Nature Writing is a Gateway to Observation and Adventure

A young child stares at the camera while laying on the ground writing

Nature writing is a powerful way to connect with outdoor spaces and other people’s experiences in the outdoors. We can read nature writing from different time periods and locations to better understand a variety of perspectives on what nature is and how humans engage with it. We also can generate our own nature writing in order to hone our observation skills and reflect on what we value when it comes to spending time outside. We spoke to Professor Benjamin Goluboff of Lake Forest College to learn more about the diversity of nature writing and the role it plays in literature more largely.

A group of youth lay on the grass reading books

If you’re hoping to get young people interested in nature writing, a good place to start is to find a good book for your age group and audience. While famous authors like Audubon, Thoreau, and Muir are certainly talented nature writers, there are so many additional options out there that represent a wide range of ways to spend time outside and enjoy nature. There are factual books about real people with careers in the outdoors, how-to guides for kids interested in gardening or plant identification, and tips and tricks for young people who want to protect the environment. There are also so many amazing fictional stories to spark kids’ imaginations about the adventures waiting for them outside, both right outside their doors and in faraway places.

A man and child sit together outside looking at a book

Another great option is to help young people write about nature themselves. Sometimes creating your own nature writing can feel intimidating at first. Children’s author Gill Lewis encourages her young readers to find a place to spend time outside wherever they can, whether that’s in a park, a backyard, or a school playground. From there, she recommends new nature writers engage all of their senses to make observations. Then they can record what they experience as a mixture of drawings and notes to better capture what they see, hear, smell, and touch.

An adult sits with a circle of children outside

Another common structure for introducing nature writing to young people is to ask them to make an observation (I notice…), pose a question or think of something they’re curious about (I wonder…), and then make a connection to something they already know or are familiar with (it reminds me of…). Oregon State University Extension has tons of great resources around nature journaling including nature writing prompts that follow this format. Baltimore Woods Nature Center also provides lots of nature writing prompts that span scientific observation, creative speculation, and intentional self-reflection.

A young person sits on a rock with a stack of books

Nature writing activities can help youth work on attention to detail, expand their vocabulary, hone observation skills, practice patience, become more proficient writers and readers, and foster curiosity. Older students can even carry over skills from nature observation and writing to settings like formal exams and essays. The ability to pay close attention to detail, express observations, and draw connections across multiple experiences are all central to nature writing and are essential skills for students in any subject or setting.

This fall and winter, encourage the young people in your life to read the nature writing of others and to write about their own observations of their environment. Focusing on seasonal changes and how a familiar place shifts over time is a great place to start!