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Nature Study and Toddlers

If you are wondering about nature study and toddlers, here are some great ideas for your homeschool. I recently helped a friend with some advice on how to have nature study with your school-age children with your sweet toddler tagging along. I thought you all might like to hear what I shared with her.

Homeschool Nature Study and Toddlers


In our own homeschool and before any nature study, I would send the boys outside and let them play. I find that if they get that initial burst of energy out they are ready to get down and focus on something. I would go with them and just wander the yard. I might find something of interest and call them over. “Hey guys look at this!”

It worked sometimes. Or they would do the same to me. “Look at that spider on the slide mom, do you know what it is?”

This was usually followed but utter horror by me because I am not a “bug person”. I would usually go over and look at it and then I would point something out like how many legs it had or what color it was.

Nature Journals When You Have Toddlers

Later when we were finished playing, we would go inside and I would pull out the journals. They could draw whatever they wanted as long as they narrated back to me what it was. I would write the labels or as they got older, they would write the labels. If we felt like it, we would look up in a field guide whatever it was we had drawn. I have a lot of the Audubon field guides so we could usually find something in there. I also found the internet to be a great help with nature study and toddlers.

More Homeschool Ideas For Toddlers

If you are wondering about nature study and toddlers, here is a BIG list of ideas for your homeschool. It's all about getting outside!

Especially with nature study and toddlers, it is not so much about the journals, it’s about the experience of being out-of-doors! It’s great when it culminates in a nature journal entry but if it doesn’t….no big deal. You said you wanted to instill a love for nature and you could quite possibly be already doing that just by focusing a bit of time outside. Let your kids direct you when you have the time to wander the yard or the neighborhood. Don’t expect anything and don’t try to force it.

We handle nature journals a little differently now that they are older but you get the idea. Take a walk or just go to the park, there will always be something to draw their attention to. With nature study and toddlers, they have to learn to notice things and then it is easier.

Also remember you have *years* to work on your nature journal. My daughter that is 21 years old still works in her nature journal. It is sort of a “life project”.

Enjoy God’s creation! Nature study and toddlers are a fun mix!

-Written by Barb, May 2008. Updated by Tricia January 2022.

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Preschool Homeschool Nature Study for Young People

Here you can learn how you to easily start preschool homeschool nature study. Nature study for young people is a joyous time of discovery and a time of introducing children to the beautiful world God created!

Think of the earliest years outdoors with your children as the way to start a valuable habit. I have seen in my family that developing a love and curiosity about the natural world developed gradually over their childhood. The earlier you start building a habit of nature study in your family, the easier it will be to encourage children who are eager to be outside and engaged in nature study. Here are a few more ideas on building the nature study habit at an early age.

How you can easily start preschool homeschool nature study. Nature study for young people is a joyous time of discovery of the beautiful world God created!
Photo by Amy Law

Preschool Homeschool Nature Study

“..the mother must not miss this opportunity of being outdoors to train the children to have seeing eyes, hearing ears and seeds of truth deposited into their minds to grow and blossom on their own in the secret chambers of their imaginations.”

Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, page 45

I believe in the younger grades that our responsibility as parents is to open the eyes of our children to the world around them, exposing them to real things and real places.

I have long said here on this blog that it makes no sense to me to teach our children about the rain forest if they haven’t even learned about the trees and animals in their local habitat. The younger years of preschool homeschool nature study are the time to get outside and take walks and look at real things up close. The preschool years are the time to form memories and impressions. There is a time for books and textbooks (in limited amounts) but that can come later.

“As soon as a child is old enough, he should keep his own nature notebook for his enjoyment. Every day’s walk will give something interesting to add–three squirrels playing in a tree, a bluejay flying across a field, a caterpillar crawling up a bush, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider suddenly dropping from a thread to the ground, where he found ivy and how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, and how ivy manages to climb.”
Charlotte Mason Volume 1 Home Education page 54.

homeschool nature journaling with preschoolers and young students

Thoughts on Nature Study from Charlotte Mason

  • The skill of drawing should not be addressed in the nature notebook. pg. 55
  • If the child is too young to write, the mother should do it. pg. 58
  • Encourage your children to sit quietly and patiently and to look closely. pg. 57
  • Some children are born naturalists but all have a natural curiousity that can be encouraged. pg. 58
  • Most children will think of a million things to put in his nature notebook. pg 55
Learn how you can easily start preschool homeschool nature study. Nature study for young people is a joyous time of discovery and introducing children to the beautiful world God created!

