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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Fall/Winter Specific Plans

Outdoor Hour Challenge Plans for Sept 16 to March 17 @handbookofnaturestudyI have received many emails asking me specific plans for the Outdoor Hour Challenge for the autumn and winter seasons.  I had hesitated to post up a plan until I had it nailed down on my calendar. But, now I have it all straight in my mind and I’m going to share the specifics in this post. Make sure to bookmark it or add the topics to your calendar for future reference. My wish is that we all have some interesting and productive nature study time as a regular part of our week. If you miss a week  or you don’t have access to the particular topic, just pick up where you can participate.

Remember that we are going to be starting up the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival again on November 1, 2016. If you create a blog entry with your nature study activities featured, please send me the link and I will add it to the carnival. My email is:

Note: You do not need to purchase the ebooks to participate but they are handy to have for planning and for the regular and advanced notebook pages included in each one. Click the graphic at the bottom of this post to go over to check out the Ultimate Naturalist Library membership.


Outdoor Hour Challenge – Autumn and Winter 2016/2017

More Nature Study Autumn Cover imageSeptember 9 – Leaf Miners

September 16 – Pears

September 23 – Milkweed

September 20 – Fall Webs

October 7 – Fall Color Walk

October 14 – Chipmunks

October 21 Sparrows

October 28 – Leaf Study

November 4 – Thistles

November 11 – Maple Tree and Seeds

November 18 – Oaks (from the archives)

November 25 – off

December 2 – Silent Nature Walk (from the archives)

December 9 – Senses Nature Walk (from the archives)

December 16 – December World (from the archives)

December 23 – off

December 30 – off

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More Nature Study Ebook Bundle

More Nature Study Bundle Button - Square
Now you can purchase the More Nature Study Ebook Series as a bundle!
Special Discounted Bundle Price of $29.99.

Ebooks included
More Nature Study—Autumn 2011
More Nature Study Book 2 —Winter 2012
More Nature Study Book 3—Spring 2012
More Nature Study Book 4—Summer Sizzle (2012)

More Nature Study CoverMore Nature Study Book 2 Winter Wonder cover
More Nature Study Book 3 Cover imageMore Nature Study #4 Cover image

Special Bundle Price of $29.99
Please note that I send the links within 24 hours of purchase to the email address associated with the Paypal account.

Complete list of topics included in all four ebooks in this bundle:

  • Buttercups and poppies
  • Chickadee
  • Chipmunks
  • Cottonwood
  • Daisy, aster, and black-eyed susans
  • Dogwood
  • Ferns
  • Gall dwellers
  • Goats
  • Granite
  • House sparrow
  • Hummingbirds
  • Iris
  • Leaf-Miners and leaf-rollers
  • Leaf study
  • Magnets and compass
  • Maples
  • Milkweed
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Moon
  • Mouse
  • Mullein
  • Pansies
  • Pears
  • Quartz
  • Robin
  • Sand and soil
  • Sheep
  • Snails
  • Thistles
  • Tree—Buds, catkins, blossoms. Twigs.
  • Turtles and pondweed
  • Vines-Sweet peas, dodder, hedge bindweed
  • Weather—spring, winter, fall color, summer
  • Webs
  • Yellow jackets and mud daubers

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Maple Study – Leaves Instead of Seeds

Apple Hill with Barn
Autumn Scene – Sierra Nevada Foothills

Our last study for the Autumn series (More Nature Study with the OHC) was one that took us up the mountain to see maples brilliantly colored against the autumn sky. The Bigleaf maples are ablaze with color right now and so easy to spot since they grow in and among the evergreens of the Sierra Nevada. Our field guide says that Bigleaf maples grow at an elevation of 2,000 – 5,000 feet so we live right at the lower edge of where they naturally occur.

Maple Trees
Perfect spot to stop and observe some Bigleaf Maples

We stopped alongside the roadway to gather a few leaves and take some images. When I opened the car door…Mmmmmm…it smelled like fall. I hope I don’t ever stop remembering to slow down enough to drink in the fragrance of autumn leaves, damp and woodsy.

Maple leaf
Lobed leaves, turning yellow-green

Now to the part that I have to be humble about. When I wrote the Maple Seed Challenge months ago I thought that this would be the time to gather seeds. Turns out after some direct observation and some reading in my tree book….that this may not be the right time for maple keys so now that we know where to find our little grove of maples, we will revisit it in the winter to see if can see any changes.

