Outdoor Hour Challenge #4: It Is Coming Into Focus


Outdoor Hour Challenge #4
It’s Coming Into Focus

1. In the Handbook of Nature Study,
read “The Uses of Scientific Names” on pages 10 and 11. Also read “The Field Notebook” on pages 13-15. Highlight or underline the points that you would like to remember.

2. I am going to suggest that you pick a focus area for your nature study. Taking into account what you have close at hand, what season it is, and your child’s interest, look through the table of contents in the Handbook of Nature Study and pick one section that you will focus on for the next six to eight weeks. It might be a good time to study garden flowers (bulbs), wildflowers, birds, or trees if it is already warm in your area. If you still have lots of snow, you could focus on mammals, birds, or water forms. (For suggested nature study rotations using the Handbook of Nature Study, see the Ambleside Online’s nature study page for ideas. http://amblesideonline.org/NatureSch.shtml) If you have chosen a focus area, turn to the introductory page for that section and take the time to read just that page in the Handbook of Nature Study.

3. Take your 10-15 minute walk outdoors. Encourage your children to observe quietly for some of that time, helping to train them to be aware of the sounds as well as the sights of their own backyard. If you have chosen a focus, spend a few minutes looking for an object to study. Be alert to ideas for further research in your focus area. For example, if you have chosen birds as your focus area, you can look for feathers or nests as well as the birds themselves.

4. Follow up with discussion and research in your focus area if you have chosen one. If you have chosen a focus, begin a list of items that you have observed that fall within that subject. For example, if you have chosen birds as your focus, try to identify a bird you saw today, look it up in the Handbook of Nature Study, and read more about that particular bird if possible. Add the bird’s name to your list of birds seen for the term. Please Note: If your child found something to research other than an object from your focus area, be flexible and go with their interest.

5. Give the opportunity for a nature journal entry.

“The book should be considered the personal property of the child and should never be criticized by the teacher except as a matter of encouragement; for the spirit in which the notes are made is more important than the information they cover.”

“The making of drawings to illustrate what is observed should be encouraged.”

Last week I suggested a journal page after observation and discussion. Offer the opportunity once again for your child to draw and write a page to add to their notebook. I have found that if I pull out my nature journal and draw, the children usually want to join me. Model a simple journal entry if you need to. Remember it can be as easy as a quick drawing, a label, and the date. The whole idea is to start a new habit. Modeling the behavior, setting a good example with our attitude, and giving our children plenty of subjects to draw will all encourage them to give nature journaling a try. 

For younger students, outlining the object in the nature journal and then having them color it in is a perfectly acceptable alternative to drawing the object. You can also do a rubbing by placing the object under the paper and then rubbing it with the side of a crayon.

This challenge is found in the Getting Started ebook which is included in every level of membership. The ebook provides the challenge as shown above as well as custom notebook pages for your follow up nature journal if desired.

Learning the Parts of a Leaf with the Handbook of Nature Study

Blackberry vines grew all around my resting spot yesterday on my hike. I decided to really observe them and then draw them for my nature journal.

Here are some leaves that I chose to draw.

After I started drawing, I realized just how many thorns there are on a blackberry vine. There are thorns on the vine and on the back of the leaf.

Here is a close-up of the thorns on the back of the blackberry leaf. If you click on the photo and make it larger you will see something very interesting. Did you click? Did you see the little insects that I believe are aphids? How cool is that?

“The scientific names given to the parts of plants have been the stumbling block to many teachers, and yet this part of plant study should be easily accomplished. First of all, the teacher should have in mind clearly the names of the parts which she wishes to teach; the illustrations here given are for her convenience.”
Handbook of Nature Study page 456

In the Handbook of Nature Study, you will find a nice diagram of the leaf parts on page 457. On the blackberry leaf it is easy to find all the parts and now I can name them with any leaf.

Here is my nature journal entry for this plant.

It was a great hike and I will be sharing more of what we saw as the days go by.

