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As an eclectic Charlotte Mason homeschooler, nature study is near and dear to my heart – and the hearts of my children. We have learned SO much about our Creator and the sciences through our weekly nature walks, all while touching on bits and pieces of almost every other subject under the sun, too.
You don’t have to be a Charlotte Mason homeschooler to enjoy the benefits of nature study, though. Heck, you don’t even have to be a homeschooler!
In an effort to help you get started (or keep going) with nature study, I’ve pulled together a post of THE most wonderful resources I’ve found over the course of the last few years. I hope this Ultimate Guide to Nature Study proves to be your one-stop post for encouragement, ideas and more!
Why Study Nature?
The reason are more significant than you might think!
8 Reasons to Do Nature Study – the benefits of nature study from academics to a love for learning
Nature Study – whys and hows of nature study
Nature Study – The Duty of Christian Homeschoolers – a convincing article that Christians really should be doing nature study
How To Do Nature Study
There is no “right” way to do nature study. Some people like to stick to Charlotte Mason’s plan, while others like to go on walks that have a creative flair. Some people like to print off prepared notebooking pages to take on their walks, some like to take blank nature journals along, and some prefer not to take any notebooks along. Do what works for your family and keeps you both inspired and in awe of God’s glorious creation.
Charlotte Mason Nature Study – a Squidoo lens which thoroughly and concisely teaches about the Charlotte Mason style of nature study
Daily Nature Study Plan – a unique plan of daily nature study focused on a particular theme incorporating literature, at-home observation, nature walks and nature journals
Gentle Nature Lessons – a lovely post about drawing children into nature study ever-so-gently
Nature Study: Charlotte Mason’s Cure for Text-Tired Tots – a very practical page of ideas for getting started with nature study
Nature Study with the Reluctant Child – ideas about what to do if your child isn’t drawn to nature study naturally
Nature Study for Wimps – baby steps for those new to nature study, who can’t quite wrap their mind around the idea, or are self-proclaimed nature wimps
Out-of-Door Life – a document about time spent outdoors from Charlotte Mason herself
Pocketful of Pinecones: Nature Study With the Gentle Art of Learning – this book by Karen Andreola reads both as a lovely fiction story and a how-to guide for Charlotte Mason style nature study
Creative Nature Walks and Activities
I could’ve listed a million ideas, and actually came pretty close to it. In this section, I chose to just add bits and pieces of some of the most unique and thorough nature study ideas I’ve found. Enjoy!
Free public domain e-books that include nature activities alongside living literature:
In the Child’s World – a fantastic resource for directed lessons tied to original stories
Nature Study: A Pupil’s Textbook – meant to be read by 8-11 year old students, this book offers information and leading discovery questions on many nature topics
Interesting and Practical Nature Ideas
10 Days of Nature Study – gives you easy and ready-to-go suggestions for ten different topics of nature study
Beach Nature Study – a Squidoo lens full of nature suggestions for your days at the beach
Color Collecting - a creative color nature walk is geared toward younger children, but I think older children will enjoy it, too
Conifer Study – cone-bearing plants are very interesting nature subjects and this post gets you started with some easy ideas
Digital Scavenger Hunt – get your camera ready for this fun idea
Fungi Photography and Computer Project – scroll to the bottom of this post to see the notebooking page created on the computer after a nature walk photographing fungi
Gardening – benefits of growing a garden as part of your nature study plans
Micro-Hike – using a piece of string to direct your magnifying glass discoveries in nature
Paper Bag Scavenger Hunt – a creative scavenger hunt for younger children allows them to do more than fill in a scavenger hunt worksheet
Pond Water Study – take nature study home with this microscope activity for older children
River Study – this Squidoo lens sets you on a fun path as you head to the river
Take a Walk in Your Socks – this is a fun activity to do in late summer or early fall when there are lots of plant seeds about
Texture Walk – a fun nature walk especially for the younger crowd
Nature Through the Holidays: Advent and Nature Through the Holidays: Easter – are e-books which offer nature walks to go along with Scripture to help prepare your family’s hearts for Christmas and Easter.
For even more ideas, be sure to visit this Nature Study Pinterest Board – Several nature study mommas (myself included) have pinned our favorite nature study finds from around the web – and new ideas are always being pinned!
Bonus: Photography is a great hobby to learn as you enjoy nature. The Digital Photography Study by Amanda Bennett can be a fun go-along unit.
Nature Study Resources
Below are two companies who offer homeschoolers in-depth lesson ideas for nature study.
The Shining Dawn Books NaturExplorers studies give you loads of ideas for creative nature walks (as well as literature tie-ins, hands-on activities, research projects, artist study ideas, Bible lessons and more) on more than 20 nature topics. (I write these.)