Some of My Own Observations on Preschool Nature Study

  • It takes my children a long time to explore outdoors and they can do it very well without my interfering. I try to follow their lead and not rush them.
  • I need to participate in the nature study myself. I try to model how to find a subject for my notebook and really observe the object.
  • Drawing the object in the notebook is the last step in really “seeing” the object.
  • There is no use in forcing a child to work in a nature journal. Regular exposure to the outdoor life will eventually lead to a desire to keep a record of what they see that interests them.
  • Every nature journal is unique to the owner. I tend to record scenes in my journal. My daughter usually finds something pretty to draw. My boys find “things” to record in their journals like sticks, bugs, leaves, and seeds.
  • Don’t limit your journals to sketches. Sometimes we include photos in our journals. We have taken rubbings of bark or leaves. We have even taped small objects into our journals. Variety in our journals make them more interesting.

It will always be a joy to look back on the sketches and remember what fun you had exploring the outdoors. It’s homeschool nature study the gentle way.

Nature Study Year Round Support for Your Homeschool Family

We would love for your family to join us for the Outdoor Hour Challenges! We will help you bring the Handbook of Nature Study to Life in Your Homeschool! The Getting Started ebook is available in every level of membership here on Homeschool Nature Study. It provides access to Outdoor Hour Challenges curriculum and tons of resources to enrich your homeschool.

This post first published by Barb May 2008. Updated January 2022.

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Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter – August 2014 Preschool

HNS Newsletter August 2014 Cover Button

August 2014 – Preschool Nature Study

Please read the following explanation outlining how to get this month’s newsletter.

The newsletter link is not in this email but will come separately. 

If you don’t receive the separate email with the download link, you probably aren’t subscribed to the blog yet. This will take less than a minute to do if you follow the steps below.

  • You will need to go to the Handbook of Nature Study, look to the top right corner for the box to type in your preferred email address, and then confirm the email that comes to your email inbox.
  • Once you subscribe, you will receive a thank you email from me with the download link.

This month’s newsletter link will be available only during the month of August so be sure to download it before 8/31/14.

Remember! All of the archived and current newsletters are available as part of the Ultimate Naturalist Library…every level!

Contents of this edition of the newsletter include: 

  • 4 articles focused on preschool nature study and activities
  • August Nature Journal Topper printable
  • New Series! Preschool Nature Table Ideas! Each month will have ideas for creating a little nature study opportunity for your young ones using a nature table or shelf.
  • My favorite links for the month

Please note that Ultimate Naturalist and Journey level members have access to members only printables each month in addition to the newsletter printables. You will need to log into your account and then go to the “Other Releases” section.

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Book Review: Fifteen Minutes Outside-365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect With Your Kids

All those years ago when our family started implementing the idea to go outside for just fifteen minutes at a time, we could never have imagined all the things we would find to learn about and enjoy as we spent just a little time each day together in our own backyard.


Rebecca Cohen has written a gem of a book, Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids, which explores this idea even more as she made a promise to herself to get outside for at least fifteen minutes each day for an entire year…no matter the weather.

By month and season, Rebecca Cohen gives the reader a  comprehensive list of things to actually do outdoors during those fifteen minutes outside, providing suggestions to make it more enjoyable.

“Going outside with my family every day has changed my life. Instead of frantically running from task to task, I have learned to use the spaces in my schedule to look around, breathe deeply, and live in the moment.”
Rebecca Cohen – 15 Minutes Outside

These monthly lists form the heart of this book and will inspire families for many years…no more wondering what to do outside or how to entice your children into stepping outdoors with you. You can keep this book handy and reference it on those days where you just don’t feel like going outside but know that once you do you will be refreshed.

As a family, we are naturally happier when we are outside, learning and active together. It doesn’t feel like a chore.”
Rebecca Cohen – 15 Minutes Outside

Don’t miss the opportunity to give these ideas a try. Currently the price of this book on Amazon.com is $10.19…..what a bargain. She has a free download list of  “50 Outdoor Activities for Busy Families” that you can use to get you started.

My copy of this book has found a spot on my nature shelf and its pages are marked and highlighted with things I want to try with my boys. Although the book is aimed at younger children, I found quite a few ideas to explore with my teens.

Rebecca aimed to keep the activities in this book simple, little or no cost, and to be enjoyed every day of the year. I think she hit the mark and this book will help nature loving families to enrich their time outdoors without much extra effort. Thanks Rebecca!


