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The Importance Of Studying Natural History

Why is the study of natural history so important? How can you incorporate it into your day to day learning?

Why is the study of natural history is so important? How can you incorporate it into your day to day learning.

photo by Amy Law

Is Natural History Important?

Every now and then I come across an article online that captures my interest. As I read the article linked below I realized how important what we are doing here on the Handbook of Nature Study is to our young children and families. Much to my great surprise, I found a section in the later part of the article that references Anna Botsford Comstock and her work with natural history and teaching.

Science And Natural History

I invite you to click over and read through this article…noting that as parents we can fill the gap and stoke the fires of a more traditional biology course. Adding in some natural history to your more academic and microbiology studies will give it more depth and context. Find a way to expose your young biology students to the natural world in an attempt to cover the material in high school (and earlier!) since they will not get that opportunity once they go onto college.

Read Natural History is Dying

Natural History Important @handbookofnaturestudy

An Overview Of Natural History Is Dying

Some of my notes and quotes from the article:

Natural history by and large is no longer taught to biology majors, much less high school students.

“Further, exposure of students at all levels to natural history is diminishing. As we saw in the graph at the top of this post, all colleges and universities surveyed in the 1950s required at least some natural history courses for a biology degree – a median of 2.25. Today, most colleges have no natural history requirements for a biology degree, and the slim section devoted to natural history in the center of most textbooks has shrunk 40 percent and is usually skipped anyway, as I’m sure those of you with biology degrees earned in the last 20 years can attest.”

Using the suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study and the Outdoor Hour Challenge provides help to parents in offering what is lacking in today’s science courses.

“Comstock’s book stressed the importance of kid-on-critter time. But increasingly, in the classrooms and museum exhibits that I’ve seen or visited, still images or interactive games are considered adequate substitutes. They are not.”

We can share our love for nature and make a difference in our child’s outlook towards the natural world.

“When kids do not grow up around natural history, they become adults who are not only ignorant of natural history, but who do not care about nature and view it as disposable and unimportant. “Ecological ignorance breeds indifference,” as Pyle put it. “What we know, we may choose to care for. What we fail to recognize, we certainly won’t.”

We can make those simple but powerful memories happen for our children.

“To love Earth, you have to fall in love with Earth. And that can’t happen indoors, eyes glued to a screen. You have to watch the bee gathering nectar from the blue bonnet; you have to smell and touch the sap (and discover it is now impossible to remove from your fingers) weeping from the tree; you have to smell the citrussy cinnamonny gym-socky aroma of the matsutake fresh from the pine duff.”

Use the resources here on our website and in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock to introduce your child to the birds, plants, reptiles, insects, and other forms of life around them. Take it one subject at a time and make sure to get outside each week!

Why is the study of natural history is so important? How can you incorporate it into your day to day learning in your homeschool?

The Outdoor Hour Challenges Bring The Handbook of Nature Study to Life in Your Homeschool!

For even more homeschool nature study ideas for all seasons, join us in Homeschool Nature Study membership! You’ll receive new ideas each and every week that require little or no prep – all bringing the Handbook of Nature Study to life in your homeschool!

Written by Barb and updated by Tricia

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How Nature Study Enriches High School Biology In Your Homeschool

Just how to include homeschool nature study as part of high school biology? Here you will find a break down of nature study suggestions and accompanying resources for each module of your homeschool biology lessons. I really think it depends on the family and how much nature study you have time to fit in with your high school age children.

How to include homeschool nature study as part of high school biology? Nature study definitely enriches high school biology. Here is a break down of nature study suggestions and accompanying resources for each module.

Homeschool Nature Study and High School Biology

There are two ways to approach homeschool nature study with high school biology.
1. Start with nature study and supplement with a text.
2. Use a text and supplement with nature study.

If you decide on approach number one, take each area of focus in the Outdoor Hour Challenge and add in supplemental information from a textbook.

