Monday, April 1, 2013

Nature Study Notes : Trays

Our nature study group is in the midst of a two-week hiatus: last week was Holy Week, and the week before half the group was sick.  So in lieu of inviting you all along on a virtual nature walk like we usually do each week, I thought I would share a very simple habit that has helped simplify our nature journaling time.

Each week when we get home from our nature study group outing, I set up a little tray with our "finds" for the children to look at, play around with, and record in their journals.  Having it on a tray (instead of on our nature shelf or spread out on the dining table) is the key--it allows me to move it when the littles are around or to put it aside to take out the next afternoon if we want to revisit it.  It most often happens, for example, that the children will sketch and color on Friday afternoons after our outing, but I'll have my hands full of a baby (or two!) and won't get a chance that day.  So I just put the tray up on top of the bookshelf that evening, and I pull it back out on Sunday afternoon, when my husband is home and I can spend a quiet hour working in my journal alone or with just my oldest two.  (As I'm sure you can imagine, as soon as I get my notebook out, the big kids are begging to grab theirs as well. ;)  The convenience of taking it all in the other room if the toddlers are around or of pulling it out to look at for a few moments without turning the dining table into a very helpful for our busy household.  


The next week, I clear the tray, putting on our nature shelf the things we want to keep and discarding the rest.  Sometimes I grab some leaves and put them in the leaf press, between sheets of contact paper, or into someone's journal with tape if he or she requests it.  Rocks, sticks, bark, and feathers either go into our little collection or out into the backyard for play.  And the tray is then wiped down, ready to be refilled with a new set of treasures after our next outing.  In a way, this holds me accountable too: I don't like to clear out the tray until I have had time to document and sketch a bit, but the tray must be emptied to make room for our new finds. So through the routine, I'm nudged into at least a weekly journal entry.

This seems like such a minor tip--perhaps this is something you already do!  But if you're anything like me, it's little things, those easy habits that allow the "extras" to become smoothly woven into the rhythm of our days, that make all the difference.  Sometimes, when I'm having a busy week and I would normally be tempted to let our nature study slide, it's this little habit that prods me to get out the colored pencils and notebooks!


  1. This is a most excellent idea--I'm going to borrow it! Thanks so much!!

  2. we do this too! thanks for sharing, celeste. ;)

  3. This might sound silly, but...Where did you buy your trays? Of what are they made? We've used glass jars, but I like the tray idea better, especially with the white underneath to provide contrast. Great idea! :)

    1. Not silly at all, Brandy--I should have linked to them before! We got them through our homeschool charter school, but they are these particular ones are the Easy-Clean Craft Trays from Lakeshore Learning: They're made out of durable plastic. Useful for all kinds of things, including keeping beading and hand-sewing projects tidy. (Handcrafts! ;))

  4. Thank you for sharing this! I knew I wanted to let my daughter gather some things to add to her nature notebook but wasn't sure exactly how it would happen... (I envisioned a big mess). This is so organized and it's easy to see each thing in the tray. I am going to do this. :)

  5. This is awesome! We usually do Leave No Trace outings, but I'm going to have to consider doing this, at least some of the time. It would be so nice to be able to do drawings at home at least part of the time.


  6. What a lovely simple idea! My youngest loves to collect and display her nature finds and we can all benefit from having a common nature tray handy! I love the freedom this has for each of us to also sketch, research, document and discover something from the tray each week.