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Taking Your Homeschool Winter Nature Study Indoors

Taking your winter nature studies indoors when the weather outdoors is proving to be a challenge may be just the thing you need every once in a while. We have a lovely post from the archives to inspire your homeschool nature studies indoors for those days that you can’t face getting outdoors.

Taking Your Winter Nature Studies Indoors

I knew as I posted the challenges each of the last few weeks that there were families who were buried under snow already and those that have really cold temperatures to deal with. I received a personal email from several of you letting me know that you are suspending your Outdoor Hour Challenge (OHC) participation until spring and it made me a little sad. I have been thinking hard about how to help you to keep up a system of nature study while you are living a more indoor centered life until the temperatures warm up.

Taking your winter nature study indoors

Believe it or not, although my photos are not showing it, we are experiencing cold temperatures here in Northern California. I know that in perspective that they are not as cold as some parts of the world right now but still we have had ice and frost every morning this week and yesterday on our afternoon hike it was 37 degrees. My nose and ears were cold because I took off down the trail without my knit hat. We occasionally will get snow that lasts a few days which is just enough to make it fun and not a chore. I share all this so you don’t think of me as sitting outside in my shorts in the sun under a palm tree just because I live in California.

What can you do to bring a little nature study time to a cold winter’s day?

Long lists of nature study ideas always seem to overwhelm me so I thought I would share just a few really *great* ideas that could get you started in taking your winter nature studies indoors.

  • Hang a bird feeder outside a window where you can sit inside and look out at your daily feathered visitors. A simple seed or suet feeder outside your window will bring years of enjoyment as you get to know and learn about your local birds.
  • Keep a window sill garden. One of our OHC families wrote about their window sill garden, its a great and inexpensive way to enjoy nature.
Taking Your Winter Nature Studies Indoors Keeping a Window Sill Garden

Here is her photo of their window area. Doesn’t it look inviting and make you really want to take a minute to not only look out the window but also take a peek at the plants? They would make great subjects for a nature journal as well. Thanks to Mama Stories for letting me use her photo.

  • Grow a Tabletop Garden. Last year a lot of families tried an indoor gardening project and had great success. It is something easy and inexpensive and so interesting to grow. I was thinking that it was about time to plant another dish garden using root vegetables.Here are the instructions and photos at Hearts and Trees – Tabletop Garden Instructions and Notebook page

This is a really easy project even for little ones to manage. The results are fantastic and will brighten up a winter day for sure. Here is what the tabletop garden looks like after it starts growing. Update #2

This was our tabletop garden last year and it always cheered me up to take a minute to view its progress. We had great results even in this not so very bright window, in a room where we don’t keep the temperature very warm. Things to learn about: roots, leaves, and then eventually flowers. Grow the garden and keep up the notebook pages and you will bring a little nature study into your winter.

  • Another activity that we do around here is to play nature journal catch-up when the weather is too cold or wet to go outside. Items that we have on our nature shelf can be brought to the table and sketched or painted into the nature journal on a long winter’s afternoon. Many times this activity will spark a memory or a question that we had that we never took the time to research before. This is a perfect time to dig a little deeper into subjects that interest your child. A stop at the library the next time you are out running errands can provide the opportunity to look for books on the birds, trees, and wildflowers of summer.
  • Plan next summer’s garden. Okay, I admit it. I love gardening catalogues. One favorite winter nature-related activity that we do in our home is plan next summer’s garden. Browsing and dreaming over the seed and garden catalogs warms your heart in a way that brings optimism and hope during a bitterly cold day. The promise of a garden full of green things can help pass the time as you stare at the starkness of a winter’s scene out your window. Sketch the garden out on paper with colored pencils. Ask your children to participate. Designate one catalog as the cutting catalog and let the children cut the photos of flowers and veggies out and glue them to paper.

My favorites: Burpee, Park Seed, and Pinetree Garden Seeds.

I have in mind a whole new idea for a summer’s garden. It was sparked by this family’s idea and blog entry at Understanding Charlotte. Make sure to pop over to her blog and view her photos of how they brought nature study up close during the summer. This is such a great way to attract nature right up to your window. This idea could be started next spring and kept going for next winter as well. Many times if we just leave plants in the ground over the winter, creatures find a way to use them. I still have sunflowers…very dead sunflowers….in my garden but they provide food and shelter for visiting birds. I think this is such a great concept for families that have limited space or need to contain their garden in pots on a patio. You can use your imagination and plan your own window accessible garden for next spring and summer and winter.