We decided that we might as well observe and learn more about the leaves of the Bigleaf maple.

Measuring the Maple Leaf
We brought one really big leaf home and measured it…a little less than twelve inches across. Our field guide says that the leaves should be 16-14 inches in length including the stalk so that is in line with what we found. Mr. B decided to start the advanced notebook page with the field guide information but wait on sketching the maple keys until we gather some at a later date.

On another big leaf note….

Catalpa Tree Leaf
How about this gigantic catalpa tree leaf that we found at my mom’s house last weekend? Isn’t it glorious? Amanda took a quick photo of me holding the leaf and I thought you  might get a kick out of seeing it, especially after seeing the maple leaf and thinking THAT was big. My little three year old grand-niece said, “What is that?” I told a it was a really big leaf and she laughed. I miss having little ones around who have lots of questions and everything is new and interesting.

Sigh, that finishes up the autumn challenges for now. This season of nature study went by entirely too fast!

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Thistles – Starting a Year-Long Study

Bull Thistle with Insect
September 2011 Thistles – Yosemite

Our thistle study started way back at the beginning of September when we were on a family camping trip to Yosemite National Park. I had the foresight to start our study when we came across a patch of bull thistles when we were looking for milkweed. We were able to begin our study with the beautiful purple flowers along with the insects that were enjoying the blossoms.

Thistles brown heads
Thistles along our walking trail

This was to set the stage of a whole season of thistle observations, ending this last week with the study of the rather brown sad looking plants that live alongside our walking trail.

Thistle Heads dry
Dried Thistles…thinking they are actually quite lovely

We took time to see how the seeds were now visible and the goldfinches were seen every now and then perched on top, snatching seeds for a snack. The birds didn’t seem to mind that the pretty purple flowers were mostly gone and munched their seeds oblivious to on-lookers.

Thistles - brown
Bull thistles and star thistles (yellow ones)

Seed gathering wasn’t easy because they were guarded by the prickly thorns. Funny how the birds did not mind the prickles but when we would try to grasp the flower and pull the seeds, we flinched back in pain. Those thorns are sharp! We managed to get a few fluffy seeds home and then we looked at them closely.

What an amazing structure! My dear husband managed to resurrect our microscope which I thought was beyond repair and we had a close look at the seeds.

Thistles blooming purple
Thistles in various stages

We decided to keep an eye on our thistle patch to see the cycle of life in its entirety. This would make a wonderful year-long study so I will add it to the list for our winter work. I will make sure to remind you all to revisit your thistle patch. I think a Year-Long Thistle Study notebook page is in order. I will share when I finish it.

Autumn Landscape
Stopped to enjoy the view on today’s walk.

What a joy to take a nice long walk on a warm autumn afternoon…if it would only last. 🙂

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OHC More Nature Study #10 Maple Seeds and Update for Nov/Dec OHC

Outdoor Hour Challenge Maple Tree and seeds @handbookofnaturestudy

OHC More Nature Study #10
Maple Seeds and Maple Tree

Sugar Maple Seeds clipart


Inside Preparation Work:

  • Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 628-632 (Lesson 174). This is the section on the sugar maple. Pay special attention to the “Fall Work” section, especially #2 which describes the “key” and how to observe it. There is also a previous OHC for the Maple Tree that you may wish to look up and read for ideas to include in this challenge.
  • Other Maples to Investigate: Bigleaf Maple, Silver Maple, more listed on USDA. If you have a tree field guide, page through the maple tree section and get an idea of what kind of maples you have in your local area.
  • You will want to discuss with your child any winged seeds you are familiar with. We often call these winged seeds “helicopter seeds”. Another name for the winged seeds are samaras.

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • For this challenge, spend some of your Outdoor Hour time looking for maple trees and maple seeds. Gather a few of the winged seeds to observe and investigate. Maple trees in the autumn have beautifully colored leaves and should help you in finding one to study.
  • Have some fun with your maple seeds. Release them and measure the distance they travel and how long they stay afloat.
  • If you don’t have a maple tree or seeds to observe, see if you can find another tree observe that has seeds (oaks/acorns, conifer/cones, sweet gum/sticker balls, etc). Collect a few to bring indoors to observe with a magnifying lens.