Please note that affiliate links are included in our recommendations below. Please see our disclosure policy.

Using Apologia Exploring Creation with Biology

  • OH Challenge: Garden Plants =Text Module 8 and 15
  • OH Challenge: Insects =Text Module 3 and 12
  • OH Challenge: Trees =Text Module 14
  • OH Challenge: Mammals =Text Module 10 and 16
  • OH Challenge: Flowerless Plants =Text Module 4 and 14
  • OH Challenge: Birds =Text Module 16
  • OH Challenge: Crop Plants =Text Module 8 and 15

For the second option, here is how I enhanced the Apologia biology text with nature study ideas…many of these ideas are on my Biology Squidoo Lens.

Module 1: Microbiology for Homeschool

Read biography of Carl Linnaeus
Read Microbe Hunters, chapter 1 Leeuwenhoek

How to include homeschool nature study as part of high school biology? Here is a break down of nature study suggestions and accompanying resources for each module.

Module 2: Microbiology and Homeschool Biology Pond Study

Read Microbe Hunters, chapter 2 Spallanzani and chapter 3 Pasteur
Start a pond study to complement the study of microscopic organisms-protozoa
Use A Golden Guide to Pond Life
Read biography of Louis Pasteur
Field trip to a pond: Complete nature journal pages for things observed in real life.

Enjoy a Turtle Homeschool Nature Study.

Module 3: Continue Pond Study-Algae

Handbook of Nature Study section on insects of the brook and pond
Examine pond water under the microscope.
Complete nature journal pages on pond insects you observe.

beautiful moss homeschool nature study

Module 4: High School Biology Nature Study Focus on Mushrooms and Other Fungi

Work with yeast
Work with molds
There are some ideas for study in the flowerless plants section of the Handbook of Nature Study.
Take a nature walk to look for mushrooms and then complete nature journal pages for each one identified.

Modules 5-7: During These Modules We Used Local Field Guides to Identify Various Subjects From Our Nature Walks Each Week

The Biology Coloring Book by Robert Griffin-color appropriate pages to help visualize the abstract concepts in these modules

Homeschool nature study is definitely a part of high school biology! Here is a break down of nature study suggestions and accompanying resources for each module.

Module 8: Gardening for High School Biology

Growing pea plants to support Mendelian genetic study (just for fun).
Read a biography of Gregor Mendel. (The picture book Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas looks like a wonderful way to include younger students).
Grow radishes as part of experiment 8.4
Worked on a garden plan for the following summer.

Module 9: Homeschool Rocks and Minerals Study

Read a biography of Charles Darwin
Handbook of Nature Study section on rocks and minerals
Using a field guide we identified several local rocks and made nature journal entries for each one.

Module 10: Mammals Study for High School Biology

Identify a local mammal and then draw where it fits in the food web.
Learn about your local watershed and then diagram it or draw a map for your journal.
Complete nature journal entries for mammals observed during this module.

Find more ideas in this Mammals Nature Study Using the Outdoor Hour Challenges.

Module 11: Invertebrates for Homeschool Biology Studies

Dissection of an earthworm
Nature study focus on Invertebrates-garden snails, earthworms
Handbook of Nature Study section on invertebrate animals other than insects
Complete nature journal entries for invertebrates observed during our Outdoor Hour time
Complete a one small square activity and look for invertebrates or signs of invertebrates in your own garden or yard.

Earthworm Study for Your Homeschool

Module 12: High School Biology Study on Insects

Nature study focus on arachnida (spiders) and/or insects and/or lepidoptera
Dissection of a crayfish
Handbook of Nature Study section on insects
Complete nature journal entries for insects observed during our Outdoor Hour time.

marine biology studies for homeschool biology

Module 13: Amphibians and Fishes

Dissection of a perch and a frog
Nature study focus on amphibians
Handbook of Nature Study section on fishes
Handbook of Nature Study section on amphibians
Keep an aquarium and use the Handbook of Nature Study suggestions for observations.

