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Homeschool Nature Study For The Child Who Loves Reptiles

This homeschool nature study incorporates indoor and outdoor activities, perfect for the child who is fascinated by reptiles.

Sometimes I feel inadequate to teach about something my boys are interested in studying. Reptiles are one subject that I would put in that category! I have a huge aversion to the sight of reptiles, but on closer acquaintance I am not so put off and can see the beauty in their creation and how they fit into the web of life.

Because both of my children are absolutely fascinated by reptiles, I have grown to appreciate their role in our interest-led learning and homeschool nature study.

The process of going from feeling totally disgusted by these sorts of creatures to admiration is by getting to know them better. Here is what the Handbook of Nature Study says about reptiles and nature study.

“But she(the teacher) was equal to the occasion, and surprised them by declaring that there were many interesting things to be studied about snakes, and forthwith sent to the library for books which discussed these reptiles; and this was the beginning of a nature study club of rare efficiency and enterprise.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 193

What better way to follow your child’s interest than to learn right alongside them? I can’t always start off as excited about things as my children are but I can muster up enthusiasm at learning about it as part of God’s creation. Each animal and plant has a place in the intertwined web of life we have all around us. Snakes, lizards, spiders, rodents, and everything else each are dependent on each other and in the long run so are we. Each creature has a job to do and when I think about that in relation to snakes and reptiles, it encourages me to dig a little deeper with my children.

Outdoor Homeschool Reptile Nature Study

While I do not love the idea of randomly seeking out reptiles in the wild, there are ways to incorporate this interest in our nature study.

Herping is a term used to describe going out into a reptile habitat and look for lizards and snakes. (I know, it can be cringe inducing, but hear me out.) Like any nature study, this is about exploring and getting my kids outdoors. After learning a few safety precautions (namely, we are not picking anything up!) it is actually a beautiful way to explore nature.

We discuss the various habitats and take pictures of any lizards we find. We hike and are always careful to watch out for rattle snakes.

Overall, it’s a brilliant outdoor nature study for our homeschool.

outdoor nature study

Ideas For Indoor Reptile Nature Study

Because it still stresses me out a bit to actually go looking for wild reptiles, we also devote a significant amount of time to indoor reptile study.

Here are some of my boys’ favorite learning activities:

  • Visit the pet store and discuss the various reptiles and their man made habitats.
  • Head to the local reptile zoo.
  • Look up various facts about reptiles online.
  • Check out books from the library.
  • Set-up our own habitat for our new pet lizard (because nature study has a way of creeping into my boys’ birthday wishes)
This homeschool nature study incorporates indoor and outdoor activities, perfect for the child who is fascinated by reptiles.

A Homeschool Nature Study Resource To Help Your Family Learn

Thankfully, our nature study does not end with reptiles. In fact, one of the best ways to continue our learning all year long is with the Homeschool Nature Study Membership.

With it, you will have everything you need to bring the Handbook of Nature Study to life in your homeschool. It provides access to Outdoor Hour Challenges curriculum and tons of resources to enrich your homeschool.

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New Bird to Our Life List- Pinyon Jay

What happens when you discover something new? How do you learn about a bird that you don’t recognize?

On the third day of our visit to the Grand Canyon, we rode the Orange shuttle all the way out to Yaki point, the last stop on the route. We were only trying to find a bit of solitude to hike in away from the crowds at the rim and the chatter of groups of hikers. Maybe they don’t realize what they are missing by endlessly talking as they walk or they just don’t know how to experience the beauty of a national park. Anyway, we achieved what we were looking for and set out along the rim to the east of the shuttle stop.

Grand Canyon

We walked and stopped occasionally to scramble out to a rock on the edge so  we could view the vista and take a photo or two. At some point, we became aware of some birds chattering from the tree tops. Lots of birds! The sound was unfamiliar and loud.

pinyon jay

We chased them down and observed a large flock of the birds chattering in the trees. They flew overhead once and we were able to take a closer look. We could tell they were about the size of a robin, they were bluish gray, and had a large black beak. This helped us later to figure out which bird it was.

After we returned to our campsite, I looked the bird up in my field guide. It was a pinyon jay!

You can read more about the pinyon jay here: All About Birds – Pinyon Jay.

Here is what it sounds like: Pinyon Jay Sound.

How about a video? Pinyon Jays.

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Saguaro National Park – Tips and Images

Saguaro National Park Tips and Images @handbookofnaturestudy

What an amazing place to explore the desert! Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona surprised me with all its secret delights. There isn’t anything that we didn’t enjoy about the two trips we have taken to this part of the world.

If you can plan a trip to Saguaro National Park with your family, you will experience the southwest at its best!


Saguaro National Park 1

Of course, we came to see the saguaro cactus and we were not disappointed. These magnificent cactus actually are like a whole habitat in themselves with the way they provide food, shelter, and beauty for the inhabitants of this southwestern desert. We learned about the Sonora desert and its unique place in the web of life…creating a place for migrating and resident animals to take refuge.

