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.)

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?