  • Last but not least, don’t minimize the power of a quick walk outdoors if the weather cooperates. Seize a few moments each week to step outdoors even if you are bundled up and initially not excited about the thought of getting cold on purpose.

One of my favorite moments in the winter are those few minutes after the snow stops and everything is covered in whiteness. The stillness and quiet of that moment are priceless in our modern world. It is as if everything has stood still and you can capture the clean white slate that snow gives…even in the city or in a neighborhood.

The time before all the kids head out to play and enjoy the winter games of childhood is one of the gifts of winter. As an adult don’t forget the delight you had as a child when it snowed. Muster up some enthusiasm and view the winter weather from your child’s point of view. It can seem like a miracle to them.

“There is enough to see outside in winter to satisfy any poet. In fact, winter may be even better because there aren’t so many things going on in nature that they crowd each other out. It’s easier to notice what’s there.”
Charlotte Mason volume 1, page 86

If you are buried under a blanket of snow which makes getting outdoors a challenge, then consider taking your winter nature studies indoors.

Join the Homeschool Nature Study Membership For Helpful Tips Year Round

We have an exciting winter nature study program planned for the balance of our winter Outdoor Hour Challenges during January and February full of more simple ideas to spark your family’s love for nature at this very challenging time of the year. Plenty of ideas for taking your winter nature studies indoors!

These plans are available right now for our members along with a nature study calendar full of links to explore. Both these are exclusive to our membership so if you are not yet a member please do consider joining our Outdoor Hour Challenge membership…we would love to have you become part of the family.

An image showing the full collection of Nature Study courses

Connect With Our Homeschool Community On Social Media

Did you enjoy this Outdoor Hour Challenge? Be sure to tag us on Instagram @outdoorhourchallenge and use the hashtag #outdoorhourchallenge so we can see and comment!

Winter Nature Study Resources

Here are some of our favorite resources for winter nature study!

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Blue Jays and Bluebirds


Outdoor Hour Challenge

Blue Birds – Jays and Bluebirds

From the Archives and from the Learning About Birds ebook


This is a fun challenge that incorporates a study of blue birds and also the study of bird beaks. Even the youngest of children will be able to participate after you explain the challenge to look for various kinds of bird beaks.

Make sure to use the ideas in the archive link above to encourage the observation of birds and their beaks.

Bird Beak Graphic from


Additional Idea for Bird Study

Use the All About Birds website to look up more information about any birds you study this week: All About Birds. The archive link above includes links (bottom of the archive post) to this website for the particular blue birds we are learning about in this challenge.  I always love to click on the “sound” tab to hear each bird’s particular song.

Are you enjoying your bird study? You may wish to check out the complete series of bird challenges included in the Learning About Birds ebook.

Learning About Birds ebook Bird List @handbookofnaturestudy

This blue bird challenge is from the Learning About Birds ebook here on the Handbook of Nature Study. It’s found in the Ultimate and Journey level memberships for you to download and use with your family. If you would like to gain access to this ebook, you can purchase a membership now and have instant access.

Ultimate Naturalist Library September 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy

Use the discount code BIRDLOVER5 for $5 off an Ultimate Naturalist Membership.

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How to Be a Better Birder: Learning Bird Calls

“When a bird sings, it’s telling you what it is and where it is. Learn bird calls and open a new window on your birding.”
All About Birds website, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

It all started last year with our visit to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology…a desire to be a better birder. I have known that my listening skills are not as sharp as they could be and I made it a goal to learn more of my local bird’s songs and calls, one bird at a time.

We have been at it for about ten months and I have found that just paging through The Backyard Birdsong Guideand listening to the songs has greatly helped me learn to distinguish between a House sparrow and a House finch, a Titmous and a Nuthatch. I think it is like learning a whole new language and as you work on it your ears get accustomed to hearing subtle differences.

This page on All About Birds has some wonderful tips for learning to recognize bird songs: Songs and Calls. I highly recommend it for anyone who is trying to learn this skill. My boys pick up on it faster than I do so don’t hesitate to share the tips with your children.

Last summer I was able to identify a Hermit thrush during our Oregon camping trip by listening and repeating in my head the song he cried out in the forest. I followed the advice to put the bird song into words that I could remember. I now can immediately identify it with no question.

The Steller’s jay that has moved into my neighborhood in the last few months can be heard easily and distinguished from the Western scrub jay with ease.

The titmouse, the Spotted towhee, the Cedar waxwing…all are easily identified now by their sound.

It feels good. You can do it too by taking one bird at a time and making your own memory or aid to remembering.

During my recent trip to Florida, I used my camera video to capture some bird calls for later identifying.

