Field Journaling for Mountain Kids
Well-known field guide artist and wildlife biologist leads workshop with students and teachers at Plumas Unified Schools, Loyalton, and Downieville.
In March 2017, John Muir Laws, artist and creator of the widely used Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, toured Upper Feather River Watershed schools (and Downieville in the Yuba) leading classroom workshops and assemblies for the region’s students and teachers. Laws taught principles of field journaling—a way to engage with the natural world and delve deeper into “mountain kid” studies.
Field journaling is an exercise to “externalize thinking” giving student the regular opportunity to draw, document observations, ask questions, and connect to their environment without a right or wrong answer.
A student at Quincy Elementary School starts the first page of his field journal during an in-class workshop organized by Feather River Land Trust's Learning Landscapes Program. Photo by Nina Martynn/PUSD
Over the past four years, Feather River Land Trust’s Learning Landscapes program has collaborated with John Muir Laws to inspire local teachers to improve their science instruction and expand their use of Learning Landscapes sites. Field journaling is a powerful and popular tool with teachers and students alike. During this most recent visit to the Upper Feather River Region John Muir Laws provided twenty one different classroom activities and eight assemblies at local elementary schools along with four staff trainings. It was inspiring!
John Muir Laws explains the process of observation and inquiry to a 2nd grade class at C. Roy Carmichael. Photo by Nina Martynn/PUSD.
Why do these workshops matter? FRLT's Learning Landscapes coordinator Rob Wade emphasizes that field journaling has been an exciting accelerator for Learning Landscapes as it has provided a powerful and relevant activity that is effective at every grade level. It supports teachers to teach outside more frequently. The fact that it integrates science, language arts, art, and math allows teachers to use it across the curriculum as they explore phenomenon, pose questions and solve problems they encounter on their campus and adjacent Learning Landscapes outdoor classrooms.
A peak into an expert's field journal. Laws teaches that journals are not a collection of art but rather a way to connect and engage with the natural world and yourself. And yes drawing is a learned skill (practice!).