Discovering Pond Habitats: How To Do Nature Study in Real Life

Have you ever been to the same nature study destination so often that you almost forget there are always new things to discover?

My friend Tracy and her children had visited the same ponds many times over. They never really got tired of exploring, but she found a simple way to refocus their attention, which led to new observations and new learning.

Please welcome Tracy as she shares the most delightful post about her family’s quest to learn about pond habitats.

Take a peek into a real-life pond habitats nature study with a homeschool family of multiple ages who spent several weeks learning about ponds in their hometown. #naturestudy

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Pond Habitat Nature Study In Real Life

Our love of nature study began at a pond. I had my children rambling around the pond as toddlers and preschoolers, my youngest just an infant and strapped into my baby carrier. We made some fond memories during those early explorations.

When we moved from the East Coast to the West Coast, some of our first great finds were the local ponds. Though the Pacific Northwest birds and plants vastly differed from what we were used to identifying, studying the ponds felt like home.

There is so much to see and explore in a pond nature study. We have studied the birds, identified the plants, and watched the turtles. We’ve searched for animal tracks, skipped rocks across the pond, and found crayfish in the shallows.

But it struck me recently that we’d never studied the ponds as a whole, as a habitat. It was time to zoom out and get a big picture of our favorite nature study spots. NaturExplorers’ Peaceful Ponds gave us just that opportunity.

Planning a Pond Nature Study

I’m pretty laid-back with my nature study preparation. Typically, my habit is to merely leave margin in our schedule for spontaneous nature walks when the weather permits. I like to keep nature study books on hand and casually complete notebooking activities and art projects on rainy days. (We have a lot of those in the Pacific Northwest.)

As I prepared for our pond habitat nature study, I sat down with my iPad & planner to look through all the amazing ideas in Peaceful Ponds. I took a few notes in my planner about what I wanted to cover, requested the recommended library books (and a few extras), and printed off the notebooking pages I wanted to use.

Tracy of Growing in Grace

Observing Ponds Through the Seasons

The first objective was to study our ponds through each season, observing how our favorite nature study locations had been changing. We watched as the winter rains began to fill these areas and scoured the mud for fresh tracks to see what creatures had come to visit (This idea came from another favorite study, NaturExplorers’ Animal Signs.)

Then, we patiently waited for signs of spring on the trees and bushes. Over the weeks, we welcomed the Canada geese back to the ponds where they nest, and we hopefully searched for the first tadpoles.

It was especially meaningful for my youngest to observe all the small changes taking place. But my older two were also more in tune this year as they watched water levels rise in the ponds and wetlands around our house.

A day in the life of nature study at the pond

Pond Study in Bad Weather

Our nature walks were more like nature jaunts during wet and gloomy days. We made quick stops on our way home from an errand, sloshing through the mud for a quick peek at what was changing. Then we’d hurry home, brew cups of tea, and read books about ponds or complete nature journaling pages from our observations.

I especially loved all the Peaceful Ponds resources on these gloomy days. We could enjoy nature study from rich, living books and compare these books with our own observations from previous nature walks. We could study nature from the kitchen table or the living room floor in front of the fireplace! And, of course, all this indoor nature study made us long to get back out of doors to revisit our ponds and to see how they’d changed since our last visits.

Favorite Picture Books About Ponds

A day in the life of nature study at the pond

These books about ponds are our favorites, and most of them are included on the lengthy booklist that Cindy includes in the Peaceful Ponds curriculum guide!

Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems (Caldecott Honor Book, BCCB Blue Ribbon Nonfiction Book Award)Around the Pond: Who's Been Here?Mallard Duck at Meadow View Pond - a Smithsonian's Backyard Book (Mini book)Pond


Comparing Ponds During Nature Study

As the weather improved, I challenged my children with an assignment to compare and contrast our favorite ponds. Each one is a very different habitat!

This exercise was largely oral for my younger two, but I did assign my eleven-year-old a nature notebooking activity from Peaceful Ponds and had him write two descriptive paragraphs about the differences.

A day in the life of nature study at the pond

Nature Study Experiences at the Pond

One of the local ponds, which we call the meadow pond, is located in a field. Canada geese nest here, and mallards, coots, bushtits, and red-winged blackbirds are also regulars. Turtles love to sun themselves on a certain log in the middle of the pond. We sometimes spot turtle nesting holes or find cougar tracks in the mud. It’s one of our favorite spots because it is always teeming with animal life.

