Keeping a Calendar of Firsts is a wonderful way to begin or expand your nature study. It’s also a great way to dive into phenology. Phenology is the study of the cyclic events in nature and how they effect each other. Viceroy caterpillars emerge a few weeks after the willows leaf out. Birds time their nesting to when there are enough insects around to feed their young. There are many such connections happening around us.
Keeping a record of the first of the season is a valuable tool in this study. As you keep a record year after year, you can begin to link occurrences in nature. It also gives you motivation to get outside and explore, so you can catch as many first occurrences as possible. And once outside, you never know what you will discover.
Charlotte Mason wrote, “It is a capital plan for the children to keep a calendar––the first oak-leaf, the first tadpole, the first cowslip, the first catkin, the first ripe blackberries, where seen, and when. The next year they will know when and where to look out for their favourites, and will, every year, be in a condition to add new observations. Think of the zest and interest, the object, which such a practice will give to daily walks and little excursions.“
Here are some of the events you can record in your calendar of firsts.
- the bloom time of wildflowers
- the first frogs
- the spring migration of birds
- the first one of various types of bees, dragonflies, and butterflies
- the flowering time of trees
- the first blackberry, strawberry, etc.
- anything else you notice for the first time
Henry David Thoreau was a famous naturalists who kept a diary of “firsts”. His careful record of the bloom time of flowers around Walden pond in Massachusetts is still studied today. Concerning his nature journaling he wrote, “I often visited a particular plant four or five miles distant, half a dozen times within a fortnight, that I might know exactly when it opened.”
Here’s a quick page I made following a weekly layout plan recording the “firsts” in one week. I didn’t spend a lot of time on any one thing, but concentrated more on getting it all down on paper. Sometimes I just add “firsts” to a blank calendar, and most times I forget to record them at all, but I’m trying to get into a better habit.
My daughter made her own page as well. I love seeing her work beside me.
A Calendar of Firsts will allow you to compare when events took place each year. You may begin to notice that although the dates vary, the order of events stays much the same. This practice, if continued, will leave a rich written record of the natural world around you.
You could record your observations in your nature journal or on a blank calendar reserved for that purpose. For those following my nature studies, I include blank calendars each month that you could use.
For other nature journal ideas see these posts: