eastern chipmunk peeks out of rocks
morel mushroom on forest floor
watercolor painting of fall leaves
black-capped chickadee on a branch
staghorn sumac leaves dying on branch in fall

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 August 29 -September 4, 2021

In this week’s journaling prompt we’d like to take some time to express how grateful we are to the experiences and memories we gained from this summer! When we take the time to reflect and be mindful at the end of a season, it can make the transition more smooth as the next season falls in. It can also make those memories more vivid! 

Take a moment to think about what you loved about this summer and then write a thank you letter to this season. Describe the experiences you had in sensory details; what did you smell, see, hear, touch and taste?

Dear Summer,

Your note here.

You can add photos or drawings to help when you’re looking back on these memories! Share with us your favorite thing that happened this summer by emailing connect@baltimorewoods.org.

 

Week of August 22 – August 28, 2021

Even as we make our way towards September, there will still be plenty of hot and humid days here in Central New York. On a particularly warm day, take notes in your nature journal of different ways that you observe wildlife cooling off. 

Even if you don’t directly see the animal, perhaps there is evidence of an animal who used a spot to recently cool off. Examples include a flattened patch of tall grass in the shade where a deer may have laid, or a puddle with bird tracks around it. If you find yourself near Phillips Pond or Baltimore Brook, take a moment to sit and observe in your journal the times of day that birds use the pond. Do any of them take baths at the water’s edge? If you see a butterfly land on a leaf, check out the wings. Butterflies will slowly extend and contract their wings when they are sitting still as a way to cool off.

Wherever you choose to complete this journaling activity, whether in a forest, at a pond’s edge, or in the middle of your city park, take a moment to check out all of the tactics that the life around you (both large and small) use to keep cool during the hot days of summer!

Week of August 15 – August 21, 2021

If there’s one thing that makes us all smile during the summer, it’s the wealth of colors that we see in both wildlife and plants! Plants especially pull out all the stops to attract their various pollinators and the color range is magnificent!

Take your journal outside and go for a color hunt. How many different colors can you find? How many shades are there of certain colors? Which colors draw your eye the most? 

Week of August 8 – August 14, 2021

One of the first things that comes to mind when you hear the word summer is the sun! Now is the perfect time to look for all the ways that the sun plays a role in our environment.

For this week’s nature journal entry, find a quiet spot to sit or pause in the forest. Notice the way that the sun peeks through the leaves and showers nature with its rays. Take a moment to write down all the ways the sun is influencing the life around you. If you want, you can even sketch the way that the sun shines through the forest by sketching the shadows you see on the ground around you!

Week of August 1 – August 7, 2021

Every season has a distinct effect on the living beings in nature. Winter is a time of dormancy; spring shows rebirth; fall signals fading and harvest. The current season, summer, supplies plenty of light, warmth, and water for living things to grow rapidly. 

This week, try to find examples of these explosions of growth in plants. For example, take a walk around Phillips Pond (Boundary Trail) and check out the Griffiths Loop to find lush, green plants overgrowing the trails. No matter where you are in Central New York, you will probably see some sort of plant life in summer. 

Ask yourself…how many plants are overgrowing near the highway? How about near water? If there are trees, are there other plants (epiphytes) growing up their trunks or on their branches? Take notes in your journal if you are comparing different habitats, and remember what a plant needs to grow quickly: light and water. Then, imagine you are a plant and grow your way into the rest of this summer!

Week of July 25 – July 31, 2021

July is coming to an end but there’s plenty of summer fun to be had! Did you ever have a summer to-do list as a kid? Well you may have a to-do list now but it’s likely filled with things you have to do, what about the things you want to do?

Take a moment to think about what fun you want to have with the last precious month of summer, grab your journal and write or draw it out! Let your inner child lead the way! Think about the things you liked to do when you were younger, like playing in a creek, roasting marshmallows or catching frogs! You can add in photos of yourself as a child for inspiration or draw out the activities with some artistic flair. You can cut this page out of your journal and add it to your fridge as a reminder! 

Share your summer to-do lists with us at connect@baltimorewoods.org.

Week of July 18 – July 24, 2021

Spring is often associated with baby animals, eggs, and new beginnings, and summer is a wonderful time to witness those baby animals grow up! Many baby insects (larvae) that go through a full metamorphosis, like butterflies and moths, start to form a protective life cycle stage (called a pupa) around this time. Inside the pupa, a larva transforms into an adult. When ready, the adults emerge from their pupae and are ready to eat, find mates, lay eggs, and begin the cycle all over again!

