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Outdoor Hour Challenge: Nature Study Lab in Your Own Backyard

Outdoor Hour Challenge

Week 2 – September 10, 2021

Nature Study Lab in Your Own Backyard

The habit of nature study is best when you can regularly be outside with your children. For our family, this habit was built out in our backyard, mostly because it was convenient but also for the simple reason that I felt it was important for my children to learn about real things, plants, and animals they could observe up close.

A Little Inspiration

I once read an article written by a mom who had little by little converted her suburban backyard into a wild place for her children. She brought in some rocks for lizards and insects to take shelter in. She sourced a big log to give the kids the opportunity to experience the living creatures that lived in, under, and on the log, as well as observe the log’s decomposition. She made a sand pile for digging with pails and shovels. There were places to play in the hose and make mud. After reading of that experience, it occurred to me that with a little effort on her part, she had created a space for her children to experience nature even in a small backyard.

In My Experience

Our backyard seemed the best place to start! After all, it’s a short voyage from our home to this “nature study lab”.  Quickly I realized that we could enhance our experience by attracting wildlife into our space.  Starting small, we grew our habitat each year, adding more opportunities for exploring and observing wildlife without leaving home. Having nature out the back door helped create a habit of getting outside with my children.

What can you do to get started?

Assess Your Yard and Make a Plan

Make an assessment of what you already have available in your yard. You can use the printable linked below to get started. Ask your children to help you make an inventory of what may already be working for wildlife.

As you build your backyard habitat, you will have more opportunities to closely observe and enjoy birds, small mammals, reptiles, insects, and others who make a home or visit your little wildlife oasis.

This project can be as simple or complex as you make it. Perhaps just making one change at a time to see what works for your yard will be enough to bump up your wildlife visitors a notch.

Simple First Steps:

  • Add a water source in the form of a shallow basin or saucer.
  • Add a birdfeeder.
  • Add a shrub.
  • Add some rocks.
  • Add a potted plant with blooming flowers.

Keeping in mind that a wildlife habitat needs water, shelter, and food, build your backyard habitat even if you are on a limited budget. Let friends and family know about your nature study project and see if they have items they can share with you.

The nature study habit is easier when you have constant and endless access to your backyard habitat. No need to travel far! In studying nature close to home, our children will learn to observe, to write about their experiences, to draw their treasures, to be patient, to imagine, and to explore.

Anna Botsford Comstock in her book Handbook of Nature Study puts her thoughts this way, “Nature study is for the comprehension of the individual life of the bird, insect, or plant that is nearest at hand.”

In the book Last Child in the Woods, the author makes the point several times that today’s science textbooks and programs are missing the mark. Many, many young students know more about the tropical rainforests and volcanoes of the world than they know about their own backyards.

“Adults should realize the most valuable thing children can learn is what they discover themselves about the world they live in. Once they experience first-hand the wonder of nature, they will want to make nature observation a life-long habit.”
Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, page 61

Miss Mason was really helping us to see how to make science meaningful for our children. No longer will science be abstract or have a political agenda. The simple habit of getting outside with our children is easy to reach; we are often the ones making it complicated.


Beyond the Simple First Steps:

The National Wildlife Federation website is a wealth of information on how to create your own habitat, step by step. Read this article about creating a wildlife habitat in your own yard. There is also a short video to watch:

Ultimate Naturalist Library Members

  • Look for the Wildlife Habitat Plan printable posted in the Getting Back to Basics – The Habit of Nature Study section of the Member’s Library. Download the file and have your children help you complete the assessment this week.
  • Look for the Know Your Own Backyard printable posted in the Getting Back to Basics – The Habit of Nature Study section of the Member’s Library.
  • Outdoor+Hour+Challenge+9+Small+square+@handbookofnaturestudy.jpgOutdoor Hour Challenge #9 in the Getting Started ebook features the One Small Square activity. Complete this challenge in your own backyard to bring to light subjects you may be overlooking. This challenge will help you focus on a small area of any yard, anywhere. There is a coordinating activity found in this entry: 5 Ways to Use Your Magnifying Lens.  You can incorporate the two printables linked in this entry to your study of nature in your own backyard.
  • Read the April 2012 newsletter: Backyard Habitat


Join Us Ultimate Naturalist June 2020

Members can click here to log into your account to download any of the items mentioned above.

If you’re not a member here on the Handbook of Nature Study yet, please consider joining to gain the benefit of having a nature study library at your fingertips. There are numerous resources available for you to help create the habit of nature study within your family.

Please note that the Ultimate Naturalist Library will only be available until 12/31/2021. At that time my website will be shutting down.

Handbook of Nature Study Subscribe Now 2

If you are an email subscriber to the Handbook of Nature Study, you may consider saving this email in a folder for future reference. The blog will be retiring at the end of the year as well.






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Your Backyard Habitat:Look for Something of Interest

Your Backyard Habitat

Look for Something of Interest

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months working on a new ebook for all of us to use in creating a backyard habitat designed to attract birds, bees, and butterflies. I’ve heard from so many of my readers that they think their backyard space is boring or nothing out of the ordinary. So this week, I’m going to challenge you all to get outside and prove yourselves wrong!

summer garden 2020
Last year’s garden was filled with lots of living things.


Every space has something to observe, and the list below will help you start thinking differently about whatever your outdoor space is currently looking like at the beginning of spring. As part of the process in creating a backyard habitat, the first step is to make an assessment of what you already have and then decide how you can improve it. Challenge your children to check off as many things as they can from the list below.

