Dragonfly Summer Nature Study

summer nature study | summer homeschoolI love how summer learning kind of takes on a rhythm of its own. We don’t have any formal “school” going on just yet, but as we wrap up this season, I’ve loved watching spontaneous learning just happen. And nature study is one of my favorite ways to watch learning happen naturally. It’s such a fun activity to encourage curiosity, exploration, and research. This summer, we’ve been noticing dragonflies and damselflies. The result has been an informal dragonfly summer nature study that has lasted all season.

Our Dragonfly Summer Nature Study

It all started with a dragonfly on our outside patio.

dragonfly summer nature study

As we “oohed” and “ahhed” over it, I asked the kids if they knew any differences between a damselfly and a dragonfly. We consulted some nature books and Google Images and observed some basic differences: dragonflies have larger wings that spread out when at rest, thicker bodies, and eyes that are closer together; damselflies typically have wings that fold when at rest (many times, it looks as though they only have two wings), thinner bodies, and more distance between their eyes.

Honestly, my kids took it from there. We observed dragonflies and damselflies on every nature walk for the rest of this summer. They even built damselfly and dragonfly lego creatures.

dragonfly summer nature study

They watched a swarm of damselflies mating and laying eggs in our favorite pond. And they picked up a dead dragonfly in a parking lot to observe at home under our microscope.

Tips for a summer nature study (or any nature study)

  1. Take a walk and see what catches your child’s attention.
  2. Ask some questions and find some answers together. Google it, or check out a library book. But make sure that it’s answering your child’s questions and feeding his interest in the topic.
  3. Allow your child to “narrate” or put the new info to use—whether that’s teaching the new info to you on the next nature walk, drawing in a nature journal, or playing with legos! 

I love having a time of the year to take a break from our classical/charlotte homeschool and to enjoy some summer spontaneity. And while I’m looking forward to adding some structure back into our lives and am excited about our new books and fresh supplies, I also love that learning can happen without those lesson plans, too. Learning happens anywhere!

What to include in your nature journal

nature journal | how to get started and what to include | nature study

We were a few years into nature study before I started keeping my own nature journal along with the kids. I’ve stumbled along and tried a few different methods of sketching and journaling, but I’ve finally found a groove that’s working for me. If you are stumped about what to include in your nature journal, here are a few ideas to get you started.

What to include in your nature journal

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Start with a heading. Include the date and place of your hike, maybe the time of day, the weather, and anything else that seems pertinent.

Make a list of things you spotted on your hike. For me, this is the best way to get past the “writer’s block” of nature journaling. Instead of staring at a beautiful blank page hoping I don’t ruin my nature journal with my lack of artistic talent, I start with listing all of the plants and creatures we identified on our walk, even if it’s just a few common birds and flowers, turtles on a log, frogs in a pond, dragonflies, etc.

nature journal | nature study | whole-family learning

Sketch and caption of a few of your favorite moments. As I’m making my list, I usually always have a few favorite memories from our hike. I sketch two or three of these favorites into my nature journal, and then journal a sentence or two about what we saw and what happened. I’m far from an artist, so these are much more about remembering than anything else, just a rough sketch. I’ve tried a few different tools, but I’ve found I love using watercolor pencils and a watercolor marker most of all for my sketching, and a Sharpie pen or Micron pen for the journaling itself.

Include a few new discoveries. Our routine is to take a few pictures of “mystery” plants or creatures and then to use Google Images to identify them. After we’ve figured out our new discoveries, we sketch these on a page in our journals, practicing observation skills as we sketch the details. I’m not super talented, but I don’t feel I have to be. We’re learning plenty with our rough sketches and fun memories.

So often in education, we make the process of learning and discovery much harder than it has to be. Nature journaling and nature study do not have to be complicated or intimidating. It’s really about discovery and wonder and shared memories.

If you’d like a little gentle direction for your nature study, check out these NaturExplorer studies (affiliate link). Each study gives you fun books to read, tons of nature walk ideas and activities, as well as printable pages to add to your nature journal.

