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Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 | 3 comments

DIY Kids: Nature Journaling at Huntley Meadows Park

DIY Kids: Nature Journaling at Huntley Meadows Park

When I signed up to take a nature journaling class workshop about a month ago, I enrolled my 9-year-old daughter Ana for the same class designed for children, and Katie enrolled her 7-year-old son, Jack. Both classes were taught by Margaret Wohler, a vivacious and talented staff naturalist and illustrator for Huntley Meadows Park, a 1,500 acre wetland park in Fairfax County just a few miles down Route 1 from Alexandria.


Even though it was raining steadily on the Sunday afternoon of the class, we stayed dry under a pavilion at the park as Margaret gave the kids some basic sketching lessons and warm-up exercises.


She talked about learning five basic lines to look for when drawing — a straight line, a curved line, a circle, a dot, and an angle. If you can draw those, you can draw anything! She gave the kids a chance to practice drawing those very shapes by copying simple designs.


Like the 19th century naturalists, Margaret taught the method of recording the date, location, time, weather, temperature, and sounds on each page of one’s nature journal.


Eventually, as Margaret has done, the students may fill a sketchbook over many years, even decades. (Margaret’s journal spans 20 years of observation and drawings.) It may be nice, she says, to look back and read the notations and then remember more about a particular moment in time. She also encouraged the students to keep drawing, because like anything else — learning to play piano, for example — the way to improve is to practice.


After a bit more discussion about some of the famous early naturalists and artists, like Beatrix Potter and John J. Audobon, as well as 20th century artists, like Georgia O’Keeffe, who observed and painted from nature, we set out for the boardwalk trail. The rain had lessened quite a bit.


Margaret had brought some taxidermy for the kids to draw if the rain hadn’t let up  –  like this woodcock. These are very old castoffs from the Smithsonian.


Margaret encouraged the kids to find a small area to sketch like these cattails. It’s common to try to draw a large landscape, she said,  and get overwhelmed by the details.


As in the workshop I took with Margaret, she also offered large embroidery hoops to use to encircle a small area. Most of the kids looked out over the water to find a small detail — plant or animal — to draw. Jack took some time scanning the horizon to find inspiration, soon spotting a Blue Heron in the distance.


One student noticed a dragonfly resting completely still on a branch. Margaret explained how, on a cool day, the dragonfly’s metabolism will slow to the point that it may choose to stay still. What a boon for the nature journalist who can sit nearby, look closely without disturbing the insect, and draw to their heart’s content.



Pretty soon, the students were spread out, sketching quietly, amidst a chorus of bird song and the hum of insects.



This artist saw several turtles lounging on a log in the water, who, like the dragonfly, sat perfectly still.



At the end of the 1.5-hour-class, each student went home with their own personal sketchbook, a pencil, eraser, and sharpener. Katie says Jack kept drawing well into the evening.


You can sign up for one of Margaret’s classes and more cool events held at the park on the Huntley Meadows website. And stay tuned tomorrow for more photos of the various plants and wildlife living at Huntley Meadows Park.


  1. What a wonderful idea to get children outdoors and close to nature. I look forward to seeing Ana’s and Jack’s art.

  2. Thanks so much Leslie and Katie!

    I wanted to take a moment to thank and recognize our generous donors, who funded the field art kits, via a Kickstarter campaign:

    We have lost all funding for educational programming @HMP and have had to privately fundraise to keep these classes going. So many people, including low income families, cannot afford art supplies…much less, good quality field art kits, as these private donors have made possible. Thanks to all Kickstarter HMP backers!

    I’ve secured a grant from Target Corporation to keep the Art&Nature series alive through the winter (thank you Target!). We will welcome the Casa Chirilagua Kids’ Club participants as the first art students in this new program, Fall 2013. Thank you all for the support and interest!

    We truly feel that the simple act of drawing the natural world can help people notice, and love, wild plant and animal populations. The HMP staff believes in this philosophy of conservation-thu-Art and we are grateful for the notice,

  3. great job, Margaret! I’m a great fan!

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