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 September 20 – September 26

This week we’re exploring citizen science programs. Citizen science is crucial for data collection, especially for projects spanning years or continents! Whether you choose to collect data or analyze it, you’re helping scientists make major discoveries and breakthroughs in record time.

For your nature journal prompt this week, find out if you’re interested in joining a citizen science project with your own experiment. Set aside an hour or even just 15 minutes every day this week to observe activity in your backyard or a local park. Perhaps you would like to monitor how many squirrels you see, what plants are growing right now, or how many different bird species visit the feeder. What discoveries will you make?

Week of September 13 – September 19

As humans, the dark often feels foreign and scary to us, and that is for good reason. We are simply not built for the dark. We rely heavily on our eyesight, which is designed specifically for seeing well in the light. 

This week instead of nature journaling during the day where we are comfortable, try to journal at night instead. Head outside after dark and turn off all the lights, what do you notice? Maybe the sounds are louder when you can’t see what is making them. Are smells stronger, too? Perhaps there is a full sky of stars above your head. Write or draw about what you experience in the dark.

Week of September 6 – September 12

Within a given ecosystem are countless interactions and relationships between organisms. These interactions are called symbiotic relationships. Simply put, symbiosis means “together life”. They can be positive for both parties, negative for one partner, or have little to no effect on one partner with benefits for the other. The type of symbiosis practiced between organisms varies, but the result is a healthy, productive ecosystem.

For your nature journal prompt this week, think about the relationships within an ecosystem and try to find one while out exploring.  Write about or draw a symbiotic relationship that you find. Perhaps you come across a bee pollinating a flower, a leech on a frog, or squirrels burying nuts. Is this a positive interaction for both organisms or only positive for one? How important is it to the flow of the ecosystem?

Week of August 30 – September 5

This week we’re celebrating art in nature! From the song of the cricket to the expertly woven bird’s nest, the beauty of nature engages your senses and provokes a feeling of peace.

For your nature journal prompt this week, let the art you find in nature provoke and inspire you! Write a poem, paint a landscape, draw the intricate details on a butterfly’s wing, or sing along with the birds. Immerse your creativity in nature and allow it to blossom into something new and beautiful.

Week of August 23 – August 29

The wonder of nature is all around us, and taking some time to sit and experience it reveals many more benefits to being outside than we may have realized. 

This week, pack your nature journal and find a special ‘sit spot.’ It can be a favorite place you’ve visited may times over, or a brand new view that caught your eye. Find a comfortable place to sit or stand, and give yourself 5 minutes of silence to just observe what is around you – what do you see, hear, feel, smell? Then take another 5 minutes with your journal to write down 5 things that stood out to you from your sit spot. Note or draw what you observed and why you think it stood out to you. Do you feel different after these 10 minutes of time with nature? 

Week of August 16 – August 22

Our staff and volunteers work tirelessly to maintain the trails at Baltimore Woods. Of course, we don’t know they need maintenance unless we’re out there making observations. All summer long our volunteers have walked the trails, noting how many people they passed, if they saw wildlife, or if a section of trail is in need of repair.

In your nature journal this week, make a trail report. Visit one of your favorite trails at Baltimore Woods or a local park and look at it from a different perspective. Write down the date, time, weather, and location. Keep track of how many hikers you pass, wildlife sightings, and note the condition of the trail. Is it well maintained or could it use some help? Think about how many people travel along a section of trail in just one weekend. Use your trail report to consider how we can be trail stewards and help keep trails in good condition for future generations to enjoy.

Week of August 9 – August 15

Do you ever wish you could fly? Like a bird, bat, or butterfly? How about a flying squirrel or dragonfly? In your nature journal this week imagine that you can fly. Write or draw what your wings would look like. Where would you go? Would you fly across the country or soar over home? The sky’s the limit!

Week of August 2 – August 8

Over the past few months, our education team has switched gears from in-person, hands-on programs to virtual public programming. It has been quite the transition, but we’ve been able to reach communities we’ve previously not had a connection with. Our team has also had a lot of fun creating virtual public programs to inspire you and your family to connect with nature in new and creative ways.

For this week’s nature journal prompt, we want you to try your hand at storytelling! What kind of nature-focused program would you make? Write down a topic and a few facts or ideas for your virtual public program. Add drawings or take pictures/videos. Share your ideas with us on social media or at connect@baltimorewoods.org. Who knows, maybe we’ll use your idea in our next video!

Week of July 26 – August 1

Ah, camp. It’s a special time in a young person’s life when they get to explore the boundless possibilities of summer. At Baltimore Woods Nature Center, free play and a healthy dose of sunshine (and sometimes a dash of rain) encourage young people to work together, learn a lot, and of course, have lots of fun. There is no “right way” to free play — hence the moniker. Children and young people are encouraged to utilize their creative skills and connect with the world and people around them in ways that are impactful, without the added pressure of “having to do” anything but play. There are no pieces of tech hanging around, no lectures, barely any structured space and time. This kind of social and emotional interaction is rare in a world where there is a barrage of information and structure at every corner. Just think, when was the last time you took a few moments to get outside and take a look around — no need to perform a task and no sign of a single expectation? Or when did you last call up a friend or a loved one to gab without a purpose? Here at Baltimore Woods we believe that there is something particularly empowering about letting go and embracing a sense of freedom. Really, a freedom we all knew as children but somehow lost along the way. In the spirit of free play, write something. Anything. A word that means something to you right now (but may mean nothing to you in a moment). A poem that makes no sense. A story that builds or one that breaks. Express yourself and lean into the philosophy of summertime freedom. Go ahead, play with your words (but please refrain from doing so with your food at the dinner table).

