The Year Without An Instagram

(Note: This week I am sharing a few things that have been brewing in my heart about social media this week.  This is the latest installment.)

As so many people did, about a week ago I deleted the Instagram app from my phone.  

In case you missed it, there was a lot of buzz about the new privacy policy, which basically allows Facebook and Instagram to be more blatant in their efforts to spy on you and interfere in your life (I'm exaggerating, but not that much).  From my perspective, the reactions seem to be frantic "get-this-thing-off-my-phone-now" mixed with a side of "but-what-will-I-do-without-Instagram?"  Either that or people just shrugged their shoulders over the Big Brother vibe with an "eh-what-can-you-do?" and went about their merry over-sharing way.

For me, I don't know what category I exactly fall into.  What I can say is that I wasn't panicked.  As I have been sharing my hoarded drafts of posts on this topic, you can probably tell that this move has been brewing for a long time for me.

For the last couple years I took a break from social media over the month of December.  Both times I came back with a fresh perspective on what I was actually doing on social media, and how that habit of checking my phone was affecting my life. Especially after last year's break I realized how addictive Instagram had become for me, that this was a problem.  Still, I didn't feel ready to give it up, and the chaos of 2020 made it difficult to envision cutting ties.  But my unease remained.  

I first started paying attention to Instagram in 2013, when I was pregnant with Clyde.  Back then, it was a fun adjunct to blogging, a way to keep up with people, blog friends and in-person friends, who I really liked and cared about.  Somewhere along the way, it morphed and changed though into something else.  

Instead of enhancing real life relationships, it started to take away from them.  Instead of being an occasional check-in, it started to become a habit.  Instead of sharing, it became curating.  Instead of being a fun way to connect with blog friends, it (almost) killed blogging.

Until, here we are, in 2020, and I find I haven't really enjoyed Instagram in a while.  I have stayed on.  I have escaped into the app in moments of boredom.  I have felt the emotional boost of likes and comments.    I appreciate the artistry of a well-curated feed, and I like seeing my pictures in a little grid.  But I don't enjoy it anymore.

I don't feel good about the way I reach for my phone too often through the day.

I resent the time it takes away from other hobbies, like reading and blogging.

I feel guilt (conviction?) over the attention it steals from my family.

I struggle with the constant opportunity for comparison, only a flick of a finger away.

I hate the yucky feeling I have when I wake up from scrolling and realize I just wasted 20 minutes of my life that I'll never get back.

So no, when Instagram announced it's new invasive policies, I wasn't panicked.  It was the final straw, but I was already sliding that pack off the camel's back before.  

Maybe it's time we rethink some of these platforms.  Maybe it's time we adjust the way we use them.  Maybe we should spend more time thinking about the way social media has impacted us as a society, the way we interact with each other, in negative ways.  Maybe it's time we demand a righting of some of the wrongs.  I'm glad the conversation is starting, because I think even a social media enthusiast may have that sneaking feeling, deep down, that something isn't right here.  Social media isn't going away, but maybe it should change.  We need to figure this out.

For me though, I'm looking ahead to 2021 as the year without the 'gram.  My first in seven years.

A couple months ago, as I was brainstorming post topic ideas, I wrote this down:

"Title: Finding The Balance: Setting A Different Kind Of Social Media Goal 

- my goal is to figure out a way to get instagram off my phone for good."

This has been on my heart a while.  I have known something needed to change, I felt that conviction in my heart.  This is the time.

And I have to tell you something.  I didn't realize how much of a burden Instagram had become for me until the last couple weeks - these fresh and bright weeks when I haven't been on it at all, and don't intend on going back, and realize I don't even miss it all that much.

I feel lighter.

I feel free.

(I broke out my fuzziest sweater and most Christmas-y cup this morning, before we take down the tree this weekend.)

But what can we do instead of Instagram?

