Category Archives: Assignment

Our Journaling Progress & Positive Comparison

On Monday, a friend at nature group told me that her son has a nature journal, but feels that everyone’s art is better than his and doesn’t want to share.  While not sharing is completely okay, I am saddened by her son’s (and my kids’) comparison to others.  Cambria does it with reading; Elijah does it with art.  I do it too, mostly with homeschooling, but I’m consciously trying to stop.

I’m trying to stop, because it is a negative habit and it never makes me feel better.  Comparison to what others have and can do, focuses our minds on what we don’t have and can’t do.  The negativity builds on negativity and, I find, it’s hard to dig myself out of the downward spiral.

If I compare my nature journal art to someone’s journal who has more experience, I see only my deficit, not my progress.  If, instead, I look at the person’s journal and seek out tips and new ideas and greater understanding of my potential, that’s an active, positive choice.  The person who has dedicated more time to a given skill could be looked upon as a mentor, not necessarily a peer in a particular area of expertise.

We are all focusing on different things in our lives and accomplishing different talents that are our individual, favorite ways to spend our time.  In our household, we spend time journaling, but I would never compare my work to John Muir Laws and feel discouraged.  I am inspired.  Inspired to be better at something that I enjoy.  I don’t spend hours a day drawing (or even minutes most days)…How could I reach that level without more investment in myself?  Without more trial and error?   I can’t, and that’s okay, but I do appreciate the progress I have seen in my journal.

On that note, I thought it would be fun to do some comparing on a different level.  Comparisons of our individual journals.  We have changed and grown and progressed and, since we’ve kept journals for several years, it’s fun for the kids and me to see our development — without comparing it to others!

Cambria’s rough-skinned newt in 2013:


Two years later:


Elijah’s great egret in 2013:


Beginning of 2014:


End of 2014:


My great egret from January, 2013:


August, 2014:


It was so fun to look through our old journals and see our amazing progress!

After-note: A few days after I wrote my this post, I came across this quote by Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist.  (Instead of saying:) “That’s just the way I am,” replace it with, “That’s something I really need to work on.”  Love it!

Field Guide Browsing & Study

We have many field guides that are left out in the living room for exploration, browsing and study.  Learning happens at random – hence: skulls, birds and LEGO…



Or, in an organized fashion, as we recently explored several guides to research Snowy Plovers (Charadrius alexandrines nivosus).



Having a variety of guides available stimulates curiosity more than the single, short paragraph in our main bird book.  The guides give us more information on skulls, tracks, nesting, young, habits and habitats.  We compare pictures, drawings, maps, graphs and diagrams.  These books, combined with several websites ( and, give the kids and me opportunities to find more details and discover the exact variety of bird (plant, animal, fungus) that lives in our area.

In these organized “assignment” studies, we pull out all the guides which apply to our subject and mark each book with tabs.  Then, we assemble our journals with the information we each find most interesting.  The kids are getting good at using reference materials!



We spent several hours on our Snowy Plover journals.  It’s amazing to see the kids’ focus and involvement in the research.  I always feel a bit excited by this intense learning!


Snowy plover journals.

Cordage Making

Last week Tod challenged us to find a plant in nature and make our own cordage.  He reminded us how it’s made by twisting in two opposite directions and that plants with long, strong fibers are needed.  He demonstrated with some store-bought raffia and with some inner redwood bark, which we found during our hike.

We didn’t have group this Monday, but we embarked on our own nature study of plants that make strong cordage.  We found that Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a great plant for cordage.  We went down to the creek to see if there were any Stinging Nettles still in leaf next to the dry creek bed in our drought-ridden yard.  We found a few and I stripped the leaves and stems of the nettles with my gloved hands.

Stinging nettle on the right, hedge nettle on the left.  Note the dangerous, sharp teeth of the stinging nettle!

Stinging nettle on the right, hedge nettle on the left. Note the dangerous, sharp “teeth” on the leaf edges of the stinging nettle!

We were left with long, strong stems that we can handle without gloves.
Next, we cracked the stems by smashing them flat with our hands.  By doing this, we were able access and strip off the outer “bark” of the stinging nettle.  The inside of the stinging nettle is hollow and has a woody layer.  The outside is very thin and is made of the long, strong fibers that we need to make cordage.

photo 2We stripped the three stems as best we could.  It’s difficult to work around the leaf connection spots and we ended up with quite a few strips that seemed too short or too narrow.

photo 3

Most of these pieces were about a 1/4 inch wide.  The picture doesn’t show their characteristics well.  They were floppy and green.  We left them on the table to dry over night…

photo 4

They shrunk up A LOT!  They were like a thick string after sitting out.  We were able to bend them and they didn’t snap, even though they seem brittle at first touch.  They were strong; when we tried to pull them apart they didn’t break.  We took a piece each and started our cordage making.

The cordage is thin, but very strong!

Assignment: Dark-eyed Junco Journal

This week’s assignment is to journal the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis oreganus).  Perhaps we will all learn to better imitate Juncos during our Jays and Juncos game!

Here are the beginnings of the kids’ journals:

photo 2

Elijah’s junco is about to land on a branch.

photo 1


Cambria made a special note about the junco’s tail feathers in her journal.  She had seen a junco fly up from the ground during her sit spot time and noted the white flash on the tail.  She wanted to do this journal right after sit spot time, since she had just experienced the bird in our yard.  We read junco’s have white outer tail feathers that they tend to flash during flight.  I love this instant connection between sit spot, journaling and scientific notation!

Assignment: Sit Spot Inventory & Awareness Activity

This week’s assignment has two parts:

1) Visit your sit spot as often as possible.  Draw a rough map of your sit spot and document who you hear or see by adding numbers to your map.  In another spot, make a list of what the numbers are tied too (i.e. 1=hummingbird, 2=small brown bird climbing upside down on tree).  Add to this map and list for the week.

2) Go for a short walk in your “normal” mode.  Next, repeat the same short walk using owl eyes and fox walk.  Discuss the differences you notice.