Artwork by Luke Schutzman, Teacher Naturalist

Tremont family, we encourage you to do some nature journaling from home!

As naturalists, we explore the world around us through journals to help us look at nature from different perspectives and to create lasting memories of our experiences.

Check back often as we continue to add nature journal prompts to this page!


Observe a Critter

Journal about a bug (real or fake) as if you are out on safari observing this creature! Draw your creature from many angles, make observations and label the parts of the body, and even try to identify it.

Can’t find a bug? Toy bugs or reference photos and videos from the internet are great ways to nature journal when we don’t have access to trails. This example page was based on a plastic toy bug!⠀

Have fun and let your imagination run wild!

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Draw 3 real (or plastic) critters and then make one new one inspired by the other 3. Label the parts of its body and give it a backstory. What does it eat? Where does it live? Since we are making beetles, make sure it has 6 legs, 3 parts to its body, and an exoskeleton.

Have fun and go WILD! But explain why your beetle needs “laser eyes” or “acid venom” to survive. This helps root our critters in reality and makes them more believable.

If you’re like our artist Luke and are stuck inside, try drawing your beetle while you are lying on the carpet as if you are out in the woods discovering a wonderful new species! Let your imagination and your journal take you on an adventure!

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Smoky Mountain Memories

Last week, our naturalist Luke started journaling about the signs of spring. His favorite sign of spring is the increase in millipede activity because of the fond memories he has associated with these critters in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“When I think about the Smoky Mountains and I miss those blue mountains, the millipedes always make me smile,” he writes.

Use your journal to reflect on your favorite Smoky Mountain memories.

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Drawing Birds

Drawing birds from life or from a video changes the pace of your sketch and forces you to make creative decisions you might not make when sketching from a photo. Try making multiple sketches when the animal moves to capture that movement and their character.

If you can’t find a bird nearby, then draw one of your favorites from a video. Remember many birds are built fairly similar. Sketch the overall shape before you move to drawing details.

Beaks and faces are easier to draw in profile, but it’s great to challenge ourselves and look at nature from different perspectives, like head on!

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Drawing Flowers

Let’s journal about the flowers arriving with the change of the seasons.

If you can, go outside and journal about the flowers you find. If you cannot go outside, we encourage you to use books or the internet to look up flowers that grow in your area!

Draw the flower and the leaves. Make observations such as:

  • Height
  • Overall size
  • Is it a tree? Or a bush?
  • How many flowers per plant?
  • Are there any pollinators around?

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Tree Pods

Collect as many tree seeds, nuts, and seed pods as you can find in the surrounding outdoors. As you examine each item up close and make observations, record them in your journal.

Don’t worry if you’re unable to collect any—our artist Luke has included the artifacts he used for his own nature journal. Practice with the items pictured for your own journal observations!

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What Does GSMNP Mean to You?

While Luke is sheltering in place away from the mountains, fellow Tremont staff members are sharing pictures of animals to help keep him connected with his Smoky Mountain home. Emily Stein shared a photo of a spider with Luke (those of you who know and love Emily will not be surprised by this!). As Luke drew, he started to ponder:

What does Great Smoky Mountains National Park mean to each of us?

In your journal, draw what the national park means to you. It could be wildlife, family, home, history, community, salamanders, hiking, waterfalls, and so much more.

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Patch of Dirt

For this activity, find a spot outside with wild growth happening. Use a hula hoop, string, or some sticks to make a circle about the size of a hula hoop and document everything you find in that space for 30 minutes to an hour.

Draw, write, and count things found in this space. Include things such as the different kinds of:

  • Plants
  • Insects
  • Critters
  • Seeds
  • Rocks

By spending quality time with one small section of nature, we can see just how much life is going on in even the smallest of places.

If you are unable to leave your living space at this time, find someone who can set up your own little “patch of dirt” inside by placing small toys under clothes and pillows on the ground for you to investigate and log in your journal.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Bring a hand lens.
  • Pick a spot with a variety of wild plants and some rocks to look under.
  • Bring a variety of pens and pencils for colors and labeling.
  • Have fun exploring your “secret world” and don’t worry if you don’t have time for everything. Luke spent most of his time on critters because they fascinate him and barely spent any time on the decaying leaves!

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Appalachian Bear Rescue

The black bear is a popular icon of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Have you ever seen a black bear in the Smokies?

Luke created this page during a presentation given by our friends at Appalachian Bear Rescue. Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR) cares for orphaned and injured black bear cubs for return to their natural wild habitat and works to increase public awareness about coexisting with black bears. Their work is phenomenal!

Most of us probably don’t have black bears wandering our neighborhoods so this is a great opportunity to draw from reference photos and videos on the internet. You could even visit ABR’s website and draw some of the bear cubs they’ve helped!

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Nature Homes

“Nature Home” is Tremont’s version of making a fairy home. Make a small home from natural materials and draw it in your journal. Include a creature (real or mythical) to live in your nature home.

Nature Home set upIn your drawing you can stick to exactly what you built or let your imagination run with it (similar to Luke’s painting)!

Luke included a real photo of his nature house in a parking lot as an example of how you can imagine an entire scene from something you build.

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If you share your nature art and journal pages on social media, be sure to tag Tremont Institute!

Facebook: GSMITremont
Instagram: @tremontinstitute