When you begin a homeschool nature study with your children, you encourage them to appreciate and inquire about the world around them.
Have you ever gone on a nature hike with a young child?
Toddlers and preschoolers definitely relish the outdoors. They stop to smell every flower, they crouch to observe every insect, and sometimes their overzealous behavior causes the demise of those poor insects as they
squeeze pick them up for a closer look.
Little ones don’t have to be told the importance of observing the world around them. It’s natural for them to want to be outdoors appreciating nature.
We should all take note from the little ones and get out in nature ourselves!
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What is a nature study?
Nature study is just that…a time to study nature. It can be done in your backyard or at a national park. Nature study can even be done indoors. It’s a great way for kids to learn more about the natural world through hands-on time outside, exploring.
Why should I include a nature study?
Including nature study in your home is a delightful approach to teaching children about the natural world around them. Children will learn first hand how and why things happen in nature. They will learn to appreciate and respect nature through their observations and time outdoors.
How do I begin a nature study?
The easiest way to begin a nature study is by taking your children outside and letting them explore. You can choose something in particular for your children to observe that day. However, most of the time I let my boys choose what interests them.
A nature scavenger hunt is a great opportunity to guide your children in observing nature. To make it easy for you, I created 7 FREE Nature Scavenger Hunts to use with your children from toddler/preschool age on up, including seasonal hunts.
When should I start a nature study?
In short, today! It is always a good time to begin a nature study with your children! Any season, any kind of weather, any day of the week. Just take your kids outside and find what interests them to look into more!
What is good to include in a nature study?
Keeping a nature journal, or using notebooking with your nature study, is an effective way for your children to show you what they have learned through the study. It can also help keep what they are studying outside organized.
Not only can your children draw what they have observed in their journals, but they can add to them once back indoors. Your children can look through field guides and other books on the subject, and then add the information they learned to the page they started outside.
Outside Nature Studies
The world is your oyster when it comes to outside nature study! You can go in your backyard or neighborhood, a local park, or vacation to a national park.
Most of our nature studies are in our backyard, as having a young child who still naps makes it difficult to get much farther. Granted, that backyard is several wooded acres with a good amount of wildlife. However, before we moved here a few years ago, my children had plenty to observe in our neighborhood backyard for nature studies.
If you can make it to a park, then that would also be a wonderful place for nature studies. Many towns have local city or county parks that you can use for nature walks. They are often well-maintained and have trails, which make it easy to take children of many ages. In my city, there are local groups of parents and children who meet weekly for walking through parks, so you may want to see if your area has something like that as well.
We do try to get out in nature as much as we can when we travel. We love to take family hikes. When we plan our vacations, we will often research local, state or national parks that are nearby and plan to go for a day or two.
Do not feel guilty if you are unable or just don’t want to go anywhere for nature studies. Anywhere children can observe the world around them is a good place for a nature study.
Inside Nature Studies
Nature study doesn’t have to be limited to outside. Bring your nature study indoors for deeper and continued learning. Nature study could be added to your Morning Basket, or Morning Time. This may be a time for you to read from the Burgess Bird Book for Children, a favorite for my children (and me!) when we read it a couple of years ago.
Weather may require nature study to occur indoors. If your children are young and it is very cold outside, or it is storming and unsafe to be outside, you can observe through the window. Children can still draw what they see, and can include information about the weather to explain why they are indoors.
An additional way to bring nature study indoors is through extra research about what is observed outside. Older students especially will want to further their learning about the natural world through field guides and other various books.
A final way to conduct indoor nature studies is something we have added to our afternoon time this year. Once a week my older boys will practice their nature drawing with items we found outside and put in our nature basket. Additionally, children can peruse through books on how to draw nature and try out the techniques mentioned. As you can see, nature study is not limited to the outdoors!
How often should we do a nature study?
Nature study, including how often you do one, is something that is completely in your control. You get to decide how often you have time to fit it in. Factors in that decision might be the weather, age of children (whether you have to work around nap times), or the fullness of your calendar.
In our home, I try to make time available for my boys to go outside for nature studies at least once a week. I try to choose a weekly (or over a couple of weeks) theme as a guide for our nature study time. Many times that will include a nature walk and a couple of books on the topic. If we have time, I love adding a related activity or two after the books.
How to fit nature study into your homeschool.
If you homeschool, you should include nature studies as part of your curriculum. You should first consider how high of a priority to make it. The higher the importance, the more often you should include it in your week.
Then think about your weekly schedule to find available times for it, but don’t limit yourself to your homeschool hours. Nature study can be done on the weekends or early evenings as well. Write it into your planner. Even if you don’t get to it that often, having it written down will remind you to get outside. We have found that nature study is a perfect fit in our homeschool morning basket time.
Finally, decide what you want your kids to get out of it. Will they just go out and enjoy observing the world around them? This option is good for younger children. If you have older children, though, you may want to require more than just observation. You may want them to document what they see in a journal, or research further at home.
Nature Study ideas for all ages
Preschool age and younger
Young children love being outside. It pulls them like a magnet. They will patiently watch a group of ants march down the sidewalk, or stop to sniff every single flower. Be sure to allow time for them to do this. Let your child lead the study.