Along with the book, she has a wonderful product that I know you are going to love! She has created Curiosity Cards for you to use as starting points for conversations that can take place anywhere. These laminated cards on a ring can be stowed easily in a purse, backpack, or hooked to a stroller. I recently took these on a day trip with my family and we made use of the cards as a way to stimulate meaningful conversations about thoughts, emotions, dreams for the future, and just plain getting to know each other better.

  • What would you like do more of every day?
  • Find two things that feel different from each other.
  • Look for animal tracks or signs of animals.
  • What game could we make up right now?

These Curiosity Cards are a gem and I give them a big thumbs up for my fellow nature loving families. You will use these for a long time in your family.

Don’t miss Rebecca’s website: Rebecca Plants. Here you will find lots of encouragement for getting outdoors with your family, including a whole series of videos to watch.

Rebecca has generously offered to supply a copy of the 15 Minutes Outside book to one of my readers. Use the Rafflecopter gadget to enter a random drawing for one copy of this exciting book. Hurry and enter the giveaway before midnight 7/27/12 and I will announce the winner over the weekend.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please note that I was not paid for this review but I did receive the book and Curiosity Cards for free in exchange for my honest opinion.

Rebecca’s products are a perfect compliment to the 
Outdoor Hour Challenge!

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Morning Circle Time – Nature Study

October’s Party
October gave a party; the leaves by hundreds came,
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples, and leaves of every name.
The Chestnuts came in yellow, the Oaks in crimson dressed,
The lovely Misses Maple, in scarlet looked their best.
-Unknown Author

Many families already implement the idea of a morning circle time. Even in our family with high school age children (and above) we meet together each morning for our version of “circle time” because it has been our established routine for many, many years. Circle time is a great time to include some nature study themes and activities. Here are some ideas to get you started and that will tie into your Outdoor Hour Challenge time.

Image from PreKinders
  • The morning is the perfect time to share daily weather and changes in the trees or plants outdoors. Each day your child can go outside briefly or look out the window to give the morning “nature report”. Younger children can share with their words or use pre-made pictorial cards, then progress to keeping a daily weather/nature journal, and finally older students can record temperatures, wind direction, cloud types, and changes in plants, animals, and birds.  (PreKinders has weather themed printables for your circle time activities.)
  • Memorize a seasonal poem or a stanza from a poem like the one quoted at the top of this blog entry.
  • If you already include a “color of the week”, why not ask what things in nature are that particular color? Try to get them to dig deeper than the ordinary by building on your outdoor time. You can give them hints to get started by reminding them of subjects you observed outdoors. What did we see yesterday in the garden that was yellow? Can you remember the name of a yellow bird? What yellow object did you sketch in your nature journal last week?
  • If you have a “number of the week”, ask them to list objects they have learned about as part of their nature study? Can you name four birds? What are five garden flowers? Can you think of six mammals?
  • You can use this time to work on your verbal skills by having an object from your nature table to pass to each child. They take turns describing the object using as many adjectives as they can.

Gently work into your circle time some references to your nature study and it will make some important connections as your children get in the routine of observing and learning about their very own backyard.

Circle Time - Kendra Fletcher

If you haven’t had a chance to read about circle time on Kendra’s Preschoolers and Peace blog, I highly recommend you pop over and take a look.

Circle Time- Plan The Best Part of Your Day: Kendra has an ebook outlining ideas for circle time and she has generously offered to share a copy with one of my readers. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment here on this entry (one comment per person please). Each comment will have a chance in the random drawing of names on Friday, October 14, 2011 8 AM (EST).
Thanks Kendra.

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Nature Study with VERY Young Children

I had an email from Dana and she has a one year old. She was asking for some tips on how to get started with nature study with very little ones who are prone to putting things in their mouth….she lives in Tanzania, Africa and is worried about bugs and poisonous plants.

I have been thinking about her situation and decided that it isn’t any different from those of us who live in other parts of the world. Having a young toddler and providing an opportunity for nature study is pretty much the same anywhere. When children are very young, it is only natural that they want to explore in a way that is meaningful to them and sometimes that means putting things in their mouth. Our job as parents is to provide a safe environment for them to explore. Just like you baby-proof your home to ensure your toddler can play and learn in a safe environment, you can baby-proof an outdoor area for your child as well. The space doesn’t need to be large. It could be a blanket on the grass or sand, a patch of grass or weeds that is near where you hang laundry or tend a garden, even a spot on the patio with a few potted plants and natural items to explore.

“As for the baby, when he is put down, he will kick and crawl and grab at the grass, loving every minute of his freedom as he takes in nature in his own way. He should be dressed in something comfortable that can handle a bit of dirt and play.” Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, page 45

Nature study at this age is something you will want to do together to spark interest and to start the process of learning to be a good observer.