The Handbook of Nature Study blog offers fantastic weekly and seasonal nature study ideas and link-ups, as well as e-books compiling all her ideas.
Special Places to Go
Keep your nature study travels simple most of the time, but spice things up once in a while with some new scenery.
Aquarium . Arboretum . Beach . Bog . Botanic Garden . Campsite . Canyon . Cave . Cemetery . City Park . Creek . Desert . Garden . Greenhouse . Hiking Trail . Hill . Inactive Volcano . Island . Marsh . Meadow . Mountain . National Park . Natural Bridge . Nature Preserve . Neighborhood . Nursery . Ocean . Orchard . Petting Zoo . Pond . Rain Forest . River . Rock Quarry . State Park . Tree Farm . Tundra . Wetland . Wildlife Center . Wildlife Sanctuary . Woods . Yard . You-Pick Farm . Zoo
Great Field Guides
Field guides are not essential to a good nature walk, but they are very beneficial. One eventual goal of nature study should be the recognition and understanding of things found in nature. We have a bookshelf of favorite field guides that each have their own wonderful positive aspects. Like Audubon’s thoroughness, Peterson’s First Guide’s simpleness, Dover’s color-in options, Finder’s clue-based inquiry…Learn more about all our favorites by visiting my comprehensive field guide page.
Which one to get if you can only get one? Handbook of Nature Study!!
Which series do I like best for state specific identification? Adventure Publication Guides
Which series do I like best overall? That’s a hard one, but probably the National Audubon Society Guides.
Online Nature Identification Sites
I prefer nature guides in print, but we sometimes get stuck and find online resources to be very helpful in identification – especially when landing upon sites that have to do directly with our state of KY. I have only included very general identification sites below, but I recommend searching for more specific state sites when possible. For instance, when needing to identify a wildflower, I might type a Google search for “wildflowers of KY.”
Keeping a Nature Journal
Nature journals are more than simple documentation of your nature walk! Their frequent use encourages noticing details, observing differences, naming parts, describing processes, drawing skills, finding beauty where you might not see it at first, patience – and a deeper love for the One who created it all. Mind you, I don’t suggest taking a nature journal on every single nature walk. Our family utilizes nature journals as part of our nature studies – as well as notebooking pages, creative nature bag materials, and simple walks with no “educational” purpose in mind.
Because there are so many wonderful examples of nature journals floating around the internet to inspire you, I created a Pinterest page to share the wonderful and varied ways people are journaling in their homes. You won’t be disappointed!
The books below are wonderful resources to have on your bookshelf whether you’re new to nature journaling or have been journaling for years.
Free Notebooking Pages
If you have time for a little browsing and don’t mind to print pages, there are many, many freebie nature notebooking pages floating around on the internet. So many, in fact, that I created a Pinterest page just to keep track. I’m sure there are plenty more to be found if you type specific keywords (ie. “free wildflower notebooking pages”) in your internet browser.
The free notebooking page links below are “unpinnable”, but too good not to include.
Don’t miss NotebookingPages.com! Debra offers a set of more than 300 Nature Study Notebooking Pages on several general nature topics very inexpensively.
NaturExplorers studies also include several prepared notebooking pages to go along with several of the creative walks suggested.
The Nature Bag
First and foremost, don’t go overboard packing a nature bag for each walk. As I mentioned in the nature journaling section above, we use the nature bag as another tool in our nature study arsenal. Sometimes the bag goes with us, other times it stays at home. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pack water and sunscreen, but I’m talking more along the lines of “things to do” on your nature walk.
We pack light bags. One day the bag might include a clipboard, paper, colored pencils and a wildflower ID book. Another day we might pack play dough or clay for making impressions. Another day we might pack a magnifying glass, a blank notebook and pastels.
magnifying glass . microscope . bug viewer . binoculars . dissection kit . measuring tape . butterfly net . pond net . tweezers . string . tape . glue . spray bottle . baggies . medicine dropper . bird call . duck call . compass . flower press . plastic container . ruler . envelopes . seeds . pocket knife . hammer . flashlight . sieve . trowel . solar print paper . various papers . various art media . camera
Don’t forget to occasionally pack living literature, a nonfiction book about nature topic, or a field guide, too!
Fantastic Nature-Related Literature
Ah, there’s nothing better than reading a good book to reinforce your studies. You will find our family reading good books alongside our nature walks all. the. time. When there’s a “plan” for our nature walk, we’ll often read a book before heading out in the field to prepare our minds for the tasks ahead. Other times, I’ll pack a blanket, book and snack for a reading break during our nature walk. And sometimes, especially when the nature topic is unplanned or we’ve come home with questions, we’ll dive into a book after our walk – even the next day.
