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

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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.