This week, take out your journal and look for signs of baby insects going through a life cycle change. This could be larva starting to form cocoons, a  butterfly chrysalis hanging from a leaf, or an adult emerging from a pupa. Observe what life cycle stage the insect is in, the texture of any pupae, and think about what it might be like to go through such an extreme metamorphosis when growing up! 

Week of July 11 – July 17, 2021

Summer is a perfect time to look for signs of youth in nature. Baby birds are fledging from the nest, new flowers are blooming, and fawns are frolicking in the meadows.

For this week’s nature journaling prompt, see if you can discover one sign of youth in nature. This might be a young animal with its parents, or perhaps some new plants growing in your garden or out on the trails at Baltimore Woods. What do you notice about this baby animal or growing plant? For example, are there some beautiful patterns or colors that stand out to you, like the spots on a baby fawn’s coat or the brilliant green of grass after a rainstorm?

You can sketch your discoveries and/or write about them in your nature journal. Happy exploring!

Week of July 4 – July 10, 2021

As we prepare for the start of nature day camp this week, we are focused on all of the experiences children have while playing outside. When children play outside their minds light up with curiosity and their imaginations are alive with creativity. When a child picks up a stick, that stick can turn into a wand, a sword, a spoon, a flower, a staff, and anything else they might imagine. 

This week for your journaling prompt let’s exercise our imaginative minds. Find something outside and use your imagination to see things from the perspective of a child. A flower can become a fairy home. A branch overhanging a trail can become a portal to a new world. Write down your discoveries in your journal.

As an optional additional activity, next time you find yourself playing with a child in your life share some of your imaginative disc

Week of June 27 – July 3, 2021

If you could be any type of bug what would it be? It doesn’t have to even be a real bug, let your imagination run wild! Sit outside and look around for inspiration. To help you get started,  answer these questions in your nature journal:

  • What would you eat?
  • What habitat would you live in?
  • How would you breathe air?
  • What would you use for defense?
  • How would you move?
  • What would your life cycle look like?

Draw out your bug self and make note of different adaptations or tools you would have to help you survive. You can create a story about yourself and what a day in your life would be like. Imagining ourselves as a creature can help us to have compassion for them, especially the small and often overlooked ones like bugs. At Baltimore Woods, we love bugs, so share your pictures of yourselves as bugs with us by emailing connect@baltimorewoods.org.

Week of June 20 – June 26, 2021

Insects are an important part of ecosystems. Many insects including bees, moths, butterflies, and even beetles, flies, and ants play the role of pollinators, aiding in the continued flowering and reproduction of plants.

This week for your nature journal prompt, find a spot in your yard or garden where you can keep an eye on a flower. Spend some time near this flower and observe how many times an insect comes to visit. Keep a tally in your journal of how many insects visit this flower and take note of the time of day. Other details you may want to note are the length of time the insect spent at the flower and observations of their behavior. After recording your observations, take some time to reflect on what you saw. Were you surprised at how many insects visited the flower? Was there a variety in who visited or was it the same type of insect? You may be surprised at what you learn!

Week of June 13 – June 19, 2021

Have you ever stopped and really watched an insect? Whether they are a butterfly fluttering by on large wings, an ant scurrying along in line with others, or a treehopper jumping just at the last minute before you catch it, insects have an amazing array of movement!

This week for your nature journal prompt find a spot where you can sit and really watch an insect (or multiple insects!) move across their environment. Just observe for a few minutes – how does their motion differ from our own? Are they moving in a straight line or creating different patterns? If they are perfectly still, is there something that causes them to move – like the wind or the shadow or a passing bird? Try to capture what you observed using words, drawings, or even lines on the page that reflect the intricate movements. Reflect on how these small invertebrate creatures capture your attention, and see where that wonder takes you.

Week of June 6 – June 12, 2021

This week we have a fun activity for you to do to experience a trail in a new way! If you can’t get out to Baltimore Woods any trail will do. Grab a buddy, a blindfold and your journal.

