One of my favorite parts about our week is nature study. No matter where you live, there is always more to learn! If you haven’t done much nature study before, or aren’t sure where to get started, let me share a few things with you that will hopefully make it an easy, fun part of your homeschool schedule.
Getting Started with Nature Study
The first thing you need to do is schedule some time outside during your day. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s really easy to skip going outside when you start to feel behind in, say, MATH, so it’s good to have it written in your lesson plans.
You’ll want to consider where you live when you’re thinking about the time of day it’s best for you to spend outdoors. My family lives in North Carolina, so we can nearly always be outside first thing in the morning, no matter what time of year. In fact, in the summertime, it’s key for us to get outside first thing, or we won’t get out at all, because it’s hot and humid and my fair-skinned children have no business being outside in the heat of the day. One interesting thing you could add to your nature journal entries is the time the sun rises and sets each day. Check out SunriseSunset.com, where you can make a free printable chart of sunrise and sunset times for each month for your town, and you can include moon phases, moon rise and set times, and more. Obviously, you’ll want to dress appropriately, consider whether you’ll want insect repellent, and you might want to invest in some inexpensive rain ponchos for everyone so you won’t have to stay inside when it rains. (Nature study in the rain is really interesting!)
There are a few tools that will make your nature study time easier and more fun, both for you and for your students. As the teacher, it’s your job to learn how to identify what you find and teach your children how to do so, too. Don’t worry if you’ve never done much of this kind of thing before! It’s never too late to start.
One book I consider indispensable is Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study. This book is large, and probably not one you’re going to want to carry around with you, but it’s invaluable for any teacher and provides some great lessons on tons of topics. This is a resource for adults; it offers wonderful information, with questions you can ask students, but it’s not really for reading to students. In our local nature club, we’ve been studying wildflowers, and the leaders taught us about the parts of a flower and its plant using what they’d learned from the HBNS. Then we drew a daisy plant one of them had brought, and after that we went on a nature walk to see what was blooming.
Field guides are another important resource for nature study. I try to take at least one guide with us for whatever we’re currently studying when we go outside. If you don’t have any, they can get expensive, but there are a couple you can get that will help you get started. The National Audubon Society publishes regional guides, which cover a little bit on a variety of topics for each geographical region. I have the one for the Southeastern States, which covers AL, AR, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, and TN. The others are:
- Southwestern States (AZ, NV, NM, UT)
- Mid-Atlantic (DE, MD, NJ, NY, PA, VT, VA, WV, DC)
- Rocky Mountains (CO, ID, MT, WY)
- New England (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT)
- Pacific Northwest (WA, OR)
I realize there are some major omissions here – there is no regional guide for the Midwest, nor for the Plains States. Alaska and Hawaii are also on their own. I’m not sure why that is! I would like to think the National Audubon Society is working on guides for those regions, but I haven’t found any information on that yet. I did find this guide for Alaska and this one for Hawaii, but I haven’t seen them myself. In the absence of a regional guide, I’d suggest choosing a topic you’d like to study, like birds, and finding a guide for that.
The other book that’s helpful, along with a regional guide, is the Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars of North America. It might seem silly to have a book just for caterpillars, but they’re not included in butterfly guides, or insect guides. Kids love caterpillars, don’t they? It’s good to know what kind of butterfly or moth your caterpillar will become, and the Peterson First Guides are a nice, small size to throw in a bag and take along with you.
When you go outside, take along your nature journals, along with pencils and colored pencils, in case you find something you want to draw. Each child should have their own journal, starting at about age 6. Younger children can participate in a family journal, in which you, the teacher, shows them the drawings and information you learn together.
Of course, you can use the internet to identify what you find, but that’s not always convenient, and you don’t want to whip out your phone during nature study time! You probably won’t be able to bring that lovely bird you discovered this morning in the house, so having a field guide you can take with you will make identifying things much easier. One website I can recommend, though, is Enature.com.
Hopefully, this will give you a good place to start with nature study as we get ready to start a new school year! In future posts I will share more with you about what has worked well for my family.
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