Saguaro National Park 2

Our first trip to Saguaro was in 2009 and we flew into Tucson, Arizona and rented a car. We spent days exploring the desert together with our two boys. At first glance you wonder what lives out in the desert but after hiking out by ourselves and seeing with our own eyes the many creatures and plants that are thriving in this dry sandy/rocky place, we realized the magnitude of life in this special national park. I am personally grateful that this refuge is protected for generations to come.

Saguaro National Park 3

Our second trip was in 2010 when we drove from California to Tucson to visit the park again in the spring (April). This was the perfect time to experience the burst of life from the wildflowers and flowering shrubs, a bit early for the saguaro themselves to be blooming but we saw big flower buds up on the top.


Saguaro National Park 2

One day we parked along the edge of the park and went in at the Broadway Trailhead to hike the trails from there. It is hard to describe the many, many things we found to observe. Saguaro National Park 5

The cactus and  brightly color flowers were each a work of art…what a blessing to time our visit to see them.

saguaro National Park 6

Birds…so many birds! I spent lots of time with my binoculars and field guide on both trips, making lists of birds each night when we returned to our hotel.

Saguaro National Park Gambel Quail

Our favorite bird of the desert is the Gambel’s quail. They have such beautiful feathers, jaunty little top-notch, and sweet song.

Saguaro National Park 7

Wildflowers to make your heart sing.

Saguaro National Park tarantula hawk

Insects like this tarantula hawk eek out a life in this part of the world. (read it’s life story…creeps me out!)

Mica View Trail Saguaro

Saguaro National Park actually has two sections that are located on opposite sides of Tucson, Arizona. Find more information here at the Plan Your Visit page.

The photos above are from the eastern section of the park called Saguaro East-Rincon Mountain District. This section of the park has a large visitor center that we enjoyed on both of our visits. The Cactus Forest Drive is a must do for everyone to get their feet wet with this national park. There are several spots to stop and view the landscape and a short nature trail that features the desert habitat. You can reach the Mica View trailhead and picnic area off the Cactus Forest Drive.

Saguaro National Park 11

Also along this drive, we stopped at Javelina rocks and hiked. There is a trail out to an old homestead that was interesting and on this trip was lined with colorful wildflowers.

Saguaro national Park 8

One of our favorite moments during our trip was the day we were driving through on the road and there was a sudden downpour where the rain came down in buckets. Shortly, the rain stopped and the sun came out….I cannot describe the scent of the air. It was magnificent and I hope someday to experience that fragrance again. The wet earth, the damp vegetation, the creosote bushes, something else…amazing!

Saguaro National Park 9

The other section of the park is on the western side of Tucson and is called: Saguaro West-Tucson Mountain District. There is a visitor center at Red Hills and is a wonderful source of information and you will find displays and helpful rangers to make the most of your trip. Here is a wonderful printable list and map for hikes in this section of the park: Trails in the Tucson Mountain District. 

Saguaro National Park 10
The western section is a little more rugged and has some fantastic aspects that make it worth the effort to visit it as well. One trail has petroglyphs to view along the way.

Saguaro National Park 12

Keep your eyes open and hike along quietly and you never know who you will see! We saw evidence of pack rats and coyotes. One day we heard coyotes howling in the distance.

Saguaro National Park 13

We saw more birds in the desert than we have ever seen in any other habitat. The many ways they have found to survive in this harsh environment are a wonder. Here is a nest that we found with the opening on the side.

Saguaro National Park 14

I spy a dove!

Saguaro National Park 16

If you time your trip just right, you are going to see a display of wildflowers so colorful you can’t believe it. I love this place!

Saguaro National Park 18

We made sure to plan a sunrise walk one of the days we were there. It took some effort and it was COLD but well worth it to us. It was awe inspiring to watch the sunrise as it transformed the desert from a shadowland to a blaze of daylight. We saw deer and rabbits and flocks of quail. My boys loved it and we hope to do this again someday.


Other Tips for Saguaro National Park:

  • There are six picnic areas in the park with tables and shelters. We found the shelters were helpful to keep off the sun but we got wet in the rain! There are no restaurants in the national park so pack a lunch or several snacks.
  • There are trails for all ages, some that are wheelchair accessible.
  • Make sure to bring along a camera to record the numerous plants, birds, flowers, rocks, and landscapes you are going to come across.
  • Bring your binoculars and a good bird field guide for the Arizona Sonora Desert region. You are going to see and hear lots of birds if you get out and hike even a short distance.
  • There is a Jr. Ranger program and a Not So Junior Ranger Program.
  • Carry water, wear a hat and sturdy shoes.
  • No camping within the national park but hotels galore of all sorts in Tucson, Arizona. We stayed at a condo for a steal of a deal…look online at places like Expedia.
  • At the very least, plan a long day in the park, visiting one section if you are limited on time. If you can stay two days, explore one section each day.
  • If you can, plan a sunrise or sunset hike to experience the changing light and creatures that come out during those times of day.
  • Distance from Las Vegas – 400 miles or 6.5 hours, Phoenix, Arizona – 110 miles or 2 hours, Albuquerque, New Mexic0 – 445 miles or 6.5 hours.

Check out this really well done YouTube video: Saguaro National Park.