Take turns being blindfolded on a trail that is relatively flat. We recommend trying this out on the stretch of the Boundary Trail starting from the lower parking lot and heading towards the Valley Trail. The person not blindfolded will lead the blindfolded person along the trail, directing which way to go and having them experience the heightened focus of our other senses when we cannot use our sight. Reach out and feel around you, smell deeply of the air, listen to the bird calls and water flowing. Just stand still for a moment and be present. Then switch and compare your experience then take some time to journal what you noticed. 

A fun challenge is to lead the blindfolded person to a tree, have them feel the bark and what is around this particular tree. Then lead them away, take the blindfold off and see if they can find their tree! 

Week of May 30 – June 5, 2021

There is so much to see on the trails here at Baltimore Woods-especially at this time of year! The green leaves now cast the understory in shadows, delicate flowers bloom in the fields, and colorful birds create a chorus.

For your nature journal prompt this week, take a hike on one of your favorite trails here at Baltimore Woods or a park near you. Take note of the sights and sounds along the way and allow them to inspire you for some creative writing. Find a sit spot during your hike or when you get home and write about your experience using immersive language. Describe what you saw, felt, and heard on your hike. If you are comfortable, send in your creative writing piece to connect@baltimorewoods.org and we’ll feature it on our website!

Week of May 23 – May 29, 2021

It’s the little things that can make the biggest impact within nature and within ourselves. The sunshine has been a much needed balm to our rain-weary souls. Life is blooming everywhere you look and the sunrise/sunsets are spectacular! 

Take your nature journal outside this week and find a comfortable place to sit. Look around you, what catches your eye? If you’d like, you can lay on your belly and get eye level with the grass, what little things do you notice? Take time to observe the shapes that appear in nature. Take photos and zoom in to get a close look at flower petals, moss or insects. What patterns emerge?

Taking time to appreciate the little things can inspire within us a sense of awe at the unique beauty that surrounds us and shift our moods in a big positive way! 

Week of May 16 – May 22, 2021

There are many wonderful things to see in nature, but sometimes you have to look a little deeper to discover the smaller things around us. This week take your nature journal to a stream or body of water near your home to look for the small things living in the water. There are many plants and animals to discover in bodies of water, including water insects! A great way to find these water insects is by carefully flipping over rocks and looking on the underside. Many of these
water insects are also pollution sensitive which means it’s a good sign if you find them! Make sure to put any rocks back right where you found them.

In your nature journal write down or draw what you found and when you go home look them up to see what role they play in the ecosystem.

Week of May 9 – May 15, 2021

Nature inspires us, but it challenges us as well. These challenges can be physical, emotional, or mental. Think about a steep hill or mountain; the physical challenge is to climb it, but mentally you must keep yourself motivated to continue the strenuous hike.

In your nature journal this week, allow nature to inspire and challenge you. Pick something that is in front of you to draw, such as a pine cone or a flower. Take in the general shape, size, and important details. Then close your eyes and start drawing! As an added challenge, draw the object as one continuous line, which means you never pick up the pencil. When you open your eyes, think about the similarities your drawing shares with the object you picked.

Week of May 2 – May 8, 2021

There are so many wonderful moments and experiences to have while spending time in nature. Many of our most memorable moments in nature are not something that we planned to see or experience. Special moments in nature can be something big like a hawk landing on a branch right nearby for a spectacular view or something more common like the sweet smell of a lilac bush. Moments in nature don’t need to be something big and uncommon to be special and memorable, it’s important to appreciate the everyday experience as well.

This week for your nature journal prompt, take some time to be present in nature and write about something you saw, heard, or felt that was special to you. You can do this by sitting in one spot and observing the world around you or by going on a walk or hike. Be open to what you might experience and write about whatever was memorable or special to you. 

Week of April 25 – May 1, 2021

As the weather gets warmer, birds get busier! Robins are listening for worms in the ground, bluebirds are preparing their nests, and goldfinches are showing off their bright yellow feathers. Sunny Spring days are filled with the flutter of wings and beautiful birdsong. 

For your nature journal prompt this week, sit outside or by an open window and observe the birds. Write down what they are doing and how many different birds you see or hear. Pick one to draw or describe its features. Perhaps their songs inspire a poem or their colors prompt a painting!

Week of April 18 – April 24, 2021

April showers bring…spring ephemerals! Spring wildflowers have a spectacular yet sadly short life cycle, so you don’t want to miss out on their blooms! 

