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The Purpose of Nature Study: How to Use Questions and Answers in Your Homeschool

Just what is the purpose of nature study? Use these examples for how to use questions and answers in your homeschool as a jumping off place for even more discoveries and further adventures! Learn together and make memories as a family.

Photo by Amy Law

The Purpose of Nature Study: How to Use Questions and Answers in Your Homeschool

Nature study is more about asking questions than it is about finding answers. I always enjoy a good question because it means that my children are taking something they see or hear and are internalizing it and then coming up with a good question. Many times just asking the question helps solidify what they already know.

“Nature study does not start out with the classification given in books, but in the end it builds up in the child’s mind a classification which is based on fundamental knowledge; it is a classification like that evolved by the first naturalists, because it is built on careful personal observations of both form and life.”

Handbook of Nature Study, page 6

For instance, if they see a little creeping creature and wonder what it is, they will need to look a little closer. On examining the creature, they see that it has six legs. Six legs equals an insect and not a spider.

So already before asking me what it is, they have decided it must be some sort of insect and we can then pull out the proper field guide to see if we can identify it by habitat, color, shape, and size.

Using Field Guides and References in Your Nature Study

If we never positively identify a particular insect, we still have taken some time to investigate it further both in the field with our eyes and afterwards in the house with the field guide. The important work was done. We could be finished there if we felt satisfied or we could dig further, checking on the internet or at the library if we were inspired to know more.

Other than the Handbook of Nature Study, a science reference shelf with a collection of field guides are the best tools for research. The process of going through identifying a subject leads you through a series of questions…good questions.

questions and answers in nature study

Nature Journaling in Your Homeschool

Some families are making the next step and trying to keep a record of their time in nature with a nature journal. Our family finds this activity very rewarding but we don’t always draw in our journals after every outdoor time.

Honestly, when we do take the time to try to draw what we see during our nature time, we get a lot more out of it. There is something about the process of taking your experiences and putting them down on paper that creates a special bond between you and the subject whether it is a leaf, a spider, a flower, or anything else you choose to draw.

questions and answers in nature study

Maybe you have a collection of items from a picnic nature study last summer….the process of collecting the items can be more fun than spending time identifying them. Just enjoy them and then leave them there at the beach. Maybe next time you will have some questions ready to ask and the proper field guide on hand and will get down to the business of knowing the particular rock and tree.

So don’t be afraid of questions….questions are a great tool. You don’t need to know all the answers to the questions that your children have about nature study. Consider it a good thing when you find something you need to research because you will learn right alongside your child.

More Ways to Spark Interesting Questions and Answers in Your Homeschool

Here are a few more ideas you might enjoy:

questions and answers in nature study

Be inspired. Be encouraged. Get outdoors!

by Barb McCoy, Outdoor Hour Challenges founder, September 2008

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How to Teach Homeschool Nature Study

How to teach homeschool nature study? It is not as intimidating at you think! We share how to naturally share nature study with your child.

“During autumn the attention of the children should be attracted to the leaves by their gorgeous colors. It is well to use this interest to cultivate their knowledge of the forms of leaves of trees; but the teaching of the tree species to the young child should be done quite incidentally and guardedly. If the teacher says to the child bringing a leaf, “This is a white-oak leaf,” the child will soon quite unconsciously learn that leaf by name. Thus, tree study may be begun in the kindergarten or the primary grades.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 622

How to Teach Homeschool Nature Study

I regularly am asked how to teach nature study. Should you read the Handbook of Nature Study to your child? Should you draw in other resources? Should you take your nature journal with you on your walks? Should you require a nature journal entry? How do you share information without it becoming a “lesson”?

These are all really great questions and I know for each family the answers will be a little bit different because you have different children with different learning styles. I try to keep in mind the principle outlined in the quote from the Handbook of Nature Study above.

Outdoor time is for the whole family! We share some simple tips for getting started.

The Handbook of Nature Study Book is Written for Adults

The Handbook of Nature Study was written for adults. Adults who were then to try to offer nature study to children. Anna Botsford Comstock knew that the key to great times in nature study depended on the interest and enthusiasm of the teacher/parent. She knew that even adults *needed* this time outdoors to refresh and to inspire us to teach homeschool nature study.

“She who opens her eyes and her heart nature-ward even once a week finds nature study in the schoolroom a delight and an abiding joy……She finds, first of all, companionship with her children; and second, she finds that without planning or going on a far voyage, she has found health and strength.” -Handbook of Nature Study, page 3

How to Naturally Share Nature Study With Your Child

The other key is to take things slowly and to over time incorporate vocabulary and labels for things you find in nature. This calls for a little work by the adult in the beginning. More on this in Nature Study: Creating Habits Young and Nature Study The Gentle Way.

“If the teacher says, “I have a pink hepatica. Can anyone find me a blue one?” the children, who naturally like grown up words, will soon be calling these flowers hepaticas….The child should never be required to learn the name of anything in the nature study work; but the name should be used so often and so naturally in his prescense that he will learn it without being conscious of the process.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 11

“The half-hour excursion should be preceded by a talk concerning the purposes of the outing and the pupils must know that certain observations are to be made or they will not be permitted to go again. This should not be emphasized as a punishment; but they should be made to understand that a field excursion is only, naturally enough, for those who wish to see and understand outdoor life.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 15

If you want more guidance on how to teach homeschool nature study, read the whole section on page 15 under The Field Excursion. I find that as my children are getting older, our time is more limited as far as nature study. I make it a priority to fit it in every week but the amount of time is more limited. We need our formal nature study to be concentrated and focused so that we can get the most out of it.

