Homeschool Nature Study

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Nature Study is a critical part of our homeschool, but it’s a subject so many homeschoolers skip because they think it’s too complex or they simply get overwhelmed by unnecessary curricula. My three step process to easy homeschool nature study keeps things super simple. Think of it as the “glamper’s” version of nature study.

Before getting started there are a few things you will need:

Step One: Learning to Observe

Teach your children to sit quietly a little bit at a time. Start with walking quietly for a two or three minutes. Then work up to walking quietly for five, ten and eventually a full thrity minutes. Once your child can go on a reasonable hike quietly you can then work on sitting still in one spot quietly using the same progressive method.

Being quiet allows them to observe animals in addition to plants. It also teaches them self control. (Obviously if you live in an area with bear, mountain lions or other predators you won’t want to be quiet though!)

Teach them to observe what they see using a variety of attributes:

  • color
  • size
  • shape/form
  • habitat
  • behavior
  • sounds

Also teach them to compare and contrast things they see. For example this tree has a similar leaf shape to that tree. Or this animal seems to live in the same underbrush as that animal. Or this bird flies in a similar pattern to that bird etc. etc.

Step Two: Learning to Document

Have your document their observations. This can be done in any one of several ways depending on your child’s age, interests and abilities.

  • Draw a picture and dictate observations for you to write down.
  • Draw a picture and write down their own observations.
  • Take a photograph and dictate observations for you to write down.
  • Take a photograph and write down their own observations.
  • Dictate observations for you to write down and then when returning home printing out a picture of the same bird, tree, animal etc. to glue in their notebook.
  • Writing down their observations themselves and then when returning home printing out a picture of the same bird, tree animal etc. to glue in their notebook.

The key is that they learn how to communicate their observations and record the information is a way that others can understand. Obviously for young children this will take many years of practice, but by high school they should be able to see something and communicate the important attributes they observe.

Step Three: Learning to Identify

Using what they have observed either in the field or at home later have them compare their observations with what they find in their pocket guides.

Keep in mind nature can be messy. Not every animal/plant will be easy to identify. It’s not important at this point that they even identify things correctly. What is important is that they learn to use their observations to compare likes and differences with known plants and animals. It’s also important they they learn to communicate why they identify what they have observed as being a certain species.

Science is about experimentation. The entire scientific method is based on educated guesses and that is what nature study teaches. Sometimes we learn more from our missteps in science than from our successes.

In Conclusion

You goals with nature study are to teach children about observations, communication and scientific reasoning. Obviously we want to correctly identify what we see, but even when we can’t the important learning is already taking place.

Do you want more detail on how to implement nature study in your curriculum? Read:

About Mary

Mary Stephens holds a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University and a Masters in Teaching from the American University. Mary spent almost twenty years homeschooling her four children and is now navigating post homeschool life in Alaska. She offers personal insights, recipes, homeschooling tips and tricks and travel advice on her website penciltreks.com. Mary also owns Christopher Travel, a luxury travel company specializing in exquisite vacations around the globe.

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