Our Journey Westward

(This post contains affiliate links. That simply means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, I receive a small compensation. It costs you nothing and helps me offset website expenses. Thanks for your support!)

Identifying Nature with Google Images

identifying nature with Google Images | nature study resources

When we first began our nature study hikes, I felt very intimidated by all of the questions my kids would ask that I didn’t have an answer for. But I’ve learned through the years of parenting them, that learning beside them is even more valuable than having all the answers. Now, when we hike the fields and forests, we take pictures of the plants and creatures we want to identify later, enjoy spotting those creatures we’ve identified before, and observe all we can. While field guides are helpful, most that I’ve used are limited, and I don’t always find what I’m looking for when we are out on our nature study hikes. Instead, I’ve found one of the most valuable tools for identifying nature is Google Images.

Identifying Nature with Google Images

Take a good picture, or several. Try to get it from a couple of different angles. Take a picture up close and farther away, top and bottom, or both sides. Of course, some nature moves away more quickly than others, so you may only get one good shot. 

Observe and take good mental notes. Just in case you can’t get that picture, take a minute to observe closely. Especially with birds that are difficult to photograph, take some quick mental notes: body shape, beak shape, coloring, etc. The more you do this, the better you will get at taking that mental photo for later on.

Do a search of Google Images. Once your hike is over and you’ve returned to civilization, do a Google search. I love identifying nature with Google Images. You may need to try a few different search terms, but even the process of finding what a plant or creature is NOT will teach you tons about nature. Include your state in any search to narrow the possibilities, and include a brief description: “[our state] purple wildflower,” “[our state] forest snail,” etc. Give it your best guess. Google what you think you saw; if that’s not it, try again. If you think it might be one of two things, google “differences between ____ and ____.” When we first moved to our house, I wasn’t sure if the trees in our neighborhood were birch or aspen. We did a nature study, beginning with google, about the differences between the two trees and then went for a walk to look at them more closely for ourselves.

Record your finds in your nature journal. If you want to print off the picture and insert it into your journal, go for it. But I’ve found a really effective part of nature study is practicing drawing the item into my journal. I pay much more attention to the details when I’m drawing. How many petals did the flower have? Were all the petals turned the same direction? Where exactly was that yellow band of color on the bird? I’m forced to observe even more closely as I draw the final result of our study into my journal. And because nature study is largely taught through example, my kids learn to do the same.

If you are new to nature study, I can’t stress enough—don’t let your lack of knowledge stop you from getting out there. With the technology we have today, learning and discovering isn’t limited to the class room. Identifying nature with Google Images allows you to be a part of the learning process with your kids. Enjoy your hike, let your kids take plenty of pictures, and then come back home and keep the discovery going.

How to do Nature Study (when you don’t have a clue)

how to do nature study when you're not an expert | nature study resources and tips

I love nature study, but please don’t read that and think I’m an expert. I can’t identify every plant and mushroom or tell you the name of every bird by listening to their song or even identify tracks and burrows. I don’t know all the answers to my kids’ questions, but I love studying and observing nature. Over the years, I’ve gotten more comfortable with not knowing everything, and I’ve accumulated some favorite resources that help us study and identify our discoveries. I’ve learned how to do nature study, even when I don’t have a clue.

We started nature walks when my kids were very little. Gradually, we identified some favorite birds and plants common to our area. Then we moved from the east coast to the west coast. It was like moving to a different country! The birds are different, the plant life is different, the climate is different. The knowledge about nature that I had gained did us no good on our nature walks in our new tromping grounds. But we still loved nature study, and gradually we are discovering and learning the nature of our new home. My point is—you don’t need to be a nature expert to do a nature study with your kids. Instead, model the learning process with them.

