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Homeschool Nature Study for Teens: Three Steps For Success

Once my children were teens, our nature study sort of stalled out. I made the mistake of presenting our outdoor studies in the same way that I had always done with them in the past. I would pick a topic, share some information from the lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study, and then we would be out on the search for the subject.

It was a habit but not really the habit I had set out to create. Where was the enthusiasm I had seen when they were younger? Why did we end of feeling like it was an item to check off our to-do list? I knew we could do better.

Make your homeschool nature study for teens engaging and fun with these three steps for success. Includes practical examples.

Homeschool Nature Study with Teens – Adapting to Different Needs

“Nature Study – It is the intellectual, physical, and moral development by and through purposeful action and reaction upon environment, guided so far as needed by the teacher.” John Dearness, 1905

“Some children are born naturalists, but even those who aren’t were born with natural curiosity about the world and should be encouraged to observe nature.”

Charlotte Mason, vol 2 page 58

The Challenge of Teens and Nature Study

These questions led me back to the internet to research more closely how nature study develops into upper level science.

“The Field Lesson. When planning a field lesson, three points should be kept in mind:
First. The aim, to bring the children into sympathy or in touch with nature, through the study of that part of nature in which they have been interested.
Second. The conditions out of doors, where the children are at home, where they must have greater freedom than in the schoolroom, and where it is more difficult to keep them at definite work, and to hold their attention.
Third. The necessity of giving each child something definite to find out for himself, and of interest to the children so that each will try to find out the most and have the greatest number of discoveries to tell.”

Nature Study and The Child, Charles B. Scott, 1900.
Make your homeschool nature study for teens engaging and fun with these three steps for success. Includes practical examples.

I found with my teenagers that there needed to be a different sort of follow-up to our nature observations…more than just a nature journal. They needed to be more connected to their nature study by finding patterns and relationships between past experiences and new ones.

“But true science work does not stop with mere seeing, hearing, or feeling; it not only furnishes a mental picture as a basis for reasoning, but it includes an interpretation of what has been received through the senses.”

Nature Study for the Common Schools, Wilbur Samuel Jackman, 1891

This is the part of nature study I found the most meaningful to my children. To take what they already knew and to build on it with new observations, developing a real interest in knowing more. I could no longer just relate facts, no matter how interesting the facts were.

Here is the key: Teens need to find the answers to their own questions and then express those answers in a way that makes sense to them.

Three Steps To A Better Nature Study Experience for Homeschool Teens

My research found that this pattern – observation, reasoning, expression – is nothing new or unique to nature study. This pattern is the process that all science is built upon. I have created a printable that explains this process and you can download and read it here (NOTE: Homeschool Nature Study members have this guide in your Getting Started course in membership):

Get Your Three Steps To Nature Study Success Guide!

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    Three Steps to a Better Nature Study Experience How to Offer Age-Appropriate Nature Study for the Whole Family

    Homeschool Nature Study members will find this resource in your Getting Started course when logged in to membership.

    If you are not yet a member, you can download this resource for free, below:

    Make your homeschool nature study for teens engaging and fun with these three steps for success. Includes practical examples.

    What Can Parents Do? How to Encourage Homeschool Nature Study With Your Teens

    It would be ideal if all nature study could be spontaneous but that hardly seems practical in a busy homeschooling week. For ease of scheduling, there must be some provision for getting outside each week (or in a perfect world it would be every day).

    Aim for three things in your nature study:

    • to really see what you are looking at with direct and accurate observation
    • to understand why the thing is so and what it means
    • and then to pique an interest in knowing more about the object

    What if my teen is still not interested in nature study?

    Sometimes, despite all my efforts, my teens’ interest wasn’t equal to my interest in nature study.  I could take them to the most fascinating places to explore and they would just want to sit and talk or take a walk by themselves. The setting was perfect and the subjects abounded, but they are more interested in throwing rocks or digging a hole.

    I knew the value of getting teens to get outside and see the wonderful things that existed right there under their noses. I knew I could not force them to do nature study but giving up was not an option. The answer is patience. The best way to handle this issue was to allow them the space and time to experience nature on their own terms.

    In My Homeschool Mom Experience:

    Here is a real-life example My two boys and I regularly made visits to my dad’s pond together.  When younger, they would go right to the business of scooping up water and critters and talking in excited voices about what they were finding. But once they reached the teen years, I noticed a different atmosphere, an attitude of “we’ve been here and done that”. I tried to remind myself that this was their normal teenage reaction to just about everything. They rarely appeared to be too excited on the outside. More often than not, they would later on relate the whole experience in a more favorable light to their dad or one of their siblings. Apparently, the outside of a teenager doesn’t accurately reflect the inside at all times.