Get outside and search for these spring beauties before they begin to transition back to the earth. From the beautiful yellows of the daffodils to the white, purple and red delicate petals of the trillium, these flowers are a welcome sight after a long winter of dull colors! Tune in and let them dazzle your senses!

You can use your nature journal to draw the wildflowers that you find or describe how they look. If there is a place you can visit each day, you can make a note of how long they last before their ephemeral blooms begin to fade. Taking photos is another fun way to keep the memories of these first signs of spring.

Week of April 11 – April 17, 2021

April showers bring… many things! We all know the saying April showers bring May flowers but flowers are not the only thing that they bring. From salamanders to seedlings warm spring rains bring new life to our forests and neighborhoods. 

This week take your journal on a walk with you and write or draw about all of the new things that this month’s rains are bringing us. Is it a robin nest with pale blue eggs in it? Or a spring peeper singing its heart out in a bush? How many things can you find?

Week of April 4 – April 10, 2021

The saying, April showers bring May flowers is a reminder to be patient during this famously rainy month. Take note of how you’re feeling when we get a rainy day. Think about how you can change your attitude towards this rainy month to one of appreciation and anticipation of what all the nourishing rain will bring! Read the prompt below and write about your experience in your nature journal.

Imagine yourself as a flower. You’ve been sleeping, in a dormant state all winter long. The sun begins warming the soil around you. The snow melts and the rains fall, sending nourishing water to your roots. The energy you’ve stored up all winter begins to move within you, you can feel the life returning to you. Imagine the sunshine so warm and bright, urging you to sprout up from the soil. You use all your strength to push up through the layer of fall leaves that helped to insulate you all winter. You uncurl your leaves, stretching up to the sun. Your petals open and soon bees and butterflies begin visiting you. You use the resources around you to begin making sugar through your leaves. You feel energized and full of life. You have returned for another season of growth and renewal. Faces peer down at you in awe and admire your beauty. You are a long awaited sign that spring is finally here!

Week of March 28 – April 3, 2021

Have you been following along with our weekly journal prompts this past year? If you have, then you likely have a journal full of writings and drawings. It may not always be obvious, but each time you write or draw your skills improve a little bit.

This week let’s take a look back at some of your earliest journal entries and compare them to your most recent ones. How has your writing or drawing style changed or improved over the past year? If you were to do some of the journal entries again how do you think they would change? Take a moment to reflect on this in your journal.

Week of March 21 – 27, 2021

Wow! What a year it has been. We all had to adjust to a very different style of work, school, and free time. With all the stress and isolation, many of us turned to nature as a place where we could find peace and joy.

For your nature journal prompt this week, look back on the past year. What did you learn and how did you use nature to benefit your mental, physical, or emotional health? Write down the best discovery you made or draw something from a fun memory. How will you continue to connect with nature? If you make a plan now, it will be easier to fit your life around those moments that help clear your mind and bring you happiness.

Week of March 14 -20, 2021

Stepping outside and taking a deep breath in lets you know that spring is surely on its way! The weather may still be fluctuating but many signs of spring are beginning to show. Each morning I am hearing more and more birds singing. On walks through my neighborhood I have begun to see the delicate and delightful snowdrop and crocus flowers. Now it’s your turn to discover signs of spring!

This week for your nature journal prompt, go on a walk in your neighborhood or at a local park. See what signs of spring you discover and take a photo. Send the photo of your sign of spring to someone else to brighten their day. Then in your nature journal write down what sign of spring you discovered and who you sent the photo to and why. Encourage them to go out and take their own photo of a sign of spring and pass it along to someone else. Let the signs of spring reverberate throughout our community!

Week of March 7 -13, 2021

It is so easy to think of March as a continuation of February and the dreary gray winter. If you take a moment to look a little closer, you might find that March is actually full of many signs of the coming spring, each one helping to lift your spirits just a little more.

For your nature journaling prompt this week, take some time to notice a few of these subtle signs of spring. What little thing on your walk or outside your window sparks the fire of spring cheer in your heart? Once you’ve found something, write a little postcard that you can read come December to remind you of that promise of hope and cheer when March rolls around. Bonus points for sketching the picture side of your postcard. Extra bonus points for sharing it with us by emailing a picture of it to connect@baltimorewoods.org!

Week of February 28 – March 6, 2021

March can be a month of many changes, some within one day! It can be snowing one moment and raining the next. We can use this transitional time to ease ourselves into the coming spring.

