Lewis and Clark Explorers Journal

This was a fun project we made from the Lewis and Clark: From Sea to Shining Sea unit study.  Be sure to read our review, and other stories about what we did in this unit study, including crafts, timelines, field trips, a lapbook, and more. 

Louis and Clark had a journal covered in leather, Elk hide, that they recorded details of their journey in from 1803-1806 as they explored the Louisiana Purchase, and further west all the way to the Pacific Ocean. They recorded and mapped their route, the landscape, animals, plants, and people they encountered. Their journal was a valuable tool for them, as well as for government, pioneers, tradesmen, biologists, scientists, and historians.

We have 5 school age children (and a baby) and we wanted each of the children to make an Explorer’s Journal.  We had a few blunders along the way.  Homeschooling sometimes is about trial and error. Life is always about trial and error.   Sometimes, projects can go awry and become something other than you originally intended.  Sometimes the lessons are for our children and us parents to learn patience and forgiveness.  Below I have shared our ups and downs with this craft project in hopes that it will bless you and so you can learn from our mistakes and perhaps be able to avoid them yourself.  It is kind of funny now looking back on it, but it wasn’t so funny at the time.

Making the Journal:

Directions from the unit study:

    Inexpensice blank sketch book available at craft supply stores
    Chamois available from the automotive section of your local discount store
    Brown emboidrey thread
    Sewing needle with a large eye

“Spread a piece of chamois out on a table.  Open a blank sketchbook.  Lat it cover side down on top of the chamois.  Using a pencil, trace around your book.  Now draw another line 3″ out from the left and right sides of your tracing.  Set the book aside.  Fold and pin the left and right sides of the chamois in 3″.  Blanket stitch the top and bottom edges of your book cover using a needle and brown emboidery thread.  Slip your notebook into the chamois book cover. Write in your journal…..”  Lewis and Clark: From Sea to Shining Sea, pages 13, 17, 18.

We went to the store and bought 5 Chamois 18 x 14 inches, brown emboidry thread, 5 sketch pads, and a needle with a large eye for stitching with the emboidry thread.   The Chamois is easy to use and recommended as a substitute for leather which requires some special tools. 

We jumped in to the craft project with both feet (actually both hands).  But I soon learned it required a little more custom work than I realized at first.  Depending on the size of your book, the binding, and the size of your chamois, it requires some calculating and adjusting.

When we opened the 7 1/2 inch long sketch pad, it measured 15 inches from end to end. It seemed that 18 inches would be enough, but 18 inches, minus 15 inches, minus the folds, left us with about 2 1/2 inches, or 1 1/4 inch for each side (not the three inches required for each side).  It did not leave enough chamois fabric length left over to make the pockets. We tried every which way but our sketch pads were to big and did not leave enough material left to make the pockets to hold the cover.

So we had to cut two inches off the length of the sketch pads. We measured everything with a ruler.

We cut the cardboard cover with scissors and the sketch paper inside the book with a paper cutter to get nice straight edges.   It took some time as the paper cutter could only cut through the thickness of one page at a time.  The pages are made out of thick card stock.

Now our sketch pads measured 5 1/2 inches long, and 5 inches tall.

Then we traced out the sketch pad shape onto the fabric. Then measured 3 inches on each side and drew another line. Next we cut out the fabric.

Again this was another place where things went wrong and we had to re-make our custom covers again.  We did not realize we needed to leave extra space on top and on bottom of the fabric for stitching and to accommodate the depth of the sketch book.


If you cut along the top and bottom of the book outline, you have no room to sew the cover so there is room left over to slide the cover in.  This was another place we needed to add in a calculation. So we re-made them leaving an extra 1/4 inch on top and 1/4 inch on bottom, and an extra 3 inches on the left and on the right.


The older boys got a lot of experience measuring, cutting, threading their needles, and blanket stitching. 

Yeah!  We got the pockets done and the cover is ready!!…  NOT!!!…  Now the journals would not close.  ARGH!!!