nature study resources & tips | how to do nature study when you aren't an expert

Simple Steps for Nature Study

  1. Discover. Nature is all about discovery. It’s perfect for every age because there is always something for everyone, your preschooler to your high schooler. Sometimes I offer the kids a specific theme. Find signs of spring. Find signs of animal life. Find different leaf shapes. Kids are natural detectives, and mine have always craved a mission of discovery.
  2. Observe. Every nature walk, we take at least two items: our nature journals and a camera or my phone. (We also bring magnifying glasses, a field guide, and water bottles.) We choose “mystery” creatures and observe them closely, taking pictures and sketching in our journals so that we can go back later and research what they are. On our latest nature walk we had a journal full of unidentified discoveries—tracks, holes in the ground, two mystery birds, etc. We photographed each item and researched them in field guides, our local park and wildlife resource websites, and my favorite bird identifying app. Eventually, we identified nearly all of our mysteries, with lots of surprising results: cougar tracks, red-eared slider turtle nest, and a couple of new birds. The process is half the fun!
  3. Learn. I think the best part of nature study is that my kids see me learning beside them. I’m modeling with them what it means to discover, observe, and learn. I keep a nature journal and share my pages with them. I spend my birthday money on nature books and guides and studies. We read about it together. We learn how to keep a journal together. We enjoy and marvel at God’s creation together. They learn that it’s okay to not know the answer. It’s okay to be excited about a new creature or plant that we haven’t identified yet. And over the years, our repertoire of what we can identify is growing.

Below are a list of some of our favorite nature study resources. But I encourage you to find what you love, resources that work for you. As I followed nature study blogs and tried out different resources, I discovered that what many homeschoolers loved I absolutely hated. Handbook of Nature Study was a resource touted by many. I own it. I never use it. It just didn’t work for me. These are the books and nature studies we’ve used and loved, but you may have your own favorites (list them in the comments for us!)

steps to nature study | nature study resources & tips

 

Nature Journal resources

(Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. That simply means that when you click on the link and make a purchase, I get a small fee that helps me offset my blog and homeschool expenses. It doesn’t cost you a thing, and helps me a lot! For more info, feel free to read my disclosure.)

My nature journal

Oldest’s nature journal

(My daughter has nature study pages in her “Fun-schooling” journal, and my youngest just uses a spiral notebook.)

Nature Connection (I love all of Clare Walker Leslie’s books, but this one is my favorite.)

Nature Study Books and Guides

Discover Nature series (another author I love, Elizabeth Lawlor)

Book of Nature Projects

Clara D. Pierson’s Among the People Series (A living book at it’s finest, this fictional story provides lots of information about the lovable animal characters.)

NaturExplorers are another of my favorites! I love the nature walk ideas, the printable notebooking pages and scavenger hunts, the book recommendations, the art and music suggestions, and the emphasis. There is a ton to learn in these studies, but the emphasis is beauty and wonder not merely scientific observation. I love bringing the joy and wonder of nature into our nature walks and times together. While the ideas given are perfect for lower elementary, additional suggestions are provided for including the older student. When we first moved to the Pacific Northwest, we did a study on Remarkable Rain. I loved it! I loved the poetry, fictional tales, and art that rounded off our nature study. Currently, we are using the Animal Signs study, and loving it equally as much, especially the nature study notebooking pages provided in the study.

Nature study does not have to be intimidating. It doesn’t require a ton of research and preparation. It just takes opportunity. Take a walk in nature and notice what’s around you. That’s it! And chances are, your kids will do the rest for you.

Our Journey Westward

(Note: This post contains affiliate links. For more info, feel free to read my disclosure.)

Nature Study: Leading by Example

Art and Nature by example

I love nature study. I love teaching the wonder of God’s creation to my kids. I love trying to learn about what is around us. I love the skills of observation that it teaches.

It thrills my soul to see the kids with their nature notebooks and colored pencils. But lately, I feel that I’m having to coerce them more. Perhaps because it’s been a little while since we’ve studied nature; we’ve been all wrapped up in earth layers and volcanoes. Perhaps it’s because we’ve moved from 25 acres of country to a backyard in the city.

