5 Tips for Nature Study

Written by contributor Kris of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Though we’re not always consistent with including it, nature study is one of our favorite ways to spend some of our homeschool day.

It’s fun, relaxing, interest-led learning in a real-world, hands-on environment.

Following are five tips for making nature study an anticipated part of your family’s education (because you’ll be learning, too, Mom):

1. Utilize The Handbook of Nature Study – The Book and the Blog

The Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Comstock is the comprehensive nature study book. Written by the late founder of the Department of Nature Study at Cornell University, this detailed reference guide was originally written for elementary school teachers.

The first few chapters explain the how’s and why’s of nature study. After that, the volume is broken down into sections on animals, plants, earth and sky. The sub-sections and the index make it easy to find information on nearly any nature-related subject imaginable.

The Handbook of Nature Study blog offers fantastic direction for getting started, from the Outdoor Hour Challenges, which encourage you to get out and study nature as a family, to notebooking and journaling pages. It was the blog’s author, Barb, whose passion for nature study ignited the interest in our family.

Photo by Kris

2. Keep a Nature Journal

Yes, this means you, too, Mom. When your kids see you getting excited about nature study, they’ll get excited, too.  I modeled my nature journal after a picture of one I saw in The Handbook of Nature Study.

I did not put any expectations on my kids’ journals. I wanted it to be something they wanted to do, not something they had to do. I encouraged them to draw pictures, make rubbings of leaves, tape leaves to the pages, or even include quotes or poetry, like I enjoyed doing, but I didn’t require it.

A good resource for getting started with a nature journal is Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles Roth.

3. Give Everyone a Camera

This may not be feasible in every family, but at this point in our family’s lives, each of my kids has their own digital camera – either a hand-me-down or one they’ve received as a gift. We all see the world differently as evidenced by the variety of photos we take.

My kids seem to enjoy nature study more when they are encouraged to photo journal our outings with pictures of the things that catch their interest. We rarely go on a nature walk with a detailed agenda. I may encourage the kids to look for things like different types of tree bark or a variety of mushrooms, but generally I like to just let them look for things that catch their attention.

Photo by Kris

4. Pack a Nature Backpack

We keep a nature backpack in our van so that we don’t have to worry about forgetting something and so that we’re prepared for impromptu nature walks. Included in our backpack are:

  • Nature journals
  • Pencil boxes with colored pencils, writing pencils, an eraser, and a pencil sharpener
  • Binoculars
  • Magnifying glass
  • Sandwich bags (in case we find an interesting specimen to bring home)
  • Field guides

5. Join a Nature Center

Some of you may be blessed with great places to observe nature in your own backyard. If, however, you’re like us and live in a subdivision, you may want to join a nature center. We have a couple of options in our area and the inexpensive membership was well worth having a place where we knew we could go hiking and be sure to see different types of plants, animals, and birds.

Don’t overlook nature preserves or national parks in your area either. These are typically free and offer some great opportunities to observe nature.

Photo by Kris

Nature study doesn’t have to be – and shouldn’t be – a complicated undertaking that adds more stress to your life. I encourage you to utilize these tips to get out and see how enjoyable and relaxing it can be to explore the world around us.

Do you include nature study in your homeschool? What tips would you add?

About Kris

Kris, who blogs at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers, is a homeschooling mom to three amazing kids and wife to her unbelievably supportive husband. She enjoys photography, running, and drinking sweet tea. You can connect with Kris on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

Comments

  1. You have some great tips here! I need to get us back out to the parks & nature centers. And I should pack me a nature backpack. That’s a great idea.
    Ritsumei’s latest post: Classical Homeschooling Carnival #17

  2. Now to find some parks to explore…
    Rachel E.’s latest post: Polish Pottery Giveaway

  3. We have found giving our son a notepad and a pencil when we go out on day trips has resulted in him slowing down and drawing ‘interesting stuff’ – last weekend trip it was crazy fungi and plants he couldn’t identify. Often he draws and labels stuff so we can look it up when we get home, and invariably forgets about it before we get home! But the fact he is actively looking and recording is what is important.
    And thanks for the link to the Handbook of Nature Study blog! Great resource.
    Natalia’s latest post: WIN a copy of ‘Steady Days’ by Jamie C. Martin

  4. We created a nature trail in the wooded portion of our yard and it’s amazing how much wildlife and how many natural wonders we’re able to explore in that small patch of woods. Also, check your local botanical gardens, garden centers, and park system — all of those, in our area anyway, offer family activities like ranger-led hikes, classes on botanical drawing, educational programs, and more that can spark new interests and teach new skills.
    Kathy’s latest post: Call Waiting

  5. These are great tips. I especially appreciate having a nature bag. That way when you want to take a walk, you just grab it and go.
    Carol J. Alexander’s latest post: You Can Do Anything for 15 Minutes

  6. Thank you for the reminder about nature centers. We just moved here in late May and I was lamenting about our lack of green space to a friend just yesterday. But my good friend Google tells me that we have a nature center in New Orleans and another not much farther away on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. Hooray! I’m so excited.

  7. Great, great tips here. My daughter LOVES her hand-me down digital camera. Thanks for the post!
    Christina Pilkington’s latest post: 10 Unusual Ways to Explore Geography

  8. My girls are so little that anything and everything is new and exciting! They love looking at things in our back yard and will spend lots of time just looking at the blades of grass and little pebbles. We have invited nature into our yard by planting vegetable and fruit plants and putting out a bird feeder. We have yet to see a bird at the feeder, but the girls have marveled at the many squirells that have visited! As they get older, I would love to start geocaching – it would get us outside and going for walks and give us a treasure hunt the whole family could get into.

  9. We love Nature Study!! Thanks for all the above and I agree with the entire post. Keeping it in the vehicle is a great idea!! I just bought lovely small booklets for this year. I hope we get to venture out more this year.

    Do you go by a schedule or do you just go with the flow…I have tried in the past to go by category (e.g. –just birds or trees), but that doesn’t work for my boys.

    It’s good to just let them explore WHATEVER —which is exactly what it’s meant for. :) Thanks for the post.
    Jessica S. @ Mother of Action’s latest post: Back to HOMEschool! It’s a new year: 2011-2012

  10. A flower press! Handbook of Nature Study has a great idea for a simple home-made flower press. We have loved doing her studies. Great post! Here’s the link for the video tutorial on the flower press: http://harmonyfinearts.blogspot.com/2008/05/how-to-make-flower-press.html
    Tracy’s latest post: Combatting a Critical Spirit

  11. This will be our first year of home schooling. My kids are really interested in birds so we are going to make that a focus. We are going to pick three birds that are native to our area and that stay here year round. We’ll then follow them through the year. My kids are really excited.

    I love the idea of a nature journal!

  12. If someday God give me a gift…”the child” i would be the best mom and i will follow you Kris because you are a Good example of being a loving mother..
    Someday i will always support what my kids wants because i know it makes them happy..:-)

    Thanks for the nice post…very interesting…
    Ashley’s latest post: fishing

  13. We have been keeping Nature Journals for the past few years…..you have added some great ideas to our Nature Study adventures, like the backpack in the car. I LOVE that! And I am going to pick up a journal for my very own, as well. Thanks so much!

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