Let's talk about Nature Study. The beautiful weather that the seasons bring us each year gives us plenty of opportunity to go outside and study the things that God has made. And, when I say study, I mean like getting up and close to it. A good nature study engages many senses. It is completely relaxing and natural. Looking is a wonderful start, but add in sounds, smells, and even touch sometimes makes the whole experience so much richer. Add photography, painting, or sketching to it and you have a memory that lasts. I have been doing nature studies with my children since they were very small. I have taught them to respect nature and take great pleasure in it. I have photos that I still treasure of them smelling flowers and taking great delight in the smell, holding various bugs, or capturing snowflakes on black felt. Enjoying nature is a wonderful thing.
“A love of Nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them, will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humour.” (Charlotte Mason, the Original Series)
We have collected over the years some very handy tools to help us in our nature studies. I highly recommend having these on hand for your kids. It took us a bit to collect all that we have but if you do a little at a time, you will find that you will have a lovely collection in no time flat. And if you look for bargains or sales, you can save yourself a little dough along the way. I will elaborate as we go along.
A couple of butterfly nets are fabulous for not only catching butterflies, but moths, dragon flies, praying mantis, and other fine creatures. My mom found these for us years ago at the dollar store and they have held up wonderfully. They get a lot of use in our home. I have had to fix the netting just once over the years. This year I saw the dollar store had them again. Stop by and pick yourself up some. Jars are great for catching and housing lightning bugs, caterpillars, ladybugs, pill bugs, and other fun little rascals. You don't have to use canning jars though. Any glass or clear plastic jar will do. We like to use these blue canning jars especially for lightning bugs and then they sleep with them at night (oh yes they do). Just be sure you can poke a few hole in the top for them to breathe. Not too big thought or tiny ones can escape.
We found those little maginfiers at the dollar store as well just last summer. Wow, have they been fun to look closely and see certain bugs and even nuts or seeds. Regular maginifying glasses are very handy for that as well if you can keep your little friend stationary or at least contained. We also purchased the little plastic bug collectors from the dollar store. They have been handy to carry around safely due to the little strap and they are plastic. The gallon size jar I saved from a gallon of pickles we bought once. Makes a very handy jar for large insects, collecting tadpoles, or setting up a worm farm or ant farm.
If you want a little fancier housing, I highly recommend Insect Lore's products. We have been gifted a couple of these, and I have purchased the others. Pictured are the praying mantis pagoda, the butterfly house, the ant farm, and the lady bug land. All are reusable and washable with gentle soap and water and have been a blast to use over the years. You can find them and insect specimens at www.insectlore.com.
This was this year's addition, a mini tank for housing tadpoles. We have been wanting to raise them into frog's for a bit now. They show up in our stream every year. We tried the gallon jar above but it just did not work out. After a bit of research, I decided to purchase a small betta fish tank and use this lady's plans for raising tadpoles to frogs. You can see our little babies in the bottom photo.
Not pictured, but definitely useful items to add to your collection would be binoculars, a telescope, a microscope, and a camera. All of these items we have and use and makes things even more fun to explore.
We are a book family and I really feel a good set of books makes nature study extra special. They can use them to look up their finds and learn more information about them. Field guides are wonderful resources. Ours are mostly beat up from carrying around and flipping through. A few how to books like Pets in a Jar and gardening books are wonderful additions for your nature collection. I highly recommend any of the books in the second photo. Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots and Touch a Butterfly are full of excellent suggestions for bringing nature and gardening to a kids level. Nature Connection goes month by month full of ideas and how to's to give you a monthly plan if you need help on how to get going.
Keeping a nature journal is a beautiful thing. It can be done many ways - photography (the bobolink picture at the top is one my 18 year old took this spring when our farm was just full of bobolinks), drawing, watercolors, black and white sketches make them memorable. Get to a craft store and spend a bit of extra money on good sketch books, one per child. You won't regret you did it. While you are there, also purchase some good watercolor paper if they want to do that instead. We always use colored pencils in our sketch books. So, it would be good to have both colored pencils and watercolors on hand. Have them label and date all they did. The books here are full of great ideas to get you started on nature journaling. And of course, Anna Comstock's book is a Charlotte Mason must! That is a treasure trove all by itself. Natural Science is another one that takes you from January - December on how you can experience nature on all levels.
Last but not least, the internet is a gift we've been given. You can find lots of great resources out here to look up things if you don't have your field guides already. We have used it plenty of times in research especially birds. The aforementioned bobolinks took my daughter and I 24 hours before we finally figured them out. We could see them flying around and here their beautiful song, but finding out what they were based on color alone was tough. And they were so active it was hard to get a good picture at all. Finally, they happened to sit still long enough to capture and we were able to put all the pieces together. But without Cornell's wonderful sound and picture archive, it would have been useless. Our field guides just didn't have all that we needed.
Here are a few links to help you get started, if you need a bit of a jumpstart:
Blog She Wrote has had an ongoing series this year with printable calendar with ideas to enjoy nature.
Ben and me Blog has a great free printable nature journal if you want to do a journal but need a jumpstart for ideas.
For preschoolers, I highly recommend this lady's preschool nature guide. We have used it and make paper bag journals. Great for little hands.
This mama has some great notebooking pages you could use for nature studies. These have a cost, but are beautiful and great for older kids.
I hope this makes you want to go out and enjoy nature with your kids. God has given us such a beautiful creation to enjoy! Any other nature things you need to know? Just post your questions in the comments. Blessings! And enjoy our wonderful world.
Photo of my daughter holding our painted ladies in our recent butterfly study