I write this little add-on to my post fully knowing that there are some of you who can't give up Instagram. Some of you run businesses that would suffer greatly if you deleted Instagram, and if you have reservations regarding the app and are simultaneously earning an income with it, I can't imagine your struggle.  I hope you find work-arounds for some of the privacy violations, and I hope you can find ways to diversify! It is difficult to be locked into a platform for financial reasons.

But for those of you who are like me, just average users with a small following - there are other ways to connect with people online.  

Parler - I've been on both Parler and MeWe for a couple months, and my experience with these new (and growing) platforms has been good thus far.  They don't use the addicting tricks that apps like Instagram and Facebook use, so in that sense they feel a lot healthier (think old school Facebook and Instagram before the algorithms ruined them).  They have much better privacy policies (especially MeWe), and on Parler specifically there is a small but busy homeschool community popping up.  If you aren't quite ready to give up social media all together (I'm not either), check them out.

Blogging - Good old-fashioned blogging is still a thing - despite my lamenting Instagram's killing of blogging, it's not truly dead.  I've been trying to keep it alive here for years, along with many other people (a few of them in my sidebar).  Back before social media took off so intensely, people took time to write out their thoughts long-form on a blog, and there are a lot of benefits to communicating this way.  Anyone can do it (really).  You don't have to write anything important or profound.  You can treat it just like Instagram if you want to.  It's your blog!  I hope we see a little resurgence of the classic casual blog in the wake of this social media disillusionment.  (I also wrote a post about how to start a casual blog, if you're interested.)

Newsletters - There are some great email newsletters out there, and it's a fun way to keep up with your favorite blogs and businesses right in your inbox!  I'm planning on reviving my newsletter in the new year (with maybe even some freebies for email subscribers - I'm thinking it over).  If you are interested, you can sign up here, or in the box at the bottom of this post!

I may turn this section into a longer post if more ideas present themselves, but I just wanted to tack this on to point out that Instagram is not the end-all, not if we don't want it to be.  We have options. 

This is nearly 2021, after all.


Thanks for letting me get all these social media thoughts off my chest, friends.  I needed to clear the air as I look ahead to a brand new year.  Social media has played too big of a role in my life for too long, and I've been praying for a while for the Lord to show me a way to find a balance or get out of it.  I'm excited to see what the future looks like for my little family, and this blog, unburdened by the social media giants.  

I think it's going to be good.

Happy New Year's Eve to you!

Honoring God Through Social Media Use

Do you think we can honor God through our social media use?

The obvious answer is yes, but I want to just consider this a little carefully today.  Because I’m not sure it is such an easy yes as it first seems.

I certainly think it’s possible to use social media in a way that glorifies God, and I used to follow people on Instagram especially that from what I can see do this very well.  I’ve been personally encouraged in the past by several Instagram accounts, and challenged in my faith.  I think lots of people put out content that is glorifying to God and encouraging to fellow believers, and that’s a good thing.

Where I think this gets a little stickier is on a personal level, when we ask “Am I glorifying God with how I’m using social media?”  That question is not just a question of content.  It’s a question of the heart and how we go about getting that good content up.

If I’m shushing my kids so I can record a video for Instagram, is that glorifying to the Lord?

If I spend five minutes in God’s word and an hour on Instagram each day, is that a godly use of my time?

If I check my phone when I should be focusing my attention on the story my husband is telling me, is that glorifying to God?

If I feel a little spark of pride when I tell people about my social media successes, numbers, sponsorships - even if I tack on the verbal equivalent of a #blessed hashtag - is that glorifying God, or is it glorifying me?

These are trickier questions.  I’m not answering them for anyone else.  It certainly is possible that a girl who has gained tens of thousands of followers has a pure heart in doing it for the Lord.  Even if she doesn’t, the Lord can be using and working through her posts and following, despite rough areas that He’s still smoothing out.  

For me though, I am starting to be convicted that my time is so much better spent looking into the eyes of my children, looking at the pages of God’s word, looking at the inside of my eyelids while I pray.  And if social media is taking time away from those more lasting pursuits, I need to reevaluate.