More in Homeschool Ocean Study and Marine Biology Resources.

Module 14: Plants

Collect leaf samples and make a pressed leaf collection
Nature study focus on flowerless plants
Handbook of Nature Study section on flowerless plants

plants and wildflowers for high school biology study with homeschool nature study

Module 15: Garden Flowers and Seeds

Insectivorous plants-observe a Venus Flytrap or Sundew
Nature study focus on garden flowers-parts of a flower
Collect and press flowers
Germinate seeds
Handbook of Nature Study section on plants/garden flowers
Start a seasonal tree study for a tree in your own yard

The Ultimate List of Garden and Wildflower Nature Study for Your Homeschool

The Ultimate List of Birds Homeschool nature study using the Outdoor Hour Challenges

Module 16: High School Biology Nature Study Focus on Birds, Reptiles or Mammals

Handbook of Nature Study section on birds
Handbook of Nature Study section on reptiles
Handbook of Nature Study section on mammals
Keep a pet and make observations based on suggestions in the Handbook of Nature Study.
Hang a birdfeeder and keep a log of birds that visit.
Go bird watching and make journal entries for each bird you identify.

The Ultimate List of Birds Homeschool Nature Study Resources Using the Outdoor Hour Challenges

You can see how you can take an idea and then expand on it using nature study. If you use the basic ideas I have illustrated with the biology topics, you can make a study of nature high school level. Keep everything relevant to your local area and it will be a joy to work on each week. Your family will learn so much together as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenges.

SaMore Resources For Your Homeschool High School Biology and Nature Study

All of the Outdoor Hour Challenges that pair with homeschool high school biology are included in Homeschool Nature Study membership!

You’ll receive new ideas each and every week that require little or no prep – all bringing the Handbook of Nature Study to life in your homeschool!

Be inspired. Be encouraged. Get Outdoors!

Homeschool nature study definitely enriches high school biology! Here is a break down of nature study suggestions and accompanying resources for each module.

Spublished August 2009 by Barb

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High School Science – Living Books

High School Science Using Living Books @handbookofnaturestudy


Homeschooling for high school using the Charlotte Mason method is a dynamic and living way to teach children. It gives your family room to personalize their learning.


Living ideas are derived only from living minds.

Homeschooling using the Charlotte Mason style is marked by a use of good living books. Living books are books that are written by someone who has a passion or interest in the subject, usually in a conversational or narrative style.

When I homeschooled my teenage sons, I tried to include living books in every science course. These kinds of books drew interest and excitement to the topics we learned about in our science curriculum.

A good living book is worth its weight in gold and can give even the most reluctant student a reason for digging deeper into various aspects of science.

Inspiration versus Information
My aim in homeschooling my children was to inspire a love of learning and not just to feed them dry facts. Living books inspire thinking and don’t just provide information. Think back to when you were in school and you had a true learning experience, one that impressed you and has stuck with you all these years later. In my experience, those times were inspired either by passionate people fired up about a topic, a book that was written to give you a window into another time or person’s life, or when you made a connection from the written page and related to your real life in some way.

It takes less energy to learn something from a living book than it does from a text. Learning takes place without all the effort to memorize and drill the facts. Learning takes place because it is meaningful and you own it right from the first reading.

 “A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader.”

Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Series, Volume 3

Living Books in High School

How to Use Living Books in Your Science Courses

Most of us feel more comfortable using a text as the foundation of our high school science courses. This doesn’t mean that we need to limit our assignments to the text. Why not add in a few living books to supplement your learning? I found that when I left one day open during the school week for a living book reading and follow-up narration, we enjoyed our studies so much more. It balanced out the textbook learning and made it more meaningful.

Tips for Offering Living Books in High School Science

1. Assign a living book each week. I broke longer books down by chapters or pages and assigned a short reading each week.

