TEACH!: Unit 1, Lesson 3.


Journaling: A Journey Toward a Naturalist’s View

Through nature journaling, participants will cultivate their observation skills
and sensitivity to nature.


• The journal you made in Lesson One.


In this chapter you’ve learned that a naturalist is an individual who studies nature and natural history. Being a naturalist involves careful observation and vigilant reflection on our natural world. Weekly journaling exercises are one important way the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program helps you cultivate those critical skills.

By finding and returning often to a special natural place you will expand your sensitivity to and familiarity with nature. You will come to know this place on a deeper level, gaining a heightened awareness for its character, patterns, changes, and moods. Journaling will provide you the workspace to make sense of your observation and experience. Great naturalists described elsewhere in this curriculum all share a common practice of having spent extended amounts of time exploring, observing, and reflecting on nature. Their experiences moved them to articulate important patterns and meanings they found in nature. The rest of us may share, or experience these meanings vicariously through their writings and drawings.

Like other journals, a nature journal serves as a sort of workbench where you can freely spread your observations, thoughts, and feelings about nature and then construct meanings from them. In a nature journal, the setting where those experiences take place is a central character. You, the observer, are another main character.

In a nature journal, you are not limited to words and linear storylines. Threads of writing come and go, start and stop. A satisfying journal entry may start on one subject and end in a completely different, disconnected place. Illustrations, phrases, photos, or botanical samples may punctuate your ideas. Your nature journal is a rule-free space to explore and make visible the interchange that takes place between you and your surroundings. The journaling exercises found in this book each follow a three-step format. Each week when you visit your special place you will begin with a structured, sensory “Experience” which encourages you to observe your spot up close and focused. Then you will “Reflect” on your experience by responding to questions or a guided thought prompt. Last, you will “Record” your observations, impressions, predictions, comparisons, questions, and feelings in your journal. Through this guided process, you will transition from active investigation of the environment toward reflection and creative expression of what you find there. New insights may inspire you to explore further, beginning the cycle anew. These experiences will sharpen your sensitivity to subtle changes or distinctions in the things you see. This sensitivity is a prerequisite to a host of naturalist skills, such as plant identification or weather forecasting.

Sigurd Olson wrote in his book Listening Point about his special place:

“From this one place I would explore the entire north and all life, including my own. I could look to the stars and feel that here was a local point of great celestial triangles, a point as important as any one on the planet. For me it would be a listening-post from which I might even hear the music of the spheres.”


1. To get started, choose a natural setting to visit at least weekly for the duration of your Master Naturalist course (and hopefully beyond!). Choose a spot that feels special and is interesting to you. Make sure it is convenient to visit: your backyard, the park across the street, a flower patch, etc. If it takes more than a couple of minutes to get there it’s too far.

2. Spend 10-30 minutes experiencing your spot each week and complete the weekly exercise in your nature journal. If it’s too cold/wet/dark when you visit your spot, at least do the “experience” portion of the exercise there and finish “reflect” and “record”in a more comfortable location. Make sure there is somewhere you can sit comfortably at your special spot—a log or flat spot on the ground. Otherwise bring a folding chair to sit on.

3. Follow the prompts presented in the Master Naturalist Expand section at the end of each chapter.

Continue to:
Unit 2, Lesson 1: The shape of the land: An introduction to topographic maps.

Go back to:
Unit 1, Lesson 2.: What is a naturalist?
Unit 1, Lesson 1.: Keeping track of nature: Making Journals


Updated: May 2018