All the verses that are coming to mind as I think about how I need to be spending my time are things that are done quietly, in the hidden places of my heart, and especially within the walls of my home.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Colossians 3: 15-17

All of Matthew 6 gives examples of doing our good deeds in private, with a heart to glorify God only.

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.  Assuredly I say to you, they have their reward.  But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret, and your Father who sees in secret, will reward you openly. 

Matthew 6:3-4

And Colossians 3:2 says this:

Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth.

Paul reminds the Thessalonians to continue to grow in love to one another, and:

...that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, as we commanded you.

1 Thessalonians 4:11

I will be honest with you right now and tell you that the particular weaknesses that Instagram, and social media in general, brings out in me personally, are not compatible with what God calls us to in these verses.  Social media in general is all about doing your “good deeds” in front of men.  It brings my mind right down to earthly things, to the most insignificant of earthly things, like how many people care to follow me on Instagram, or how my shirt will look in a photo.  It’s not minding my own business well, and often it takes my focus away from letting the message of Christ dwell in me richly and letting His peace rule in my heart.

Someone will bring up this verse to me:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven. 

Matthew 5:16

And we are called to “let your light shine before men”, but it seems to me that should be an unconscious thing - because in the very next chapter Jesus warns not to pray, fast, or give to the needy on the street corners where everyone can see.  What we shouldn’t hide is the fact that we are believers, and any good that Christ is working in us should be an offering of worship to God alone.  There is a difference in doing our good works out of love and obedience to God, and doing them to look righteous to other people.  Our good works are not to be done to be seen by men, but to be seen by God.  If men happen to see you glorifying God through your obedience and service to Him, knowing that you are a Christian, that can bring more glory to God because of the work they see God doing in you.

I think people, generically speaking, can honor God through social media, and God can take even the broken and sinful ways we sometimes participate in social media, and still use it for His own purposes and glory. But when a person realizes that the ways they have typically used social media have been more self-glorifying than God-glorifying - well, it’s time to make some adjustments.  

To close out these thoughts on how to navigate the modern-day street-corner that is social media, let me just say this.

No one will know when you put down your phone so you can love your family better - but God will know.

No one will see how you set restrictions on your social media apps so you can focus on praying before your kids wake up - but God will see.

No one will hear the conversation you had with your child about salvation that you treasured up in your heart instead of sharing it on Facebook - but God hears.

No one can estimate the value of countless moments that you spend, quietly, pouring your heart into serving your family and friends with your phone pocketed, in leiu of pouring into Instagram - but God weighs those things.

He sees what is done in secret, for the glory of none but Him - and someday He will reward you openly. 


Is Instagram Necessary For Bloggers?

(This week I want to share a few posts that have been sitting in my draft folder for a couple months.  I wrote these a while ago, but just didn't feel like I was ready to share my thoughts yet.  But as I am looking at making some big changes regarding my personal use of social media, I thought this was a good time to share the things that have been stirring around in my mind. This post was written in October.)

Instagram came on the scene right when blogging was at it’s heyday, and the general advice at that time was that every time a new social media platform came on the scene, you snagged up your username.  So when Instagram arrived, I did the thing that good bloggers do - I jumped right on and snagged up my personal username, and my blog username.  Instagram seemed like a good platform for connecting with readers in a new, personal, and instant way.  It was fun, at first.

But over time, I don’t know…it seems like Instagram, in combination with other social media platforms, kind of killed blogging.  

I get why it happened.  Instagram was so…easy.  At a time when all the bloggers who seemed to know what they were doing recommended that you needed to get away from free platforms, buy a domain, set up a custom website, make sure your content looked professional and had pinnable images…Instagram required so much less effort and technical know-how to get started.  People started “blogging” on Instagram - it was quicker, and you didn’t need to sit down at a computer or know html code to do it.  That’s where the readers, old and new, seemed to be.

Anyway, fast forward ten years, and here we are, where it almost feels like an old-school blog is obsolete, unless it’s accompanied by a much-more-active Instagram account.  

And I hate that this is the way it is now.