Week of July 19 – July 25

Water is necessary for all life. Living in Central New York we have water all around us in lakes, ponds, rivers,and streams. We may not always think about it but water shapes our lives everyday. In your journal this week write about how water impacts your life. From watering your garden to cooling off on a hot day, take a moment to appreciate all that water does for us.

Week of July 12 – July 18

While on a hike, perhaps you have noticed a unique blue hue among the greens and browns of the forest floor. That blue hue may be the work of the Blue-stain fungus (Ophiostoma spp. Ceratocystis spp.). Blue-Stain fungus is carried onto and into a tree by bark beetles and other wood-inhabiting insects. This fungus is often found on dead and decaying conifer trees. 

For your nature journal activity this week, take a trip to a local park such as Baltimore Woods and search for colorful fungi. Write or draw what the fungus looks like and try to identify it when you get home. Fungi can be very small, so look closely and carefully! 

Helpful hunting tip- look for fungi after it rains or in moist places like marshy forests.

Week of July 5 – July 11

When we share our newsletter, The Overlook, we include a few Almanac facts from the months in that quarter. One of our almanac facts for July is, “Praying mantises sway side to side to camouflage with leaves moving in the breeze.” This is a very clever adaption of an incredible insect! All plants and animals have some adaptations that help them survive year after year.

This week, go for a walk around your neighborhood or in a nearby park and think about what some of the adaptations might be of the plants and animals you see or hear on your walk. Write these adaptations down in your nature journal and look them up to see if you are correct!

Week of June 28 – July 4

It can be difficult to stay present in the current moment. Our minds always seem to be drifting off to somewhere else. A good way to stay present in the moment is through grounding techniques. This week for your nature journal prompt head outside to your yard, a local park, or a Baltimore Woods trail to try a grounding technique. Find a good spot to sit or stand, get comfortable. Close your eyes for a few moments, write down any sounds you hear and anything you smell. Open your eyes and write down the first five things you see. Connect your senses to the place you are in. Try this in a few spots, take note of any differences in the different spots.

Week of June 21 – June 27

Baltimore Woods Nature Center has been providing hands-on/minds-on education in the city of Syracuse for nearly 20 years with the Nature in the City program. At first glance, the name “Nature in the City” may seem like a misnomer. Of course there is nature in cities. Nature is everywhere, after all.  However, access to green spaces in Syracuse and in cities across the globe can be met with significant barriers. Nature in the City programming focuses on helping elementary school students explore wild spaces around them — but it is about so much more than going outside. Nature in the City provides critical STEM and science curriculum in each lesson. Teachers remark that students connect with Nature in the City throughout the year. One teacher commented, “The students were able to link a current science lesson with something they learned or participated in during the Nature in the City lessons.”

In the spirit of education go to a park, take a stroll through your neighborhood, or look around your backyard. Find something that piques your curiosity, take a picture, and do some research on it. Write your findings in your journal.

Week of June 14 – June 20

There is a reason that the landscape you see everyday looks the way it does. Much of it may be the result of human actions in the recent past, but underneath that is the legacy of geologic movements of epic proportions! 

This week in your nature journal, find one piece of the landscape near where you live and examine it closely. It could be a pond in your backyard, or a stream or valley you see regularly. Think about what kind of process could have formed it. You can research it on your own or maybe your chosen feature will be discussed later this week as we learn about geology together!

Week of June 7 – June 13

In nature beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and can be created by some of the most unlikely creatures. Have you ever seen an intricate spider web shimmering in the sun? Or admired the gold spots on monarch chrysalises? How about the delicate house of a caddisfly larvae? 

This week in your nature journal take a moment to draw or write about something nature that was created by an insect and you think is beautiful. Insects are all around us and although we may not always like them take this moment to appreciate the beauty that  they are capable of creating. If you want, challenge yourself to find the beauty that the most annoying insects, like wasps and slugs, create.  

Week of May 31 – June 6

Have you been enjoying the magnitude of colors that have suddenly popped onto the scene in the past couple weeks? It’s as if we have been viewing the landscape through dusty glasses, and spring showers have washed them clean! There is much wisdom we can gather from the plants. The one bit of advice they seem to be sharing right now is to let yourself bloom to your full potential!

Take a few moments this week to sit and observe the flowers or trees, focus on the colors or textures that grab your attention. Select a particular plant and write about why you are drawn to it. Is it the way it smells, or possibly the shapes or design of the petals or leaves, or perhaps it’s just the species that interests you? Is it stirring up a memory of when you were younger and had more carefree days to spend out in nature? Whatever it is, spend a few moments free writing how it makes you feel and what you can do to harness those good feelings for later!

