Nature Study During Circle Time

Circle Time.  Morning Time.  Morning Basket Time.  In our home we call it Brain Training Time.  Whatever you might call it, I have some great ideas to help you include nature study during the time you gather for family learning before jumping into the rest of your homeschool day.

A wonderful list of quick nature activities to do during morning circle time!

I bet you think I’m going to tell you that circle time should begin with a quick nature walk.  Nope.  While that’s certainly a great way to start your day, in this article I’m actually going to share ideas for nature study without going outside!  And, since we’re talking circle time and I know you’re probably including more than one activity each day, all these ideas are meant to last no more than five or so minutes!  How’s that for efficiency?

Note that a complete study of nature cannot take place strictly indoors in five or so minutes a day, so these ideas should be considered supplemental to frequent nature walks and in depth nature study.  If you need ideas to make that happen, I know you’ll love the NaturExplorers series!

Nature Study During Circle Time

On to the circle time activity ideas.  Enjoy your family time together!

A wonderful list of quick nature activities to do during morning circle time!

This post contains affiliate links.

1.  Table Observation

This is the nature activity you’ll find us most frequently using during morning time.  It’s easy and versatile!  Place a simple object from nature in the middle of your table (or circle) for all to see.  Use one or more of the following ideas:

  • Everyone sketches the item in a nature notebook.  Label parts and/or write a sentence or two about the item.
  • Take turns observing the item (with the naked eye or with a magnifying glass) and discuss the observations as a group.
  • As everyone observes, someone reads about the item from a field guide (or another source.)
  • Challenge everyone to use various sources (field guides or the internet) to be the first to identify the item.

2.  A Fraction of a Field Guide

Take just a few minutes to learn about one new  thing from a field guide or the Handbook of Nature Study.  Mom can read aloud or kids can pre-read and teach facts to the rest of the family.  This is a great activity to do before an upcoming nature walk where you’ll be observing something specific – or after you’ve been on a nature walk and need to learn more about something you observed.

3.  A Quick Nature Read

Whether it’s a wonderful picture book, a chapter from a Christian Liberty Nature Reader or a chapter from a Thornton Burgess book, living literature is never a waste of time – and sharing a book together is a great circle time activity.

4.  Nature Identification Practice

There are so many nature items that would be nice to identify by sight when in the field.  These fun identification ideas utilize simple printables from the internet or prepared nature flashcards (seen below.)  While you can certainly use the images for flashcard drills, you can also play matching games, memory games and go-fish style games.  Additionally, you can sort (categorize) the images into groups – which could also be graphed.

For some of the suggested games above – like memory, you might need more than one set of cards if duplicates aren’t already included.

***Fandex Field Guides could be used as flashcards or taken apart to use in sorting activities, too.

5.  Nature Vocabulary Practice

Introduce a new nature vocabulary word or two during each session.  Write each new word on an index card and review the stack occasionally.  Where do you get nature vocabulary ideas?  Anywhere – common or scientific names of nature items, geography terms, and words the describe nature (ie. growth, rapids, erosion, pollination.)  Work on vocabulary that has to do with your current nature walk focus when possible.

6.  Keep a Daily Nature Calendar

Many of you are already doing calendar time with your families each morning.  Why not add a daily nature focus to calendar time?  A bulletin board style calendar is just fine, but I prefer printable monthly calendars so each child has his or her own copy to make daily nature notes.

The basic plan is to make daily observations from a window or the front porch and note what you see on the calendar.

  • You can let your children note whatever they like about the day – the weather, a bug that just flew by, a bird at the feeder, etc.
  • You can focus on one topic for a week or more.  On each day, they would note what particular bugs they observe, for instance.  Or, what the front yard tree looks like (in the fall when it’s changing daily.)
  • You can rotate through five or ten items of observation.  For example, Mondays you note the weather, Tuesdays you note the front yard tree, Wednesdays you note the birds, Thursdays you measure the sun’s shadow to note and Fridays you note the flowers in your yard.  Rotating the daily topics allows for seasonal observation that equals pretty powerful learning.

7.  Nature Themed Memory Work

During our morning time, I like to include memory work each week.  It seems that my children respond better to memorization and recitation when working together.  Sometimes, our memory and recitation work includes a nature poem.  I try to locate poetry that is either seasonal or related to a current topic of nature study.  For topic related poems, I use the poetry mentioned in the NaturExplorers studies.  For seasonal poetry, I usually just do an Internet search like “autumn poetry for children.”