Those of you who follow my blog account might have noticed I was putting more effort into my blog Instagram account for a few weeks there in September.  I’m not sure what prompted me to do this, aside from thinking that maybe I could get people to hop over and read my blog if I put a little more effort in.  But I think there was a part of me that was also trying to figure out if Instagram was the new blog world - if spending a little more time interacting on Instagram might bring back that old sense of connectedness that I had previously found with old-school blogging.  I wanted to see how much effort it took to reach new people on Instagram with my public account, and if it was a good medium for finding that reciprocity that we bloggers used to enjoy.  You know, returning comments, reading each other’s blog, linking to each other in the sidebar - all that was so fun back in the day.  I guess it was an unconscious experiment for me.

After two weeks of complete dissatisfaction with the amount of time I was spending on my phone, my sweet husband took time to listen to my discouraged ranting about Instagram. I was discouraged because as much time as I was spending on Instagram, something was missing for me, and I always left it feeling dissatisfied.

Derek’s social media philosophy is “this is why I am not on Facebook/Instagram!”  But he took the time to hear me out and listen to my struggles.  While I got Facebook under control last year, I wasn’t sure what to do with Instagram.  Because it seemed to me Instagram is necessary for bloggers these days.

As I started to talk with Derek about it, though, I started to question my own assumption about that.  People say if you’re a blogger, you need to be on Instagram, but I’m not sure if that’s always true.  Maybe it’s necessary for bloggers who want to earn an income through sponsorships - a lot of the sponsorships are on Instagram right now.  Maybe it’s necessary for bloggers who need the numbers to show to sponsors.  Maybe it’s necessary for bloggers who want a big following to achieve other goals.

But I’ve never really blogged for the numbers, and that’s kind of what I hate about Instagram.  No matter how much you try to connect, in the end so much of it is just a bunch of people chasing numbers - numbers of likes, numbers of comments, numbers of followers.  Numbers of dollars that you make off all that.

Don’t get me wrong, I know and follow plenty of girls who I think want to use their influence on Instagram to truly connect with people and bring glory to God.  I admire some of those Instagrammers I know, and I don’t think there is anything wrong necessarily with putting in the effort there if that’s what you want to do.

But I’ve realized I don’t want to put the effort into Instagram.  I’m not trying to earn money.  I don’t need a big number of followers to feel significant.  And likes are nice, but I don’t want that to be what I write for.

I have met many friends on Instagram over the years that I appreciate, that have turned into connections outside of the platform, and for those girls I am grateful!  But unfortunately that doesn't happen very often.  And fortunately there are other places to keep up with people online (like...blogs).

So is Instagram really necessary for bloggers today?  I guess it depends on what your goals are.  If your goal is to try to reach the biggest number of readers possible, you might do well to focus all your energy on Instagram.  

Or you might dig into your stats like I did and be surprised at what you find.  While I might get a few new people reading my blog through Instagram, the stats show it’s not a significant number.  I stepped away from trying to earn money from this blog a long time ago, because it sucked the joy out of it for me.  Because of that, gaining Instagram followers would just be an exercise in obtaining bragging rights, at the cost of time I could spend doing something more fulfilling.  

I just want to write, and I believe the people who really count will still come around to read.

And even if they don’t, I enjoy writing on this blog - I’ve always enjoyed it, just for the sake of writing, and sharing my thoughts with people who care to read them, and having a space on the internet that feels like it’s only mine, without it demanding my constant attention.  It’s okay to do something completely disconnected from the numbers, for no other reason than to enjoy doing it.  I think we forget that sometimes.