As I was mulling over this problem (and reading Charlotte Mason’s thoughts about children learning from an atmosphere, the ideas that rule MY life), I decided that maybe they would do better with less coercing and more example. Confession: I had not yet started a nature notebook for myself.

And so, with much trepidation and embarrassment, I began. I pulled an unused journal from my shelf and started. I can’t tell you how hard it is to share these pictures. They are not nearly as splendid as I’d like them to be; a fourth grader could probably do better. But my one consolation is that perhaps I will encourage another untalented mother to step into an unknown realm for the sake of her children.

My nature journal

 

The result of leading the way? It’s worked!

The kids are now eager to see what I have in my notebook, eager to copy what I have drawn and discover for themselves, eager to bring in the outdoors for more study.

Even Littlest grabbed a book and “pen” the other day for his trip outside.

Littlest's "nature journal"

An Update and Review of Christian Kids Explore

It’s that time of year. I see it all over blogs and pinterest. It’s the time of year when curriculum goes on sale and homeschoolers come out of the woodwork offering advice on how to evaluate your year. And because of all that evaluating, I’ve been in a very reflective, evaluating frame of mind. One of the areas I’ve been evaluating has been our science, specifically our Christian Kids Explore curriculum.

This is the first year for me to attempt to tackle something resembling formal science. Nature studies, lap books, read-alouds and living books—yes, yes, and yes, but up until this year there’s been very little in the way of science experiments and formal observation and terms (well, unless you count the parts of the skeleton and body organs as “terms”).

But honestly, during my evaluating, this is one of those areas where I’m realizing that I’m not superwoman, that there might be somethings I’m just not ready for. While science has been a highlight for the kids, the subject always listed as their favorite when we talk about school, I’ve felt like a total failure in this area—and I’ve missed our nature study, something we really haven’t had time for (or the weather for lately; it is winter after all).

So, on one hand, my first reaction was to decide to purchase a formal science curriculum next year. Something more structured, more like the real thing. But then, how would I have time for that? As I confided to my husband my struggle, he gave such a terrific insight. He mentioned that he didn’t remember having formal science until 5th or 6th grade, so why not enjoy nature study and simpler science activities until the kids were old enough to be doing most of history independently. Then, I could feasibly switch my teaching efforts to science at that time. Ah, bless that man!

So that’s what I’m doing, starting now. I have a fabulous nature-oriented study on rain (welcome to the Pacific Northwest, folks!) that we are doing, and it’s been such a balm to my nature-loving soul.

 

What’s the deal with our other science, Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space? Here’s a quick list of what it is and isn’t:

 

Christian Kids Explore science review

It Isn’t…

  • a textbook, which is a good thing really. But that also means that there are no photos or colored illustrations. It’s an introduction into a topic, some terms to learn, and some coloring pages and experiments.
  • a complete science curriculum. Really, my best description is that it provides the backbone, the jumping off point for you to create your own unit study. There is a great list of both book and video resources by topic and grade at the back. But it takes a lot of time to piece together a study on your own, as I’ve learned first-hand.
  • watered-down, in the sense of a shallow little kid’s book on science. I loved that it used real science words and explained concepts for all ages.

It Is…

  • just barely scratching the surface of the subject. To me, it didn’t feel complete on it’s own. I felt that it needed embellished with those “additional resource suggestions.” And that took more time than I had.
  • for all ages, but sometimes that idea felt like it compromised some of the quality of the activities. Maybe it tried to be too all encompassing?
  • a great jumping off point. If you are looking for a place to jump-start your science unit studies, this is a fantastic resource, providing the activities and terms and allowing you the freedom to customize for each level. If you are expecting that, and allow the time for yourself to do that, it’s a terrific curriculum. I, on the other hand, was rather caught off guard and out of time.

So, while Christian Kids Explore is a great science curriculum, particularly for those that like to create their own unit studies, it has not been a good fit for us. What have you found yourself evaluating lately?