2. Allow for some kind of narration – oral, written (summary on a notebook page works well), project, or additional research.

3. Look for ways to connect the text to your living books selections by pulling in biographies of scientists or explorers.

4. Create interest in a topic by drawing connects between the text and your nature study.

5. When on field trips, look in the bookstore at the museum, science center, nature center, planetarium, or state/national park for living books you can include in your science courses.

Goals for real learning in science box


Living Books for High School Biology

“They learn what to observe, and make discoveries for themselves, original so far as they are concerned. They are put in the right attitude of mind for scientific observations and deductions, and their keen interest is awakened.”

Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Series, Volume 3


Nature Study and High School BiologyOur main text was Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Biology.

Text = Apologia Biology: If you’re using this text, I have written a blog entry sharing how we incorporated nature study into each of the modules in the book. It has detailed suggestions of topics, additional books, and nature study ideas for you to use as inspiration.

High School Science (biology) and Charlotte Mason

Please note that this entry includes Amazon affiliate links to books we have owned, used, and loved!

Handbook of Nature Study

This is the foundation of all of our informal biology study from elementary age to high school age. I have written dozens of nature study lessons based on this book.

I have written lots of advanced nature study ideas and included them in my Outdoor Hour Challenge ebooks. My high school aged sons used these as a weekly supplement to their biology study.

Here are particular ebooks that you may find helpful in planning a high school level nature study course. You can click this link to find all of these ebooks: Handbook of Nature Study.

  • Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer Nature Study Continues Series – includes advanced nature study ideas and advanced notebooking pages for follow-up learning and narration.
  • More Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer Nature Study Series – includes advanced nature study ideas and advanced notebooking pages for follow-up learning and narration.

All of these ebooks are available in my Ultimate Naturalist Library membership. This membership includes all 21 of my nature study ebooks, 76 archived nature study newsletters, and a growing library of additional printable notebook pages and activities.

Ultimate Naturalist Library September 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy

Handbook of Nature Study Subscribe Now 2

Printables for Members Button

Here are the additional “living books” we added in to fit the interests and learning styles of our children.

Origin of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition: This is a must read for all biology students in my opinion…no matter what your personal beliefs are.

Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution: The flipside of the Origin of Species.

Microbe Hunters: Short accounts from a range of scientists.

Carl Linnaeus: Father of Classification (Great Minds of Science: We used simple straight forward biographies as jumping off spots for more research.

Other Biographies: Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Rachel Carson, Anna Botsford-Comstock, George Washington Carver, John Muir, Jacques Cousteau.

Here’s a link to my page for field guide suggestions: Field Guides for Families.

Field guides for all subjects are an absolute MUST: Trees, Wildflowers, Birds, Mammals, Insects, Mushrooms. Taking the information from a text and then going outside to observe your subjects brings the study to a new level. If you take the time to use a field guide, now you have real knowledge about the real world.

Living Books for High School Chemistry

These books can all be used for narration exercises. My boys kept a written summary of each of the books on notebook pages.

Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe: We would learn about 2 or 3 elements a week by reading the book, researching more on their website, and then completing a notebook page for each element.

Elements chemistry notebook page

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities: My boys love the “dangerous” side of chemistry. I love that it ties in chemistry and nature study.

Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History: This one you might want to preview. I didn’t like it as much as some people do, but my boys enjoyed reading it and narrating back to me at our weekly discussions.

The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things.: This is much more than a lab idea book. There’s a narrative chapter and then a demonstration of the concept that uses fairly easy to find materials. Great supplement to any chemistry course you are completing.


Chemistry lab notebook page






human anatomy skeleton

Living Books for Human Anatomy

Human anatomy is a fascinating look at our own bodies. Dry textbooks can provide information in an organized way but a good living book will give the student something to think about and to observe in their own body. We have used the following books as the complement to our text.

The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body: My son loves the artwork and the text narrative in this book. Like all David Macaulay books, it is full of interesting facts that are shared in an enjoyable way. My son copied some of the illustrations into his anatomy notebook with colored pencils….all inspired by this book.

