Nature Study Ideas

vintage boy in snow picture commonroomWinter Nature Study

Play `Kim’s game’- pick a scene outside a window, look at it
carefully enough to be able to look at it again on another day and
describe what is different.
When you have been able to take a brisk walk, go home, and over hot cocoa ask who can remember what you passed on your walk and tell each other all you remember.

Observe the trees, note their changes- pick one or two trees and
check them every week to see what’s different. You can do this from
inside with a good pair of binoculars

Learn to recognize bird calls- set up a bird feeder, check out, and once you have identified a bird, go to the website
to hear its call

The Sun:

Observe its position at various times throughout the day

Note times of sunrise and sunset as well as their direction

The place of the sun at the hottest part of the day

Distance and direction

In addition to noting the location of the sun

Note the time it takes to walk/drive

A foot, a yard, a block, a quarter mile, a half mile

To frequent destinations- a friend’s house, the store, the library,
the barn, the corner, around the block (wherever it is you do walk-
learn how far that is and how long it takes to walk that distance)


Direction, learn what a western wind means (it is blowing from the
west, not toward the west, just as a Canadian is _from_ Canada)


Observe their shape, size, style, color and note the connection
between clouds and weather

WE bought the book _Exploring Nature In Winter_, by Alan Cvancara
through Abebooks.
I found a few useful ideas, although it is primarily for adults to
use to learn to enjoy the outdoors in winter as well as warmer
months. One of the many ideas between its covers is how to preserve
snowflakes to sketch.

You need microscope slides, which you put on a sturdy surface, like
cardboard. Spray the slides with something like Krylon- clear,
plastic spray generally for preserving artwork. Then allow snow
crystals to land on the sprayed slides. Bring the slides in to dry.
If it worked, you will have replicas of snowflake crystals that
remain clear. You can sketch them, examine them under the
microscope, or use a magnifying glass. Of course, to do this, your
slides and the spray should be below freezing, or they will melt the
snowflake on contact. (we have only tried this once and it didn’t
work for us)

He suggests noting weather conditions, air temperatures, wind
direction, speed, and what type of snow crystals predominate. These
things, of course, could all be admirable additions to the Nature

Another way to study snowflakes is take out a a piece of black
cardboard, or black felt stretched on a board, (or wear black wool
mittens), and a magnifying glass and study the snowflakes outside.
Just be careful not to melt them with your breath as you gasp in rapt
admiration;-) We keep a bit of black felt or an old black mitten in
the freezer all winter long so that we can grab it and catch a few
snowflakes on it and bring them in for a quick investigation.


Another `nature study’ book that I especially love is called Growing
Up Green, by Alice Skelsey and Gloria Huckaby. It’s sort of hippy
flavored in parts, not too strongly (it was written in the 70’s, I
believe). I used this when my 21 and 20 y.o. daughters were 2 and 1. I used a
copy from my library all those years ago. In 1999 I found it again
at the local used bookstore and grabbed it for old time’s sake. We have enjoyed it using with with our younger children. It
is a nice book, with lots of fun things to do with your children to
share the love of growing things, even in winter.

You can grow a potato indoors and sketch the leaves or roots. It’s
very easy, and very pretty. You just stick a potato or a sweet
potato (they’re prettier) in a jar of water so that just the bottom
touches the water. Buy organic, or yours may never grow.
If the potato is too even in shape to stay up on the rim, then stick
three toothpicks up around the side, and they will prop the tater up
so it doesn’t submerge.

It makes a beautiful vine and you can keep it going for several
Once it starts to turn a bit yellow, it’s time to repot it (I use a
large coffee can), and then it will keep for another month or two.
Then you need to either dump it or plant it outside and start
another one.
It would work well to sketch the growth of the potato each week,
measuring roots and leaves, that sort of thing.

Another indoor nature project is growing beans. You take a clear jar
and roll a paper towel up and line the jar with it. Get the towel
damp, and stick some dried beans (navy beans, lima, that sort, but
*not* split peas;-D) between the paper and the jar. Keep the
toweling damp and you can watch how the seed splits open and how the
roots grow. You could sketch this (with dates and measurements) in
the sketchbook as well.

Get a small pet, if you can- something like a gerbil, hamster, fish,
or lizard, and observe it, adding to the nature notebook as desired.

Another neat thing to do is to sketch the moon each week, on the same
night, to let the child discover for herself the cycles of the moon.

Evergreens are always good subjects for winter nature study.
Learn the pattern their needles grow in, look at pine cones, study
what wildlife, if any, hangs out at the evergreen tree in winter.

You can also bring in a rock, a bit of wood or small log with
lichen on it and sketch it from the dining room table.

You can sketch a leafless twig, noting the placing of the leaf scars,
the color of the wood, the shape, etc.

We have tied a string around a twig or tree branch you can see from
a window, then sketch it once a month, observing seasonal changes.

Keep a root garden growing, two pie pans full of
parsnip and carrot tops. You could sketch those weekly.

We have also studied two turnips, hollowed out and hanging upside down, filled
with water. The idea was that they were supposed to sprout leaves,
the leaves would grow up, making a leafy looking basket

YOu could look for old seed pods and sketch them, or animal tracks in
the snow.
Go to a petstore and observe some critters there.

Force a bulb to bloom indoors.

Keep a calendar of nature firsts all year long- this should include
things like first snowfall, first ice storm, first bird to your
feeder, first goose seen flying south, first goose seen returning,
and even the i.d. of the birds you see at your feeder every day.

If you gut a fish or cut up a chicken, call the kids in to look at
it and identify pieces and parts- if you all can stomach it=)

If you have the Comstock book, see what she says about molds and

If you have a cat or dog, dig out the Comstock book and look up
those animals and note the points she says to observe.

If you have indoor houseplants, use them for some studies- they need
to be learning to observe and note things like shape of leaves,
smell of plant, shape of stem, placement of leaves, etc. from their
own observations- but there is no reason they can’t do this with a
geranium and a rosemary plant from your windowsill just as much as
from a weed outside. Spend some time studying the fruits and
vegetables you bring home from the store. The main point is their
_personal_ practice at observing real items.

Miss Mason did suggest that the children go outside everyday, rain
or snow or sunshine, but I am sure she had experienced nothing quite
like the blizzards we get on the prairies in North America. We do
what we can with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Note, too,

that even Miss Mason put limits on that- she said from April to October.

In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October.  ~Home Education, Volume 1,

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