Stars Write His Name

What is the instructive lesson to be learned from this first syllable of the angel’s song? Why this, that salvation is God’s highest glory. He is glorified in every dew drop that twinkles to the morning sun. He is magnified in every wood flower that blossoms in the copse, although it live to blush unseen, and waste it sweetness in the forest air. God is glorified in every bird that warbles on the spray; in every lamb that skips the mead...Do not all created things extol him? Is there aught beneath the sky, save man, that does not glorify God? Do not the stars exalt him, when they write His name upon the azure of heaven in their golden letters? ... Do not all things exalt Him, from the least unto the greatest? But sing, sing, oh universe, till thou hast exhausted thyself, thou canst not afford a song so sweet as a song of the incarnation. Though creation may be a majestic organ of praise, it cannot reach the compass of the golden canticle – incarnation. There is more in that than in creation, more melody in Jesus in the manger, than there is in world on worlds rolling their grandeur round the throne of the Most High. Pause Christian, and consider this a minute. See how every attribute is here magnified. Lo! What wisdom is here. God becomes man that God may be just, and the justifier of the ungodly.

-Charles Spurgeon

On Monday, we trekked to the darkest corner of our mountain town, the darkest place we could think of, so we could get a look at the Christmas star. Every twenty years or so, Jupiter laps Saturn as they hurtle around the sun, and to the naked eye they look like one bright star.  

The sky was pitch black, and the stars showed their faces one by one, outshone by a waxing moon and two planets skipping through the sky.  And as I looked at all that, I couldn't help but remembering the words of silent night in the quiet.

Son of God, love's pure light

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth

Jesus, Lord at They birth.

For all the glories of the night sky, all the praise they pour forth night after night to their Creator, more glorious still is this - that God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ.  That He humbled Himself to an undignified birth in a stable, and to a hideous death on a cross, to reconcile us to Himself.  As Spurgeon says, all of God's great attributes are on display in the manger.  His justice, His mercy, His love that we could never deserve.

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Romans 5:8-11

This is the beauty of Christmas.  This is true peace, the peace with God that is offered to us through the God-man whose birth we celebrate. This is love, that while we hated Him, He offered us Himself, even to die in our place, to take the punishment we deserve for our offenses against Him.  What mercy is that!  This is hope, that He conquered death by coming back to life, alive on His throne forevermore! He reaches out His hands to us now to give us eternal life in Him when we trust in Christ alone. And this is joy, that when we turn, repent, trust in Jesus for our salvation - that we are reconciled to our Creator, that we are rescued from wrath, that we are forgiven and washed clean, that He now calls us friends. 

"In faith, there is joy." As Spurgeon would say.

I hope you find that joy and feel it more strongly than ever this Christmas, even in this dark year.  Like the stars and planets showing off in the inky blackness of the sky, the light of His birth shines always bright into our darkness, if we open our eyes to see it.

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined."

Isaiah 9:2

Just in case I don't get a chance to say it again before Friday, a joyful and Merry Christmas to you, friends!

Wrap & Chat

 Over the weekend I deleted Instagram from my phone.  

Honestly, even aside from the privacy policy changes, this has been a long time coming for me.  I have found myself moving away from social media in tiny increments over the course of this year.  That's probably another post for another day.

One thing I will miss, though, about Instagram is being able to jump on and chat through video to those of you who I've connected with over there.  It was nice to be able to speak out those little thoughts or random topics that I want to share, but that aren't worthy of a whole blog post yet.  

So, I decided find a replacement - I'm going to try something new on the blog and post an occasional chatty video.  In this one I ramble while wrapping a few Christmas presents.  If you have some wrapping left to do yourself, we can pretend we're wrapping presents together!  

Topics covered:

-My present wrapping system, and how I organize the present opening on Christmas Day.

-A little musing about 2020, and how we should really be counting our blessings, because there have been MUCH worse years in the past.  See the first half of the 20th century.

-Books, of course!  Including why I always get bogged down in the middle of The Two Towers, and other random books I'm reading or hope to read soon.

Let me know if you watch the video or if I should skip these in the future, and also tell me:

(1) if you have a present wrapping system, 

(2) one good thing that has happened to you this year, or 

(3) a book you are reading!

Night Tree

For our school in December we took a really laid-back approach.  We lightened up on the "have-to" subjects like language arts and math, and we did more of the "want-to" projects and books.  We finished out science book, we listened to audiobooks, and we did some advent activities from this Gentle + Classical Christmas school resource.  