Do I think it is worth the effort to learn the various bird songs of my neighborhood birds? Yes! It has given our family so much more enjoyment in our birding and has helped us to be more skilled at listening. You can use the ideas in last week’s challenge to help you get started: Birding by Ear.

Do you know any of your local bird’s songs? Widgets

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Garden Joy! Backyard Birds – Colorful Flowers

Western scrub jay in our walnut tree.
White-breasted nuthatch doing his upside down thing.
Scrub jay taking a bath in the lawn sprinklers.

We have had a busy week around the birdfeeders which always makes me happy. The birds are enjoying our yard, partaking in the plums, the sunflower seeds, the walnuts, the birdbaths, the sprinklers, and the various feeders. I sometimes get very distracted….especially when I pull the camera out and try to capture a few images.

We all love watching them and hearing their songs as we go about our day.

So far today, I have heard quite a few birds: American crow, California quail, Western scrub jay, White-breasted nuthatch, House finches, Anna’s hummingbirds, and our little titmouse.

The sunflowers are still going strong and my very first zinnia from the transplants my dad sent over is blooming! There is a whole row of zinnias just about to burst out in color! Doesn’t it make you happy to have colorful flowers in your garden?

I have to admit the garden is beginning to feel like autumn is coming…I have a bunch of clean up to do around the various boxes but it is still too warm to do it in the afternoon. I like to go out early and get it done while everything is still in the shade. No hurry though. Autumn will be here before we know it (matter of days!).

I managed to squeeze in another Tuesday Garden Party entry this year….


Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Great Backyard Bird Count 2012 – Complete!

American Robin in the tree
What a great weekend of bird watching we had as we participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count! We have finished our counting and I thought I would post our results.

  1. Western Scrub Jay 2
  2. Oak Titmouse 2
  3. White-breasted Nuthatch 2
  4. Spotted Towhee 2
  5. White-crowned Sparrow 10
  6. Dark Eyed Junco 11
  7. House Finch 10
  8. House Sparrow 14
  9. California Towhee 1
  10. American Robin 42
  11. American Crow 3
  12. Anna’s Hummingbird 3
  13. Nuttall’s Woodpecker 1
  14. Mourning Dove 5
  15. Northern Flicker 1
  16. Sharp-shinned Hawk 2
  17. Western Bluebirds 4
  18. Lesser Goldfinches 4

You can see more images of our backyard birds in this post: December Bird List with Two New Birds .

Western Scrub Jay in the Feeder

We compared our numbers to the last three year’s numbers and there is virtually no change. The only significant bird missing from our list is the Cedar Waxwing. We usually have a flock come through during the GBBC weekend and this year we did not. We were talking about why that may be and the only piece of information that may be significant is that every other year we have had at least one day of snow on the GBBC weekend. We have not seen the flocks of Cedar Waxwings that we usually see this time of year come through yet. What does that mean? Maybe nothing but it is worthy of noting.

Our family really enjoys the bird count each year and now that we are participating in Project Feederwatch we have become very good at recognizing our feeder birds. Learning to identify your backyard birds is easy and you can take it one bird at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed and make it fun for the family.

Bird Outdoor Hour Challenges
There is a series of bird nature study challenges here on my blog. Each challenge helps your family get to your own backyard birds. I invite you to use these free challenges as a way to develop a love of birds in your family.

Bird Sleuth button
There is a wealth of birding information on the internet but I have not found a more homeschool-friendly site than the ones sponsored by Cornell University. I would love to encourage you all to subscribe to their homeschool blog (click the logo above to pop over there now).

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Just a Few Backyard Birds…And a New Bird Resource

Are you ready for some more bird photos? I have been busy a little bit each day taking advantage of the dry weather to keep track of the backyard birds that visit.

Woodpecker 1 18 11

First up in my son’s camera is the Downy Woodpecker. He set up the camera on a tripod and we all watched until we saw the woodpecker visit the suet feeder. He was able to snap a few good shots as the bird ate a little lunch. This is a large and colorful bird that we always look forward to seeing in our backyard. Here is a LINK to what he sounds like.

Scrub jays

If you have read my blog with any frequency you know that we have an abundance of Western Scrub Jays in our backyard, even a nesting pair. They always seem to know when I put out their favorite treats….peanuts and walnuts.

White-breasted Nuthatch

We have a pair of White-breasted nuthatches that come every day to our backyard. They are so much fun to watch as they climb up and down the trunks of trees, occasionally stopping to look for insects in the bark.
Here is a LINK to a video showing how they climb.

