Brrrr – it’s cold outside!
Winter is in full swing. This might seem like a silly time to suggest taking a nature walk, but creation doesn’t stop singing just because the temperatures are cold! In fact, winter is an awesome time for viewing things that we might miss other times of the year.
Besides studying the obvious topics of snow, ice and frost, an entire world of nature excitement awaits this season. Bird’s nests, burrows, rocks, animal prints, and the intricacies of a tree or bush are all things that are much easier to observe during winter when leaves have fallen and plants have died. During a winter walk, challenge your children to find at least ten things that would be much harder to see or find during the summer months.
Notice how landscapes and views from the top of a hill are different this time of year. Discuss with your children how colors, shadows and animal activity have changed from only a few short months ago. Views from this vantage point are perfect for sketching in a nature journal, too.
Winter is also the perfect time to observe conifers (evergreens) and compare them to deciduous trees which have lost their leaves. Your child can create comparison charts and drawings, or complete mini-dissections on conifer needles and cones.
Believe it or not, the ideas above only scratch the surface of exciting nature study opportunities during the winter! If you’re hoping for loads of more ideas for both outdoor and indoor nature (aka science) studies for this season, you might consider one or more of the following NaturExplorers studies: Snow and Ice, Coping with the Cold, Constant Conifers, Animal Signs, Beautiful Birds or Hard as a Rock. NaturExplorers studies were written with the 1st-8th grader in m ind, but include extensions for high school students, as well as fun ideas for preschoolers. Since so many customers asked, I recently released a winter study called Nature by the Season written specifically for preschoolers and kindergarteners.
But, why study nature?
So many homeschoolers are interested in the idea of nature study, but never take the time to actually incorporate it into their homeschool. Many of them feel like nature study is one of the “extras” that’s all too difficult to fit into the schedule of “important” lessons. Or, worse, some feel like nature study isn’t even worthy of being an “extra”.
From my experiences, nature study has actually opened the doors to many of our “important ” lessons! Science takes on a fresh perspective as we learn outdoors and becomes invigorating in the naturally hands-on atmosphere. Nature study covers biology, botany, earth and space sciences in great detail – and more times than you might imagine physical science and chemistry.
Think of nature study as a wonderful science lab – free of charge! Instead of reading in a boring textbook about the life cycle of a flower, for instance, children actually observe life cycles time and time again. These real-life experiences are powerful, yet gentle lessons that help children internalize a great wealth of knowledge.
Besides the subject of science, it’s super-easy to integrate art, writing, geography, and even history and math into nature study lessons. As children paint a tree in a nature journal, write a spontaneous poem about blue jays, sketch a quick map of a trail, or calculate measurements, other subjects seamlessly “happen”. In fact, one joyful afternoon of nature study has often allowed me to check off several completed subjects in my lesson plan book! (The NaturExplorers studies give you many creative ideas for integrating several subjects into nature walks.)
As icing on the cake, nature study allows for time spent together as a family, fresh air and exercise. And, above all for my family, taking time to enjoy God’s creation is a super way to draw us closer to the One who made it!
So, what are you waiting for? Go take a hike today!
We’re having so much fun studying snow, ice and frost this season! On a recent nature walk, we were looking specifically for animal tracks. We weren’t disappointed! Each of the pictures below shows prints or trails made by different animals. Unfortunately, I’m not an expert tracker yet, so I can’t identify all of them. I’ve given my educated guesses, though.
These were very small, almost cat-like, but only in one area right below a tree in the woods - I'm guessing a squirrel or chipmunk.
This was obviously a small animal that could easily walk under the wire fence. I hope you can see the trail leading through the field under the fence. My best guess is this is a rabbit trail.
This was a trail of very tiny and shallow prints. Shallow enough to be a bird, but not shaped like birds' feet. Plus, there's a definite drag mark. Can you see it? I'm pretty stumped on this one, but guessing a mouse possibly.
Can you see the prints all the way across the fallen tree? Maybe a raccoon, although the placement of the feet makes me think rabbit. Hmmm...
I loved these delicate little prints side by side. Besides a very small rabbit, I believe a rat or small squirrel could've made the prints.
Deer! I know this one!
I have no idea what made these, but it was neat to think an animal had walked our trail before us. It looks similar like a dog's gait, but our dog had not walked this direction yet. Coyote or fox maybe?
Dog! Our dogs love to walk on the frozen pond.
What great nature finds have you made this month?
November proved to be a great time of the year for a rock study! We learned about rocks and minerals, life under rocks and even had great luck finding fossils in rocks.
What are fossils? They’re remains of plant or animal life from the past. As the song from Buddy Davis from Answers in Genesis goes…”billions of dead things buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth.” Finding fossils is like a treasure hunt! Here in Central KY, we don’t have to go far to find wonderful fossil examples…
The shells are easy to see, but can you find the coral in the bottom right corner?
This picture is harder to see, but there are bone-like fossils in the middle and near the bottom.
The coral is easy to see in the middle of this picture!
I’d love to see pictures of fossils you find in rocks!
Below are some of the resources we used this month. December will be focusing on Animal Signs. I may or may not put up resources in the sidebar since December is such a busy month. If not, I’ll be sure to add Conifer resources in January!
Our farm has a rich 1800′s history. And considering the arrowheads we find occasionally, probably a lot of prior history as well.
I’ve told you before about how we find 19th and 20th century garbage as we plow the garden every year. Near the garden spot once stood a large red brick home with a rock foundation, several fireplaces, a stately staircase and amazing trim work. The bricks were handmade from the clay on the farm – maybe by slaves, maybe by paid help? There was a basement with two small rooms with one window in each room, rock walls and a small fireplace for heat. These were undoubtedly quarters for some sort of house help.
Sadly, by the time we moved onto the farm, the once majestic show house was in far too desperate shape to save. This picture is actually the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington. Although the house on our farm was not this majestic, it at least gives you an idea of the style since we never took a good picture of it before it’s demise. Shame on us!
As we tore down the house, we saved as many things as possible. The stone foundation became our fireplace and the poplar floor joists became our flooring. Many of the other materials like doors, fireplace mantles, windows and even the bricks have been sold to people who are reusing them in loving projects. We’ve saved some of those architectural pieces for ourselves (if we ever get around to doing interesting projects again.)
After reading a little of the history, I know you’ll find it just as exciting as me that there are remnants of a rock wall on the back of the farm. History claims that the rock walls in this area were built by migrant Irish workers who came to America because of the Irish Potato Famine. I’m just in awe every time I go back to see this wall that was built by such strong and courageous people so many years ago. Even if the rock wall has mostly been washed away and I’m only able to treasure about 20 feet of it!
Two other interesting historical finds on our farm and a neighboring farm…
A rock root cellar – the entrance is nearly caved-in.
A horse-drawn farm wagon that sadly sits below the ruble of a fallen barn.
I love learning the history of our farm, town, county and state. Just a little research will lead you to so many wonderful field trips, classes and other opportunities to learn about the history in your backyard!
What a wonderful month studying ponds! Here are the resources that have been in the sidebar.