Youth Journals

An integral part of any kind of nature study project should be journal keeping. In their journal, youth can record their discoveries, observations, experiments, and conclusions. This practice is essential if they are going to be systematic in their observations and experiments and allows them to make sense of their experiences in a meaningful manner. It will add depth to the overall project, giving them a sense that they are participating in activities that are significant to their own interests. It can also help them practice skills and habits of mind that will be useful in their school work.

However, activity leaders running out-of-school activities report that it is very challenging to get youth to keep journals. Doing so reminds them of school-based work. Also, some youth have particular problems in writing. Therefore, you need to develop an overall plan to motivate youth so that they come to feel that journaling can be interesting and worthwhile. One approach some activity leaders have tried is the idea of a series of frames like a comic strip. Youth are asked to make up a story combining drawings and words that tells about some observation or discovery they have made.

Youth are more likely to use journals if they have a personal interest in whatever they are writing about. Be on the lookout for times when a youth’s curiosity has been sparked during field trips or close observation of living things. They may become intrigued with the movement of a pond organism or the shape of a tree. Take advantage of these special times to encourage them to share their interest with others, both through talking about it and then writing about it.

Encourage youth to come up with their own questions about the organisms they encounter, and provide ongoing support to them as they find ways of answering these questions. Recording their own questions and then writing about how they are trying to follow up on these questions becomes more motivating as it becomes a more personal matter.

Some youth do like to draw and do well in capturing something they are observing. Give recognition to this special skill and encourage them to make frequent use of this skill in their journals.

As mentioned in The Importance of Drawings and Photos, taking digital photos is appealing to youth. Some of the photos may have been taken because the particular situation struck the interest of the youth. Have youth select just a few photos and first talk about why they took the photos and describe what specific features captured their attention. Then have the youth paste the photo or photos in their journals and write about them.

Generally, it is helpful to youth if they first talk about their observations or their development of an explanation. This talk is not necessarily in complete sentences and sometimes not completely coherent, but it helps them to begin to formulate in words what they are thinking. It can act as a rehearsal for the writing in the journal.