How To Teach an Interest-Based Nature Study with NaturExplorers
Friends, it’s time for another peek into the real life study of nature! In this post, you’ll see how easily Amber Oliver and her children were able to explore and discover wildflowers through an interest-based nature study.
I’m a big believer in letting our children have a say in their schooling once in a while. It’s highly motivating for kiddos to make decisions and helps them take real ownership in the learning.
Besides allowing her children to take part in the planning of which wildflower activities their family would complete, Amber was also great at incorporating lessons that support their passions and learning styles. Again, this promotes excitement in the learning process.
You’ll notice that Amber mentions she used NaturExplorers to help reconnect her tech-savvy kids to the outdoors. The topic of wildflowers is a perfect way to do that spring through autumn. Wildflowers are not only abundant and easy to find, they are incredibly more interesting than you might imagine. (Even Amber’s son thinks so!)
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I’ve spent most of my life in the rural areas of north-central Texas, surrounded by a varied and colorful display of wildflowers from early March through the end of June. Growing up, I had my favorites – the Indian Paintbrushes and our beloved Texas Bluebonnet. Though each spring greeted us with more than just these bright beauties, I only had eyes for my two favorites.
Until I had kids, I didn’t even realize that there was a cycle and order to the wildflower season. The paintbrushes come and go, and then before the Bluebonnets are gone, the delicate-pink Evening Primrose takes the stage. Before long, the Indian Blanket bursts forth in a fiery blaze, a prelude for the hot summer months to come. One of the things I love about Texas is that the highways are lined with wildflowers all season because they don’t mow them down but let them grow. It’s a glorious display of God’s beauty.
Raising Curious Little Nature Explorers
When the kids were little, we naturally spent a lot of time outside. They loved being outdoors, and the Texas spring air always called us away from our books. We have a living landscape to explore at our leisure. The fields around us are ripe with purple coneflower, various types of daisies and sunflowers, yucca, and milkweed–just to name a handful.
When the kids caught their first caterpillar, we learned that butterflies and moths have specific wildflower hosts plants. When we found our first butterfly cocoon on a tree in our yard, we learned what a hackberry tree is–and later, what a Hackberry Emperor butterfly looks like. Through observation and exploration, we also learned about a great many other plants and bugs. As we’ve observed and learned, we’ve seen God’s hand at work in His creation.
The easiest way to learn about nature it to be in it. The best thing about being in nature is seeing God in it.
Recently, I realized my kids haven’t spent as much time outdoors as they used to. I also realized that the last time we did a flower study and dissection, my now 12-year-old son was a toddler. He’s never done a flower dissection, and he only remembers the days of catching beetles and fireflies in jars to observe.
I wanted to reconnect my tech-savvy kids with nature in a way that would help them see the beauty and intelligent design of it all, and in a way they could enjoy, relate to, and remember.
Fortunately, I know a lot about my kids and their interests. Armed with this “insider secret” info about my children and a copy of Wonderful Wildflowers, I knew how to get them outside and into the wildflowers.
A Wildflower Nature Study is Full of Science
My almost-teen-boy isn’t very interested in flowers, but he IS interested in science. Wildflowers are FULL of science. He just needed to see wildflowers as something that could be examined, dissected, and studied.
Before beginning our wildflower study, I printed off the entire NaturExplorers Wonderful Wildflowers guide to look at. Together, the kids and I read over the reasons for studying nature, and the background information about wildflowers. We read about the difference between native wildflowers and native cultivated plants, about the science of flower reproduction, and we examined the chart of flower parts.
After that introduction, we went through the study and chose the different activities that we wanted to do. Our first activity was a simple collection of data. I sent my son out across the property to collect samples of all the different types of flowers he could find. I also sent my daughter out to take pictures of the different flowers my son collected.
When they returned, we tried to identify the flowers they found as we organized them onto a posterboard for display. On this first excursion, my son found eight different types of flowers and we identified about half of them.
One of the suggested activities was a flower dissection, and we definitely wanted to do that. Letting my son take the lead (and the exacto knife) I let him cut open a couple of different flowers. He looked at them under the magnifying glass, under a flashlight, and on the illuminated lightboard. I even let him have a leaf and a bloom from my indoor peace lily so he could compare. He dissected and examined as long as he wanted before we called it a day.
Studying Wildflowers Through Photography
My 15-year-old daughter is really into photography. I wanted to include her, too, but in a way that gave her a level of responsibility and independence, so I made her the official photographer of our nature study.