We don’t usually complete copywork during morning time, but I’ll often use lines from the current poetry as copywork during the week.

8.  Art Skills Practice with Nature Objects

This activity is similar to the table observation activity mentioned above, but its purpose is not so much in learning about the nature object as it is to use the nature object as the “model” for practicing art skills.

I usually focus on one particular art skill for the day – like shading, cross-hatching, movement, color, shape, etc.  After demonstrating the skill, I’ll place a nature item in the middle of the table and ask my children to draw the item while practicing the art skill.  Of course, there is an incredible amount of attention to detail that must be practiced during this time, so nature observation is happening – even if not explicitly discussed.

9.  Play Nature Games

We call our morning time “Brain Training” time for a reason.  I like to wake up tired brains in the morning with activities that fire up the brain and build neuron connections.  Activities that build memory, speed, attention and critical thinking all serve as morning exercises for the brain and strengthen my children’s abilities in all areas of learning for the day ahead.  Games are a fantastic way to train the brain!

We play at least one brain training game every morning and I make sure at least one morning a week we are playing a nature-related game.  These are our favorites so far.

Another of our favorites is Shanleya’s Quest: A Card Game.  I’m not a fan of the book of the same title, but it seems as if there may be no other way to purchase the card game without also buying the book.  Boo.

And there you have it!  Fast and easy activities for multiple ages to include nature study in your family’s morning circle time.  Have fun and learn lots!


Creative Nature Walks contains more than 100 nature walks for multiple ages. It's grab and go!

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

Eli and I have just begun our ancient history studies for the year – and I’m very glad to report that I might have another history lover on my hands!

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

This post contains affiliate links.

Oh, how I have missed Story of the World.  It’s just such a well-rounded program.  The living text, narration questions, maps, timeline cards and great book suggestions make this eclectic Charlotte Mason homeschooler happy.

I mentioned in this post that we would be going through the curriculum at our own pace and may or may not linger over the hands-on activities.  My little guy isn’t about time fillers, so any hands-on activity we do has to have real purpose.  I found a hands-on activity last week that not only had real purpose, but kept my sweet boy interested for more than an hour!

In one of my favorite art history books for kids, I remembered a realistic cave painting project that I knew would count as a meaningful addition to our day.

Ancient History Art Project: Cave Paintings

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

Fire.  Dirt.  Smashing berries.  Smearing things.  Yeah, you can understand why an 8-year-old boy would find this project interesting.  When I said it’s realistic, I really meant it!

While it takes a bit of time and effort to gather the supplies, I promise you won’t regret it.  Even better, you can count the gathering of supplies as nature study for the day, too! We deviated just a bit from the suggested materials, but the results were very much the same as illustrated in My Art Book from DK Publishing.

We gathered:

  • a concrete block
  • charcoal and ash from a recent fire in our backyard
  • soil
  • blueberries from the freezer (because all the wild berries were long gone)
  • sticks for stirring
  • a bit of water
  • a bit of fat in the form of Crisco

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

  1. Adding a little water to a bowl of berries, Eli used a stick to smash it all together to create a natural dye for painting.

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

2. Stirring a little water into the ashes created the perfect paint.

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

3. Stirring a little fat (Crisco) into the dirt created another type of paint.

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

4. The charcoal pieces from the leftover fire became the drawing tool. 

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

5. Eli mostly used his fingers to paint his pictures.

And that’s it.  A little gathering of supplies.  A little mixing of paints and dyes.  A little drawing.  A little painting.  And you have a FUN and very cool finished project.

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

I LOVE that the entire project was illustrated step-by-step with clear directions for my son to follow on his own.  We’re working on more learning independence this year and the lesson was perfect for him!

Realistic Cave Paintings: An Ancient History Art Project

The use of the realistic materials is what makes this project such a powerful experience.  After reading about the importance of archaeologists in understanding the lives of ancient people and learning that cave dwellers painted pictures that depicted their daily lives, doing such a realistic project really helped Eli “get” the importance of both the artwork and the archaeologists.

I can’t wait to share more from our ancient history studies with you this year.  If you have a “knock it out of the park” type of project you would suggest during our study, please share it in the comments!

Watch for more art history projects from My Art Book as we do artist study through the year, too!

Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Back to School Giveaway

Let’s celebrate the new school year with a fun Charlotte Mason giveway!

Two winners of SIX Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Books!  Aug. 17-23, 2015

Two winners will receive e-copies of SIX of my most popular sellers!