Week of May 24 – May 30

Weird and Wacky Nature

There is a saying in the Environmental Education profession that goes something like, “If you’ve seen it in a movie, nature did it first…and better…and probably even weirder.” Just look at slime molds, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, or a dragonfly’s mouth. You don’t have to go very far to find weird and wacky nature. 

For your nature journal activity this week, take a trip around your backyard or to your favorite natural area and find something that makes you say, “Whoa…wait…what?”. What do you notice when you look close? Next, ask it some questions and write the answers in your journal. Ask things like: Who are you? What do you do for a living? How do you eat? Where did you come from? It’s OK if you don’t know the real scientific answers, just write whatever comes to your mind. Make a quick sketch, then do a little research when you get home – you might be surprised at how weird your find really is!

Week of May 17 – May 23

Imagine Yourself as a Raindrop

If April showers bring May flowers what do May showers bring? Springtime is known for  rainy days but don’t let the clouds dampen your spirits. Water is necessary for all living things.

In your journal this week write a poem, a short story, or draw a picture in which you envision yourself as a raindrop falling from the sky. What will your journey be? Where will you land? Will a plant’s roots suck you up or will you become a drink for a butterfly? Will you wet a bird’s feathers or will you make a puddle for someone to jump in? The sky’s the limit! 

Week of May 10-May 16

Log Rolling

What little friends might you find under a rock or a log? Roll over a few things and see what you discover! Keep track of how many different critters you find and draw your favorite. The creatures you reveal rely on the habitat under the log or rock, so make sure you carefully roll it back into place once you’re finished. Happy log rolling!

Week of May 3- May 9

Mother/Nature

Nature is at once a noun, concept, force, and phenomenon. It is nearly impossible to categorize. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the word “mother” cannot neatly fit into any one category, either. Mothers and motherhood dance along an entangled web of definitions, actions, words, and emotions. These two six-letter words, nature and mother, have profound and complex meanings to individuals and societies at large.

In your journal this week, draw two T-charts. The first T-chart is the “society” chart. On top of one column, write “Mother.” On top of the second column, write “Nature.” Under the “Mother” column, write down the characteristics of mothers as understood in society. Then under the “Nature” column, write down the characteristics of nature as understood in society. Take a moment to look at your lists. Do you notice any similarities between the lists? Any differences? Write down your observations.

The second T-chart is the “personal” chart. Label this chart the same as the first chart, with “Mother” heading one column and “Nature” the other. This time, write down the characteristics of “mother” and “nature” that mean something to you personally. Take a moment to look at these lists. Do you notice any similarities? Any differences? How does this T-chart differ from your first T-chart? Write down your observations.

Week of April 27-May 2

Metamorphosis

Most insects go through a metamorphosis or a great change throughout their lives. The butterfly for instance is seen as a sign of endurance, transitions and hope. The caterpillar goes through many obstacles until it’s ready to go through the ultimate transformation into a butterfly. 

Think about your own life for a moment. What great change have you gone through? How has it helped to shape the person you are today? 

Or maybe you feel like you’re still the caterpillar preparing for a transformation. How can you make sure to nurture yourself better during this time? 

Week of April 20-April 25

Earth Week

This Wednesday is the 50th Earth Day! That’s a lot of years of people committing to protect the environment. This week, write about something you do that helps the environment. Do you walk to school, compost, or recycle?

If you’re having trouble thinking of something, try writing about something you want to do, but haven’t found time for yet. Maybe starting a pollinator garden or making a birdhouse! 

Week of April 12-April 18

Sound mapping

You’ve likely been woken up by birds chirping or heard a wonderful chorus walking down the street, but then continued on with your day. Fully immerse your sense of hearing in their songs with sound mapping. With your journal at your sit spot, place an X on the paper-this represents where you are sitting. Close your eyes and listen to the birds. Every time you hear a sound, use a symbol to mark the direction and general distance you heard it in. 

At the end, circle the symbol that represents your favorite bird song. What did it sound like?

Week of April 6-April 11

Outside, many different flowers are starting to bloom in the city as well as in wild places. Count their petals; how many different colors are there? If you find one with thin leaves like blades of grass and six purple petals, it just may be a crocus. 

Try drawing the crocus. If you want help with drawing strategies click here for a video tutorial by Baltimore Woods Naturalist Rand Michaels  

Week of March 30 – April 4

Take time this week to observe nature waking up from the cold temperatures and the snowy depths of winter. You can do this daily at the same spot or taking a walk outside and just looking around. Think about how a wildflower pushes through the soil, through dried leaves and other obstacles to get to the sun. It’s waited months underground, saving energy until the perfect moment. No matter the obstacles those green shoots will find the sun. What wisdom can we learn by observing the plants? Take a moment to write down ways that you can use this renewing spring energy to inspire positive changes in your life.

Week of March 23-28

Look out your window, think of and describe ways that nature helps your mental, emotional, or physical health or think of new ways you could integrate nature into your life for your health.