Nature Study

We've experimented with different ways to get nature study to work the best for us in our family. I wanted to share our basic "formula" with all of you. [For a specific example of a nature study, see my post on Little Brown Birds: Sparrows and Friends].

My little guy has a hard time sitting still for nature study -- "observation" requires a lot of patience, silence and stillness, none of which my son has in surplus! So we began at the beginning with nature study. We took a stroll around the yard, noticing what was blooming, what had fruit, which vegetable seeds were germinating. We took note of the birds at the feeder. That's it. No writing, no overdoing it. We just spent time being together, and looking at things.

Read-alouds: Burgess Animal Book for Children, Burgess Bird Book for Children
    We discovered the Burgess Animal Book for Children last spring, when we began the Ambleside curriculum. When we decided to adopt Exploring Creation through Zoology I: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day for our science curriculum, we also decided to switch to the Burgess Bird Book for Children for our read-aloud. While this book is part of Ambleside's Year 1 booklist, it fits our focus on flying creatures, and I like the emphasis on taxonomy. Satori Smiles has a Burgess Bird Book for Children Companion that has links to useful websites and resources for each chapter.  We especially liked the links to audio files, and spent a lot of time listening to bird songs. Even Papi got good at identifying some of our little brown bird friends!

    Notebooking: The Notebooking Treasury and others

    Notebooking is an important part of our nature study. Here is my objectives for science and nature study, which I copied straight from our State's Science Curriculum Standards:

    B INQ.1    Make observations and ask questions about objects, organisms and the environment.
    B INQ.2    Seek relevant information in books, magazines and electronic media.
    B INQ.3    Design and conduct simple investigations.
    B INQ.4    Employ simple equipment and measuring tools to gather data and extend the senses.
    B INQ.5    Use data to construct reasonable explanations.
    B INQ.6    Analyze, critique and communicate investigations using words, graphs and drawings.
    B INQ.7    Read and write a variety of science-related fiction and nonfiction texts.
    B INQ.8    Search the Web and locate relevant science information.
    B INQ.9    Use measurement tools and standard units  to describe objects and materials. 

    B INQ.10  Use mathematics to analyze, interpret and present data.

    I highlighted the inquiry standards that would be directly addressed by journaling or notebooking as a part of nature study. Powerful tool for kids!

    If you study the Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Botsford Comstock, you will learn that she didn't much subscribe to children spending great amounts of time studying creatures which they only see in books. On the contrary, she focused on the child studying whatever living things were readily available for study, be they barnyard chickens, pigeons roosting on the edge of a store roof, or a tree seedling growing in a crack of the sidewalk. In keeping with this philosophy, we researched other sparrows that might be seen in our vicinity, then selected ones that we had already observed, for further study.
      I purchased two "downloadables" subscriptions this year: The Notebooking Treasury, and Enchanted Learning.  I also use some other nature study notebooking pages from a Handbook of Nature Study reader, and others that I find that are specific to whatever topic we are studying.

      There are so many notebooking pages available, even within one set. We always have one page which include the following information: common and scientific name, specific details, a range map, a small illustration to color, and about a quarter page for writing. During read-aloud, my son colors the illustration (using his field guide as a guide), and he uses the "specific details" section to record any details he learned about the bird from the reading (this is just the "were you listening?" section of the notebooking page). He looks up the scientific name (he loves scientific names), and I help him to outline the range map, which he colors according to the key (winter, breeding, summer ranges). If we are studying an animal, he notes when we might see that creature here in Connecticut.

      I have tried a number of different ways to encourage stamina in non-fiction writing with my son, and have discovered that a prompt helps him to write more deeply about a subject. So, for independent work after the reading, I have him think about, and write a response to, a prompt. Sometimes, these are questions from the Handbook, sometimes they go along with our zoology reading. Other times, they are ones that I make up. But I always try to focus on a bigger idea. Here are some examples of the kinds of prompts we used in a recent bird study:

      • Observe a bird flying. Name the bird, and describe its flight.
      • What are some problems associated with introduced species?
      • How do birds sing? Why do they sing? What are some functions of bird songs and calls?
      • Why are so many birds brown? Think of at least three reasons why being brown is beneficial to a bird.
      My little guy loves to draw, but is not very keen on coloring someone else's drawings. I DO want him to examine the field guides and try to color at least one diagram of each bird we study, because it DOES help him to identify the bird in the field later. So we've devised an agreement that works well for us. If your child is a reluctant colorer, maybe it will work for you, too.