What Do You Observe?

  • Trees: leaves, bark, twigs, roots, flowers, cones, needles, seeds, pods, nests, birds
  • Patch of weeds: leaves, roots, bugs, flowers
  • Dirt: worms, gravel, stones, seeds, mud, ants, mushrooms, moss
  • Sky: clouds, sun, moon, stars, birds
  • Air: temperature, wind, smells, breath on a cold morning
  • Birds: flying, pecking, eating, chirping, hopping, shapes and colors, beaks, wings, tails, feet
  • Sounds: wind, frogs, rain, leaves, crickets, bees, fly buzzing, mosquitoes
  • Weather: rain, clouds, temperature, snow, ice, dew, wind
  • Flowers (garden or in a pot): petals, pollen, roots, leaves, stem, fragrance, shapes, colors, seeds

We need to train our eyes and hearts to be open to the opportunities that arise in our everyday travels.

I’m anticipating the new backyard habitat ebook to be in the Ultimate Naturalist Library for members by the end of April 2021. Exciting times coming for you and your family as you start the process of creating a backyard habitat to use for nature study and so much more!


Members have access to the Garden Flowers and Crops ebook in their library. This is also a fantastic resource for learning about gardening along with your children.

Herb Nature Study ebook cover graphic

We’ll be using the Herb Nature Study ebook later this summer for our weekly Outdoor Hour Challenges. If you have access now, you can get a jump start by reading through the book and planning a few herbs to grow for your nature study time.


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Creating a Wildlife Habitat in Your Own Backyard Part 1

Creating a Wildlife Habitat in Your Own Backyard

Part 1 – Make an Assessment

Creating a Wildlife Garden in your Own Backyard

The story of how I decided to create a more wildlife friendly backyard started a long time ago.

growing up with a manicured yard
Our Backyard – 1967

I grew up in a world of manicured lawns and formal flower beds that required a lot of care and attention.

california plot of land
Our First Home in California – 1987

Purchasing our first home back in California, we were happy to be able to afford a plot of land that had a large yard with front yard and backyard lawns and bare ground that had potential for flowers and vegetables in the garden. But in those days, I hadn’t awakened my desire to garden for wildlife, only human needs.

garden beginnings california

Fast forward a few years, we started to homeschool and to spend lots more time in our own yard. Homeschooling introduced us to nature study and I was drawn to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of encouraging lots of outdoor time for children. While my boys played outside in our backyard, I haphazardly planted more pollinator friendly plants and trees as a way to create a space where we had some things to observe and learn about together.

front yard remodel california

Then we made more radical changes by completely removing our front yard lawn and replacing it with native plants and adding additional food and water sources for the birds and other animal visitors. We were creating a more wildlife friendly habitat.

backyard before dry landscape oregon

Then we moved to Central Oregon and its harsher environment. We experienced the truly cold and snowy winter climate and the dry, dry, dry high desert climate in the summer. It was a bit of an adjustment to learn what would thrive in our new yard and what sorts of wildlife we needed to accommodate.

wildflower meadow oregon 2019 (2)

The process has been enjoyable and interesting. It takes patience and a little effort but creating a wildlife friendly habitat is worth all the energy.

Wildlife will come to you!


My husband says it’s a case of “if you build it, they will come”. This truly has been our experience.

There have been doubters in our circle of friends. We’ve had people question our choices from time to time, but once we explain why we plant certain things or leave certain plants/weeds to grow, they better understand that we really do have a plan.

My hope is that you will consider creating a wildlife garden of your own. I assure you that you don’t need a lot of land, a lot of money, or any special knowledge in order to be successful.

Think of the process as a way to invite nature right up to your doorstep.

Assess Your Yard and Make a Plan (make a headline)

Make an assessment of what you already have available in your yard. You can use either of the printables below to get started. Ask your children to help you make an inventory of what may already be working for wildlife.

Wildlife Habitat Plan

Would you like a free printable plan for creating your own wildlife habitat? I created one for you to use as you assess your yard for the four elements you’ll need to become certified.

Download and print yours here: Wildlife Habitat Plan

checklist wildlife garden

Here’s another printable from the National Wildlife Federation that has a detailed checklist for you to use: Garden Certification Walk-through Checklist.

nesting box

Brainstorm Ideas About Who You Would Like to Visit Your Yard

After you assess your yard, create a list of what you’d like to invite into your habitat. Your children may need some guidance in making a reasonable list of things that may come to visit.

collage wildlife garden

Here are some ideas: butterflies, birds, ladybugs, bees, frogs and toads, squirrels.

My next post will help you create a plan to attract wildlife to your yard by planting and creating the habitat that will entice them to visit and stay awhile.

For now, print one of the suggested printables above and make it a family project to gather information about your current backyard habitat. I don’t want you to worry if you think your yard is a barren wasteland to start with. In my next post, I’ll help you to make a start and I guarantee you that anything you do to create a wildlife habitat will be rewarded if you’re patient.

If you want to look for a good book at your public library that will help stimulate interest in this project, I highly recommend this book that I have in my personal library.

Please note that the link above is an Amazon affiliate link to a book I purchased and value as a resource on this topic.

I will be continuing this series in the months to come. I hope it will help you begin to think about your own backyard space as a possible wildlife habitat that will bring some wild things right to you.

Leave me a comment or send me an email if you have any questions or comments.