Supar maple coloring page
Follow-Up Activity:

  • You may wish to talk about other seeds you have observed that fly or float in the air. How about dandelions, milkweed, and elm seeds as well as the maple? If you found maple seeds, compare them with other seeds you know about.
  • Allow time to make a journal entry, complete a notebook page, and/or finish a coloring page. Make sure to sketch the key with the seed and wing labeled. If you observed a tree other than the maple, you can complete the Seasonal Tree Study notebook page if you wish.
  • Plant a maple seed where you can watch it grow.
  • Read about why and how leaves change color in the autumn: A Tree’s True Color.
  • Advanced Follow-Up: Use a field guide to learn more about your maple. You can use this online tree field guide. Complete a notebook page for your nature journal (ebook users).
  • Advanced Follow-Up: Find other autumn seeds and make some observations. Suggested seeds: acorns, seeds from a cone, sticker balls, etc. Sort your seeds: Round/Not Round, Float/Not Float, Fly/Not Fly, Seeds That Lie Flat/Seeds That Do Not Lie Flat, and by Size.

More Nature Study Autumn

This challenge is part of the More Nature Study – Autumn series. All of the challenges are gathered into one ebook with notebooking pages (regular and for advanced students) and additional resources. You can gain access to this ebook by purchasing an Ultimate Naturalist membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study. See the Join Us page by clicking the link at the top of the website for more information about what comes with your Ultimate membership.

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy



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Our Fall Leaf Study – A Lesson in Teen Nature Study

Orange Leaves in My Nature Journal
Pressed leaves going into my nature journal (See the November Newsletter for instructions.)

We are finally starting to see some fall colors all over our neighborhood. With our autumn color words in mind, we try to challenge each other to find just the right color words as we drive around town…noticing the crimson, the indigo, the mahogany, and the bronze of the leaves. (Download your own Advanced Fall Color Activity from Hearts and Trees.)

As part of the Leaf Close-Up challenge, Mr. B was happy to come along to gather fall leaves but not too excited about doing the follow-up for this one. His teen attitude was that he knew all there was to know about leaves. I let it go for that day since we had enjoyed spending time together outside and I did not want to spoil the mood.

11 2011 Red Yellow Green Leaves

I waited until another day to try the advanced study work suggested in the challenge which was to make our own slides using the leaves we gathered, looking closer at them using a microscope. As much as I want my teen to continue his nature study, I know that pushing him too hard takes the joy out of it and that is the opposite of my aim in continuing nature study through high school.

It can wait.

11 2011 Leaves on the tree
Fall leaves with larvae.

So, even though a leaf study was not a great fit for Mr. B, I tried to finish the challenge myself this week, hoping he would join me. Well, right off the bat I needed his help with the microscope. It did not seem to be working so he took a look at it for me but he could not get it going either. That ended another day of trying to get this challenge done.

Then on Friday, Mr. A (my older son who has graduated from high school) was home and I asked him if he wanted to finish up the challenge with me. He actually was eager to participate. He brought his own leaves in and got to work. The image below is a glimpse at his notebook page from the More Nature Study ebook. He ended up using the hand lens instead to view the leaves up close.

Leaf up close Notebook Page
Advanced Study notebook page from More Nature Study ebook

This challenge led to a light bulb moment for me.

  • Mr. B was not interested in this particular challenge but we did enjoy our time together outdoors viewing the trees and leaves. For Mr. B, that was enough.
  • Mr. A *was* interested in taking a closer look with me at the fall leaves even though he has graduated from homeschool.

Lesson? I am succeeding in keeping my teens interested in nature study. As always, I need to learn to be flexible and allow for personal taste and styles of learning.

For more on that topic make sure to read the article in the November edition of my Outdoor Hour Challenge Newsletter from Ellen Crandall (available to all subscribers to my blog-see the sidebar to sign up). She has a few teens in her home that she is encouraging nature study with each month.

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OHC More Nature Study #9 Thistles

Outdoor Hour Challenge Thistle Study @handbookofnaturestudy

“On looking at the thistle from its own standpoint, we must acknowledge it to be a beautiful and wonderful plant. It is like a knight of old encased in armor and with lance set, read for the frey.”
Handbook of Nature Study 524

Thistle 1

More Nature Study with the OHC #9

Inside Preparation Work:

  • Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 524-526 (Lesson 141).
  • Read and view Common Thistle Information and Canada Thistle Information. View the range maps to see which plants you have in your area.