On one of our visits to the meadow pond, my youngest crouched down and slowly inched toward the shore to get a closer look at the turtles. “They think I’m a rock,” he whispered back to me loudly. After investigating as much as he wanted, he stood up, and the turtles instantly jumped off the log into the water. Their heads bobbed above the surface, eagerly awaiting the first opportunity to climb back onto their sunny log safely.

Before the turtles got comfy again, we completed one of the suggested activities from Peaceful Ponds. My kids waded out carefully to measure how high the water came up on “walking sticks” they had found along the way. (I knew this pond area wasn’t deep at all, so I allowed them to wade in. Typically, we would only measure from the safety of the bank.)

A day in the life of nature study at the pond

Comparing Streams and Ponds on a Nature Walk

On another nature excursion, we visited a very different location, including a couple of different ponds, a river, and some streams. As we hiked, we contrasted each of these. I asked them the differences between the river and the stream and between the stream and the pond.

We observed a section of the stream that had been dammed, and my kids waited patiently for quite a while, hoping to spot a beaver. In the end, we only saw a garter snake slithering out of the water and into the grassy shore – which was pretty great, too.

When Pond Nature Study Requires Patience

The second pond site in this area is what we call our lily pad pond. Tucked into the woods, this pond is very still (unlike the busy meadow pond) and appears to be empty. It requires patience.

My kids clustered at the bridge’s edges and peered into the water, eventually spotting tiny tadpoles. They also found a lone turtle on a lily pad across the pond and tiny fish and bug larvae hiding in the shadows. My son also spotted a second garter snake sliding across a mossy log. As we hiked back, we saw several Stellar’s Jays, tree swallows, and some hawks circling overhead.

A day in the life of nature study at the pond

My eleven-year-old was thrilled with lots of rich material for his compare/contrast paper and eagerly snapped his own pictures throughout our hike.

The turtle was quite a find for this area. Bullfrogs had been introduced many years before, and because they were not native to the area, they were without natural predators. They threw off the ecosystem and ate many of the baby turtles. We rarely spot anything but giant frogs in this pond. My kids were excited to add turtle-spotting to their nature journals!

Pond Art and Nature Study

Another feature I love about NaturExplorers is how it integrates art, music, Bible study, and so many other elements into the study of nature.

One of the suggested artists in Peaceful Ponds is Claude Monet. After visiting our lily pad pond, we reviewed what we knew about Monet and then attempted our own Monet-inspired painting of the lily pad pond. The kids were allowed to choose oil pastels, chalk pastels, or watercolors. Together, we drew and painted what we remembered from our nature walk.

A day in the life of nature study at the pond

More Pond Habitats Nature Study

As pretty weather is finally here to stay for the season, we are hardly finished with our pond habitats nature study. Another of the activities from Peaceful Ponds that I’ve jotted into my homeschool planner includes a microscope activity. Studying the pond life under a microscope—complete with nature notebooking pages and web links for identification – will be a big hit with my children.

Over the years, we’ve completed several NaturExplorer guides; each one we finish becomes my new favorite. I love that the guides provide us with a jumping-off point, enticing us further into our studies. I love how the guides equip me to ask leading questions that get my kids thinking about nature in a new way. The variety ensures something from our study will resonate with my different kiddos, regardless of their age or personality.

Nature Study Isn’t for Experts

Studying nature is not just for the experts and not only for outdoorsy people. Trust me, I’m neither an expert nor an outdoorsy type. But nature study is one of the best parts of our homeschool, providing connection, relationship, exploration—and lots of fond memories. I love how nature study is a “living science lab” teaming with opportunities and memories that will guarantee we’ll study nature for a long time.

NaturExplorers: Everything you need for nature study (science) - no matter your style of schooling
Tracy of Growing in Grace

Hi! I’m Tracy, and I homeschool my crew of three kids with ADHD/dyslexia. I find creative ways to use their strengths to teach their weaknesses. Our life is creative chaos, and our homeschool is loud, busy, distracted, challenging, and lovely. In addition to writing and editing curriculum, I blog at Growing In Grace, providing grace and knowledge.

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