Other Favorite Nature Literature on General Topics
Christian Liberty Nature Readers – these leveled elementary school readers provide wonderful and thorough teachings about nature topics through easy-to-read living literature
Nature Study in Elementary Schools – similar to the Christian Liberty Nature Readers, these are free downloads from the public domain
Nature Study Made Easy – again, similar to the Christian Liberty Nature Readers, this is free from the public domain and includes lesson ideas to go with each story
Parables from Nature – just as the title suggests, this free public domain download teaches both nature lessons and Biblical lessons in wonderful stories
Nature Friend Magazine – if your child enjoys magazines, this is a beautiful choice targeted to 8-16 year-olds
Indoor Nature Areas
Bringing nature indoors or providing areas in your house for nature study inspiration can be motivators for some children. There are many ways to do this and each person will put their own twist on it. For that reason, I haven’t provided you with an endless list of various indoor nature areas, but instead give you four very different examples to set your mind in motion.
Nature Study With Preschoolers
Can preschoolers “do” nature study? Yes, yes, yes!! Beginning early encourages a wonderful, lifelong love for nature – so go for it!
Nature Study with a Toddler or Preschooler – how to include little ones in nature walks
Nature Study by the Season: Preschool and Kindergarten – seasonal unit studies written for preschoolers
Preschool and PreK Nature Study – a compilation of posts sharing nature walks with little people
Prickly Tickly Books – a super-fun and practical nature journal idea for little ones
Simple Field Guide Hint for Preschoolers – using field guides with preschoolers
What is a nature club? A group of families who get together on a regular basis to study nature. Starting one isn’t as hard as you might think and the learning and fun can’t be beat!
How to Start a Nature Club -step-by-step plans for starting a nature group
A Charlotte Mason Nature Study Group – this post shares what special additions you might find in a Charlotte Mason geared nature club
Creation Club Activities – a series of posts sharing monthly nature club activities
(The NaturExplorers studies include a section of ideas specifically for nature groups, too.)
Nature Study Art and Craft Lessons
Nature study lends itself well to art and craft projects. In fact, we have often tied nature and artist studies together! I have only included a few wonderful ideas below, but tons more can be found on my NaturExplorers Pinterest boards. (Scroll down to find them.) Of course, drawing lessons as part of nature journaling fits in this category, too.
Dioramas – hands-on with opportunity for creativity make dioramas a good, old-fashioned project
Flower Pounding – make hankies, nature bags or whatever your heart desires with this process (you can use leaves, too)
Make a Grass Sweeper Net – this handcraft can be used on your next nature walk
Make a Pond Water Viewer and Pond Water Scooper – take these crafts to the pond with you
Making Dyes from Things Found in Nature – this is an especially good activity to go-along with history studies
Nature-Themed Pastel Tutorials – this series of pastel tutorials is often nature themed and fantastic
Nature Walk Crafts – several nature crafts are highlighted in this post
Plaster Leaf Prints – plaster, leaves and watercolors make a beautiful finished project
Waxed Leaves – leaf preservation and pretty decoration
Nature Study Alongside Other Subjects
When you put your mind to it, nature study can be integrated with almost any academic subject you can think of. Bible lessons, Bible memory, writing, reading, art, geography, history, almost every science discipline, and even math! As I mentioned in the section above, the ideas are far too many for me to list here. Be sure to visit my NaturExplorers Pinterest boards for suggestions linked to various nature topics. And speaking of NaturExplorers, the studies were specifically written to incorporate all subjects at one point or another – meaning all the ideas you might ever need are right there for you!
Apologia and Nature Study – integrating nature study with textbook curricula
Lewis and Clark Nature Walk – enjoy making an “old-fashioned” journal to take on your nature walk
Nature Study Multimedia
There are many ways to connect with nature via the internet, apps and videos. Below are some of my favorite multimedia finds so far. (I don’t have an iPhone, so apps aren’t my top priority. I’d love for you to leave mentions of your favorite nature apps in the comments, though!)
E-bird – submit bird sightings online
Great Backyard Bird Count – a week of bird watching and reporting each February
Project Feeder Watch – winter bird feeder count project
And That Does It
Thank you for sticking with me through this giant post! I truly hope it serves to inspire and encourage you, give you new ideas to invigorate your nature studies and pushes you out the door!
I welcome comments with links to other fantastic nature-related things I may have missed. Or simple comments telling me about your latest nature walk and what fun you had. Now, stop reading and get outside!