I Am Joe’s Body (A Berkley/Reader’s Digest book): This simple book is a quick read but gives lots of ideas and things to think about. It’s worth finding used and having for your high school age student.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: This was one I wasn’t sure about until we received it and read through the first few chapters. I found it interesting and supportive of our Christian point of view.

Leonardo’s Anatomical Drawings (Dover Art Library: This is another great resource for learning to draw in a science notebook. Drawn from Leonardo’s personal notebooks!

Exploring the History of Medicine: More like a text than any of the other books, but we devoured the stories in this book. We skipped the questions and used the table of contents as a jumping off spot for further research and narration.

Mr. Fisher says, ‘There are real books, and there are textbooks.’ The day is soon coming when everyone will realize that textbooks have no educational value. We hardly ever use textbooks in our Parents Union Schools. Whenever possible, we use books that spark the imagination and have a touch of originality. These are the differences between a real book and a text book.

Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Series, Volume 6


Additional Links to Science Related Blog Entries I’ve Written:


I’ve long been a fan of the Story of Science series by Joy Hakim. We used these science books alongside our history lessons. I love the layout of these books and the information is presented in a chronological order. I’m including them in this post because my teenage sons thoroughly enjoyed reading these books because of the narrative style and the obvious love for science that the author shares. You could very easily include these in your living books list for science, perhaps covering a chapter or two a week. This would make these books span a few years’ time.

Story of Science Series – link to see more about these books, including sample chapters to download and read.

There are ways to draw in living books to every topic if you search hard enough. Our study of chemistry, physics, marine biology, and human anatomy have all been enhanced by selected living books offered every week for narration of some sort. Some of the books we stumbled upon, some were recommended by blog readers and friends, and some we already had on our shelves; we just needed to get them down off the shelf and read them one at a time.

I encourage you to consider including living books alongside any science text you offer to your students. You will not regret your decision!







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Nature Study: Starting a Year-Long Tree Study (Late Summer)

Last Friday we spent some time over at my parents’ house down the road from our place. They have a great pond and we took the opportunity to do our nature study time there this week. As the days get shorter and the leaves begin to turn colors, I feel the need to fit in some time outdoors before the season slips away.

So we made ourselves a little “jilly jar” pond scooper (Amateur Naturalist page 146) and we dipped in to find lots of interesting things to examine. We found three little fish, a pond snail, a whirlygig beetle, and another unknown insect. My son caught a Pacific Tree frog in a jar and we took some time to look at him and enjoy his sweet little face.

  Jilly Jar pond study

Here are some of our nature journal entries for the day. We used our field guides to identify the critters we found and we even used our pond guide to identify the duckweed floating on top of the pond. We each picked a tree to identify and realized that our tree identification book wasn’t as thorough as we would like so we made a note to pick up a new one the next time we were at the book store.

Oak nature journal
My son picked an oak to sketch and he also made a leaf rubbing.

Pacific Tree Frogpond fish
Here are some more journal entries for the frog and the fish.

nature journal pond entry
The boys also did some exploring in the woods and found a great spot to stake out a place to come back and observe each month. They chose a place that has a tree and some stacked wood because they thought it might include a place that a critter may live. We shall have to see and we will share our results.

square study woods
If you look carefully you can see the purple yarn and tent stakes that we used to mark our square in the woods.

So that was some of our nature day from last week. I will list some of the books we used to get our ideas for the activities for the day so you can check your library for similar books. I absolutely adore the “One Small Square” series and this is the first time we used it for the pond study. I highly recommend this series to get you started with nature study.

Outdoor Hour Challenge Autumn Nature Study Ideas Index @handbookofnaturestudy

You can click the graphic above to see all of the autumn related nature study challenges here on the Handbook of Nature Study. Make sure to pin this challenge and the Autumn Index!