Nature Study: Struggling With Consistency and Focus

A few weeks ago I asked for readers to comment and let me know what keeps them from starting nature study or what happens to make them stop once they get going.

Sally made a comment that resonated with many of you.  She shared that she has a hard time focusing, was easily distracted by really good ideas, and felt that she needed to cover academic subjects first while she had the children’s attention. You can read all the comments here: Getting Started With the Outdoor Hour Challenge.

After some thought about Sally’s comment and her struggles, here are my best suggestions that come from both my experience and from those I have seen over the years who have successfully kept nature study a consistent part of their homeschool life.

  • Set aside fifteen minutes a week to get outside with your children. Have no other agenda other than to spend time outside concentrating on finding something of interest. 
  • At first your own yard may seem boring, but I guarantee if you really focus on finding something, you will find it. If you feel you need a task to accomplish, pick one of the first three Outdoor Hour Challenges. 
  • Don’t feel you have to spend big blocks of time outdoors…everyone can spare fifteen minutes.

#1 Let’s Get Started (Observations) – Make sure to do the reading in the Handbook of Nature Study before you go outside (Honestly, it is eight short pages with pictures so it won’t take you that long.) This challenge suggests that you let your children find two things they want to know more about… can be anything. Nothing says you have to know anything about those two objects but that is what you spend the next week talking about and looking up.You don’t need to follow-up with a nature journal entry…the power of just getting outside for a few minutes will become the motivating factor for wanting to do this more often. Concentrate on making nature study a consistent part of your week and opening your eyes to what you have in your own backyard. It takes a few weeks to establish this habit but it is worth the effort. You may like to read this entry: Finding the Ordinary to Be Extraordinary. Take nature study one day at a time and one object at a time.

#2 Using Your Words – If you are Charlotte Mason homeschooler, this challenge encourages nothing more than simple narration. You are still allowing your child to explore for just a few minutes with you outside and then to share that experience with words. It is a simple task but very powerful. Once you get on a roll and you are spending some time finding something interesting and adding in some discussion, then you are going to see that this is the foundation of every single other nature study session you can ever have. Don’t make it complicated.

#3 Now is The Time To Draw  – This is where I think a lot of families start to have trouble. I highly recommend that you read the two pages suggested in the Handbook of Nature Study. Nature journals can take many forms and you can spend lots of time bogged down with making the decision between a journal or a binder, watercolors or markers. We have tried every which way in our family and it doesn’t matter in the end. What matters is that you offer the time and the supplies to record the experience and then over time your child will find a method that works for them. Just get started! Put away the fancy artsy nature journal books for now and just let your children record a simple sketch, the date, and a caption. There will be time in the future to add in some more decorative entries once you have established the habit. Plenty of time…..keep it simple for now.

If all you ever did was to repeat those three challenges each month, you will have given your children a gift by allowing the time and motivation to be outside. It does not need to be complicated. You do not need fancy equipment, lots of nature journal supplies, a library of field guides, or a background in biology. 

What Do Your Children Really Need From You?
Your children need you to encourage them to be outside on a consistent basis, learning to explore and to observe closely what they have in their own world. They need to see your enthusiasm. They will need your help to learn more about things that interest them by taking them to the library to check out books or to find the answers from the Handbook of Nature Study or on the internet and then share with them the next time you are outside. They need you to regularly allow time to just be outside during all the seasons….we can all bear fifteen minutes a week even under even the most uncomfortable circumstances.

Nature Study - Three Steps to a Better Experience
If you haven’t yet downloaded and read my supplemental information, Nature Study-Three Steps to a Better Experience, I encourage you to do so now.

  • Read pages 2 and 3 and then realize that many families need to stick to the Observation column for a very long time. The Reasoning section will happen as you gain confidence and your children begin to make connections. The more time you spend in observations, the more you will have to build on as your children grow and mature.
  • This download will also help you if you have multiple ages in your family. The younger ones will stick to the Observation column and more mature students will move on to the Reasoning and then eventually Expression columns. There is no hurry.

Hopefully there is something here in this post that will help get you going if you have become stuck. I promise to keep the new Friday challenges simple and to give you the guidance you need to give the Outdoor Hour Challenge a try and to keep at it through the next year. We can all encourage each other with comments and examples.

If you ever get frustrated and need me to give you a pep talk, please let me know.

I have a few more entries in response to the comments left in the blog entry from two weeks ago.



  1. You are so kind! I am so encouraged! Thank you so much!

  2. Encouraging, YES! In some strange way, I am glad that I am not the only one struggling with this. I so very much believe in the power and value of nature study, and there was a time when we were out of doors all the time! It’s when academics became more of Something, that I unknowingly went down that road of Thinking Nature Study Wasn’t As Important. This will take time, but your point that even just doing those first three steps over and over again with your children is of tremendous value has done something to me, reminded me of the reason WHY we do nature study to begin with, and it has little to do with systematic biology or whatever!
    Thank you very much, Barb!

  3. So glad Sally that you found it helpful. Just remember you need to walk before you run and just making those few minutes a week and pushing them up in importance may make the difference. Seriously, just spend a few minutes each week and don’t get overwhelmed with all the options and noise of the internet and “experts”…listen to your children and hear what they are interested in and build on that.

    Keep me posted and let me know how it goes for you.

  4. As you know we are firm OHC-ers. But I loved reading this post. The simplicity that you shared can be applied to all spheres of our home schools. Thanks Barb :o)

  5. I love the Outdoor Hour Challenges and accompanying monthly newsletters. We use these as our science & nature for our homeschool. For those who struggle with consistency, we actually have “Nature Challenge” scheduled into our science time for Thursdays. That just happens to be the day that works for us. And we are consistent with it. Some weeks are more focused than others, but my children and I know that on Thursday, we are going outdoors to get close to nature. Barb, you do such a great job organizing our Nature Studies…. I’m fearing that this is your last year with the Outdoor Challenge since your youngest is finishing up his home education. I hope I am wrong!!

  6. Jennifer,

    Thank you for your comment…I love hearing how you have made nature study a regular part of your school week. Makes my day!

    I am playing everything by ear and seeing how it goes as far as how long I keep things going here with the OHC. Right now I can’t imagine my life without it….we shall see what this year brings.

  7. though i do feel strongly about the importance of the documenting part, i agree, if the habit of getting out isn’t first established, it couldn’t matter less if there are strong/struggling drawing skills!

    i am in full agreement! excellent! thanks, barb!


  8. Great suggestions, Barb, as always. I like what Amy said, too. Establishing the habit in the first place is so important. If we have overblown expectations to do this and that, it just never happens… Keeping it simple, especially at the beginning, is wonderful advice!

  9. Your point about HABIT is a great one. We just started a nature study group with some friends a couple months ago, and I find that our weekly outing not only holds me accountable (it’s already on the calendar!) but also has made “getting out” a very natural habit for us. For example, we have a bag already packed with our nature study “stuff,” jackets, hats, etc., so we are ready to go whenever we want–with lots of little ones, this can be absolutely key to whether we go or not! Anyway, I really appreciate your encouragement to just get out and go in order to develop that routine for out family.

  10. I wish I could share this post with every new homeschooling parent! You can tell you really do nature study by the practical tips you offer here. I think the advice about parents showing enthusiasm for nature study is the #1 best tip ever.

    Thank you for participating in the CM Carnival!

  11. nice info thanks


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