Perhaps you could have them carry a bag for their nature study. They could bring home items collected in it (when allowed, of course) and set them on a nature table, or inside a nature basket. I am going to have my newly turned three-year-old put items he finds outside into a nature basket. He can continue to observe the items inside at his leisure or include them in his play.
Elementary age children (grades K-5)
Children from kindergarten to fifth grade can be expected to go deeper into their studies. Early elementary age children can keep a small nature journal drawing pictures of what they find outside. As they get older, they can label what they find and add some detail about the weather or location. So many wonderful nature books are written for this age level, so be sure to lay some around that are related to your current study.
Middle school age children (grades 6-8)
Middle school is a wondeful age to delve deeper into nature study. Children this age can also keep nature journals, and they can include much detail. At this age, middle schoolers can also do more research on what they see in field guides, books, or online to add to their nature journals.
Speaking of nature journals, this is also a good age to work on better drawing. We have a couple of nature journaling or nature drawing books that my older children can look through and practice drawing more detail in their illustrations.
High school age young adults (grades 9-12)
Once a child reaches high school age, they should have the experience to create wonderfully made nature journals. They could go further and add poetry to their nature books, or create stories for them. High schoolers can add much detail to their drawings. They are capable of writing more about their observations, and may even want to conduct a year-long study of their choosing.
Mom (and/or Dad)
Don’t forget to keep a nature journal for yourself! The past few years, it’s been difficult for me to get out for a nature study with my children. Often I’d send them outside without me so that I could tend to the little guy. However, I decided this year that Mom deserves to enjoy nature as well! So we are all going out for nature study, and I even got a nature journal for myself.
Helpful resources for a nature study
You really don’t need to buy anything to do a nature study. Just go outside and enjoy nature! However, there may be times that you may want to utilize various resources. Nature resources make great gifts too!
Materials to help you get started
- Nature Journals: I prefer blank nature journals so that my kids can fill in whatever they’d like. We have also used this Journaling a Year in Nature book by Simply Charlotte Mason, which is a wonderful book to use when just starting out. You can also simply use a composition notebook as well for an easy and inexpensive journal. I always stock up on a few during back to school sales.
- Colored Pencils, Pencils: I like to use colored pencils and regular lead pencils in nature journals. They are erasable (mostly, anyway) if mistakes are made and are not harsh like pens can be.
- Watercolors and Brushes: A beautiful way to add color in nature journals is with watercolors. This watercolor set is fairly inexpensive and good for beginners. The Prang watercolors are also good quality for children. I have found that by purchasing better quality art supplies, children have a better overall experience using them. They don’t get frustrated by paints that are not vibrant or brushes that split after a few uses.
- Field Guides: Field guides are an invaluable tool in nature studies! My first field guide purchase was this Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America when we started a bird study. I’ve since gotten guides on trees and insects as well.
- How to Draw Nature Books: One of my favorite books about drawing nature is The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. It is on the pricier side, but it is 300 pages of information on how to draw different aspects of nature along with guides on choosing art supplies for journaling.
Good books about nature:
Nature Anatomy: This is one of three books in the Julia Rothman collection, and the pictures in this book are absolutely beautiful. I find this book to be a great resource for additional information to put in the journal following a nature study, or to use for an indoor nature study on its own.
A Seed is Sleepy: This book, as well as the other Nature Books by Dianna Aston, is a wonderful living book resource for nature study. There are many other books to choose from, including books on nests, eggs, beetles, butterflies, and rocks.
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt: Kate Messner has fabulous books on nature about gardening, pond ecosystems, and animal homes in the winter.
Trees, Leaves, and Bark: These Take Along Guides about trees, birds, flowers and more are packed full of information that your children can use to expand on their nature studies.
The Burgess Bird Book for Children: I mentioned already that this book is a favorite of ours. All of the books I’ve read by Thornton Burgess have been perfect as part of nature study. These living books share details about various animals naturally throughout each story.
Check out my video for more information about starting a nature study.
Additional online resources to check out:
Handbook of Nature Study: This site uses the book of the same name to share outdoor experiences. Each week an Outdoor Hour Challenge is posted for readers to use in their own homes. You’ll find a wonderful getting started guide for the outdoor hour challenges here.
Our Journey Westward: Not only does Cindy have wonderfully informative posts about nature study, but she also has many lovely unit studies you can include in your nature study. Her No Sweat Nature Study Live lessons are amazingly thorough and wonderful for a wide range of ages.
Raising Little Shoots: On this blog, you’ll find lots of information about doing nature studies with children. She also has a program called Exploring Nature with Children, a yearlong nature study curriculum. This program can be used with a wide range of ages, and is really great for preschoolers through lower elementary.
Lily and Thistle: I recently found this blog and have really enjoying what I’ve read so far. I even joined a 15 day email nature challenge for moms! I want to give my boys a good example of what I’m expecting in their nature journals, so I decided I better make one myself!
Nature studies are a delightful approach to teaching children about the natural world around them. A nature study can be a part of an elaborate trip to a national park, or as simple as going into your own backyard. Nature study can even take place indoors. Nature studies are a great way for children of all ages to appreciate and acquire knowledge about the great outdoors.