in your journal this week; or, if you have just started a new journal, you can reflect back through memories, photos, or older journals. 

In your reflections, find one major change (e.g. your neighborhood, a nearby natural area, something within yourself, etc) and make notes about why/how this change occurred. Then, pick another topic from a past journal entry that remains consistent for you today. Why do you think this remains static? Would you prefer change to happen, or are you glad this has not changed?

Week of December 19 – December 25, 2021

The holiday is filled with gifts, whether it be presents under a tree, time spent with family and friends, or the peaceful moments found in the first few snowfalls of the season. The animal kingdom is no exception to gift giving either. Many animals have been known to give each other gifts. Some birds, like kingfishers and blue jays, present gifts of food to potential mates. There have been studies written about specific spiders wrapping insects in silk webbing to present to each other. Some humans have even reported receiving small gifts from crows.

For this week’s nature journal, get outside or find a quiet spot next to a window. Look around! Do you notice any animals interacting with each other? Imagine how these animals are celebrating winter and write down what gifts you think they give each other. Notice any gifts from nature you haven’t noticed before. Is it snowing? Is there still grass or small buds? Maybe you’ll see an insect you haven’t seen before or the bushes will have berries that are your favorite color. Write down what gifts nature is giving you this winter.

Week of December 12 – December 18, 2021

Due to food shortages, many birds leave our area when the snow arrives and migrate to places with more abundant food sources. However, there are plenty of birds that stay behind and are able to forage for food all winter long. Some examples include Black-Capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and Dark-Eyed Juncos. Although these birds also eat insects, they rely heavily on seeds throughout the cold season. 

This week, note in your nature journal whenever you observe birds foraging for food. Are the birds scattering leaf litter or snow, or feeding on seed pods? What kinds of seeds are they eating? What plants are these seeds from? Try to identify the plant and write/draw about the different gifts these plants provide birds during winter. Alternatively, you can observe the importance of seeds from your very own backyard by putting up a bird feeder!

Week of December 5 – December 11, 2021

As some of us join together to celebrate the changing seasons and the holidays, late fall is a great time to go for adventures in nature with friends and family. Maybe you find comfort in the simple joy of sharing a wildlife encounter, playing in the snow, or following animal tracks. No matter the day or the weather, nature is always there to explore and to share with loved ones.

This week, go for a walk or find a nice place to sit and observe your surroundings, with family or friends if possible. Or, go on your own exploration and consider sharing your observations later on. What do you notice along the way, and what do your fellow observers notice? If you’ve been to this area before, how is it different today compared to the last time you visited? See how many new things you can find, working together as a team if you’re with others. Maybe you notice some interesting shadows and light patterns as the sun’s angle is changing, or maybe you see a new bird flying overhead. If you have been following along with our nature journal prompts since last year this time, you could flip back to revisit your notes and compare your observations.

Week of November 28 – December 4, 2021

At this time of year, many people gather with family or friends. Whether celebrating the holidays, marking the turn of the seasons, or simply enjoying a friend’s company, gathering together brings warmth to the coldest months of winter. Like us, many animals gather in winter to share resources, socialize, and make long migration journeys. We can see examples of animal gatherings by observing birds: geese fly south in V-formations, crows roost by the thousands, and chickadee flocks forage for food.

This week, see if you notice any animal gatherings while exploring nature. Record in your nature journal which animals form groups, how many individuals are part of each group, and how they interact with each other. As you observe these animal gatherings, consider: what can these animals do together that they can’t achieve alone? How might these gatherings be similar to, and different from, human gatherings of friends and family?

Week of November 21 – November 27, 2021

To some, the beginning of the winter season might feel like a time when colors in nature turn pale and dull. The broadleaf trees have lost their leaves, many colorful birds have migrated away, and the flowers won’t reappear until spring. Mushrooms have disappeared and many animals are hibernating. Snow may already be falling, frost coats the trail, and here in Central New York, the sky is often gray too. 

However, these shades of gray and white only make the colors that do occur all the brighter. The male Northern Cardinal is a wonderful example of this; against the white backdrop of snow, he shines like a beacon of fire in the forest. 

This week, look for bright colors outdoors (especially on a particularly frosty day) and draw (color-match with colored pencils, markers, and/or paints!) your discoveries in your journal. You may find red berries on a bush, yellow-gold beech leaves still clinging to their branches, or the striking contrast of a male Cardinal. 

Week of November 14 – November 20, 2021

As the sky goes gray, the deciduous trees have lost their leaves, and the ground may become covered with snow any day now, we may notice colors more readily. Our eyes might catch human-made objects that stand out against the winter whites (such as buildings, cars, signs, and clothing). How are these colors different from organic colors (such as shrubs, lichens, rocks, and soil)?

This week, reflect on what makes something “unnatural” or “natural” in nature in the first place! Ask family and friends what they think and notice, and record their answers. Does everyone agree on the difference between “unnatural” and “natural” objects?

In your nature journal you may record the difference in colors between unnatural and natural objects in your area. Are some human-made things more brightly colored? If so, what are the objects, and why do you think the humans decided to create the objects in those colors?

Week of November 7 – November 13, 2021

As the days become shorter and the temperatures are falling, animals are preparing for the cold weather and change in food supply. Many birds and mammals can be seen busily hiding (also known as caching) food for the winter. Some of these critters may have thousands of hiding spots! 

This week, see if you notice any animals busily collecting or caching food. Do you see squirrels or chipmunks carrying nuts or digging holes in which to store them? 

Notice the behavior of the birds at bird feeders, and observe where feathered visitors fly after they grab a seed. Chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches will often take one seed at a time and fly over to a nearby tree to wedge their food into bark crevices. In early fall, the area of the brain responsible for spatial memory grows among these food caching birds. This makes it easier for them to remember where they hide food. 

Take note of your findings in your nature journal. You can even watch one animal for a while. How many times do you see the animal hiding food? Is there a certain tree or sheltered area that seems to be a preferred hiding spot? What does the food that’s being stored look like? Try sketching and writing your observations, and see if you notice an increase in caching behavior over time as winter approaches. 

How are you getting ready for the winter season? If you were an animal, where would you hide your food for later?

Week of October 31 – November 6, 2021

If you look outside during this time of year, you will see many animals frantically preparing for winter as the temperature drops lower each day. Squirrels, skunks, mice and many other mammals are storing food and creating warm nests so that when the outside temperature drops below freezing, they can enter a hibernation-like state of being known as “torpor.” Animals in torpor do not sleep through the winter, but enter a very lethargic state where all of their reaction rates slow down and they rest for much longer periods of time. 

For this week’s nature journal, think about ways that animals need to get ready for the winter. On one side of your page, write down a few reasons why you think winter is a stressful time of year for local wildlife. On the other side of the page, write down some ways animals respond to some of these added stresses. Can they plan ahead and prepare for some of these challenges? Do they have to change their routines to accommodate colder weather? If you are unsure, try to think about winter from the perspective of a skunk and how you might survive the winter.

Now think about your own life. How do you prepare for winter? Have you noticed any shifts in your life? As the days get shorter, it is normal to feel like life is starting to slow down. Allow yourself to lean into those feelings and take a more restful and nurturing approach to your busy schedule.