Squirrel in birdfeeder

Oops! That is certainly not a bird! This fox squirrel is one of three that are daily in our birdfeeders. In fact, as I look out my window at this very moment there is one in the feeder that I can see. I have given up trying to keep them out of the feeders and I added one squirrel-proof feeder to another area just so the birds will still have a place to eat when the squirrels are in town.

I don’t think I have shared the link to a new bird related page that I wrote over on Squidoo. Hop over and maybe you will find some fresh ideas for your yard.

Tomorrow I will be posting the third challenges in the Winter and Winter Wednesday series. Don’t forget to link up your entries for the first two challenges since you are never late!

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Some More Backyard Birds to Share

We have had an abundance of birds in our yard for the past few weeks. Part of the reason is my new birdfeeder station in our front yard but mostly because it seems to be that time of year.

I grabbed my son’s camera the other day and took quite a few photos of just a small fraction of the variety of birds right in our yard.

Western Scrub Jay with an Acorn
There are always lots of Western scrub jays in our yard. This one found an acorn snack.

Northern Mockingbird
This is the best I could get of the Northern mockingbird in our front tree.

Western Bluebird
There have been quite a few Western bluebirds hanging around this week. I was able to snap a good photo of this pretty little bird.

Nuttall's Woodpecker- Female
There is a pair of Nuttall’s woodpeckers that are frequently on the utility pole across the street from our house. This seems to be the female…the male has red on his head.

Western Scrub Jay in the Rocks
This Western scrub jay was poking around in the rocks. I think he was trying to find some acorns or walnuts that he stashed but I was able to catch him holding still for a few seconds so I could capture his beautiful blue feathers.

Stay tuned because I am sure I will have some more to share soon. We spend time watching birds everyday and it is always fun to share.

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Western Scrub Jay Nest

As part of our great front yard remodel, we cut down a tree.

Western Scrub Jay Nest
My boys brought me this nest that they found among the branches. I knew there was an abandoned nest up there and it was exciting to see it close-up.

Wester Scrub Jay Nest Close Up
We were able to only see the stick part from underneath but now we see it is lined with soft grasses for the eggs and babies.

We know it is from a Western Scrub Jay because we watched the baby birds fly away this past spring. We know they have a new tree to nest in across the yard…it has better protection and we think they may even have another nest there too.

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Backyard Birds Part 2

Today it snowed. Today it rained. Let’s just say we were surprised at how many birds we had in our feeders despite the crazy weather.

I had my Canon Rebel out again and did some practicing and experimenting with various settings.

Western Scrub Jay in Sweet Gum Tree 2
This is a resident Western Scrub Jay in our Sweet gum tree. I like the little sticker balls in this photo.

Mourning Doves 2
This is my absolute favorite photo of the day. A pair of Mourning doves perched in the Sweet gum tree and did some posing just for me.

Mourning Dove 1
I love their little pink feet. They also make a wonderful sound when they fly. If you would like to hear what it sounds like, click over to Cornell and scroll down to where it has the listing for wing whistles. This is exactly what it sounds like.

Junco in the Rain
Here is one of our many, many juncos sitting in the rain.

Northern Mockingbird 1 with worm
This photo is from yesterday and even though it is a little blurry, I thought you might like to see one of our Northern Mockingbirds with a tasty little treat in his mouth. He stopped on my neighbor’s mailbox and looked over his shoulder at me before flying off.

That’s enough birds for today……thanks for indulging my bird photography habit.

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A Few Bird Photos from My Saturday

My oldest son gave me his old Canon Rebel to use and yesterday I took a deep breath and started using it for the first time. I am a little intimidated by the sheer number of things I can do with this camera compared with my point and shoot.

I must have taken 100 photos and there are only four that are worth sharing. 🙂

Scrub Jay Gathering Sticks
I shared last week that we have a Western Scrub Jay building a nest in our front yard. I was able to capture him gathering some twigs for the nest as he flew from the backyard to the front yard about fifty times.

Scrub Jay in the feeder
Here is another jay in the feeder. I love the way his tail feathers are all folded up in this photo. He really is the King of this particular feeder. He spends a great deal of his time chasing the little birds out of the way.

Junco in the feeder
Here is a junco who managed to get his share of dinner before the jay swooped in and scared him away. The juncos are not particular about which feeder they eat in or under. I like the way you can see all his different colors of feathers in this photo.

Junco on the branch
One last photo of one of our resident juncos. He is so cut all puffed up and sitting on the branch of our sweet gum tree.

My goal is to work with the Canon a little each day so that I gain some confidence.

Stay tuned…..