    So if you have older children and they appear to not be interested at first, don’t give up. It may be that they just aren’t showing it outwardly but inside the experiences are deeply affecting them. Don’t give up on the habit of nature study with your teens.

    Enhancing a Nature Walk with Teens

    Digital Photography: A love of the natural world does not come automatically for all children and sometimes we need to find a way to hook them into getting outdoors. Most of our children have a lot of screen time each week. Rarely are they without a device that has a camera function. Take advantage of this tool in enhancing your time outdoors!

    Although there are advantages to taking a walk “unplugged”, there are distinct benefits to allowing your teens to take photos as part of their nature study time.

    • It slows them down.
    • Helps them focus and really see an object.
    • Everyday things in their own backyard can now be captured and viewed.
    • They can see the beauty.
    • They make their own connections.
    • Perfect for our teens…they are comfortable with the technology and love to share with their friends.

    More Homeschool High School Nature Study Encouragement

    Here is even more information on how nature study can enrich your homeschool teen’s high school experience:

    Advanced Studies in Each Outdoor Hour Challenge Homeschool Nature Study

    Each week when we release a new Outdoor Hour Challenge, we include advanced studies with our older students in mind.

    Charlotte Mason Style Exam Questions for Homeschool High School

    Several of the courses included in Homeschool Nature Study membership include Charlotte Mason style exam questions for advanced students. Author Barb McCoy says, “This series has proved to be a huge success in our family, helping to bring nature study up to a level for my teens. Also, I saw families with large age ranges of children completing the challenges together, each on their own level and enjoying it.”

    Make your homeschool nature study for teens engaging and fun with these three steps for success. Includes practical examples.

    Include Nature Study in Your High School Plans

    Gradually I have learned the value in allowing some leeway in the high school nature study topics we learn more about because I can see the growth in my children’s love for and connection to the world they live in. I hear their appreciation for the complex system of life that was created for us to enjoy and benefit from.

    Written by Outdoor Hour Challenge founder, Barb McCoy and updated by Tricia.

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    Fun Summer Nature Study Photo Challenge

    Enjoy a fun summer nature study photo challenge plus first day of summer ideas! I don’t know about you but I’m so very ready for the summer season! The most noticeable change is the amount of daylight. The sun is up early and it lingers in the evenings.

    Enjoy a fun summer nature study photo challenge plus first day of summer ideas! I don’t know about you but I’m so very ready for the summer season! The most noticeable change is the amount of daylight. The sun is up early and it lingers in the evenings.

    Nature study can be easy and fun when you have access to the Outdoor Hour Challenges! Pick the topics that interest your family the most and then get started with the activities, videos, and follow up notebook pages.

    While you’re just starting your summer nature study planning, please consider an Outdoor Hour Challenge. Maybe observe your weather and plan to make a special day of activity on June 21st as we all usher in the summer season.

    Terrific Ideas for Your First Day of Summer Nature Study Activities

    Here are some ideas to get you started on your summer fun!

    Photo by Erin Vincent

    Summer Nature Study Photo Challenge for Your Homeschool

    Join us for a FUN summer nature study photo challenge! You can complete the challenges in any order you would like. You can take the photos or your children can take the photos. This is a fun, relaxed activity that I hope brings some joy to your outdoor time.

    Join us for a FUN summer nature study photo challenge! You can complete the challenges in any order you would like. You can take the photos or your children can take the photos. This is a fun, relaxed activity that I hope brings some joy to your outdoor time.

    This printable Summer Nature Study Photo Challenge is available in the Summer Handbook of Nature Study Curriculum in Homeschool Nature Study Membership. You can enjoy this and an entire summer’s worth of nature study Outdoor Hour Challenges plus a calendar filled with daily nature study prompts in membership.

    First Day of Summer Photo Walk

    Take a camera or a phone camera outdoors and find some special First Day of Summer subjects. Take a photo, print out a few and safely tuck them into your nature journal. You can combine this with the Summer Photo Challenge.

    First Day of Summer Flower Field Trip

    Take a trip to your local garden nursery and let your child pick a plant to add to your backyard garden or patio container garden. After you plant your flower, sketch it into your nature journal along with the name of the flower and the date you planted it.

    You can combine this activity with any of the printable journal pages in our free Getting Started Guide or those in Homeschool Nature Study membership.

    Summer Nature Study with Art
    Photo by Erin Vincent

    Summer Nature Study with Art

    Enjoy a free Summer Treehouse art lesson – just imagine all you could observe outdoors in nature in your very own treehouse that you design and sketch! Find the lesson towards the bottom of the post.

