Homeschool Nature Study

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Now that we are settled in our little cabin in Salcha, Alaska quarantining for two weeks I feel like it’s a perfect time to work on some nature study. Nature Study has been part of our homeschool for many years.

Homeschool Nature Study is a great way to teach kids how to love the outdoors.

My oldest– now graduated from college and working full time– used to quip that Nature Study was that time of year when the weather started to get warmer and the sun started to shine so Mom would get all excited and send us out into the woods to get Lyme disease.

He’s not far off from the truth. I’m a fair weather homeschool nature study mom. Fall and Spring are my prime time for outdoor activity. When summer is over and the air starts to get crisp and not sweltering or when the sun’s warmth melts the snow we pull out the nature guides and head out into the woods.

Getting outdoors in fall and exploring the changes of seasons is a great start for homeschool nature study.

Here in Alaska autumn is just starting and the weather is perfect. Sitting outside in the middle of the wilderness is the perfect place to observe nature, but don’t think you need the Alaskan wilderness for nature study. Watching the squirrels in the National Sculpture Garden or observing ducks at the Capitol Reflecting Pool were regular nature studies for us in DC. Nature is everywhere if you look.

My Top Ten Tips For Homeschool Nature Study

  1. Get a series of nature guides to treesbirdsinsects etc. of the region in which you live. The tendency is to get the biggest and best guides, but in reality a small simple pocket guide is best. You don’t want to be lugging around and searching through pages and pages to find an animal. Focus on common species and you will be more successful.
  2. Get sturdy colored pencils that can handle being tossed around in a back pack. I really like these Twistables by Crayola. The plastic casing makes them indestructible and you don’t need a pencil sharpener.
  3. Let your kids pick a super cool sturdy notebook. I love these Erin Condren kids’ notebooks because they have nice laminated covers. Either the sketchbook or the story notebooks are perfect for nature study.
  4. Keep it simple. Really. You don’t need a full curriculum. The point is get outside, get fresh air and learn to observe the world around you. I use a three step process you can read about here.
  5. Keep it fun. If your child hates to draw have them write a description of what they see and identify it in their journal. Afterwards, when they return home help them print pictures of the animals, plants, birds etc. that they observe and glue them in their journal. This is nature study and not an art lesson so don’t make it miserable if they don’t like to draw.
  6. Learning to be quiet is a process. Young kids in particular are naturally noisy. I swear its instinctual to keep them from being eaten by bears or something lol. Start with two minutes of quiet in an area where animals are tamer like a playground. Gradually, work your way up to five and eventually go for a full half hour. Always balance quiet watching with loud running around. Eventually they will learn, but it takes patience.
  7. Go for variety. Your backyard will be your standby, but also visit neighborhood playgrounds, regional and state parks etc. Also consider the zoo to shake things up. Or if it’s cold and rainy go to an aquarium.
  8. But not too much variety. It’s always good to have one or two locations to which you return regularly. This helps you observe different seasons, bird migrations, plant growth and other natural changes over time.
  9. Add in a bird feeder. Sometimes you or your kids will just want to stay home. Putting a bird feeder close to a window is a perfect way to observe birds from the comfort of home. Just be sure you keep it clean and well stocked. Birds depend on their found food sources and especially in winter they will starve if they are depending on you and you don’t keep it filled.
  10. Be safe. Use nature study to teach kids about the buddy system, giving animals space, basic first aid etc.

Final Thoughts

Finally, nature study teaches kids so much about themselves and the world around them. It offers kids an opportunity to practice their communication skills and if it’s kept simple and fun it will give them a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors.

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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 Mary also owns Christopher Travel, a luxury travel company specializing in exquisite vacations around the globe.

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