The next mistake was that we used a sketch pad with a spiral binder and this needed an additional allowance in fabric.  This meant that when the book was laid open, the top and bottom covers laid flush, but when closed the cover slipped forward and the spiral binder stuck out past the covers. This required extra length or the spiral binding of the cover prevented the journal from closing.  Who knew?  OOPPS! 

I just could not believe we had made the covers and they looked so nice, and fit perfect when the journal was open, but when we tried to close the journal, there was not enough fabric to allow it to close.  Another re-do!!!  We had to make them again adding in another 1/2 inch to accommodate the spiral binding when it was closed, except for my 9 year old.  He was determined not to remake his, so he took the stitching off of one side, and reduced the size of the pocket on that side and it added a half inch of slack to the cover.  Then he re-folded the  smaller pocket and sewed both sides of the pocket.  Now he had one big pocket and one small pocket and he was happy it was done!

After going through all of this, we decided not to make covers for the 3 and 5 year olds.  We still had some chamois fabric left, but they did not want a cover and liked the way their journals looked without it.  Why argue with a 3 and 5 year old?  At this point, I was fine with their choice.  Their journals had cute designs already on the covers, one in pink and one in red. If they change their mind in the future, we will make them one too.

We ended up with three finished covers that looked great (and several prototypes).  These books all looked the same when we were done, so for the two older boys, ages 9 and 12, I had them monogram theirs with their first initial on the front and middle initial on the back.  This was great practice for them in creating their initials with the thread.  We drew their initial in pencil backwards on the reverse side and they followed the design.  It turned out great on the front side.  The 12 year old also blanket stitched all the way around his cover instead of only on the pocket.  On the 7 year old’s cover, we wrote his first name on the front.  Now, we can get started using them.  Yeah!  Or not……

Finally, we had one last misshap I will share with you. Older brother had helped me a bunch with this project.  He helped make and re-make the other covers when there was a mistake.  He made his own cover last and finally his was done also.  He was very proud and had monogrammed his with his first and middle initials.  But because all the boys share the same first initial, one brother thought this was his book and used a marker to write the rest of his name after the monogrammed letter.  He was so sorry, and embarrassed when he flipped the book over to see his brother’s middle initial on the back.  But he had written in permanent marker and there was no fixing it.  The oldest brother was heart broken, but took it all in stride.  Now he would have to start over again.  This was a good opportunity for the boys to build relationships and to empathize with each other.  They had to ask for forgiveness, and to forgive each other.

He made a completely new journal cover: from measuring, cutting, folding, pinning, sewing, emboiderying, etc. from start to finish in about two hours.  He had the system memorized! 


He monogrammed the outside with his first and middle initials, and designed a pine tree and a star that he made on the inside pockets.  He did a great job and was a real trooper!


3 Keys to crafting cover success. 
If you plan to make a cover for your journal:

step one:
  make sure you measure your journal, and then measure again.  Be sure you add to your measurements these additions so you can buy the right size material:  add 1/2″ for the binding, 1/4″ for the top, 1/4″  for the bottom, and 3″ to the left and 3″ to the right.  Then when you blanket stitch the seams of the pockets about 1/4 inch from the edges, and open and close the covered journal, it should all fit just right.

step two:  buy the material based on the measurements above so that it is big enough to make the journal cover.

step three: if you have multiple children, be sure to add distinguishing features so the children do not confuse who’s journal is who’s.

If you don’t have a chamois, other substitutes for the leather cover could be felt, thin cardboard from a cereal box, or thin foam sheets.  You could also use heavy multilayered brown paper (often made into bags with nice handles from specialty stores).  I have seen several of these brown paper covers and they look very realistic. The brown paper is aged and made to look and act like leather by wrinkling it up and flattening it out several times and then “trimmed” by burning the edges. It really does make it look like old leather. Any of these options would make a nice cover for an explorers journal.  You could also make your own sketch pad instead of buying one.  We have made these many times with sheets of paper and thin cardboard from a cereal box.

