Monday, April 16, 2012

Simple Nature Study

Allyson and Jenna had a few questions about nature study:

"What age did you start nature study? I'm thinking of starting next year, but just with the younger books and maybe pick a new nature topic every 3 months."
"How does [nature study] work for your younger ones?  Neither of my boys are much into drawing and/or all trees they draw would pretty much look alike.  I LOVE the
concept, but I guess I'm not sure how to bring it all together."  

Gavin began keeping a nature notebook when he started kindergarten.  He loved to draw so he had no trouble sketching birds, trees, flowers, ants, or whatever caught his eye.  Not all of his drawings were what someone would consider works of art, but they represented what he saw.  Just as his penmanship improved as he grew older, so did his sketching.  Maddie and Owen have been more reluctant sketchers so, even though they began nature notebooks in kindergarten, too, they did more tracing or pasting specimens at first. If either of them had been the oldest child (and not been eager to "do school" like their big brother), I would have held off on nature notebooks until they were older. 

Of course, you can study nature without the nature notebook aspect at all (though it is a wonderful record and keepsake).  My little guys have learned along with us this year without ever picking up a pencil.  Here are some ideas for incorporating nature into your school studies:
  • Take a sensory walk.  Search for things to touch (bark, mud), smell (flowers, grass), hear (birds, crickets), taste (honeydew, raindrops), and see (clouds, moss). 
  • Do bark rubbings on a variety of trees and notice how the different textures look on paper. 
  • Collect leaves of all shapes and sizes.  Sketch or trace or photocopy the favorites and then toss them back outside. 
  • Instead of keeping a sketch book, keep a photo book of your nature finds.
  • Read about flowers or mammals or trees or reptiles or clouds.  
  • Plant a tree or buy an ant farm and commit to long-term observation.   
  • Press flowers between napkins in the pages of a heavy book.   
  • Go to the zoo or to a farm.
  • Take a walk for pleasure with no expectations!
  • Observe a tree or area of your yard in all 4 seasons.
  • Purchase a nature coloring book (like these by Rod and Staff or these by Dover.)
  • Take a walk and try to find something for every color on the color wheel. 
  • Count all the trees or birds or squirrels you see out the window. 

How often a week do you do nature study?"  

We've chosen to devote only one day a week to nature study.  Typically it does not take more than 30 minutes to read a short book or passage and take a walk or sketch.  If we take a longer nature walk, or if one of the kids gets enthused about their drawing, it may go on longer, but 30 minutes (or less) is our normal.  Until this year, we've not had a focus to our nature study.  We've read on a variety of topics and drawn a variety of objects, but this year we decided to narrow our study and go more in depth on one topic. 

Perhaps you'd want to do more, though.  I've heard of families who focus on science and only spend a day per week on history or social studies instead.  It's really depends on your family's priorities and what you and your kids enjoy. 

"How do you find your books?  I mean, do you just go check out a bunch of books randomly or do you have some guidelines?"  

That's tricky.  When we studied trees,  I had Anna's tree list as a jumping off point.  Then I was able to see what my library had or could order.  Then I was able to pull a book or two straight from the library shelf that looked interesting...and borrow a book from a friend...and order one from Amazon. There were certainly books that I brought home and thumbed through and returned without reading to the kids.  Maybe they were too wordy or not detailed enough or evolution-based or just plain boring, but either way, we didn't waste time with it if it didn't fit our needs. 

One of my biggest aids is the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon.  I will have one window open to my library's website and another window open to Amazon. When I find a book on my topic that looks intriguing, I'll check first to see if my library has it and then I'll look it up on Amazon so I can take a peek inside the book.  If it doesn't look something that fits our family, I cross it off my list.  My library's website has a feature that allows you to look up a  book you've loved and "Find Similar Items."  That has helped me discover a few hidden treasures. 

(Click here for specific ways we've implemented nature study in our home.)


  1. Thanks for sharing as this is something I'm considering for next year. Do you use this as your only science curriculum or do you use alongside something else? To be honest, science is not a favorite of mine and I tend to want to spend much more time on history so this seems like a very fun and creative way to study nature!

  2. Thank you for taking time to answer my questions. I'm really excited about starting our own nature study. I think we may even start this summer, since we'll be spending so much time in the garden. I think I'll have Emahry pick a plant to draw all season to show how it grows. I'll probably take photos, too.

  3. Kristen,

    You've shared some great ideas here. I, too, have multiple windows open while searching for good books and as I'm relentlessly searching, I often think to myself "Is anyone else this crazy?" I guess so. :)

    Thanks for linking up to my blog. Your readers might be interested in my other Learning Together Tuesday posts that are nature-study related. I've done posts on birds, seeds, reptiles and amphibians, in addition to the one on trees that you linked to.

    I don't claim to be exhaustive in my lists of living books, but I always enjoy getting recommendations from other people, so I just wanted to share, too. :)



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