Our third wildflower activity was a visit to a small native plants botanical garden (both wildflowers and cultivated.) As mentioned in the unit study, “getting into nature” doesn’t have to mean “wild nature.” This botanical garden is a nice little city park, organized into sections with name plates for the different types of flowers. As we walked through the native flower garden, we not only recognized a lot of the plants we saw, but were also able to see the names of the different flowers we recognized.
As we explored, we also witnessed a lot of animal activity: birds, bees, butterflies, and even a little field mouse. All the while, my daughter took pictures of everything. Through the lense of the camera she focused in on the subject of our study.
The kids enjoyed the botanical garden, with the trails and sidewalks, signs and borders. Sometimes nature is wild and untamed, but sometimes it’s orderly and structured.
Researching Texas Wildflowers In Reference Books
With a quick trip to our local library, my daughter and I were able to select three reference books to guide us on the rest of our journey. We found a copy of what is possibly the best Texas wildflower field guide (Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsi,) a second wildflower guide with beautiful illustrated pictures, and a book of wildflower legends and lore (which turned out to be a real gem!)
Our fourth wildflower activity was a simple perusal through the wildflower field guide. My son and I took a virtual stroll through the flowers, page by page, looking for flowers that we recognized and have seen in our area.
We found flowers that grow on our property, and flowers that we don’t have but we’ve seen in other parts of the county. It was fun to watch my son excitedly say, “Oh! We have that one!” It was also good to “put names to faces,” so to speak.
Our local library is one of my favorite indoor ways to study nature.
Wildflower Field Guides
Texas Wildflower Hunt
After looking through the reference books with my son, we set out on a second tour of the property, this time together. I was curious to see how many different types of flowers he would find now that he was paying more attention.
With fresh images of native wildflowers in our mind, we walked the property, keeping a keen eye out for flowers big and small. We carried along my cell phone, taking pictures of everything we found.
This time we found 18 different varieties of wildflowers!
We remembered most of flowers that we saw, but there were many that we didn’t. When we came back inside, we sat down with our field guide and our pictures to identify the new ones. I have always wondered about these fancy little purple flowers we have, which we now know are called Purple Prairie Clover.
There are still so many wildflower varieties that have yet to make an appearance for the season, and we will have to go on another wildflower hunt soon.
Wildflower Stories, Wildflower Art
Our final wildflower project (for now) was a fun one! I asked my son to choose ANY wildflower to draw for me. He chose the Indian Blanket – a great choice, with lots of bright colors to interest the eye. Drawing flowers, (one of the activities we chose from the NaturExplorers guide), is a good way to learn and remember the details of the flowers you are studying.
While he sketched a work of art for me, I read stories from Legends and Lore of Texas Wildflowers. We learned that Indian Blanket has a few different legends attached to it–the sweetest one being the tale of young Indian girl who got lost in the woods and awoke to a covering of flowers that resembled the bright colors of her father’s favorite blanket.
One of the really cool things about this book is the additional information about each flower, such as medicinal uses, or their symbiotic relationship with specific insects. One of the most interesting things we learned is the unique relationship between the yucca plant and the female yucca moth, who intentionally takes pollen from the male anther of one yucca plant and intentionally fertilizes the female stigma on another plant. She lays her eggs on the pistil of the flower, which develop along with the flower’s seeds, which the caterpillars will feed on when they hatch. It makes me want to pay special attention to them next year!
Wildflower Study Never Ends
One thing I’ve noticed is that once you create a spark of interest, it’s hard to put it out. My kids might not grow up to be botanists, but once they learn the names and colors of the various wildflowers, their relationships with various insects, and their common uses, they will always see those flowers differently. The NatureExplorers Wonderful Wildflowers Study is just the beginning of a long-term study of the flowers around us.
We have never forgotten that hackberry trees are the host plant for Hackberry Moths, or that Monarch butterflies need milkweed. We know that we could harvest the dandelions from our yard for tea and jelly, or the purple coneflowers (echinacea) for a number of different uses.
Now we also know that we could harvest our yucca plants, too, and that clover comes in several types and colors (not only the green clover with the little yellow flowers.)
As we enjoy the rest of our wildflower season here in Texas, we’ll see new flowers come along and Curiosity will want to know their names. We’ll look them up online and see what they are called. Spending more time outside this spring and summer, out Texas wildflower fun will continue.
Amber Oliver is a relaxed homeschool mom who believes that learning happens all the time and the school day doesn’t need to begin before 10am and two cups of coffee. She has been homeschooling since 2003 and writing about it since 2006. Amber has one homeschool graduate, with one high-schooler and one middle-schooler still at home. More than anything else, Amber’s biggest homeschool goal is to raise children who can see God everywhere in the world around them, so they might know him deeply and intimately. You can find Amber at ClassicHousewife, on Facebook, and on Instagram.
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