Other Things I Suggest Doing While in Tucson, Arizona

You can read more of my national park tips in these entries:


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Petrified Forest National Park – Tips and Images

Petrified Forest National Park @handbookofnaturestudy

I am excited to share some information about a national park that you don’t hear too much about. Petrified Forest National Park is located in Arizona and we visited in May 2014 as part of our cross-country road trip.

It is a park that you can visit as a day trip. There are no hotels or campgrounds at this national park so you will need to find accommodations outside the park. We stayed in Flagstaff, Arizona which is less than a two hour drive.

Petrified Forest National Park May 2014 (3)

We entered the park at the southern entrance. As we entered, we were told of the strict rules regarding collection of petrified wood. You cannot take any petrified wood from the park and you must declare any in your possession as you enter so if you are stopped in the park, you will have a record of your purchases made outside the park’s boundaries.

Petrified Forest Day (3)Petrified Forest Day (3)Petrified Forest Day (3)

This is a national park that you drive through, stopping at the many viewpoints to see the petrified logs and to learn more about how they were formed. The visitor center helps explain the process that made the petrified wood and then how it ended up in the middle of the desert of Arizona.

Petrified Forest Day (6)

We stopped and walked through the Giant Logs trail near the Rainbow Forest Museum. It was a great way to learn more as you saw different pieces of petrified wood.

Petrified Forest Day (4)

Isn’t it beautiful with all its colors?

Petrified Forest Day (11)

We so enjoyed driving through and seeing the various land formations along the road. Once you stop your car and get out, you realize that there are living things even in this stark harsh place. It is a different kind of beauty that you find in the deserts of the southwest. The sky is so blue and seems to be wider and never ending.

Petrified Forest National Park May 2014 (4)

Then we viewed a portion of the Painted Desert and visited the Painted Desert Visitor Center.

Photos really don’t do this landscape justice. The colors give such beauty to any way you look out your window.

Petrified Forest National Park May 2014 (6)

Additional Tips and Links:

You can read more of my national park tips in these entries:

OHC Autumn Nature Study Continues Cover Button




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More Reptiles to Identify: Arizona Style

I am still struggling with my disgust of reptiles. Lizards are becoming a bit more palatable but as far as snakes go, I’m still struggling.

Good thing for me that we saw mostly lizards on our trip to Arizona.

On pages 210 to 213 of the Handbook of Nature Study there are many lizards and their descriptions listed. I think on page 213 that number 7 looks surprisingly like the lizards we saw in the photo below.

I did recognize this reptile but only was able to capture his hind end as he scurried under a rock. He was definitely some kind of iguana.

These two photos were taken while we were at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. They had an enclosure where they used to have a bear but the bear has since been retired to a more comfortable place on the grounds. The enclosure did have these interesting, if not rather large, reptiles inhabiting it.

Climbing up the rocks

This guy was also at the museum and was making his way across the riparian habitat.

Now for something pretty to look at. I can only take reptiles for so long and then I need something colorful and beautiful to enjoy.

Close up of the spines

Are you proud of me? We are still working on identifying the reptiles for their nature journals but we are learning a lot along the way.

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Desert Study: Outdoor Hour Challenge #8

Here is our family’s Outdoor Hour Challenge #8. 

We just returned from our week long adventure in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. It was so surprising to find so much life and color and activity in this part of our world. If anyone says there is nothing to do for nature study in the desert, I can now whole-heartedly disagree. We spent every waking minute in the great outdoors exploring the fascinating world of the desert, even in a sudden desert rainstorm and at sunrise. We were hiking in Saguaro National Park just about everyday and found that we grew to love this place.

If you have been reading my blog this week, you will have seen some of the more interesting plants and birds that we have encountered. I will be posting more over there in the weeks to come.

Before we left for our adventure, the boys and I read several books to prepare us for what we would be seeing up close and personal. The most interesting and recognizable plant in the Sonoran Desert is the saguaro cactus. (pronounced sa wah ro) This cactus is a whole ecosystem in itself and we were able to observe the many phases of its growth while on our trip.


Here is a landscape with the saguaro sticking up prominently.
The saguaro grows very tall and provides shade for itself with its spines and grooves.

tall saguaro
It also provides homes for birds like the cactus wren and the gila woodpecker. They make their nests inside the saguaro. Here is a photo where you can see the nest holes.

saguaro with bird nest holes
Here is a gila woodpecker sitting on the saguaro and if you look closely, you will see a sparrow in a nest hole near the top of the saguaro.

saguaro and woodpecker
Here is a close up of the cactus itself.

close up saguaro
We enjoyed a sunrise walk in the desert and the colors and sounds are not soon to be forgotten.

saguaro at sunrise
There are so many things to tell you about from this trip but I will narrow this entry down to the saguaro cactus. Maybe later this week I will share all the many other birds that we encountered. I have some awesome hummingbird photos to share and some others that will surprise you that we found in our desert wanderings.

We did some close up work last week at home for this challenge with our hand lens. The most interesting thing we found was looking at the bark of our cedar tree…..there is so many interesting things in there like spider webs and egg sacs. If you didn’t get a chance to use your hand lens last week, I encourage you to take a few minutes this week to give it a try.