1.  Charlotte Mason Homeschooling in 18 Easy Lessons – Whether you’re a seasoned Charlotte Mason homeschooler who needs to breathe a bit of fresh air into the schedule, or you’re completely new to the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling, you’ll find treasures inside this easy-to-implement guide.

2.  Loving Living Math – What is living math?  Why consider living math?  How do you implement living math lessons?  Where do you find living math ideas?  What about the math textbook?  All these questions and more are clearly answered in this how-to guide.

3.  Living Literature Grammar Packets – Forget boring, monotonous grammar worksheets!  Your 3rd-5th grader can gain all sorts of grammar (and spelling and writing) instruction using living literature as the source of the lessons.

4.  100+ Creative Nature Walks – This grab and go nature study resource will keep your walks anything but bland with hundreds of creative ideas for meaningful (and fun) learning opportunities.  It’s the most easily accessible nature study resource I’ve written.

5.  NaturExplorers’ Butterflies Flutter By – The NaturExplorers series (written for more than 20 nature topics!) is your one-stop science resource!  Enjoy creative nature walks, nature-based experiments, hands-on projects, research projects, living literature, poetry, art, music, Bible lessons, and more.  Butterflies Flutter By is popular during the late spring through early fall months.

6.  NaturExplorers’ Everchanging Erosion – The title of this unique study gives the first impression that it would be boring.  Who wants to learn about erosion?  I think you’ll be amazed, though, at the amount of learning and interest that are generated in the end.  Everchanging Erosion is appropriate any time of the year.

Enter below to win!  I will announce the winners Monday, August 24th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
My giveaway isn’t the only one!  Enter to win any or all of the 34 giveaways from the bloggers of iHomeschool Network!

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10 Reasons I’m Thankful for Homeschooling

With each new school year that rolls around, I always seem find a renewed energy and vision for homeschooling.  Rather than wait until Thanksgiving or when the blahs of winter kick in (when it seems to make sense to write a post about why I’m thankful for homeschooling), I thought I’d harness this joyful beginning-of-the-school-year energy to list all those reasons now.

Most days are good, others are not - but in every day, I am thankful for homeschooling

You’ve heard most of these reasons before, but it never hurts to be reminded!  I’m pinning this article to my homeschool encouragement board so I remember to read it this February – when it never seems to fail that homeschooling doesn’t seem nearly as fresh or fun!

Why I’m Thankful for Homeschooling

1. I have the time and freedom to disciple my children.  There is nothing more important than passing on my Christian faith and homeschooling is a wonderful, beautiful opportunity to do this.

These two articles share a bit about my Christian training methods.

How to study God's Word vibrantly as a homeschool subject Our family has found several great books to prompt Bible study and discussion!
2. I really know my children (their habits, their preferences, their learning styles) – and get to know my children (their hearts, their hopes, their fears.)  The relationship I have with them because of homeschooling is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.  Not every day is perfect or joyful, but every day spent with them is precious.

3. My children can pursue their passions. Each one of them have unique interests and talents that, quite frankly, would likely be pushed aside (or at least not pursued in depth) if they followed the typical daily school schedule.  Because of the nature of homeschooling, regular lessons are mostly finished by early afternoon, leaving lots of time to throw into passions.

This article demonstrates how to fit passion learning into your schedule.

My little horse lover is all grown up and preparing for college level equine studies. This post shares how I supported her passion through homeschooling over the years.

4. I can teach to their learning styles.  I have three children and each of them respond best to a different style of learning.  One is all about literature and can soak up loads and loads of information through books.  Another takes in information best when it’s presented in ways he can experience it – hands-on, through movement, visually, etc.  And, the other (at least right now) seems to learn best via technology.  While I don’t teach every single thing in ways that meet their needs perfectly – because I think it’s important to stretch them – I have the time and freedom to design an education specifically for them.  No cookie cutters here!

Math is one of the subjects in which ALL my children have benefited from some modifications to meet their learning styles.

Living Math Resource Page

5. We can get outside for school.  I remember my days in the public school classroom when the sun was shining and the weather was perfect and I was stuck inside.  I wanted so badly to just take all those precious children outside to do school lessons because they wanted to enjoy the weather as much as me.  It wasn’t practical then, but it is now!  We’ve been known to do lessons on the hammock, on the porch swing, in a tree fort, under a tree and by the pond.  We can take a break from a bad day by taking a walk.  The fresh air, sunshine and exercise of outdoor learning is SO good for all of us!

Nature study is such a special (and important) way to learn outdoors!