For your nature journal prompt this week, dedicate time each day to get outside to search for signs of spring, especially anything green! Find a place around your home that you can visit each day and make notes or drawings about the changes you are observing. Use what you experience as inspiration in thinking about a ritual you could do to celebrate the upcoming spring equinox on March 20th. It could be as simple as opening your windows and dusting away the cobwebs of winter or spending intentional moments soaking up the sun’s warm rays! 

Week of February 21 – February 27, 2021

In the middle of winter, it is so easy to overlook all the diversity outside, from the various species of trees and shrubs to shelf fungi to animals that are trying to stay warm during the cold months. 

For your nature journal prompt this week, take a walk outside and find a life form you might often overlook. Perhaps it is a tree with interesting bark, a dried weed still poking out of the ground, or tiny pawprints leading away from a chewed branch. Allow what you find outside to inspire a poem or a drawing, or simply describe what you are looking at and how it makes you feel.

Week of February 14 – February 20, 2021

Winter can be a gray time of year. The white snow acts like a blanket keeping dormant plants warm and making sure tree roots don’t dry out. The deciduous trees have no leaves and other plants poking out of the snow are dry and brittle leaving the forests dull and colorless. However many plants are actually still alive and biding their time until the snow melts away. Ferns, moss, deciduous and coniferous trees, and many more plants are all waiting in anticipation for the warm weather to return. It can be hard for us to remember this without their green colors standing out.  

This week pick a winter scene to add color to your nature journal. You can draw the scene and add colorful flowers or leaves to it. If you do not want to draw, try writing about what you think the scene will look like in the spring. Wake the winter world up with a splash of green in your journal!     

Week of February 7 – February 13, 2021

Science is everywhere. It’s in the everyday things we don’t even think about. The heat that keeps us warm, the snowflakes covering the ground, the way plants and animals are able to survive winter, the way our bodies digest food to give us energy and keep us warm. 

This week take time to think about the science behind many of the things that are occurring all around you, inside and outside. In your nature journal create a science of winter gratitude list! What aspects of science are you thankful for during this season? My gratitude list includes the exothermic reaction that occurs in disposable hand warmers that keep my hands warm while out on picturesque winter hikes and the glucose released in the tree frog’s bloodstream that allows them to freeze and survive the winter without harming their organs!

Week of January 31 – February 6, 2021

The science of winter can be extremely fascinating as bodies of water begin to freeze over, plants lose their foliage, and animals begin to hunker down. What kinds of adaptations do you think animals may need to survive winter? 

This week, we challenge you to assume the character of a winter animal of your choice and consider what types of adaptations you may need to survive the winter. To help with creativity, try going for a walk before you start and observe your surroundings. Do they give any clues as to what kind of adaptations you might need? Try to draw out your animal to see if any other adaptations come to mind. What kind of habitat may they be in? Do their behaviors or appearance change from summer to winter?

Get creative and try to link the adaptations you’ve come up with to the drawing of your animal!

Week of January 24 – 31, 2021

You don’t have to be outside to get the benefits of nature. Looking out of a window each day with the intention to observe as much as you can is still a connection to the outdoors.

Create a sit spot by placing a chair at a window that you can visit each day. Make observations, through words or drawings, in your journal. You may look out and feel there is nothing of note but imagine what is going on underneath the snow, where small rodents like mice are tunneling through and even deeper beneath the ground where animals like groundhogs are hibernating. Keep track of what the weather is like and how the animals, like birds, are responding. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to write a poem or create a short story of all that you see or can imagine.

Week of January 17 – 23, 2021

Winter is a great time to slow down and get creative! Get outside and look for things you can bring inside that will help you feel connected to nature!

Journal the ways on how you can incorporate nature more into your home. Could you get crafty and use fallen bark or sticks to create a photo frame or a mobile? Could you gather seed pods or small rocks and create a collage of nature? Or perhaps there are some house plants that you could get that have the added benefit of cleaning the air in your home? Make a list or draw pictures of ideas you have to bring nature into your home this season and how it would make you feel.

Week of January 10 – 16, 2021

Winter invigorates us! We might find ourselves seeking a cozy couch and blanket, insulated against cold ice and wind, gradually succumbing to the inertia of comfort and lethargy. Our brains get foggy and our muscles and joints stiffen. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to get outside. 