    Summer Watermelon Recipe

    Summer Watermelon Recipe

    Watermelon Popsicles Recipe – are you a huge watermelon fan too?

    First Day of Summer Notebook Page

    First Day of Summer Notebook Page

    After a nature walk, preferably under a shade tree, complete the First Day of Summer notebook page in Homeschool Nature Study membership – for your nature journal.

    You might also like:

    Share Your Summer Photos!

    Be sure to tag us on Instagram @outdoorhourchallenge #outdoorhourchallenge so we can comment and share your photos!

    Are you as excited about summer as I am?

    A FUN Summer Nature Study Photo Challenge plus First Day of Summer Ideas! Nature study can be easy and fun when you have access to the Outdoor Hour Challenges! Pick the topics that interest your family the most and then get started with the activities, videos, and follow up notebook pages.

    Tricia and her family fell in love with the Handbook of Nature Study and the accompanying Outdoor Hour Challenges early in their homeschooling. The simplicity and ease of the weekly outdoor hour challenges brought joy to their homeschool and opened their eyes to the world right out their own back door! She shares the art and heart of homeschooling at You ARE an ARTiST and Your Best Homeschool plus her favorite curricula at The Curriculum Choice.

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    Outdoor Hour Challenge – Winter Weed Nature Study

    Outdoor Hour Challenge – Winter Weed Nature Study

    Winter weeds are a quick and easy nature study topic that you can complete in your yard or neighborhood, or at a local park or alongside a road (be watchful of traffic). Spend a few minutes this week to take notice of any weeds you may have, searching for seeds or signs of animals feeding nearby.

    Beloved by homeschool families worldwide, this study focuses on the Handbook of Nature Study and winter weeds this week.

    Easy And Engaging Homeschool Nature Study

    You can use these links for some specific Winter Homeschool Nature Study ideas:

    Beloved by homeschool families worldwide, this study focuses on the Handbook of Nature Study and winter weeds this week.

    Getting Started With The Outdoor Hour Challenge In Your Homeschool Nature Study

    Download your free copy of our Getting Started ebook and complete challenge #6. You may wish to make a list of weeds you observed in winter and then check the list during the summer to see if you can add some more entries.   

    Join The Homeschool Nature Study Membership For Support All Year Long

    An image showing the full collection of Nature Study courses

    Connect With Our Homeschool Community On Social Media

    Did you enjoy this Outdoor Hour Challenge? Be sure to tag us on Instagram @outdoorhourchallenge and use the hashtag #outdoorhourchallenge so we can see and comment!

    This week’s Outdoor Hour Challenge is from the Winter Wednesday Course and Curriculum.

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    New Member’s Printables Available- Fungi Photo Hunt and Autumn Changes

    Now available in the Ultimate and Journey level memberships:

    1. Fungi Photo Hunt: Download and print this activity for your family to use as part of a fungi hunt. The suggestions on the printable will help guide your family on a fascinating and fun nature study featuring fungi of all kinds. Our family recently took a fungi hike and we found five different kinds to take photos of and we are anxious to go again soon!

    2. Autumn Changes Notebook Page: Autumn is a perfect time for your family to get outside and note the changes you see and then follow up with a nature journal page. Autumn provides plenty of colorful and interesting things to observe and sketch for this notebook page.

    Fungi Photo Hunt Notebook Page

    Autumn Changes Know Your Own Backyard Notebook Page

    (See the end of this post for more information on how you can become a member.)

    Printables for Members Button

    Print a complete list of printables available in the Ultimate and Journey level memberships by clicking the button above.

    Join Us Ultimate Naturalist January 2020

    November 2020 Planner Page image

    Members also have access to the Nature Planner pages in their library.

    Print out this month’s page and use it to stimulate your weekly nature study time.

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    Autumn Photo Project

    Autumn Photo Project

    From the Ultimate Naturalist and Journey Level Memberships

    It’s always fun to take on a photo challenge and this printable will be something that everyone in your family can use. There are two different photo challenge lists: one for younger children, one a little more advanced.

    Autumn Photo Project

    Members can print their Autumn Photo Project printable by logging into their membership, scrolling down to the printables lists, and locating the Seasonal section.  Print the page, cut the lists out, and adhere one right into your nature journal as a reminder!

    If you would like to go on an autumn photo hunt and you still need to purchase a membership, do it today!

    Use discount code FALLPHOTO for $5 off an Ultimate Naturalist Membership. Code expires 9/30/2020.

    Join Us Ultimate Naturalist June 2020

    We did the Insect Photo Hunt in August and now we are going to work on the Autumn Photo Project in September and October.