A Round-up of Ideas from the author of NaturExplorers

6. I can teach courses that may or may not be taught in other situations.  When I was in 8th grade, I took a 6-week elective logic class and loved it!  That was the one and only time I studied logic in school.  Now that I realize how important formal and informal logic instruction is, I find it sad that most children will never study it in any depth.  But…as a homeschool mom, I get to add wonderful, rich subjects like this!

Here’s an intro to our logic lessons in K-12.

Logic in the Homeschool - Cindy West's favorite resources for various age levels

7. We can learn as a family.  When my oldest two (3 years apart in age) were in elementary and middle school, almost all our science and history studies were done together.  We also spent hours and hours together reading (and listening to) living literature.  Still today, with kids who are much farther apart in age, we study the Bible together each day, play learning games together, take field trips together and serve others together.  Learning in our house is a family affair in many ways.

Unit studies are great for multi-age family learning.

Planning a Unit Study

8. Higher order thinking is easy to incorporate in homeschooling.  I sometimes teach professional development workshops for public school teachers in Kentucky.  Our state is currently working on new educational standards and I had the opportunity to hear about these new standards at the last event I attended.  The discussion focused heavily on a “new idea” of inquiry-based learning – where students will be encouraged to ask questions, find answers and present those answers in unique modes that demonstrate depth of understanding.  That’s exactly what’s been going on in our homeschool for years and years through project-based learning!  It was so good to know that cutting-edge philosophies in the mainstream have been encouraged in our home from the very beginning.

What is project-based learning?  You’ll love it!

Project-Based Learning How-To

9. We can read lots of living literature.  You know I love books.  My kids love books.  Even the one who prefers not to read himself still loves listening to books.  Homeschooling has given us time to read.  Lots of time to read.  And it’s been wonderful!

Find our favorite books by subject  on this page.


10. I can watch them grow.  Time is fleeting and my children are changing every time I blink.  I’m incredibly grateful to have the privilege of watching them grow up, change, flourish.  Thankful beyond measure.  (Even on the bad days.)

This post has been linked to:


Planning Homeschool Bible Time

We homeschool for many reasons, but one of them is more important than all of the others combined.  It’s our desire to pass on a bold Christian faith that finds our children seeking God with all their hearts and sharing Him with others from here to eternity.

While I know it’s God who does the work in my children (Phil. 1:6), I also know He called us to teach my them about Him and His ways (Prov. 22:6.)  My husband and I don’t pretend for one minute to have all the answers to training little or big soldiers for God’s army.  We have tried, though, to be pretty consistent with a plan of action and that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

How to study God's Word vibrantly as a homeschool subject

This post contains affiliate links.

The best situation for Bible study would be to have my husband lead it each and every day.  He works hard for us, though, and the majority of the school week Bible time falls on me.  I take that honor seriously and love this time spent with my children best of all!

During the summer, we mostly just read from the Bible around the breakfast table and have lively discussions.  When the school year rolls around, I get more serious and lay out school-like plans for Bible time.  Every year finds us doing something different, but the general format is pretty much the same.

Planning Homeschool Bible Time

Step 1: Pray

This one is simple.  I try to always pray about what we study.  Sometimes topics are more obvious than others – like when we’ve been dealing with a character issue or current events occur that make us run straight into the Word.  Even when I don’t have a clear answer about what to study, our time is never void of goodness no matter where we dive into the Word!

Step 2: Plan Bible Studies

While I never hesitate to take a break from “the plan” when situations arise (like current events, for example), I do try to lay out a general plan of study for the school year.

During the elementary years, I like to read through a really good chronological children’s version of the Bible at least once.  (It usually takes us two school years to read all the way through.) After that’s been accomplished, I alternate between various types of studies.  You might find us using a fill-in-the-answers type of book like Proverbs People or completing a lapbook on Exodus.  We might go through an entire survey of the Old Testament using God’s Great Covenant or review the entire New Testament with a Grapevine study.  Especially when there are character issues, I will use For Instruction in Righteousness to guide me in teaching a topic.

Sometimes, we replace Bible study with books that teach us about the Word.  Some that come to mind are Secrets of the Vine for Kids, The Prayer of Jabez for Kids, The Seven C’s of Creation and Discovering Jesus in Genesis.  Rarely do I use devotionals with my children.  I just don’t feel like most devotionals encourage anything more than a quick read and superficial prayer.

During the middle and high school years, I like to make sure we read through most of the books of the Bible together at least once.  (Many of the New Testament books will be studied two, three or more times.)  I don’t necessarily read the books through in order. Often, we’ll just read and discuss, using study resources when necessary.  One of my favorite resources to glean understanding through books of the Bible is the Picture Smart Bible – it’s so much more than just coloring pages!