For your nature journal this week, we challenge you to get outside, wherever and however you can. Find something that renews your spirit or invigorates you. Maybe it’s rabbit tracks on your driveway, the rising sun, or a deep breath of crisp winter air. Whatever it is for you, make a quick sketch, then write that thing a thank you note for the restorative energy it brings you. 

Week of January 3 – 9, 2021

Winter reminds us to slow down and take an appreciating look around us. Many of the plants and animals have slowed their usually busy lives to conserve their energy for the spring ahead. Take time this week to think about and write down intentions for yourself in this New Year. 

Think about these less as goals to accomplish and more about intentional shifts in life for your emotional and physical well being. An example could be to recognize your signs of stress and have a plan for when that happens, to incorporate fun movement into your day like playing music and dancing in the evening or to get outside no matter the weather for a few minutes to breathe the fresh crisp air into your lungs.

Write these out and place the list on the fridge as a reminder of your intentions to make this the best year!

Week of December 27, 2020 – January 2, 2021

As the New Year approaches, let’s take inspiration from one of our previous nature journal prompts. Perhaps you were inspired to draw a crocus, create a sound map, or imagine yourself as a water droplet. Take that idea and apply it to what is happening outside right now. Try to draw the crocus again to see your improvement, find out if winter is quieter than spring, or imagine yourself as a snowflake and draw what you would want to look like.

Week of December 20 – December 26

Every year nature plays a role in each of our lives, whether we realize it or not. But this year, with the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, many people have gone to nature to seek solace and refuge. This week in your nature journal prompt, reflect on the role nature has played in your life this year. Your experience with nature may have been quite different than it has been in years past. Maybe you have connected with nature right outside your home for the first time, or discovered a new favorite trail to hike, or gone to nature for peace during times of hardship.

Week of December 13 – December 19

As winter approaches and the year begins to draw to a close it is natural to find ourselves reflecting on the past. If you have been keeping a weekly nature journal with us then you likely have many entries in your journal and have observed many magnificent moments in nature.

This week in your nature journal, look back at some of your previous entries and pick one to reflect on. Has the subject of your entry changed since you made it? Has it been affected by the change in season? Or maybe the passing of time has made you view it differently. Take a moment to write or draw about the changes you notice.

Week of December 6 – December 12

Burr! December is upon us and it has brought cold weather and snow, as always. These obvious signs of winter convince many of us to stay indoors where it is warm, but it is important to find ways to connect to nature year round.

For your nature journal prompt this week, practice observing nature from your window. It may not be the same as going out for a hike, but it certainly helps us feel like we are still a part of what is going on right outside our homes. Do you see colorful lichen clinging to tree branches, bright birds darting around, or squirrels chasing each other? Even if you don’t see anything exciting, simply watching snow flutter from the sky or catching the sunset on a chilly day will spark that special feeling inside and hopefully inspire a drawing, a painting, or a poetic description of how you’re feeling.

Week of November 29 – December 5

For this week’s journal prompt, head outside for a mindful moment and just look around for a minute. What catches your eye? Do you see any signs of winter? 

Maybe you notice how delicate the snowflakes are as they fall from the sky, or watch as a gust of wind sends the last of the leaves from the trees down to the ground. Have you heard or seen geese flying in their familiar V formation as they start their migration south? These are all wonderful signs of winter approaching and when we take a moment to become aware of the nature around us, we allow ourselves to be present and that can have a calming effect on our minds.

Then take a moment to journal what you observed and how it made you feel.

Week of November 22 – November 28

Have you been able to take a break recently and allow a little wonder into your day? I hope so because we all need it! For this week’s journal entry, take a break for a minute and write down something you’ve experienced recently that made you pause in awe. It can be anything that made you stop and appreciate the moment, maybe an act of kindness, or some wonder you found in nature. For me, my moment of awe came when I was starting my work day and I paused outside to appreciate the gentle snowfall. Share with us your awe moment by emailing us at connect@baltimorewoods.org or tagging us on Facebook or Instagram!

Week of November 15 – November 21

When you look at a fall leaf on the ground, do you only see red? Or do you see a red-orange leaf with spots of yellow? When you look at a fen, do you only see green? Or is it green-blue? Nature is not made of only red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. It is made up of all of these colors mixed together and shaded in thousands of different ways. 

