How to Use the Outdoor Hour Challenges: Fitting the Challenges to Your Family

Every family is different so maybe these tips will help you look at the Outdoor Hour Challenges in a new light.

Some factors to consider:
Age of Your Children:
  • Younger children-try to create exposure and have lots of time in free exploration outdoors
  • Older children-provide some structure to the preparation for your outdoor time, allow increased time outdoors, offer short follow up activities if they are interested

Your Particular Backyard habitat:

  • Suburban-Assess available trees, shrubs, and garden space. Focus on areas like birds, trees, insects, clouds or other subjects that you can find outside your back door. Container gardening is a great opportunity to create a natural area in even the smallest of backyards or on porches and decks.
  • Rural-Opportunity for longer walks each week and increased subjects to study. Perhaps planting a garden or just some child friendly plants like marigolds, sunflowers, beans, or morning glories.

Your Family’s Interests:

  • Follow your child’s interest as much as possible. Observe them as you go about your week and learn what interests them…insects? birds? lizards? mammals?
  • Do you have a pet that you can use as the center of your nature study? Cats, dogs, fish, lizards, hamsters all have their place in nature study.
  • Do you have access to larger farm animals? Horses, cows, goats, chickens, ducks? Take advantage of what you have at hand.

How much time do you have each week?

  • Ideally, you should be able to give an opportunity for outdoor time each day but realistically, you can pencil in one afternoon or part of an afternoon each week for nature study if you make it a priority.
  • Many families fit their nature study in as part of other activities. When you are on the way to another activity, can plan on stopping for a short period of time at the park for some nature study?

How About An Example?

Let’s say that your family has preschool or young grammar age children. You have a suburban backyard. You have one afternoon a week that you can devote to nature study. You are beginners in the focus area of birds. How will you use the Outdoor Hour Challenges?
First of all, I suggest that you complete the few pages of reading for the challenge early in the week. Highlight any points you feel would be of interest to your children. I would pick only one or two points to share with young children.

If there are additional resources available, view those and print out any materials you would like to share with your children after your outdoor time.

Make the priority of your week’s nature study your outdoor time and make the most of it.

Prepare the children as much as you can in a way that is appropriate for their ages. If the lesson for the week is to learn about bird’s beaks, you might mention a few facts (check your notes) about bird beaks before you head out the door.

I might start off our outdoor time with a walk around the yard to see if we find anything new or interesting. If a bird happens along at the feeder or anywhere we can observe it, stop and quietly observe the bird, making special note of the bird’s beak.

After the birds flies away, take a minute to ask if your child was able to observe anything about the bird’s beak. Was it long, short, pointed, round, black, yellow, bigger than the head, and how did the bird use the beak?

Enjoy your time outdoors together and don’t spend your time lecturing or even talking very much at all.

” there should be as little talking from her (mother) as possible, and what little there is should have a definite purpose. ” Charlotte Mason, volume 1, page 45

With very young children, that would be all that I would expect for a beginning nature study session. There will certainly be something that they are interested in if you are actively walking and searching and listening and experiencing your backyard. You are the key by modeling how interesting things are right there in your own space.

In our family, when the children were young, we would work and play in the yard together during our outdoor time. Pulling weeds, cutting flowers to bring inside, sitting on the grass and watching the birds in the feeders, sweeping the walk, swinging on the rope swing, tidying the garden, listening to the bees buzz, turning the compost, watering the deck plants, and so on.

Most of these everyday activities led to questions about nature which we would investigate later on either with books we had on hand or during our next trip to the library. Again, be diligent about observing what your child is interested in during your outdoor time. Build on that interest by perhaps reading up on the subject yourself and sharing with them a few facts to get them started. Look up the topic at the library the next time you visit and show your child the section of books on that topic and let them pick one or two to bring home to look at and read together. This makes the nature study lesson not so much like a lesson.

I hope this helps illustrate how you can take the Outdoor Hour Challenges and taylor them to your particular family and habitat. You should feel free to make adaptations to make each challenge special in your family.


  1. thanks barb! what a timely post. just yesterday, i looked thro all the challenges to see what area i can start the boys on. this post was a nice reminder. thank you!

    also, i’m not sure if you’re aware, but i could not print the seasonal notebooking page. i tried printing it from the four different seasons, but none of them worked.


  2. Nature study is my daughter’s favorite school “subject”. Since I didn’t do nature study growing up, I am learning nearly as much as she is! So when we need to find information on something, we do it together and learn together. I think this gives my daughter a bit of satisfaction. I also think she enjoys the mommy/daughter time of reading together.

    Our winter was rather cold this year. A couple of times they even had to cancel school because they didn’t want the children standing in such cold weather. So, we didn’t get outdoors much at all. I am looking forward to warmer days and lots of time outdoors.

    I just read Charlotte Mason’s strong stance about being outdoors as much as possible. I want to work on doing my best at that this year. I want to have lunches outside, take frequent walks, read under a tree, garden, explore. I don’t want to spend many hours inside.

  3. Barb, this was am incredibly helpful post. Mine are 1, 4, 6 and 8, and I tend to get so overwhelmed thinking we are so “behind.” Thanks for the encouragement to be right where we are. They aren’t little for long!

  4. Barb, thanks for this really helpful post. We are in an urban area and it’s not always easy to do nature study. Your post has reminded me of how much we can see and learn even in our back yard though!

  5. You always have great suggestions. I just need to actually DO these things that I always have good intentions about!

    Thanks for sharing! ♥

  6. Wow, Barb, I didn’t realize you had another blog! You certainly are industrious.

    This was a helpful and meaty post. I am bookmarking it so I can refer back to it.

  7. These are great ideas for getting started. I have found that our Nature Study works best, when I let the kids lead. They enjoy doing the discovering and then sharing with me what they have seen.

  8. Glad everyone enjoyed the post. It is always great to be able to share with others some things you have learned along the way.


    I totally agree…let the kids take the lead.

    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  9. As always you inspire me! =)Thanks for sharing! Be Blessed–Angie in GA

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