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • Spend part of your Outdoor Hour time looking for thistles or other autumn fall flowers. The thistle is a composite flower like many other autumn blooming flowers: goldenrod, aster, yarrow, burdock, chicory, and even the dandelion. If you can’t find a thistle, choose one of the other composite flowers you have access to as part of this challenge.
  • If you can pull the thistle up by the roots, this will be the subject of your nature study once you return home. Make sure you are pulling a thistle where you have permission from the landowner. (I suggest taking gloves with you for this part of the activity.)

Follow-Up Activities:

  • If you were able to bring a thistle plant inside with you, take time to carefully observe all the parts of the plant. Use the suggestions from the lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study to guide your children in noticing the major parts of the thistle. In autumn you will probably need to focus on the dried flower head and seeds.
  • Give time to complete a nature journal, a notebook page (available in the ebook), and/or a coloring page. There are three different coloring pages available for this challenge in the ebook.
  • Watch this video on YouTube (Bull thistle) .
  • Advanced Follow-Up: Watch this video about Canada Thistle on
  • Advanced follow-up: Sketch and compare the thistle to two other seeds you find in the autumn.

More Nature Study Autumn

This challenge is part of the More Nature Study – Autumn series. All of the challenges are gathered into one ebook with notebooking pages (regular and for advanced students) and additional resources. You can gain access to this ebook by purchasing an Ultimate Naturalist membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study. See the Join Us page by clicking the link at the top of the website for more information about what comes with your Ultimate membership.

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy

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Our October Bird List and Sparrow Study Using the Handbook of Nature Study

As part of our House Sparrow study, we kept track of the tally of birds who have visited our feeders. We have a regular contingency of sparrows but this month the numbers have greatly increased. We saw two kinds of sparrows this month.

Using the More Nature Study Challenge for House sparrows, we did some research to see what other kinds of sparrows there are in our neighborhood. We did this by going to the Great Backyard Bird Count website, clicking the Explore the Results button at the top, and then entering our town name. This brings up all the statistics from the latest Bird Count – Bird species, number of birds, number of people reporting observations of a particular bird. I found this very helpful. According to the lists, in February there are lark sparrows, song sparrows, house sparrows, and golden-crowned sparrows seen in our town.

House Sparrow Notebook Page
Advanced follow-up notebook page from the More Nature Study with the OHC ebook.

We decided to look those particular sparrows up in our field guide and note their field marks just in case we happen to see these three other species sometime in our area. The trouble is that the females all look very similar. We found the What’s That Sparrow? page on the Cornell website very helpful.

Here is the list of other October birds…we were not as diligent this month at recording our birds but I am going to try to keep it as a daily task for Mr. B the whole month of November. 🙂

October 2011
California towhee
Spotted towhee – first ones we have seen since spring at our feeder
White-crowned sparrows – increase in numbers
House sparrows – increase in numbers
White-breasted nuthatch
Oak titmouse
House finches
Turkey vultures – soaring overhead
Mourning doves
Western scrub jays
Lesser goldfinches
American robin
American crow
Anna’s hummingbirds – still coming in numbers to the feeders

Heard our Great horned owl and California quail
Along the road we saw Wild turkeys, Brewer’s blackbirds, pigeons, Canada geese, and a Snowy egret.
There were also several Red-tail hawks and a Cooper’s hawk on a drive to town.

Do any of you participate in the Project FeederWatch Program? It starts the second Saturday in November and I think our family is going to join in this year since we have made a habit of keeping track of our feeder birds anyway. Do you want to join up too? Click over and read all about it! Or watch a video.

We also are submitting this post to Heather’s Tweet and See link-up.
Tweet and See button

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OHC More Nature Study #8 Fall Leaf Study – Close Up

Outdoor Hour Challenge Fall Leaf Study @handbookofnaturestudy

“Make the lesson an investigation and make the pupils feel that they are investigators…….The ‘leading thought’ embodies some of the points which should be in the teacher’s mind while giving the lesson; it should not be read or declared to the pupils……..The outlines for observations herein given by no means cover all of the observations possible; they are meant to suggest to the teacher observations of her own, rather than to be followed slavishly….If the questions do not inspire the child to investigate, they are useless.”