One of the suggestions in that resource was to read Night Tree and make a fruit garland.  That sounded like something my kids would like to do, so I bought some extra oranges and planned to use those dry wrinkly pears and cranberries leftover from Thanksgiving. 

We finally got around to it last week!  I dried out the fruit in the oven, and then the big kids and I spent the afternoon stringing them into a garland.  Then we decorated a tree outside.

Apparently this is something a lot of people do, but it was our first year decorating a "night tree", and the kids loved it!  They told me we have to do this project next year too, so it may become a new tradition for us.  

The next morning after we decorated the tree, I noticed about fifteen deer gathered out there.  Before long all the fruit was gone!  The kids were happy that the animals enjoyed their "Christmas present".

Have you ever decorated a "night tree"? Do you do any other Christmas crafty projects with your kids?

Little Joys

I had grand plans to finish all my Christmas to-do's this week, since we are finally on Christmas break from homeschooling.  I was going to wrap all the presents, send out Christmas cards, finish baking, write Christmas letters, mail Christmas gifts...everything.  

Instead I find myself reading a lot of books, and now sitting down to write this.  Procrastination? Yes, I suppose so.  I did get my Christmas cards mailed, and today I hope to mail a Christmas present and start the wrapping.  I'm justifying taking a time out to write this because I can't really wrap until Derek is finished with work for the day, and I miss my blog.  

I've been thinking a lot about changes I want to make in the new year, and one thing I keep mulling over is how I can tip the balance away from social media and toward this blog again.  I've been struggling with social media for a long time, because while I think a lot of it is a waste of time, it is also the main way to connect with people online these days - including all of you, my blog buddies.  So what to do?  I don't know, but I figure just getting back in the habit of writing is the first place to start.  My writing motivation has derailed big time in the wake of the election, but it's time to get back to the little things, simple habits that anchor my days.  Blogging is one of those.

Anyway, what are you all baking for Christmas?  We have our Christmas favorites, but I always find myself wanting to branch out and try new goodies around the holidays.  My ideal holiday treat would be relatively inexpensive and basically fool-proof, which unfortunately rules out a lot of cookie recipes.  I live at a high altitude, and can basically trust no cookie recipe ever.  If you find a high altitude baking blog, send it my way, will you?

(One of the gingerbread houses we made with friends.)

On our list so far are the following: gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies, Christmas fudge, snowdrop cookies, and chocolate-covered pretzels.  And wassail on Christmas Day, of course.  Believe it or not, I used to make more Christmas goodies than that, but these are our favorites.  I'll probably just round it out with an experiment or two.

Instead of baking this week though, I've spent a disproportionate amount of time reading, which I do not regret at all.  I've finished several books, and am hoping to still make my reading goal of 48 books this year, even though I'm woefully behind!  I'm especially enjoying re-reading Lord Of The Rings during these winter months.  Those book are winter books to me.  I just got past the creepy marshes in The Two Towers, so basically we're getting to the good stuff now.

Despite everything going on, December has been as busy as ever for our family, with dinners with family and friends, Christmas light trails, and weekly Awana night dates for Derek and me.  We went out to one of our usual places last night, but there was no room for us in the outdoor-seating tent, so we sat under a heat lamp on the patio while drinking our root beer and cream soda.  We couldn't take our coats off (so I guess my careful outfit selection was a little pointless), but it was romantic sitting outside in the cold, eating our dinner and watching the traffic lights "blink a bright read and green".  I enjoyed it very much.  Sometimes things aren't ideal, but you make the best of them and find joy in it anyway.  Hasn't that been the story of this whole year?  

I hope you are finding the little joys this week, friends!  I'll try to be back soon with photos of the fruit garland project I did with the kids, and hopefully a book post and some Christmas reflections in the next week or so!

Starting A Nature Study Journal - Why And How

Nature study is something I want to make a more consistent part of our homeschool.  I've been saying that for a while actually, but I've also found nature study and nature journaling a bit intimidating.  What was I actually supposed to be looking at?  What are we supposed to be learning?  How do I nature journal if my drawing skills are limited?

What Is Nature Study (And Why Should We Do It)?

First thing first, for those of you who might be new to homeschooling, nature study and nature journals have been around for a long time, but in this modern homeschool world you'll most often see it associated with the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy.  Simply Charlotte Mason is a good website for a deep-dive into Charlotte Mason and her methods, but for my purposes here, the definition from is: 

n. the practical study of plants, animals, and natural phenomena as a school subject.

I personally love the idea of nature study as a way to introduce scientific skills to kids.  True science is all about observation and experimentation.  As far as observation goes, nature study is a wonderful way to practice that scientific skill in the real world.  Nature journals are a way for kids (and adults) to keep track of their nature observations so they can begin to notice patterns in the natural world.

But How Do I Do Nature Study?

While I know all this with my head, the actual nuts and bolts of doing nature study is the part that becomes intimidating.  If you do a simple online search for nature journals, or if you purchase any nature-journaling books or resources, the level of skill these artists possess is amazing.  No matter how hard I try, my nature journal is not going to look so detailed or impressive.

Thankfully, I've begun to realize this year that a nature journal doesn't have to look like that to be worthwhile.  You don't have to have any art skills at all to keep a nature journal, really.  The point of nature study and keeping a nature journal is to develop the habit of observation.  The point is to be still in creation, and notice things, and then keep some sort of record of it.  

There are a few things that have helped make our nature study and journaling a little easier and a little richer, and I wanted to share a few thoughts on that today.  These small encouragements are coming from me, remember - a very amateur and non-artist homeschool mom.  I'm hoping that means these tips will be actually useful for the average person reading this.  Let's dive in!

Tip #1 - Just get outside a lot.

This tip seems so obvious as to be ridiculous, but what I mean is - try to practice just getting outside regularly before you add nature journaling into it.  If you and your kids are mostly homebodies, getting into the great outdoors more is the first step.  Go outside and enjoy your surroundings without the pressure of studying anything first, especially if your kids are young. Go on a hike, do schoolwork outside more, have a few picnics. Perhaps after you've developed the habit of getting outside as much as possible, taking the jump to actually studying the things around you will be a more natural step.

Tip #2 - Do a botany study.

Despite living in the mountains for most of my life, before this year I knew surprisingly little about plants.  I've never had a green thumb, and any botany knowledge I gained when I was in school had long ago faded from my brain.  I wasn't even very excited to do a botany program with my kids for homeschool science this year, but it turns out knowing more about plants makes nature journaling a whole lot easier!  

If you think about it, the main category of living things that you will see ever time you step outside are plants.  They are also the best thing to draw and observe for nature study because they don't move much.  I don't know why we didn't do a plant study sooner - it would have helped us so much with nature study from the beginning. 

Knowing more about the plant kingdom has made me feel more equipped for nature study - now instead of just staring at my surroundings, wondering what things are worth writing down, I have some specific things to look for when I'm looking at plants.  And because I feel a bit more knowledgable about plants,  I'll be able to help my kids with remembering what we learned and developing their skills on a part of creation that is easy to observe and draw.

(We used Apologia's Young Explorers Botany curriculum - it is a good level for mid elementary aged kids, I think.)

Tip #3 - Don't judge your own drawings (and don't let your kids judge theirs either).

We just finished our botany curriculum yesterday, and the last chapter in Apologia's Botany was on nature study. I found everything in that chapter really helpful and encouraging, and some of the following tips are things I gleaned from there. 

The book made a point that I thought was well worth remembering, and it is this - no one starts out nature journaling as an expert.  You start wherever you are, and as you get in the habit of observing and writing things out in your journal on a regular basis, your skills will grow.  

Consistency is something I want to work on with nature study, because consistently practicing observing and recording nature is what will lead to really useful learning.  But I'm also applying it to my rather simple drawings - no one starts out drawing as a developed artist, we hope to grow with practice.  

