For many homeschoolers, Charlotte Mason adherents or not, nature studies are a priority–especially in the early years. It is such a great way to introduce children to the wider world and spark their curiosity and love of learning. For me it is nostalgic, bringing back memories of growing up playing in the woods with frogs and bugs. I love to share these things with my children. But what do you do when you don’t live in the country? Or even if you don’t have a backyard? Well, it takes a little more effort–but I promise you great urban nature studies are not impossible.
We live in an apartment in a suburb of Sacramento, California, which boasts a population of over 130,000. But my girls still get out to get down and dirty with nature every single day. Now we do have a couple things in our favor. (1) We live in an older neighborhood where there are more green spaces and mature trees than newer ones. In fact, I specifically chose our apartment because it looks out into trees from every window. (I kinda have a thing for trees) And (2) it’s California. The temperate climate makes for an abundance of flora and fauna pretty much year-round.
There are, of course, many options for urban nature studies if you want to jump in the car: parks, botanical gardens, even garden centers are great resources. But if you’re trying to do the nature-walk-every-morning thing, getting in the car can get tiresome. So my advice? Get out and about right where you’re at. I have found that it offers so many more opportunities for incredible nature experiences than I thought it would. And we would be missing so much if we weren’t doing these few simple things:
Keep your eyes open.
Thankfully, kids are great at this. They notice every teeny, tiny ant, every microscopic flower. So instead of hurrying them along, pause to enjoy it with them. Adults expect nature to be in its proper place–out there. And we often view nature in urban environments as nuisances: weeds in sidewalk cracks, ants sneaking into our barbecue.
Instead, try to develop a kid’s-eye-view of the world. Point out the moss on the tree trunk or the bees coming to your flowers. We have explored a wide array of nature without leaving our patio because we cultivate it and we notice it. So here are a few things you can do to bring some nature to you:
- Set up a hummingbird, squirrel, or wild bird feeder. We have dozens of hummingbirds that visit us daily. And they are surprisingly friendly! They will come to the feeder even if we are standing right beside it. And they even will pause inches from my face and investigate me, like they’re trying to figure out just what I am.
- Plant some herbs and flowers designed to attract wildlife. Gardening is a great way to explore nature. And the possibilities are endless. But when you choose plants don’t just think about the plants themselves. Pick a few based on the critters they will attract. The right plants will bring ladybugs, butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and so much more right to you.
- Don’t clean so much. You’ve been waiting for someone to tell you that, right? Now I’m not saying let bugs take up residence in your kitchen or anything. I’m really talking about in a patio or other outdoor space. Just before you set about sweeping up all the cobwebs–take notice. We’ve watched spiders catch flies, and mantises catch spiders, and caterpillars make cocoons, and ants work as a team because I was mindful to notice them and point them out before they were cleaned away.
Get out regularly.
Every day–OK, almost every day–we get out and explore our neighborhood. Like I said, we’re fortunate to have as much green space as we do for an urban environment. We even have a all-weather stream with an abundance of wildlife in it running right through our small community. But I will tell you right now that if our walks were just occasional we would miss so much.
Getting out on a regular basis lets you:
- Explore more in-depth. We get to linger in favorite places, turn over stones, and take time (with a handy cell phone) to pause and look up answers to questions on the spot.
- See how things change. If you don’t get out regularly you will miss the small changes that happen over time. How the evergreens grow their cones, release their pollen, and then the cones fall. How the bullfrogs behavior changes based on the weather. What different types of plants and bugs you can see at different times of year.
- Find things you missed the last time. I am blown away by the opportunities we’ve had to witness nature in our city-setting. But we only saw these things because we are out there every day. Here are just a few of the best:
- The hawk that has taken up permanent residence in our neighborhood. He hides well! But now we know all his favorite spots and love to watch him hunt. We’ve discovered he is always watching us too.
- The wild turkeys, ducks, and geese that visit intermittently. These guys are seasonal guests. They each have their specific times of year that they come by and it is fun to wait for their return.
- All of the wildlife in the stream. This little stream is jam-packed with life. We have bullfrogs and their GIANT tadpoles, fish, all kinds of bugs, snails, water plants. It is quite amazing. Sometimes we scoop up some of the water to watch all the things swimming and crawling around inside. Mostly, we just love to observe the frogs and learn about them.
Everything from fallen trees to rocks to weeds is an exploration.
Don’t ignore the landscaping.
Don’t miss the opportunity to, literally, stop and smell the roses. Another grown-up mindset is to think of nature as just the things growing wild. But intentional nature is nature just the same. Learn about the flowers and trees growing in the landscaped areas around you. Many times, these are plants that are indigenous the area. It can spark great lessons on the local climate and weather.
And don’t forget the non-living things too. There is an abundance of granite occurring naturally in our area and that is often worked into the landscaping. Next to trees, rocks might be my favorite nature study subject. Don’t pass up the opportunity to branch off into a little geology lesson when it presents itself.
Our Nature Journal
After these daily nature excursions, my second-grader loves to come home and journal about her finds. Her absolute favorite thing is when we take our journals with us and do some recording “in the field.” Sometimes she collects treasures like leaves, flowers, feathers, pine cones, and rocks. Other times, we take pictures of things to look up and read more about later. They love to glue or tape some treasures in their journal or draw pictures of things that won’t fit. And I usually write the names of things or facts about them on the white board so she can copy them into her journal. Even my preschooler has one of her own.
I love these nature journals from Lara at Everyday Graces. They have beautiful watercolor illustrations and plenty of space for everything. What I really love is that you can print out extra pages, if you need more bird pages for example. I did a simple twine binding and some card-stock covers to keep it semi-clean when we take it out with us. When you check them out, you should take a peek at her beautiful Charlotte Mason Homeschool Planner as well!
Combining Art and Nature
Also, for slightly older kids, you should check out The Art of the Fall: Mixed Media Workshop from Alisha at Masterpiece Society. This is a 4-week eCourse that guides kids through creating unique works of art based on fall nature themes. They will get experience working with:
- Acrylic painting
- Watercolor painting
- Chalkboard art
- Collage art
- Hand lettering
- Art journaling
- And MORE!
And she also throws in some poetry and nature study to go along with it! This is a great way to combine art and nature studies. And the best part is you can follow the course at your own pace because you get lifetime access to it.
Bringing Your Nature Studies to the Classroom
Now for the roundup! I know so many fantastic homeschool-blogging mommas who have generously shared their ideas for nature studies, and related crafts and activities. So get out there and ENJOY nature with your kids–no matter where you live. Check out my Nature Studies board on Pinterest. And then I encourage you to try some of these great ideas and PLEASE send me pictures to share what you’ve done!
27 Ways to Play Outdoors This Spring by A Fresh Brewed Faith
Exploring the Beach by Homeschooling with Tea
Quiet in Nature by Homeschooling with Tea
Studying the Chipmunk and What it Eats by Tree Valley Academy
Making a Season Book by Raising Human Beans
Gardening by Raising Human Beans
Leaf Painting for Kids by Look! We’re Learning
Easy Fall Leaf Garland by Look! We’re Learning
Easy Fall Snow Globe Craft for Kids by Look! We’re Learning
How to Dissect a Flower and Create Powerful Observations by Some Random Lady
100 Things to Do Before, During, or After a Nature Walk by Jimmie’s Collage
Insect Printable Worksheet by The Homeschool Scientist
Easy to Make Bird Feeders by The Homeschool Scientist
Free Nature Study Resources by Something 2 Offer