At times, we use guided studies like God’s Not Dead, Christianity, Cults and the Bible, Daniel: Standing Strong in a Hostile World or Experiencing God: Student Edition, among others.  I will often borrow these materials from our church to save money.

A newer resource to me is Right Now Media.  Our church subscribes to this Christian video streaming service and all the church members get free access.  There are several video-based teen studies and I plan to begin dropping some of these into our schedule this year.  Caleb will be so motivated by this mode of learning!

Step 3: Plan Memory Work

This is the area in which I’m the biggest failure.  However, I’ve made an attempt every year even if that attempt seems to dwindle by Christmas time and time again.  The plan every. single. year. has been to commit a new verse to memory each week and practice that verse together during our morning meeting time.  I’m not sure why this has been such a struggle, but I do have a new plan in place which I pray we can stick with…

The Scripture Memory System as outlined by my friends at Simply Charlotte Mason is brilliant.

Step 4: Plan Character Studies

Most of the time, character studies happen alongside Bible study.  Sometimes, they happen in place of Bible study.  All the time, they are meant to encourage understanding of real-life Bible application.  (I’ve included sample schedules below to demonstrate how I use character studies concurrently with Bible study.)

I’ve written before about all the resources I’ve used in the past for character studies.  You won’t want to miss this giant list of goodies!

Our family has found several great books to prompt Bible study and discussion!

In the elementary years, we often read (or listen to) a good character study book after lunch.  I usually take off from “regular” Bible study on Friday mornings to read a picture book that offers a good opportunity to discuss Christian character.

In the middle & high school years, my kids are often assigned character building books to read on their own.  Sometimes in place of independent reading, we’ll read (or listen to) a good book together in the afternoons.  Some of the more recent books include Not a Fan, Crazy Love, Do Hard Things and Before You Meet Your Prince Charming.

Step 5: Plan Service Opportunities

Teaching my children to serve others is very important to me.  We try to do a service project at least monthly when possible.  I keep a running list of contact information for places that allow our entire family to serve together.  We’ve found so much pleasure in these moments!


The Schedule

When people read a big ol’ post like this one and see all the wonderful resources I’m using, they often assume we do school all day every day in order to fit it all in.  No way!  Know this…there are SIX years in elementary and SIX years in middle/high school.  Savor your time together and never rush through resources.  You’ll get through enough of them.  The point is to help your children learn more about God and learn to draw closer to Him – not to use as many great materials as you can.  And, remember, the Bible is the only resource you REALLY need.

Sample Week for My Elementary Son:

Monday: One chapter in our children’s Bible with a peek into Victor’s Journey Through the Bible for reference in the AM | Watch a Torchlighter’s missionary DVD after lunch | (Listen along with big kid’s audio book in the car – see below.)

Tuesday: One chapter in our children’s Bible in the AM | Mom reads two chapters in Charlie’s Choice after lunch

Wednesday: One chapter in our children’s Bible in the AM | Mom reads two chapters in Charlie’s Choice after lunch

Thursday:  Read through a few verses as mentioned in For Instruction in Righteousness and discuss (due to a character issue that arose yesterday) in the AM | Mom reads a chapter from Missionaries and the Millers after lunch

Friday:  Read The Squire and the Scroll and discuss how it relates to the Word in the AM | Play a Bible quiz game after lunch |  (Listen along with the big kid’s audio book in the car – see below.)

Sample Week for High School:

Monday: One chapter of James in the AM | Listen to The Hiding Place in the car in the afternoon

Tuesday: One chapter of James in the AM | Read aloud a chapter of Before You Meet Your Prince Charming in the afternoon

Wednesday: One chapter of James in the AM | Read aloud a chapter of Before You Meet Your Prince Charming in the afternoon

Thursday: One chapter of James in the AM | Read aloud a chapter of Before You Meet Your Prince Charming in the afternoon

Friday: Watch a short sermon clip based on a current event and discuss in the AM | Listen to The Hiding Place in the car in the afternoon

It may very well drive some of you crazy to have so many studies/books going on at one time.  That’s perfectly understandable.  We don’t always have this much going on!  I just wanted to give an example of how you could manage two or three things concurrently.  Many times, we’re just reading the Bible in the morning until we finish an entire book, then we take a little time off from the Bible to read a meaningful book together.

Now that you have a peek into my very full and very busy planning mind, does it make you want to run or stick around?  I hope you’ll stick around.