This week in your nature journal try adding color to what you are observing. Grab a colored  pencil, crayon, watercolors, or any other coloring tools and try to match the colors you are seeing around you. Look closely and do your best by blending colors together. Can you match what you see?

Week of November 8 – November 14

We have thankfully been enjoying warmer temperatures but winter is still on its way! This week we are continuing to explore how animals prepare for migration, hibernation, or acclimating to the winter weather. 

The animals that do not migrate or hibernate are left with one other option – tough it out! Some of these animals will gather and store food to eat throughout the winter when there is less food available. Some will grow thicker fur or more feathers to keep warm during the colder months. In your nature journal, write down a few ways you can prepare for and acclimate to the winter months ahead. Maybe you can dedicate a few minutes a day to getting outside to breathe the fresh air, you could make plans to see friends and family virtually, or you could get a few houseplants to add some greenery during the gray months.  

Week of November 1 – November 7

It’s the time of year we are noticing some animals flee south for warmer temperatures, some getting cozy to hibernate, and others preparing to tough out the cold. For the next two weeks we will be talking about the different ways animals, including humans, survive the cold winter months. This week for your nature journal we are going to focus on migration and hibernation.

Head outside to a local park or even just your backyard. Take a few moments in silence to see if you notice any migration or hibernation activity. Maybe you’ll see a group of Canada Geese flying in their distinct “v” formation. Or maybe you’ll spot a groundhog eating in excess to prepare for hibernation or a woolly bear searching for a safe place to hunker down for the winter. Make note in your nature journal of any migration or hibernation activity you see. Put yourself in these animals’ shoes, where would you migrate to spend the winter? How would you prepare for hibernation?

Week of October 25 – October 31

We are coming up on Halloween and you’re bound to see decorations somewhere. Maybe as you’re driving by someone’s house or inside the grocery store. Take a moment to think about these materials in a different way. A lot of the history behind our holidays is linked to what people of the time were noticing outside.  

In your journal this week tally how many decorations or items commonly used to celebrate Halloween have come from nature, or relate to the outdoors in any way. How rooted are our holidays with our natural environment? Let’s find out! 

Week of October 18 – October 24

Take a moment to feel gratitude for all this season has brought you and find a beautiful, inspiring scene and paint it. You can snap a picture of the landscape if you can’t paint it right then and there. Any old paints will do, or colored pencil if you prefer. Mix colors until you have matched the various hues of the leaves, the color of the sky and anything else that catches your eye. 

Once you’ve painted it in your journal write how it made you feel in that moment to see such beauty. Were you inspired? Were you sad that fall is slowly coming to an end? Or perhaps you enjoy winter so you’re looking forward to the solstice? Whatever you are feeling, write it all down and capture that moment in time.

Week of October 11 – October 17

There is magic in nature. Growing up we may see fairies and trolls, but as we age we may think that the magic disappears; however, it actually changes. Instead of seeing fairies dancing in the shadows we see the everyday magic of nature – like sunlight glinting off a stream or leaves falling in the forest. 

This week in your nature journal write or draw about the magic that you see in nature. Is it the magic in the sunlight filtering through the tree canopy? Or the sound of the birds in the morning? Take a moment to be still and find the magic in nature this week.  

Week of October 4 – October 10

Everything in nature, including us, has a cycle. Nutrients, organisms, and the seasons all move in cyclical patterns. As our year moves through fall and into a colder time of year you may imagine that this and other cycles are coming to an end. Some plants and animals are, in fact reaching the end of their life cycles, however, this is not true for every organism. Some are just beginning this cycle, like oak trees which have just dropped their acorns.

This week in your nature journal take a moment to sit outside and write, or draw, about another cycle that is just beginning. Is it a cycle in your life, one you notice in the animals outside, or something much larger? Everything has a cycle and each one is a little different. 

Week of September 27 – October 3

The air is crisp, the leaves are changing, animals are storing food for winter, fall is here! This week we are exploring the many different signs of fall that we can observe outside.

For your nature journal prompt this week, take a walk outside or look out your window and think about what your favorite sign of fall is. Notice the signs of fall around you, do any of them bring about positive emotions?. Is it something you can see? Or is it something you can only smell or feel? Write, draw, or paste your favorite sign of fall in your nature journal and write about why it’s your favorite. Share your signs of fall with us by emailing connect@baltimorewoods.org or share a picture and tag us on social media!

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.