Phenology Wheels: What They Are and How to Use Them
Photo credit: Raising Up Wild Things
You may have heard the term phenology wheels coming up in social media
posts, or with your crunchy friends in these last few years, but in truth scientists have been using them for years. Phenology is the study of seasons and cycles of nature. So, what is a phenology wheel? In short they are drawn or printed out circles or ‘wheel’ diagrams used to record changes in nature over a set amount of time. I have found they are also a great tool to have in your arsenal for fun watercolor projects for kids (although other mediums work just fine.) They also make a great focal point in nature journaling. There are many opportunities for exploring nature, whether it be from your living room window, or out on a hike to be inspired for the month’s segment to fill. Let’s dive deeper into how you can get started with yours.
Exploring Nature and Being Inspired
Starting a phenology wheel is a great way for you and your family to connect
with nature and take the time to slow down, be mindful, and observe the natural world around you. With varying levels of skill or intent you can really choose how much or little time you want to invest into it. There are so many different mediums to choose from whether it be watercolor, pencils, crayons, or on a super challenging and creative level, I have seen some people choosing to do an embroidery wheel, woah! This could also be a great beginners prompt into nature journaling. Perhaps choosing a monthly bird related to the seasons to paint, or weaving a wheel based on temperatures on a hand loom. Your creativity and imagination can run wild.
Photo credit: Phillips Farm Bativa
Getting your Phenology Wheel Started
First, decide what type of observations you wish to observe. Monthly, or daily?
Seasons or moon phases? This depends on the amount of time you wish to commit to this project. Admittedly my first attempt at daily wheel, was a bit more than I should have bitten off. So I think this January I will start off with a monthly one for me and my family. You can certainly do this by creating your own circle and drawing each section. The web is also filled with free printouts, like this one from Montana Natural History Center. I chose to purchase one from Raising Little Shoots. She puts together a lovely PDF with instructions, pictures, and an easy how to with variations to make each wheel your own. Go sneak a peak over to her Instagram for some swoon worthy inspiration.
Gathering Art Supplies for your Phenology Wheels
If you choose to do a phenology wheel with your kids (which I suggest!), decide
if this will be a group activity or each person will get their own wheel to work on. My 6 year old is a budding artist that has quite a vision when it comes to her artwork, and a majority of the time that does not involve her younger sister’s handiwork. So for us, we each get our own wheel. Once you have decided your wheel structure, grab your supplies. Initially, I thought my kids would like to use markers or colored pencils for this, but once they saw me getting my own watercolors out, we quickly realized that was the medium for all of us. You don’t have to have high quality watercolors for a project like this. For years we all used this non-toxic watercolor set for kids, but recently I decided to up our game a little bit, now that my oldest is more focused on pigments and textures that she can create. Using these watercolor based pigments for our wheels worked really well for us. I am by no means a great artist so the only
difference I could tell is that these were similar to acrylics that the traditional watercolors, creating some really nice shades. I also like that they are non toxic and easy to wash off.
I am really excited to see how these take shape over the new year. This week we just played around with ours, experimenting, discussing what we would observe. But my goal is to do it at the end of each month, reflecting on our discoveries in our walks and hikes. Naturally, always finding a way to add our art projects into discussions for our eclectic homeschooling curriculum. My oldest is really into nature journaling, and can normally be seen with her moleskin and a mini pack of colored pencils in tow. So I think it’s safe to bet that she will be religious about her monthly phenology recordings. My youngest enjoys crafts, but not with the discipline that my eldest does, and that's just fine. The goal isn't perfection, or to be a chore. It's to enjoy the process. One more way for us to connect together as a family outdoors, or just peering from a windowsill. Modeling a reminder to slow down, and appreciate that artwork that is nature all around us, in all seasons of life.