      1. Many notebooking pages come with a full-page illustration, that you can use as the cover for a project. I would have loved to color one of these as a child (and still do!). But Malik does not -- he literally groans to see so much empty space. So I limit our coloring to drawings that are 1/2-page or less.
      2. He loves coloring with someone. And, I figure, one reason we homeschool is to spend time together. So we grab colored pencils and color together, when the illustration is a larger one.
      3. If he is going to color independently, we consult our field guide first, and discuss field markings. We are learning about these in our zoology studies, so it's a curriculum connection for us. Also, if he gets the important field markings in the drawing, I don't care about the other parts (we can color those in together, later, or not).
      I don't know about you, but not all parts of homeschooling go smoothly for us -- notebooking has been one area where we have had to do some work. But we find this procedure (all of what we described above) to work very well for us in nature study. We are all happy now!

      Background Lesson Material: Handbook of Nature Study
      Whenever we happen upon a new creature, through our outdoor time or our Burgess Bird Book for Children readings, our next stop is always the Handbook of Nature Study. The Handbook is for you, the teacher. It contains important information about so many things you might want to study in nature, poems, and questions to guide your interactions with your child.  The link, above, leads to one of several online, downloadable e-texts, but I borrowed it from the library, and quickly bought my own copy. It will cost you about $25 for a used copy, but you will get your money's worth out of having your own copy.

      Poetry: Handbook of Nature Study

      I was never a big poetry lover, and it is still one of those things that, if I don't intentionally include it in my planning, I would probably overlook entirely. It just does not come into my mind. However, I know, as a teacher, that poetry is powerful, because the poet must use just the right words to convey a strong image and sentiment, in a small amount of space -- good stuff for helping kids comprehend their reading and for teaching them powerful word choice.

      I also know that kids sometimes like things that their parents do not! My son loves poetry, and makes up his own songs, poems and raps constantly. If I omitted poetry, simply because I don't care for it, then that would not honor his preferences. Fortunately, the Handbook of Nature Study sprinkles poetry throughout every lesson. When we come upon one of these poems in our HNS readings, he records the title on his notebooking page, as a record, and give him a chance to respond in whatever way he chooses. Sometimes, he surprises me!  In the example in the photo, he was imagining a conversation between a Song Sparrow, who wouldn't stop singing, and the stump upon which the bird was perched. I think it's clever...

      Lesson Ideas and Links: 

      Barbara McCoy, a veteran homeschool mom and nature student, almost always has at least one nature study on whatever nature topic or critter you might want to study at Handbook of Nature Study (website) . The only time I can't find something is if it's a really East Coast thing, as Barb is a West Coast resident, but this happens so rarely, that I am surprised by it.

      For folks who are teaching in a classroom, I have been compiling some easy-to-do science tasks that are centered around familiar items and experiences in nature, on my website, Simple Science Strategies. These will connect to the Next Generation Science Education Standards as well as the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics

      Other Activities We Did in This Study:

      There are always interesting things that come up, or new sites we discover, when we study something new. I try to include a section for these activities and resources for each study. 
        When we finish a study and blog about it, I post a link to my blog in one of a number of "sharing" places. If the topic fits the Simple Science Strategies topics for the month, I link up the study to the Simple Science Strategies Blog Carnival for the month. The The Outdoor Hour Blog Carnival is also a great way to share with other bloggers and homeschoolers who are blogging on the same topic. Once a month, Barb highlights entries on her Handbook of Nature Study blog -- a good way to link up with others and increase traffic to your blog. The widget for the Carnival is on the sidebar.

        Our Nature Studies

        Here is an alphabetical listing of our nature studies, with links to the posts. Please bookmark this page, as I will be adding to it as new studies are completed.

        Are Your Peas Planted Yet?
        Beachcombing, Pt I: Shark Teeth
        Citronella Ants Go Marching
        Dandelions: A Bilingual Lesson on Plant Anatomy and Life Cycles
        Feeding Our Hungry Birds After Hurricane Irene
        Frog-Hunting in Connecticut: Our 10 Frog Species
        Hope Boxes
        Hummingbird (Sphinx) Moths
        Little Brown Birds: Sparrows and Friends
        A Little Fun With Our Feathered Friends
        Make Room for Mushrooms!
        The Mathematics of Nature: Fractals
        Nature Study: Bats (Much to the Dismay of My Husband)
        The Nightshade Family (and a Little Surprise)
        A Nighttime Surprise: Spotted Salamanders
        The "One Small Square" Strategy: Mushrooms and Other "Fun Guys" 
        Our Garden is for the Birds!
        Our March Bark Walk on the Nipmuck Trail - and a Nasty Old Friend
        September Study 3: Ants, Termites and Ant Lions
        September Study 3: Migration
        September Wildflowers in Connecticut: Our Sock Walk
        Signs of Autumn: Our Trip to the Orchard 
        Squirrel and Bird Nest Study 
        Starting an Animal Survey: Winter Birds and Friends
        Studying Amphibians: Using Approximate Measures
        Summer Bird Study: Blue Jays
        What Color Attracts More Birds? - A Lesson in Fractions
        Winter Bird Feeding