“..the mother must not miss this opportunity of being outdoors to train the children to have seeing eyes, hearing ears and seeds of truth deposited into their minds to grow and blossom on their own in the secret chambers of their imaginations.” Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, page 45

What does this mean in a practical way? Our yard has lots of things to explore so many times we would just walk around our own backyard together. There were rocks to turn over and look at what was hiding underneath…..ants and spiders and crickets. There were plants to smell like roses, thyme, and lavender. There were trees to touch and leaves to gather. It is fun to have a few items that they can take on their walks like nets, buckets, pouches, binoculars, or magnifying lenses. We kept our outdoor tools in a crate outside the back door.

We always had a vegetable garden so the little ones would accompany us outside to water, weed, and harvest. I tried to make sure that there were things growing that they liked to eat so they could harvest and eat the veggies right out in the garden….peas and beans were some of their favorites. They almost always had their own “garden” where they were free to dig and explore under my supervision. Most little ones have no fear worms and spiders so it is the perfect time to nurture their love for those sorts of things.


Digging in the dirt is great therapy for children and adults as well. The fragrance of damp soil and fresh earth leave imprints on our minds that last into the winter season. As we would weed, I would point out the plant parts like roots and stem. Even if all you have is a pot or two on your porch or deck, this will provide a great start to learning more about the plant world.

Once you decide you want to venture out of the yard, the stroller is a great way to get the little ones out but still let them be a part of our nature time. You can point things out to get them started but soon they will be looking for clouds and birds on their own. Be flexible. I have one child that would rather push the stroller than sit and ride so I would tell him that he had to keep a hand on the stroller as we walked along at his pace. This kept him from running too far ahead and I could interact with him as interesting things caught our eye. This gave him a little sense of freedom but I could be in close supervision.

Have you ever smelled the sulfur/rotten egg smell of a mud pot? This photo was taken in Lassen National Park and the looks on their faces tells you that it is not a pleasant smelling place….except for maybe Amanda and she has always been a smiley girl no matter what.

From a very early age, we included the little ones along on our family hikes. The baby backpack was our best friend and the boys both loved riding along on dad’s back as we hiked. We trained them to ride in the backpack and then gradually shifted them to walking on their own.

From the age of three, we geared our hikes to allow the littlest ones to hike as much as possible on their own. This meant a slower pace and a shorter distance but it was very enjoyable to see the trail from their eyes and to follow their lead from time to time.

“Adults should realize that 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


Nature study at an early age is about exposure and a growing awareness of what is surrounding you at all times. Your enthusiasm is so crucial to capturing your child’s interest. Think about what interests you about the outdoors and then come up with a way to involve your children.
 

Here are some ideas that I have used over the years:
One of our favorite daily activities when the boys were very small was to let them use a small watering can to water our deck plants each morning. We would observe the flowers and play in the water a little but they began to have an appreciate for growing things. Growing marigolds in a pot is something we did a lot when the boys were little.

The boys also have always loved helping to fill the birdfeeders. This would get us outdoors and talking about the different visitors we had that ate the seeds. Scooping seed was a favorite toddler activity as well.

Collecting things to bring home and organize is a great toddler activity. I have one son that always had a pocket full of acorns every time he went outside. We collected them in a coffee can each day and he enjoyed spilling them out on the deck to count and sort through on his own.

Rocks, feathers, sticks, and shells can all be kept on a nature table. Many times these natural items were mixed in with their imaginative play. Block cities had acorn people and Hotwheel cars rode over stick bridges.This was another way to have them enjoy their time outdoors.


Two very dirty little boys having the time of their lives on a hike.

Indoor props could come outdoors to be played with in their dirt cities. I had a tub with a few things like plastic animals, toy cars, spoons, cups, scraps of fabric, and anything else that could serve as accessories to their imaginative outdoor play. They would add in leaves, cones, seeds, and other bits to make pretend villages and cities. On hot days we would include water in our play in the form of a bucket or tub.

Start to look at the outdoors as an extension of your indoor life….a really big play room. Include your little ones along with your outdoor activities. The simple act of taking a daily walk together will provide more than enough fuel to start the nature study engine. Take it slowly and enjoy seeing the world through your little one’s eyes.

Note to readers: All the photos in this entry are of my kids when they were very, very much younger than they are now. This was a great photo scanning project and it brought back so many nature related memories. Don’t waste time…get started with nature study as soon as you can with your little ones because it is a great way to build your family and your relationships.

 

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