    Insect Photo Hunt printable activity

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    Insect Photo Hunt Printable Activity

    I’m excited to start a new month of nature study using the Outdoor Hour Challenges! This is really going to be a month of looking at and learning about insects using the topics in the Creepy Things ebook.

    To supplement the regular activities in the scheduled challenges, I’ve wanted to do a little photo hunt idea featuring insects. So, I created a brand new printable activity for all of us to use.

    Insect Photo Hunt printable activity

    This Insect Photo Hunt printable activity will be available to download for the rest of August to anyone who would like to use it for their own family. I’ll also add it to the Ultimate Naturalist Library membership printables page for members to use even after August. (See your membership page for the download link.)

    Download the printable here:Insect Photo Hunt printable activity

    Complete instructions are on the printable.

    I hope you enjoy getting your children out to look for insects of all kinds. This time of year is perfect for finding so many interesting and beautiful insects to view up close.

    Instagram OutdoorHourChallenge small

    I’ll be posting my insect photos on Instagram using the hashtag #OHCinsects. Please feel free to use the hashtag too so I can see all your insect captures.

    Printables for Members Button

    You can view the complete list of Member’s printables available by clicking the graphic above.

    Outdoor Hour Challenge Insect Nature Study Challenges Index @handbookofnaturestudy

    You can find all of the Outdoor Hour Challenges for insects by clicking the graphic above or by clicking the “Insects” tab found at the top of the Handbook of Nature Study website.


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    Outdoor Mom – May 2019

    This post is LONG overdue. I’ve had such a crazy last few months that it was hard to put my “Outdoor Mom” thoughts together. I felt more like an indoor kind of mom because of my surgery, recovery, weather, and then having a mom who needed my care. Things just got pushed aside.

    Barb McCoy and Amanda at Lake Clementine

    Although I never lost the desire to be outdoors, even in the thick of my recovery from double hip surgery, I kept my eyes outside on the birds and wildlife that came my way. Then when I was sitting in the hospital day after day with my mom, I would look out the window and take quick walks around the edges of the parking lot to find something refreshing to observe.

    My nature journal has been neglected until the past few weeks when finally things have settled down a bit and I can take those few minutes a week to record my reflections and thoughts.

     Outdoor Mom – May 2019

    American River confluence

    During our outdoor time this month we went…

    While in California, my daughter and I took a long hike along the American River. It was very green and there were already many wildflowers along the trail. We must have seen a hundred butterflies as they fluttered across our path and landed on flowers.

    swallowtail butterfly

    It was warm and we were so glad we made the decision to hike early to beat the heat and the crowds. It makes my heart happy that my grown children enjoy a hike with their mama when we can make it happen.

    kayak little deschutes may 2019

    Our outdoor time made us ask (or wonder about)…

    We managed a kayak/canoe paddle down the river one afternoon in the bright sunshine. We didn’t encounter a single other person on the whole trip. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy having the river to ourselves but it makes us wonder why we rarely see anyone on this section of the water. On this particular day, we were joined on our paddle by mallards, swallows, Canada goose, red-winged blackbirds, and a heron. All of us are hoping to get together for many more kayak trips over the next few months.

    One last image…or two…or three…

    I haven’t shared beautiful wildflower photos in a long time. So, to make up for that, here are some from our hike that I love!


    Some variety of white lupine


    Variety of pink allium



    indian pink

    Indian pink

    chinese lanterns

    Chinese lanterns

    Instagram OutdoorHourChallenge small

    Follow me here: Instagram – outdoorhourchallenge.  If you’d like me to take a look at one of your images on Instagram, use the hashtag #outdoorhourchallenge.

    Want to join in the Outdoor Mom post?

    Answer all or just one of the prompts in a blog entry on your own blog or right here on my blog in a comment. If you answer on your blog, make sure to leave me a link in a comment so that I can pop over and read your responses.

    • During our outdoor time this month we went…
    • The most inspiring thing we experienced was…
    • Our outdoor time made us ask (or wonder about)…
    • In the garden, we are planning/planting/harvesting…
    • I added nature journal pages about…
    • I am reading…
    • I am dreaming about…
    • One last image…

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    Nature Photos – Seeing Patterns

    Nature Photos – Seeing Patterns

    Nature Observer patterns page

    My assignment: Take time to note the patterns and textures found in nature during the winter.

    This was a nature prompt from my new Nature Observer journal, the one I’m working in every day as part of my nature goals for 2018 (see more here). The prompt is for the whole month of January and much like the Outdoor Hour Challenges, it creates the focus for your time outdoors. I have woven it into my river walks and even when we are just out and about in the neighborhood.


