Winter Nature Study: Taking it Inside

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 personal email from several of you letting me know that you are suspending your Outdoor Hour Challenge 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.

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.

The first suggestion is one that you have heard me write about before since it is my number one joy of this time of year. Hang a birdfeeder outside a window where you can sit inside and look out at the visitors each day. Let nature come to you. 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.

We had fun yesterday watching this Western scrub jay try to eat out of the suet feeder as it swung all around like a carnival ride for him.

Recently I read an entry for the Outdoor Hour Challenge where I noticed that this family is keeping a window sill garden. What a great inexpensive way to bring nature indoors when the weather is too cold to go outside.

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 to 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.

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 table top 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. (See the image at the top for an entry my daughter did to record wildflowers she had seen the previous summer.)

Okay, I admit it. I love gardening catalogs. 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 you 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 families 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 is that few minutes after the snow stops and everything is covered in whiteness. The stillness and quiet of that moment is 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 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

Let me know of any further ideas you have for winter nature study. Please send me any links to blog entries where you find families successfully completing winter nature study. I want to start a whole library of practical ideas to keep us inspired over the next few months of nature study. I plan on incorporating winter nature study ideas into the Outdoor Hour Challenges during January and February so stay tuned for some more simple ideas to spark your family’s love for nature at this very challenging time of the year.

More Nature Study Book 2 Winter Wonder cover

Comments

  1. One of our favorite winter nature studies was Fairy Walks. It was an amazing adventure. Early before the sun began to melt it, we went out and viewed the fairy work of the previous night. We especially liked the dew frozen onto spider webs. The brilliance of the tiny ice crystals covering everything in sight along our favorite trail kept us out despite frozen noses. Sometimes we even had a picnic in the snow. Burrr! We tried to capture our fairy walks on paper and were sometimes fairly good at it. Frozen rain on bare branches looks even more fantastic.

  2. Barb, what great cold weather nature study ideas! We did ours on the holly bush this week and next week we might try poinsettia, kinda a Christmas theme. Thanks for giving me an idea how to do nature study, it’s been such a great addition to our week!

  3. I’m getting the carrots and turnips out right away! But I’m still waiting for those seed catalogs!

  4. We don’t mail out a catalog, although we realize how great it is to drool over catalogs in the cold winter months. For a family owned business they are just not an affordable option. You can view and purchase all of our varieties on our website though, and there is a ton of information there to get you dreaming of spring.

  5. Awesome ideas!!! Thanks!! It gets cold here where I am but not like some have it. It’s cold to me though because this is all I am used to. =o)So anyway on really cold days or cold and rainy days it will be great to have some things going on inside. We are going to do a more indepth study on our chickens this winter. I figured why not since we see them everyday!! Be Blessed–Angie in GA

  6. Thanks for this post. I most enjoy nature study in the winter because it isn’t too hot, and the leaves are gone so you can really see the birds and the nests in the trees. (We live in N. Texas.) But when it gets down below freezing, I am a real wimp and do not like going outside!

  7. Our inside idea- have the kids crowd around the screen and read your blog together and then click on the pics to enlarge them! Thanks for all the great work- you are our “window” from western NY to CA! Bonus- it was a good lesson for my young ones to know it does get colder in CA too ;-)

  8. Krista,

    You made me laugh….I can imagine your kids gathered around the computer because we usually do the same thing with the challenges. I read a great entry on Mr. Linky and I have to share it with everyone else in the family. :)

    It goes both ways. Our family is learning so much about other parts of the country and the world.

    Thanks,
    Barb

  9. Great Post with fabulous ideas!

  10. Thanks for the terrific ideas! We are enjoying watching the birds and squirrels at our feeders as the weather is turning colder (in central NC). There are so many opportunities for making bird feeders, watching to see which foods are favored by which birds, etc. We also enjoy the garden catalogs and indoor gardening (a freshwater planted aquarium, a terrarium with carnivorous plants, houseplants, etc.) during the cooler months. We are also still taking regular short hikes on nature trails near our home. I look forward to reading more winter weather ideas!

  11. We’ve begun reading _Discover Nature in Winter: Things to Know and Do_ by Elizabeth P. Lawlor (she’s written other books in her Discover Nature series, too). Thank you very much for all the fantastic resources and ideas you share! Our family can’t get enough of nature.:-)
    Kathy @ http://www.restorationplace.typepad.com

  12. Hi I am from West Yorkshire in the North of England. I have spent a happy hour reading your site. I think it is fantastic.

    It would be good to have something comparable for our English families (I am a grandma!)

    It looks a super and worthwhile project.

  13. Hi Marge….glad you came over from the UK.

    We actually have several families that participate from the UK and one family from Scotland too.

    You can adapt most any of the ideas to your part of the world.

    Thanks for stopping by,
    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  14. Hi, Barb!!! :) Thanks so much for linking to Understanding Charlotte. Great post :)

    Blessings,
    Jacci

  15. joyful jean says:

    Being in upper Michigan we are cold and snowy, but I think it is important to get outside and enjoy the beautiful world God has given us. I am just now trying to find actual activities for us to do while we are out there to add to our nature journal. We bundle up and get out at least once a week. These are a few of the activities we have done:

    The boys followed rabbit tracks in the snow (under a bunch of pine trees :), then we talked about why the rabbit tracks were there, what they eat in the winter, predators and how the rabbits survives in this cold weather. Very fun! This could be done with any tracks in the snow, I remember one time follwing a porcupine trail.

    We have been looking at snowflakes with a microscope & trying to draw them. Many ideas in Discover Nature in Winter by Elizabeth Lawlor.

    Studying the weather has been fun in the winter also. We took thermometers and compared the temp of the air, 3″ under the snow, and then as close to the ground. Very interesting and good discussion on how snow is insulation for the earth during these cold days.

    I would love more ideas on cold weather discoveries and adventures.

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