Handbook of Nature Study, page 23

More Nature Study #8
Fall Leaf Study – Close Up

Inside Preparation Work:

  • Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 9-10 (The Lens, Microscope, and Field Glass As Helps in Nature Study).
  • Have on hand a magnifying glass to use as part of this leaf challenge. You can see more ideas on my: Squidoo Lens on Magnifying Lenses.

Leaves for nature journal

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • Spend your Outdoor Hour time in your own backyard or neighborhood.
  • Look at the various kinds of leaves and have your child point out several that capture their interest.
  • Choose four or five leaves to collect and bring home to look at with the magnifying lens.

Follow-Up Activity:

  • Use the hand lens to make careful observations of your leaves. One at a time have your child describe what he sees as he looks at the leaf carefully. Record your results in your nature journal (or use the notebook page in the ebook).
  • Press your leaves to add to your nature journal at a future date. You can watch my YouTube video to learn how to do this with simple household items.

Leaves with loupe

  • Advanced Follow-Up: Use this LINK and scroll down to the section, “Taking a Closer Look At Plant Cells”. Make your own leaf slides to look at under your microscope. Ebook Users – Use the Leaf Morphology page and the notebook page to complete your study.
  • Advanced Follow-Up: Read this article on Wikipedia: Leaf. Read this page that illustrates Leaf Margins and Shapes (love this page with the clear images).

More Nature Study Autumn

This challenge is part of the More Nature Study – Autumn series. All of the challenges are gathered into one ebook with notebooking pages (regular and for advanced students) and additional resources. You can gain access to this ebook by purchasing an Ultimate Naturalist membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study. See the Join Us page by clicking the link at the top of the website for more information about what comes with your Ultimate membership.

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy


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OHC More Nature Study #7 House Sparrow

Outdoor Hour Challenge House Sparrow @handbookofnaturestudy

More Nature Study #7
House Sparrow (English Sparrow in the Handbook of Nature Study)

Inside Preparation Work:
1. Read pages 83-85 in the Handbook of Nature Study (Lesson 20 English Sparrow). Highlight some points you can share about the house sparrow with your children.
2. If you have a bird field guide, use the index to look up the House sparrow and any other sparrows you may have in your area.
3. Let your children see an image of the House sparrow and have them describe what they see. (You may use the information in the Additional Links section below.)
4. Younger Children: Read the Burgess Bird Book chapter on the English(House) Sparrow online. Listen to an MP3 recording of the chapter.

Outdoor Hour Time:
1. Seize the opportunity to observe a House sparrow during your week. This may need to be done from a window at first but outdoors is always better if you can keep still and quiet as you observe. If you have a pair of binoculars, take them along with you so you can view the sparrow’s features. Try to observe their color, size, beak, tail shape, and behavior. Look for House sparrows in your yard in bushes or hedges, in parks, or even around buildings in urban areas.
2. If you don’t have a House sparrow to observe, choose another bird and have your child describe its features. (It is always good to compare size, shape, beak, and tail.)

cherry tree

Follow-Up Activity:
1. After your Outdoor Hour time, take a few minutes to follow-up your bird observation time. Pull out your field guide and learn a little bit more about any birds you were able to view.
2. Allow the opportunity for a nature journal entry, a notebook page, or time to color the accompanying coloring page.
3. Advanced follow-up: Compare the House sparrow with another sparrow in your neighborhood. You can use the accompanying notebook page for your notes (ebook users only).
4. Advanced follow-up: Watch for the House sparrow in all four seasons. Keep a record of what months you see them in your yard or neighborhood.

Additional Links:
All About Birds: House Sparrow
My HubPage on birdfeeders: Birdfeeders in the Winter
Advanced students—for research: House Sparrow

Please note these are affiliate links to products I love and highly recommend.

More Nature Study Autumn

This challenge is part of the More Nature Study – Autumn series. All of the challenges are gathered into one ebook with notebooking pages (regular and for advanced students) and additional resources. You can gain access to this ebook by purchasing an Ultimate Naturalist membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study. See the Join Us page by clicking the link at the top of the website for more information about what comes with your Ultimate membership.

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy