Have you ever visited the zoo with the kids — they look at the animals, play around, you talk to them about various things — and then you’re home for a hour or so and the questions begin…
Why do the monkeys comb each other?
How many stripes does a zebra have?
Did you notice the baby penguin was grey and white?
All those little details that you never realized they saw during their visit. 😉
A science notebook or journal is a great way for kids to record the things they observe and learn. It’s also a wonderful way to track all those inquisitive questions and ideas that kids have based on their observations and encounters.
This is the first post in a 2-part series on Science Notebooks & Journals. Today we’ll share some tips and resources to get the kids started on their own science journal!
Starting a Science Journal
Science journals encourage writing, drawing, reading and a way for kids to record all their discoveries and adventures.
There are so many ways to approach journaling — you can journal by topic or keep your journal in date order (more like a diary). Journals can include written observations, drawings, photos, items that are taped in or a combination of all of these.
My advice is to go with a structure that fits your child’s age & personality.
If you have a child that enjoys drawing, encourage them to draw their observations. If your child is a writer, let them write. Some kids are all about color — give them colored pencils or crayons for journaling. Younger children might want it to be a co-journal — one that’s done with a parent or older sibling.
We’ve had different approaches over the years and have included a few examples along with affiliate links to some of the science/journaling tools we’ve enjoyed using to track our observations.
Both of my kids enjoy using Composition Books as journals. I always thought the lined paper in the notebook would discourage drawing but the lines don’t seem to bother them. Composition notebooks are sturdy, a great size for kids and have nice, strong sheets of paper. The one down-side is that you really can’t take out pages so there’s no ‘re-ordering’ your notebook entries.
They also like the idea of journaling on white boards or chalkboards (we’ve shared some tips on that below).
Organzing Your Notebook
I’m not a stickler for organizing the journals from the get-go. There are 3 things that I have the kids include on a journal page:
For very young kids, this may even be too much detail but I find that it works well for kids ages preschool through middle school. Teens will probably include more categories as they complete various science courses and experiments — but let me just say that simple is better when it comes to categories. Too many “things to track” can quickly overwhelm them.
If we are going to need the journal pages for a future project (for example, a science fair or school assignment) than I’ll buy a package of Post-it Tabs and use them to mark the pages that will be needed for the project.
Otherwise, we organize the journal by date. I find that it’s easier to remember WHEN we did something and then we know about where to look in the journal to find that page or topic. You could also leave the first page blank and use it as a table of contents too.
When we read the notebook pages, we will talk about or add in science terminology or definitions if they apply to the topic. For example, for the page above, we talked about the types/names of birds that we saw based on her note of “Brown & Black and White bird, not a robin”.
My son is in high school and in addition to his notebooks, he also has a ‘science board’ (it’s a white board in his room). He likes to use it along with Multi-color Dry Erase Markers with eraser tops for brainstorming sessions because it’s larger than a notebook and more condusive for drawing, editting and ‘big ideas’.
Once he has an idea sketched out, he either writes it in a notebook or takes a photo of it with his phone — which is perfect if it’s a project he needs for school or a group project that he needs to share with friends.
I really like this idea for teens because it allows them to ‘carry’ the project with them — which means they can jot down notes when they come to mind or review it with others to get some feedback.
Inspiring Kids to Journal
Try to keep the journal in a high-traffic location in your home — someplace where the kids can easily grab it if they have an idea or observe something in the backyard and want to include it in the journal.
During the summer, we keep the notebooks in the car since we go on quite a few outings where the kids will encounter some science, nature or other inspiring idea.
I find that the kids are often inspired to include something in their journal when we visit a cool place. Here are some places to take your journal:
- The zoo
- Local nature centers
- Your own backyard
- To the beach, lake or shoreline
- Special events that relate to science
- An observatory
- Science center
- To a friend’s house or grandma’s house to see what’s in their backyard
- On vacation!
Hands-on Activities to Pair with Journaling
Sometimes “just writing” gets a little tedious for kids. It’s not very interactive or tactile — they might need to keep their hands busy as they think about what they’d like to record in their journal.
There are a number of ways to make journaling more interactive:
First, let them use a camera. This has been really popular with our kids. They’ve love taking photos on our outings. I think it allows them to observe more and not worry about recording everything they see right away. Then we just include a photo in the journal when they’re ready to write.
Here’s one example of a photo we took at the zoo during a recent visit. There were baby penguins and my daughter wanted to journal about them so we snapped a picture. We had talked at the zoo but I never realized that she noticed the baby’s feathers were the same color as the rock nest the mother penguin built until AFTER she finished her journal page.
That’s what I referred to earlier in the post — those little details that kids notice that make you go “Wow! That was pretty insightful.”
Tie in toys and books.
I always like to pull out any toys or books that are related to the topic in the journal. Before our bird watching adventure, we read the book which gave us a great idea of which birds we might see as we toured a local park.
Another item we love are the mini figurines from Safari Ltd. They have these great TOOBS which include a number of animals, nature and history figures (you can see some of the penguins from the Penguins TOOB above). Another favorite is the Zoo Babies TOOB. These are the perfect addition when kids are journaling about animals.
Let them touch, smell and listen as observation tools.
If you’re journaling about a plant or leaves, let the kids touch the item. I know this is harder if it’s something living (like a starfish) but encouraging them to observe with their other senses — not just sight — to make an observation will allow them to expand on what they record.
The photo above was from a touch tank on a trip to the aquarium and it made all the difference in what my daughter noticed about sea stars. And you can see in the above journal page about “Birds” that my daughter recorded ‘sounds like Cirrp’ for the birds we were observing. Using more of their senses helps kids to create stronger memories of an exprience.
Another great hands-on activity for nature topics is to take rubbings of things like plants, leaves or tree bark and include them in your journal.
And having a journal kit is also a great ways to keep things hands-on!
Pack a small bag or backpack with your science journal, a pen or pencil, crayons or colored pencils, a Magnifying Glass (kid-sized), binoculars and anything else that kids might enjoy using with their journal.
Be sure to visit next week for Part 2 — Science Journal Apps & Resources!
Have your kids tried journaling?
What tips do you have for keeping a science notebook?
We are excited to be part of a SUPER great month-long science series this January! Each day this month, you can find some new science activities and adventures in the A to Z STEM series!
Today’s letter is J — for journaling.
Be sure to visit the main STEM activites page at Little Bins for Little Hands to see more than 50+ science, tech, engineering and math ideas for kids!
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