Using our Explorers Journal:

In the 7 week unit study, Lewis and Clark: From Sea To Shining Sea, we are given a lot of fun ideas about using our journals to record plants and animals, natural science, and geography that we learn about along the way.  We have almost completed 3 weeks of the study as of the time of writing this story, and our review for The Old Schoolhouse, and I hope to post a future story when we have finished all seven weeks.

Some of the things we did in the first three weeks of our study with our Explorers Journal include
d leaning about mammals, endangered species, animals that are native to our local area, beavers,  Newfoundland dogs, and crayfish, making a map, identifying native plants.  We spent some time reading and researching.  

During week one, the kids learned about beavers, and looked up information on the internet, what they look like, their tracks, their homes, etc. 

I found some pictures online of beavers, a beaver building a lodge, a beaver lodge “blue print”, pictures of the hands and feet, and the track that matches the hand and foot.  I printed them out for each of the children to cut out and glue into their journals.




Daddy also found a beaver damn at a local creek in Brevard, NC when he was checking one of his job sites and we put this in our Explorers Journal.  We hope to take our own field trip for all the kids to see the damn soon.

During week two, we also learned about mollusks and crustaceans, and specifically crayfish, their body parts, what they eat, and their habitat.  I found some pictures online and a really cool labeled diagram of the crayfish body.


We visited the Mills River, and caught several crayfish and investigated their habitat. 


The oldest drew all of his pictures in his journal rather than cut and paste.  He loves to draw and this is a perfect learning activity for him.

In week three of our unit study, we learned about the Newfoundland dog and its special characteristics.  We added this dog to our journals.  We will be making a topographical map with clay and paint it and add a picture to our journals. We will also learn about 15 native species of plants and 12 species of trees and add them to our journals by the end of this week too.


Each week we will add more records of our learning adventures into our Explorers Journal.  Keeping an Explorers Journal is a great way to record and enrich what you are learning.  You can apply this to so many more things beyond a unit study. 

For example, if you plan a vacation, make an explorers journal to record nature, science, and geography that you see on your trip.  There are lots of great applications for a journal such as this.  For the past six months, we have taken a nature hike at the local parks every Tuesday and Friday and record our journey with photos.  We love looking through these each week.  We are going to expand our learning and make a new Explorers Journal to keep a record of our nature hikes in the parks.  I love recording how the plants change from week to week and this will be a great way to take the information we have recorded in photos and expand our learning in a hands on way.  Eventually I hope all the kids will draw many of the plants we see and I can save money on ink for pictures.  But I am willing to commit to buying the ink for this years record of hikes we have done to get us started and enjoy all the learning we have done over the past several months.

During our unit study adventure with Lewis and Clark, we also made a history timeline journal to record events we learned about.  I hope to post a future story about this also if I can find the time.  I don’t know where time goes, I need a personal historical timeline to record every 24 hours of my day so I can keep better tack of it.  By the time I feed, clothe, clean, teach, write, go here and there, with six kids the time is gone and I have a back log of stories I wish I could find more time to write about and share with you.  Lord willing, I will get it done soon…….

Be sure to read my review of the Once-a-Week Unit Study “Lewis and Clark: From Sea to Shining Sea” to learn more about the fun adventures we are doing with it. 

This post will be linked up with:
No Time For Flash Cards
Show and Share Saturday
Science Sunday
Sharing Time
Raising Homemakers
All Things Beautiful

Please share.
This entry was posted in Lewis and Clark, Once A Week by Homeschool Legacy, Review Unit Studies, Unit Studies and Lapbooks on by .

About Melinda Weiser

I am a sinner, saved by grace. I am on a journey and offer to share my story with the hope that it will bless you. My one desire is to bring glory to my creator. I am a wife and the mother of 6 children, plus two in heaven. I enjoy homeschooling, research, teaching, homesteading, natural gardening, grass based farming, cooking, fresh raw milk, herbs, children, midwifery, and music. I am a writer, biblical mentor, and also work part time in the healthy foods and vitamin business www.weisernaturalfoods.com I have a BSW degree from Kansas State University, and trained professionally as a medical social worker, biblical counselor, tutor, and vocal performer. Thank you for stopping by to read about our homeschool and family life adventures. Be blessed!

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