    Examples of Patterns and Textures from January 2018

    ice pattern

    Ice: Here in Central Oregon the ice comes in different varieties. A few times we have experienced hoar frost and freezing fog which create ice on everything in spikes and crystals.  Sometimes, even the air sparkles with ice if conditions are just right…magical.

    tree bark

    Bark: Bark patterns make it possible to identify a tree even without leaves. Our evergreens all have different bark colors, textures, and patterns of growth. My favorite bark “pattern” is the aspen and paper birch. The quintessential winter scene for me is the snowy landscape with white aspen trunks and leafless limbs.

    tree cones snow winter

    Cones: Can you identify which tree a cone comes from by looking at the pattern and texture? Yes! This is quite amazing when you think about how each tree has a unique cone size, color, and shape. You would never confuse a ponderosa pinecone with a lodge pole pinecone because they are completely different.

    These are just a few of the patterns and textures that I’ve observed during my walks in January.


    Activity Idea:

    Look for patterns and textures in your yard and neighborhood. Take a photo or make a sketch for your nature journal page. Take time to reflect on the beauty of patterns in nature.

    • This page on National Geographic has some amazing images of patterns in nature: Patterns in Nature

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    November Nature Walk Project

    November Nature Walk Project

    As the winter approaches, the temperatures have dropped significantly here in Central Oregon. This makes it hard to remain enthusiastic about getting outside for my daily walk. I did purchase a pair of winter boots to help keep my feet warm and dry on my outdoor excursions.

    All I needed now was some motivation.

    Then it came to me! Create a daily challenge to walk to the river.

    I am such a creature of habit and I know making myself put those new winter boots on and get out the door every day would soon be something I looked forward to doing.  So, I started on the first of November and have so far kept my determination to take the short walk down from my back door to the Little Deschutes River every day.

    I chose a spot to take a daily photo, showing the changes and conditions each day. It is just a few paces down from the back fence and it faces towards Paulina Peak centered between two trees and centered over a stump.


    November 1st– just a typical autumn day


    November 2nd – this was a weather transition day and there were quite a few gray clouds and it was getting cold


    November 3rd– woke to a few inches of snow and we took our first snowy walk out to the river.


    November 4th– a lot of the snow had melted but the weeds were still crunchy with ice and the river was getting icy on top.


    November 5th– Back to a snowy landscape…the most snow we have had to date. We were out on our walk and it started to snow with large amazing flakes. Note: I forgot to take my traditional “over the stump” photo so this one will have to do!


    November 6th–  The sun came out in the afternoon and I ventured out with our Kona dog. What a joyous walk! If only every day were this brilliant.


    November 7th–  Still a little snow on the ground and the air temperatures never left the 30’s. The Kona dog and I took our romp down to the river’s edge, noted how cold the water looked today and then rushed home to warm up.

    The value of a daily nature walk, even in the same place every time, is something I hope you can experience in your family. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair or take very much time for you to see a difference in your attitude and that of your children. The fresh air does wonders for blowing away the cobwebs of an indoor life.

    Here a few nature walk ideas from my archives:

    No Technology Walk

    Use Your Senses Nature Walk

    Members here on the Handbook of Nature Study have access to newsletters with nature walk ideas:

    October 2013 – This whole edition is filled with nature walk ideas.

    December 2016 – You will find the “3 Questions Hike” idea in this edition.

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    No Technology Nature Walk

    Outdoor Hour Challenge No Technology Walk @handbookofnaturestudy

    Outdoor Hour Challenge

    No Technology Walk

    Taking a walk without technology can free up your eyes, ears, and hands for a more careful and engaged time outdoors with your family.

    I have to admit I rarely am without my iPhone these days so going without it on a hike feels sort of like I’m naked. But, the few times I have done it lately and gone completely unplugged, it was very enjoyable. I have challenged my family to do this more often and see what fresh observations come to light when we go without our modern technology.

    Afterwards, talk as a family about the experience. Were there some positive aspects to being free of technology? Can you make this a regular feature of one of your nature walks each month?

    Outdoor Hour Challenge Wildflower Set 1 Ebook

    This new ebook will be loaded into the Ultimate Naturalist and Journey level memberships soon!

    Ultimate Naturalist Library @handbookofnaturestudy

    If you aren’t a member yet, you still have time to join and have immediate access as soon as it publishes.

    As a special promo, you can use the discount code WILDFLOWER5 for $5 off the Ultimate Naturalist Membership.

    Handbook of Nature Study Ultimate Naturalist Membership

    Join us in April for this interesting series of nature study challenges!