SPARK! Nature Observation & Journaling Program

SPARK! works in collaboration with artists, classroom teachers, university staff, school administration, and volunteers to ensure that the arts are an essential part of every school day. SPARK! is a national partnership site for the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child Initiative, a growing network of communities working to transform learning and ensure access to the arts for every public school student. Learn more about SPARK! here.

The Montana Natural History Center is one of SPARK!’s collaborating organizations. Through SPARK, we can offer programming that bridges scientific study with journaling and illustration. MNHC’s SPARK Artists are available for classroom residencies. Teachers can expect to work with our staff and artists to develop a multi-day journaling and observation curriculum.

Jenah Mead nature journal collage - insects, birds, columbian ground squirrel

Available Programming: 
Science Journaling through Nature Observation with Jenah Mead ($250 per class for 4 sessions, including prep): takes place in the classroom and in the school yard.

In this place-based program, students will learn about their local environment, hands-on, through exercises in observation, curiosity, and visual art. Nature journaling bridges multiple disciplines, inviting students to be artists, writers, and scientists all at once. Meanwhile, students become more in tune to the environment around them. What little details do they walk by every day without ever noticing? What animals and plants call this place their home too? How are they connected to them? By keeping a nature journal, students have a safe place to make scientific observations, ask thoughtful questions, and express themselves. This program provides an introduction to nature journaling using visual art as a pilot. Following this four-part lesson plan, Jenah will provide enrichment and extension ideas for your classroom, including how to design class science experiments and service learning projects based on student nature journal observations.

Lesson 1: I notice
How often have we gone on a walk and not noticed the shape of the clouds, the perfect spiral in a pinecone, or the smell of fall? In this lesson, students will practice awareness by “zooming out” and “zooming in” to draw and write about their environment from multiple perspectives. Art Concept: Space.

Lesson 2: I wonder
A scientist’s greatest skill is curiosity. Without it, the scientific method would stop at observation. In this lesson, students will observe wildlife and hypothesize about why they move the way they do. Students will finish the lesson by writing their own scientific questions. Art Concept: Gesture Drawings.

Lesson 3: I Know
A field guide is a resource that scientists and nature enthusiasts can use to identify and learn about some aspect of nature. Students will learn how to use field guides and also create their own field guide to describe specimens of the Montana Natural History Center. Art Concept: Shape and Form.

Lesson 4: I Feel
Nature journals are special because they are so personal. In our final lesson, students will demonstrate what they’ve learned about nature journaling on a nature walk (in their schoolyard or nearby natural area), while focusing on their personal experiences with nature and how they are connected to it.

About Jenah Mead:
Jenah Mead an educator, naturalist, and visual artist who specializes in wildlife drawings and paintings. Jenah began her career in science and environmental education in 2008 while working as an animal caretaker for gray wolves in New Mexico. Since moving to Montana in 2012, Jenah has taught science and environmental education to all ages on behalf of several organizations, including the Montana Natural History Center, Clark Fork Watershed Education Program (CFWEP), The Wildlife Society, spectrUM Science Discovery Area, and undergraduate organic chemistry labs at The University of Montana. Jenah received her B.S in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana in 2016 and is currently pursuing her M.S in environmental education. Outside of teaching and art, Jenah’s passions are volunteering, hiking, reading, and traveling. She lives in Missoula with her husband, toddler, and two orange dogs: Yogurt and Aldo Leopold.

Jenah Mead nature journaling

Artist Statement:
My mission is to inspire lifelong stewardship of nature by connecting children to their local environments through visual art and place based learning. When I was young, I learned about ecosystems in books. To me, nature was a place that you visit, not the place that you are. These lessons inspired me to care about wild places and wild things I would never see, but did nothing to foster compassion for the ecosystems I interacted with every day. My interest in combining the study of art and nature was born out of the desire to find ways to teach youth to recognize their home communities as living ecosystems worthy of protecting. As an artist, discovering our place through art makes intuitive sense to me. Art requires us to really see the subject of our work, pouring over every little detail. Art requires us to understand our subject and try to capture its spirit. It requires us to feel something and reflect that feeling in the finished piece. When I draw or paint nature, I find meaning and belonging in it. The final work is part of me. My hope is that, through art, students will slow down and notice the magic around them.

Interested in signing up your classroom?
Contact Lisa Bickell at 406.327.0405 or lbickell [at] MontanaNaturalist [dot] org.