I think it's also important to realize that our drawing skills may never improve to level we would hope, but that doesn't mean nature journaling isn't worthwhile.  It's okay if your drawings are never impressive. The point is to learn how to observe and document accurately.  Drawing is just one way to do that.  Which leads to the next thought I had...

Tip #4 - Don't draw at all.

If drawing is what is holding you (or me) up from enjoying nature journaling - well, who says we actually need to draw at all?  We could just write out descriptions of what we see instead.  We could paste an actual specimen from a plant into the pages of our nature journal.  We could even take a picture and slap that in!  This is a very fresh realization for me, so I'm going to have to think about different ways we could do nature journaling aside from just drawing.

Tip #5 - It doesn't just have to be about the observation.

This is something else that I read in Apologia's Botany that I never thought about before - nature journaling doesn't have to be just dry scientific observations about living things.  We want to write down what we observe, but this is a nature journal.  It's okay to include poems or Bible verses that come to mind, to write out something fun that happened while you were outside, to play around with different ways to describe with written language the beauty that we see.  I've always come at nature journaling from a scientific bent, but the thought that I could include...anything I want, really...makes it a little more exciting.

Tip #6 - Help your kids write what they see.

This tip is more about making nature study something that your kids can enjoy.  If you have really little kids, don't make nature study turn into a frustrating writing practice session.  Let them draw a picture, ask them what they would like you to write in their journal, and then write it for them.  Our family is at a stage when most of my kids don't have the endurance to write out a bunch of information, and I want us all to enjoy getting outside and recording what we see. I want it to be a sweet memory.  Helping my kids with the writing is one way to make the experience less frustrating while we are developing the habits of nature study.

Tip #7 - Find some resources that inspire you at your family's stage.

When I first started trying to find resources for nature study, all I could find was this really intimidating book about nature journaling.  Since I'm not an artist, I couldn't imagine myself ever being good enough at nature study for that book - much less my young elementary kids!  I searched a little more, and these are a few resources that have made nature journaling seem more doable for my limited artistic abilities and young family.

Apologia Exploring Creation With Botany - The same book I mentioned above, this is a great curriculum for gaining meaningful knowledge to use in a nature study.  It'll help you know what to look for when it comes to observing plants.  Comes from a creationist Christian perspective.  I'd say 2nd Grade and up! 

Note:  I'm hoping to do their Flying Creatures book this spring to add more bird knowledge to our nature study attempts.  I'll update once we get through that book.

Exploring Nature With Children - If you need some inspiration for how to integrate nature study into more homeschool subjects, this is a great resource!  It has a different nature study topic for each day of the year, and includes poems, nature walk ideas, book lists, and other activity ideas.  Could be adapted for any grade.

100 Easy And Fun Creative Nature Walks - I love this ebook for ideas on how to involve younger kids in nature study!  It'll get you looking for different types of things each time you go out.  Good for preschool through elementary at least.

Raising Up Wild Things Nature Journals - Raising Wild Things is a blog and shop with many nature study resources - I just bought her winter nature journal and I'm excited to use it with the kids.  She includes basic information that would be useful for winter nature study, along with journal pages and worksheets to get you started, and website and book lists for further learning.  And all beautifully illustrated in a. non-intimidating way! Good for elementary ages.

The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie - If you are not sure what to record when attempting nature study, this book has a bunch of information and ideas of what kinds of things you may want to write down.  I think this book has a lot of great inspiration.  I forgot I had it until I was writing this post, and I am going to pull it out much more this spring.  Comes from an evolutionary and environmentalist perspective, so be aware of that.  Good for elementary school and up.

Nature Anatomy and Ocean Anatomy by Julia Rothman - If you are excited to jump into the artistic side of nature journaling, these books would be good inspiration!  They are basically a published nature journal, with lots of good information included!  Some mentions of evolution and millions of years. Good for elementary and up.

That's all I have, friends.  I'm still figuring out nature study as I go, but I hope some of this was helpful!

Okay, all my homeschool nature study experts (I know there are some of you reading), what tips would you include?  And if you've never done nature study with your kids, have you found it as intimidating to start as I have?  

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