“It is a mistake to think that a half day is necessary for a field lesson, since a very efficient field trip may be made during the ten or fifteen minutes at recess, if it is well planned.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 15

Using your nature journal in your homeschool

The nature journal is something that is as individual as the child. My expectation for the simplest of nature journals has always been to include a sketch, a label, and a date. This simple formula works to help the child not be so overwhelmed with making a “pretty” journal entry. The journal is something that should bring joy to the child.

“When the child is interested in studying any object, he enjoys illustrating his observations with drawings; the happy absorption of children thus engaged is a delight to witness.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 17

How to Teach Homeschool Nature Study with Nature Journaling?

This means that if your child finds drawing a chore, skip it. Try again another day. Eventually, they will find something to include in their journal. Do not get in the mindset that only drawing is acceptable in a nature journal. Lists, photos, diagrams, thoughts, poems, a sentence or two, or a combination of those things will become a very nice journal over time. We do not make a journal entry every week and our journals are still precious to us.

How to teach homeschool nature study? It is not as intimidating at you think! We share how to naturally share nature study with your child.

Photo by Amy Law

The Handbook of Nature Study: Benefits of Homeschool Nature Study for All Ages

So hopefully I have helped you understand a little of what I get from the Handbook of Nature Study.

  • The Handbook of Nature Study (HNS) is for the adult to read and be inspired from.
  • The HNS is for gleaning information and observation ideas for nature study.
  • Young children will learn the proper names for things naturally if you use it in conversation.
  • Older children will need a bit more preparation to begin to focus their nature study time.
  • Nature journal entries are not required after every outdoor experience.
  • Nature journals include a variety of information.
  • Nature study refreshes and inspires the parents as well as the children.
  • Regularly read the Handbook of Nature Study to refine your skills as a guide for your children.

Dust your copy of the Handbook of Nature Study off today and read a few pages of the introductory chapters. Scan the Table of Contents and see if anything catches your eye for a nature study this week. Join us in completing a series of Outdoor Hour Challenges. Do something this week to get you outdoors with your children for even a few minutes to have some fun and refreshment.

It is simple to get started. We will show you how. Grab this free Homeschool Nature Study Guide and discover the joys of nature study in your homeschool.

How To Get Started With the Outdoor Hour Challenges

Just how do you get started in homeschool nature study? How do families participate in the Outdoor Hour Challenges? It is so simple to get started and we will show you how. Grab this free Homeschool Nature Study Guide and discover the joys of nature study in your homeschool.

Homeschool Nature Study membership bringing the Handbook of Nature Study to Life!

Join Our Homeschool Nature Study Membership for Year Round Support

You will find a continuing series for the Outdoor Mom in our Homeschool Nature Study membership. Plus 25+ continuing courses with matching curriculum that will bring the Handbook of Nature Study to life in your homeschool! In addition, there is an interactive monthly calendar with daily nature study prompt – all at your fingertips!

First published September 2009 by Barb. Updated January 2022 by Tricia.

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Homeschool Nature Study the Gentle Way

Wondering how to enjoy homeschool nature study the gentle way? Here are some simple steps to get you started. No special equipment needed!

I don’t look at outdoor time and nature study as one more homeschool subject I need to plan and be ready for, I just let it unfold. If your children want to learn more about something they find while outdoors, gradually teach them to look things up for themselves in a good field guide or on your next trip to the library.

If you observe and identify one tree per year, over the course of your child’s education, you will have learned about 12 different trees! I don’t know about you but I have a hard time just listing 12 trees by name. So if your child has become acquainted with 12 trees, they are far better off than many of us.

Homeschool Nature Study the Gentle Way

My suggestion: Study one tree, one bird, and one insect per school year.

Take it slowly.

Wondering how to enjoy homeschool nature study the gentle way? Here are some simple steps to get you started. No special equipment needed!
photo by Amy Law

How to Enjoy Homeschool Nature Study in Simple Steps

Find one tree in your yard that you can study for a whole term.

  • Find out what kind of tree it is.
  • Make rubbings of the leaves and bark.
  • Does it drop its leaves or does it stay green year round?
  • Does it have any birds in it? Any insect holes? Hollows for critters?
  • Can you climb up into it and see what the view is?
  • Can you lay under your tree and watch the branches move in the breeze?
  • Does it have blossoms, fruit, cones, seeds, or other objects to study?
  • Do you see a nest in the tree?
  • Is the trunk straight, crooked, twisted, rough, or smooth?
  • Do the leaves or needles smell good? How about the bark?
  • Watch and observe and narrate one thing at a time you will find that it is really not so hard. If you feel like recording the experience, put something on paper.

Nature study the gentle way. Slowly, gradually, gently….it works.

Nature Study in Your Own Backyard – Studying One Tree

So I decided to follow my own advice and I went out and found a tree in my yard that I was interested in learning about. Turns out that after examining the leaves and the trunk of the tree, I discovered my tree is an Interior Live Oak. I know there are several varieties of oaks in my yard but I have never taken the time to identify them as any particular oak. My oak has leaves with pointy edges and they are glossy on both sides. It also has pointy acorns.

While I was examining the trunk I discovered that one side of it has *lots* of woodpecker holes drilled into it. I have walked by this particular tree hundreds of times but have failed to notice the holes. Amazing….now I will on the watch to see if I can see the woodpecker that makes the holes.

I used a tree identification guide and my new tree field guide to help me. This whole process, including taking the photos, only took a few minutes. I plan on watching my oak to see if there are any other things that I can learn about it.

So you can enjoy nature study the gentle way, the Getting Started ebook is available in every level of membership here on Homeschool Nature Study.

Wondering how to enjoy homeschool nature study the gentle way? Here are some simple steps to get you started. No special equipment needed!

This post first published by Barb May 2008 and Photo by Erin Vincent