Homeschooling and hands-on nature education go together naturally. After
all, why stay indoors at a desk and study nature in a textbook, when the
real thing beckons, just outside the door? So, grab your nature guide,
and let’s go adventuring! You can find nature opportunities all
around you, in your own backyard, community centers, nature centers,
community gardens, and universities.
Nature Service Projects Consider planting a community garden for the
hungry in the public area by the street. Borrow books from the library
about edible gardens. Check with local zoning and parks officials to see
what your community allows and needs. Find out how to start a small
nature sanctuary in your yard, and attract beneficial insects, birds,
and wildlife. You might even wish to make a rustic sign for your
Going Wild (and Tame)
Connect with friends and relatives, and you can find a variety of
natural habitats to visit. Visit a zoo, aquarium or even just a pet
shop, and study animals from near and far places. Check to see if you
can purchase a reciprocal membership; where available, they allow
families to visit zoos or natural history museums in other cities for no
additional cost. Also, inquire about “free days,” club
membership discounts, or special homeschool family events. Programs such
as 4H (4-h.org), scouting (scouting.org), and Junior
youth-engagement/?fa=junior-ranger) offer inexpensive, hand-on nature
activities for kids.
Plan a nature vacation, studying God’s creation in places that you
don’t usually go, such as a desert, jungle, arctic area or
wetland. For longer excursions, pack essential supplies, such as plastic
gloves, plastic bags for storing finds, binoculars, bug nets,
magnifiers, camera, and first aid kit, including a pocket guide to first
aid. (Remember to always ask permission before removing or even touching
Homeschooling offers many families the oportunity to visit our national
parks and other recreational sites at unusual times, eliminating crowds.
You will also pay less, by traveling out of season.
While traveling, learn how your ancestors survived, in a wagon train or
living off the land. You will need to provide food and shelter. You
might enjoy making a small tepee, or just putting up a tent. Learn how
to find your way, using a compass, or just the stars.
As you drive or walk, talk about how you can stay safe outdoors. Learn
to identify dangerous animals and poisonous plants. (Remember,
“Leaves of three, let them be, it’s poison ivy!”)
Before your trip, check with local extension agents for free plant or
animal guides and materials. Then bring your nature guides with you and
study them together. You can also locate free information from the
Native Plant Information Center, wildflower2.org/index.html.
Hands On Nature
Hands-on learners will enjoy playing games and creating natural gifts
and special keepsakes. Try these:
- Paint a large coffee can and create a planter (get an adult to
drill drainage holes in the bottom
- Pick a basket of fruit or
vegetables to keep or give away (go to a pick-your-own farm)
- Make a
nature scrapbook or lapbook, and illustrate it with natural items
- Create natural jewelry from stringing small shells, polished rocks,
or dried flowers
- Make a recording of animal or bird sounds
rubbings of natural items, such as leaves; put the leaf under paper and
run a crayon over the bumps
- Run earthworm, frog, or ladybug races.
Make small houses for your tiny contestants out of peanut butter jars or
tin cans. Teach your youngsters to be gentle, and release their
critters—usually within 24 hours
- Go fishing
contests—find and identify tracks, either in mud near a body of
water, or in fresh snow
- Map reading and drawing
- Play “What
if games,” while you’re driving. Ask “What if you got
lost in the woods,” or “What if you saw a wild
animal?” “What if someone got hurt—do you know how to
call for help?” “Do you know your name, address, phone
- Gather natural items, such as pine cones, leaves, and
seeds. Put them in a shoe box with a small hole cut in the top. Can you
identify the items, just based on touch?
Nature at the
Collect natural items for your local library display case, or for
displaying at a homeschool event. If your local homeschool group
doesn’t already offer a science fair, consider organizing one. It
can be informal or highly structured. Ask a librarian to help you pick
out topical books to feature with the items. Dress up as a Native
American, Bible character, or pioneer. Read stories about how people
used natural items to make things that they couldn’t buy. For
instance, try making your own soap, dyes, paper, or clay pots. In our
area, clay is heavy, gray, and only a few inches below the ground. Wash
it—a lot—to get rid of the dirt. Form it into shape, and dry
in the sun. Then find natural items to make colors to paint designs on
your pots. Of course, learn which natural items are toxic and supervise
small children carefully.
Ask your local librarian to help you locate
materials for a nature unit study, including identification books,
historical books, fiction books about nature, audio and video resources.
Sharing nature books outside can be a relaxing way to take turns
labeling animals and objects in alphabet and word books.
The Bible and Nature
Snuggle under an inviting tree, or on a blanket outside, and look at
books such as It Couldn’t Just Happen: Fascinating Facts About
God’s World, by Lawrence O. Richards, Janice VanCleave’s
Science for Every Kid series, and Considering God’s Creation from
Eagle’s Wings Publications, eagleswingsed.com. Consider watching
nature movies together on family nights, such as City of the Bees and
other Moody science video classics. For free materials about God’s
creation, see answersingenesis.org/kids. Find projects such as the
Magnificent Tiger Bookmark and articles from Kids Answers magazine.
Study the life cycles of frogs and butterflies, to demonstrate
resurrection. Like St. Patrick, you can teach about the Trinity with a
shamrock, which shows three in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you
carry a pocket Bible on your nature adventures, you can read appropriate
scriptures. Later, have your child copy Bible verses and illustrate with
nature drawings. Take pictures and videos to document what your child
learns through your nature studies, and ask your child to narrate.
Gifts of Nature
Watch to see what your child likes best. Consider buying gifts to
nurture the current interest. Consider purchasing prisms, tornado tubes,
binoculars, compasses, maps, magnifiers, books, fossils, gems,
microscopes, ant farms, a nature magazine, sea monkeys, volcano kits,
crystal growing kits, rock tumblers, butterfly garden, or
glow-in-the-dark stars and planets to recreate your own indoor night
sky. American Science and Surplus, sciplus.com, offers resources such as
The Field and Forest Handy Book, in print since 1906. Learn woodland
lore and how to stay safe and comfortable in the wilderness. Also check
yard sales, as you’ll often find inexpensive science kits, often
with all the components intact, or at least replaceable. Be careful
about dangerous or toxic substances, however.
Write About Nature
Keep a portfolio, including mementos such as booklists, photos of
projects, journals, and drawings, to document your child’s
learning adventures. Find free information, such as booklists and
suggested schedules, about how to use the Charlotte Mason nature study
methods at amblesideonline.org or squidoo. com/cmnaturestudy. Consider
these unit study topic idea starters: spiders, birds, the human heart,
butterflies, bees, the moon, the seasons, classifying animals and
plants, water, light, forest fires, earthquakes, volcanoes, pond life,
caves, squirrels, weather, animal genetics, bats, dolphins, oceans, the
night sky, rocks and fossils, logging seasons and weather, and studying
life science/biology of animals, humans, plants and seeds.
What to Teach When?
You may want guidelines, on what your child needs to know, and when. Try
these free Typical Course of Study guides for basic subjects, including
Every week or two, notice what your child has already learned, and
simply check off those skills. Look for hands-on opportunities to
acquire new skills on your list. You and your family will be amazed at
how quickly your child gains science skills and knowledge, as well as
essential life and career skills. Who knows, maybe a budding natural
scientist lives in your house?
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