California Newts and Tree Frogs: Outdoor Hour #3

March 1, 2008
Dear Nature Friends,
Today we took our Outdoor Hour Challenge on the road, or should I say trail? The last Friday of every month we take the day off from our regular schooling to have a Nature Day. This is something I have been doing all year with my 12 and 14 year old sons. We take the day and focus on some aspect of nature that fits in with our science lessons or our interests.

Please remember when you read my post and view my photos (and a short video) that we have been doing nature study in our family since these two boys were able to walk….a long time. We also live in a moderate climate and have limitless access to wilderness. This hike is literally out our door and a few miles away. On a scale of one to ten, this day was a perfect ten. I hope that puts our experience in perspective for you beginners. This is what your nature study can look like in a few years if you keep at it, little by little.

In challenge number 1 I shared our hike on a new trail…the one with the ferns and the unusual bud. We wanted to take the hike all the way to the river this time so after a short stop at our tree in the woods, we headed over to the trail head. We set off at a quick pace but soon we found wildflowers blooming and of course I had to stop to take a few photos.
yellow wildflower 1
Buttercup
purple wildflower 1
I wasn’t able to identify this one yet, need to see it flowering.
We saw our first butterflies of the season, big brown ones and little blue ones. The sun was actually hot and we shed a layer of sweaters and sweatshirts…good thing I had my backpack on this hike. :) We had good conversation as we hiked along. Oh, we saw what the “unusual looking bloom” was from our last trip. It is actually just the way the leaves pop out on this particular plant.


unusual bud 1 unusual bud 3 with leaves
It was a long downhill hike to get to the river, I think about a mile and a half but the hard part is that it was a really steep downhill grade. I kept thinking about the hike back up with great dread. Would the hike be worth it we kept asking?

B and the river trail
The minute we hit the edge of the river and I was shedding my pack, the boys excitedly called to me to come over and look at something. I could tell it was something good by the tone in their voices. Wow! A whole pool of California newts!

newts 1Ca newt 1
We spent quite a bit of time watching them in their courtship dance in the crystal clear water. Fascinating and we felt so grateful to have seen it. My youngest slipped into the water with one foot and had a soaking shoe, sock, and pant leg for the rest of the hike. After a few photos and a video, we all sat at the edge of the river and rested and listened and just soaked it all in.


sitting quielty
Yes, you can train your children to sit quietly and listen.

The boys were soon doing their usual river thing…throwing in rocks. I sat and worked in my nature journal drawing the blackberry leaves and vine next to me. The boys found a little gold flake in the gravel at the edge of the river. We actually live near where the California Gold Rush started on this very river.
gold flake
I need to make a note to put a little vial for collecting things in my backpack. This flake was dropped into the rocks and was never seen again. He wants to go back and try again some time.

But the highlight of the day happened right when we were packing up to go back up the trail…..yes, you haven’t seen the highlight yet. The boys spotted a frog that had just jumped out of the water onto a rock. Back out comes the camera to try to get a photo for their nature journals.
Pacific treefrog
While getting a few good photos, two of the frogs started croaking. Their throats blew up like balloons and the sound of it was awesome. Would you like to hear? [If you are on email subscription you will need to come over the the blog to see the video..I think.]There are actually two frogs croaking in the video and they croak at about 25 seconds and 50 seconds into the video. When we got home we pulled out our field guide and identified this as a Pacific Treefrog.

My YouTube video of a Pacific Treefrog. 

Both boys wanted to do their journals on the newt.
CA newt journal entry
I got a new scanner but I have not learned how to operate it very well yet…maybe next scan will be better.
Thanks for sharing our very exciting “day out” with us. Hope it inspired and encouraged you in to have some of your own adventures with nature study. Our family looks forward to each time we have to share time out of doors. The answer to the question earlier about whether the hike would be worth the effort? Yes, totally and completely. I would go again right now….sore muscles and all.
nature study 1
One last photo of my son and I kneeling over the water trying to see the frogs.