Keeping a Nature Journal is Good for Your Health

By dchulst on October 19th 2017

Clare Walker Leslie was a struggling musician when she first learned about nature journaling back in 1974. At the time her neighbor was an avid birder who always seemed to be in a good mood, as were her nature-loving friends. Leslie’s interest was piqued.

“I knew nothing about nature at the time,” she says, but that didn’t stop her from soliciting a friend to join her in various Audubon sanctuaries near their Boston home.

Together, they taught themselves to keep nature journals—that is, to draw and write about the wildlife, plants and views they observed while sitting outside. Leslie was hooked, so much so she went on years later to pen the book Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You. She also now teaches the practice of nature journaling in schools, where she sees the method having an irrefutable effect on kids in kindergarten through high school.


NPS / Natalie Hammond

Armed with sketch pads on that first day journaling, Leslie’s friend mostly wrote while Leslie drew, adding notes about the markings and behavior of the birds and other wildlife as well as any other general physical observations.

Right away, Leslie noticed a difference in herself.

“My whole mood changed from anxious, sad, distracted and worried to nothing but joy,” she says.

Science has proven that being in nature for even just 20 minutes can certainly have that effect—as well as increased vitality, according to a series of studies in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. “Research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don’t just have more energy for the things they want to do, they’re also more resilient to physical illnesses,” says Richard Ryan, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, New York.

Furthermore, nature journaling engages the left side of the brain, which in turn frees the right brain to create, allowing you to better understand yourself and your world. Journaling also has been proven to make people feel calmer and more able to enjoy the present moment.


Adam Derewecki

When asked to describe the general experience in a few simple words, Leslie likens nature journaling to meditation. But unlike silent meditation or even walking meditation, the active engagement of observing and recording keeps the brain focused, making it nearly impossible to drift to thoughts of self.

To begin a nature journal entry, Leslie suggests starting with jotting down the date, time, weather, sometimes the moon phase, and time of sunrise and sunset.

Then she records whatever she sees: Perhaps an owl has landed in the yard. She’ll draw it, noting the species, and take notes on its behavior, much as a scientist would.

“You’re so busy watching the robin or whatever it is that everything disappears,” she says. “It’s a form of deep focus.”

Although she modifies suggestions of how much detail to record, she insists that staying silent during the exercise is key to its success.

“It’s surprising, but even kids love that silence,” says Leslie, adding that kids more easily take to the drawing aspect of nature journaling as they have fewer hang-ups about artistic challenges.

“A first-grader will draw a crow as a black jellybean, but nature journaling isn’t about how great the drawing is, it’s about learning to see [what’s all around you].”

She recalls going into one school where the teacher, dressed in stockings and heels, tried to dissuade Leslie from taking the kids outside. The teacher argued that the kids would be too hyperactive to focus, that they’d clamor on the swings and playground equipment.

But Leslie insisted.

By the end the teacher was stunned at how quiet, focused and curious the kids became. “They had something to do. They weren’t asked to wander through nature. They were asked to watch and record,” says Leslie.

Soon enough, a shift occurred. “The kids asked if they could skip lunch and recess and keep journaling. That teacher turned to me with tears in her eyes, and said, ‘How can you test joy?’”

You can’t, but you can certainly find it at your nearest park. The next time you venture outside, bring a pad and pen and see what happens.

For detailed instructions on how to get started as well as nature templates you can download for free, check out this link on the Sierra Club’s web site.

Journal in Comfort

The Men’s Flannagan is lightweight, comfortable, and perfect for journaling outside. Pictured Deep Navy and Honey Brown.

The Women’s Lightfoot Shirt is perfect for layering under a jacket, and can be worn straight from bird watching to dinner with friends. Pictured in Sanguine Red and Kale.

Originally written by RootsRated for RootsRated Media.