Discovering Pond Habitats: How To Do Nature Study in Real Life
Have you ever been to the same nature study destination so many times 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 way to refocus their attention in a simple way that 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.
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.
And so, when we moved from the east coast to the west coast, one of our first great finds was the local ponds. Though the Pacific Northwest birds and plants were vastly different 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’ve 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 just recently that we’d never studied the ponds as a whole, as a habitat. It was clearly time to zoom out and get a big-picture view 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 nature study habit is to merely leave margin in our schedule for spontaneous nature walks when the weather permits, to keep nature study books on hand, and to casually complete notebooking activities and art projects on our 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 and looked 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 (as well as a few extras), and printed off the notebooking pages I wanted to use.
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 (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 Canada geese back to the ponds where they nest and we searched hopefully 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 in tune more this year as they watched water levels rise in the ponds and wetlands around our house.
Pond Study in Bad Weather
During wet and gloomy days, our nature walks were more like nature jaunts. 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 do nature study 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.
Comparing Ponds as 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.
One of our local ponds is located in a field – we call it our meadow pond. Canada geese nest here. Mallards, coots, bushtits, and red-winged blackbirds are also regulars. On a certain log in the middle of the pond, turtles love to sun themselves. 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 wanted, he stood up and the turtles instantly jumped off the log into the water, their heads bobbing above the surface eagerly watching for the first opportunity to safely climb back onto their sunny log.
Before the turtles got comfy again, we completed one of the suggested activities from Peaceful Ponds. My kids waded out carefully to measure just how high the water came up on “walking sticks” they had found along the way. (I knew this area of the pond wasn’t deep at all, which is why I allowed them to wade in. Typically, we would only measure from the safety of the bank.)
On another nature excursion, we visited a very different location that includes a couple of different ponds, a river, and some streams. We contrasted each of these as we hiked. I asked them what the differences were 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.
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. This pond takes patience.
My kids clustered at the edges of the bridge and peered into the water, eventually spotting tiny tadpoles, 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 and tree swallows, as well as some hawks circling overhead.
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. All of my kids were very excited to add turtle-spotting to their nature journals!
Pond Nature Study Art
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.
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, and 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. I love the variety that ensures something from our study will resonate with each of my different kiddos, no matter their age or personality.
Studying nature is not just for the experts and not only for outdoorsy people. Trust me, I’m neither an expert nor an outdoor type. But nature study is one of the best parts of our homeschool, providing connection and relationship and 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 be studying nature for a long time to come.
Hi! I’m Tracy, and I homeschool my crew of three kids with ADHD/dyslexia, finding creative ways to use their strengths to teach their weaknesses. Our life is creative chaos, and our homeschool is loud and busy and distracted and challenging and lovely. In addition to writing and editing curriculum, I also blog at Growing In Grace, providing grace and knowledge.
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