This post may contain affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for details.
If you’re interested in doing a homeschool nature study, you might be overwhelmed.
This is definitely the case if you aren’t exactly the “outdoorsy type” yourself. There are so many books and curriculums and journals it can make your head spin.
Depending on what style of homeschooling you’re doing (for example, if you follow Charlotte Mason or Waldorf philosophies) you might feel pressured to do nature studies really well. What if you try to do it and just waste time getting bug bites?
The good news is, time spent outdoors is rarely ineffective. You don’t need to overthink nature studies! Even if you just waltz outside and do a handful of the following activities, your kids will learn, and all of you will get some good outdoor time in.
Why Use a Homeschool Nature Study?
First of all, because the Earth is the only home we’ll ever have. (I’m not holding out hope for Mars). It’s good for children to understand the world they live in and the place they occupy in it.
Secondly, spending lots of time outdoors is really beneficial for children’s wellbeing. Sunshine helps regulate circadian rhythms, fresh air has fewer germs and more oxygen, and exercise is essential to healthy minds and bodies. Plus, you’re less likely to sit in front of a garden and mindlessly snack or sit passively compared to if you sat in front of a screen.
Lastly, if you have any desire for your children to have thoughtful, creative minds, one of the best things you can do is let them get bored. I mean this in a good way! But the constant stimulation frequently found in our modern world (flashing billboards, TVs, handheld devices, even screens at the grocery store and gas station) dull our ability to sit for long periods without stimulation. Nature studies are the perfect antidote for that. Why do you think you come up with all your best ideas in the shower or right before bed? Your brain is finally free to do more creative exploration and inventing. Scheduling time in your homeschool day for nature study gives your kids the same opportunity.
How to Have a Successful Homeschool Nature Study
It really can be as simple as walking outside with a rough idea of what you’re going to do. Of course, some additional preparation can increase your chances of success. But if it’s been a rough day and all you can muster is everyone getting their shoes on, you’ll be ok. If you’re personally interested in better understanding the natural world, you can do some background reading with the Handbook of Nature Study.
Once you feel comfortable with the subject matter (or you can learn as you go), it’s time to gather some useful supplies for your kids. Here’s what I recommend:
- Magnifying glasses
- Measuring tape
- Sketch pad & pencils
- Bug spray and sunscreen
There are also a lot of kid-friendly reference books & field guides out there.I’ve already covered nature books in depth here on the blog, but here are a few that will be specifically helpful with identification.
- Backyard Birds (Field Guides for Young Naturalists)
- The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-Ups
- My Awesome Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals: Track and Identify Your Treasures
- The Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders All Around You
Once you have your supplies, it’s time to hit the trail! Here are some of my favorite homeschool nature study activities. I’ve used most of these in my own classroom at different points with lots of success. If you try one for a day and it goes poorly, don’t give up! We humans are often resistant to new things at first. However, it’s possible that some of these activities just won’t work for your family for whatever reason. That’s ok, too! There are no rules to nature studies. Just be safe and have a good time!
Going on nature walks is the bread and butter of a nature study. Primarily, because they emphasize your local ecosystem and different habitats in what your child learns. But also because they’re so easily customizable and can contain many other activities. On a nature walk you can…
- Get customized exercise (shorter or longer walks, depending on your children’s ages and stamina. You can also go uphill or on flat land.)
- Bring reference books and identify birds, trees, bugs, rocks, animal tracks, mushrooms, flowers, even invasive species!
- Take pictures
- Draw or write at different points
- Collect samples
- Have whole-family learning time
Create a “Sit Spot”
There are many objectives behind a sit spot. First, it’ll teach your kids patience and how to sit still for at least short bursts at a time. (We all know how hard that can be!) Academically, they’ll learn to carefully observe the living things in a defined space over a period of time. You can introduce data tracking (counting, measuring, weighing, etc), ask them to illustrate what they see, or have them write their findings while sitting. Bring a clipboard!
Practically, they can choose anywhere they’d like for their spot. Just make sure they can access it freely, it’s on land you’re allowed to be on, and that they don’t forget where it is!
Observe slow processes
In addition to watching things change slowly in their sit spots, you can bring nature indoors for more kinds of observation! Nature moves slowly in many ways. While it’s not realistic to watch even a bonsai tree grow in one school year, there are other, slightly faster processes you can observe.
- Catch a caterpillar and watch a butterfly metamorphosis
- Get an ant farms and watch them building tunnels
- Plant a bean or pea seed in a cup and watch them grow
Field trips are great as a homeschool nature study!
Field trips have always been the bee’s knees of homeschooling. Nature studies are no different! Here are some good options if you’re stuck and can’t think of any:
- National, State, or Local Parks
- Biomes, habitats, or ecosystems (the beach, a meadow, desert, riverbeds, tundra, whatever) different from the one you live in
- Animal Farms
- Pick-Your-Own fruit or vegetable farms
- Urban natural spaces
- Botanical gardens
Find more field trip ideas here: 40+ Fantastic Field Trips for Kids
So many books have natural settings, characters, and themes that your children will then run into outdoors. Some authors have a particular gift for this, such as:
- Beatrix Potter
- Barbara Cooney
- Robert McCloskey
- E.B. White
- Arnold Lobel
Find more nature books for kids on this post: Books about Nature for Kids: 50+ Recommendations for all Ages!
Keep a homeschool nature study question log
Question logs are one of the primary ways you can turn homeschool nature study time into science time. First, it requires careful observation. You can’t ask a question about something you didn’t notice! After that, it stimulates their sense of curiosity and wonder as they think more deeply about the things they’ve seen, and they start asking those wonderful questions. These questions can be turned into further research projects and create wonderful rabbit holes for kids to fall down.
There are so many ways to make art with nature! You can either use the outdoors to get inspired, or you can literally use things from nature to make your art. Just be thoughtful about conservation if you collect items.
- Bark rubbings
- Botanical illustrations
- Close observations (drawing what you see under a magnifying glass)
- Using bunched grass as a paintbrush
- Leaf prints
- Press flowers, petals, and leaves
Have a Nature Basket
Many homeschooling philosophies, from Montassori to Waldorf to Charlotte Mason to eclectic, use nature baskets. These might also sometimes be nature tables, shelves, or boxes, depending on your space availability. The basic idea is to collect and display fun finds from your nature walks or backyard. These can be used for art projects later, or simply as conversation starters now. Plus, what little kid doesn’t like having a collection?
Meet mentors or guides
There are many people far smarter than you or I around the world who love talking about the natural world. Go find some!
- Check library bulletin boards for talks given by local speakers on natural topics
- Go visit a farmer’s market and prompt your kids to ask them questions
- Sign up for guided hikes or walks with rangers or the like
- Call your county’s cooperative extension office (usually associated with a nearby university) and ask if they have any talks coming up
- Click around on youtube with search terms like “[your location] nature expert”
Do a service project
If, after all your time outdoors, you’ve fallen in love with nature, you might want to spend some time working to preserve what you have.
- Bring bags & gloves with you on a walk and pick up trash
- Write letters requesting politicians or officials help save a place, animal, or plant.
- Hold a fundraiser to raise money for conservation
Grab a Nature Study in a Box
If you’ve worked your way through this list and still want more (or if you’re just not that keen on creating your own homeschool nature study after all…) there is one more solution I’d recommend trying. Think Outside Boxes offers a nature-based curriculum that is phenomenal for homeschoolers.
These subscription boxes come with everything you need for seasonal nature studies. They include tools, a guide, and activities that you can use several times over the course of the month. (These are not your average one-and-done subscription boxes!) Plus, you can get a preview of what you’ll be working on each month on their homeschool page.
We’ve used Think Outside Boxes over the course of the last year, and LOVED our experience. Read more about it on this post: Outdoor Subscription Box for Kids: THiNK OUTSiDE Review
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.