Green Hour in the City or in a Small Backyard

I have been pondering over a question that someone asked about Outdoor Hour Challenge #10. The commenter asked how I would suggest that they complete the challenges since they live in the middle of the city. I think you may have to be a little more diligent about your nature study but if you are up to the challenge I think it is well worth the effort.

Here is a section from the Green Hour website:

I live in an urban area. Can I still do this?
The Green Hour program focuses on helping families to experience nature — with a lower case “n”. Whether your backyard is a rural patch, suburban yard, or a small city lot, you can participate in Green Hour activities and discoveries with your child. And if you don’t have a backyard, there most likely will be a nearby public park, community garden, nature center, or other green space accessible to you and your family.

Noise and Congestion
If you have trouble with noise, dogs, or traffic, try taking your walks at different times of day to see if it is any better. I know we live within earshot of a very busy highway. Sometimes I can hear the traffic clearly but at other times of day it is not even noticeable. We also live across the street from a school so during the weekday mornings and then during afternoon dismissal time, there is a lot more traffic and noise. We enjoy early mornings and early evenings relatively noise free.

Be Alert To Opportunities

Take advantage of any aspects of nature that you have on hand. The original commenter made reference to the wind blowing their napkins during their picnic. The wind could be a whole field of study during your nature time. Measure the speed, the direction, and the effects of the wind. Build on that for a study of the weather in your local area. Everyone has sky up above and you can watch the clouds and the sky each day as you go outside. I make it a habit to look up each time I go outside….just my quirky little habit.

Make The Best of What You Have
Bugs were also mentioned in the question. Take a few minutes and observe the pesky little insects that disrupt your picnic. Each time you go out try to identify one insect and then record it in your nature journal. We focused on a study of insects last fall and I was surprised at how my attitude changed about them as the term went along. I was actually looking for insects by the time the nine weeks were up. If you have boys, insects may be just the ticket to their buying into a study of nature.

Adopt a Tree
Adopt a tree in your neighborhood or a near-by park or near somewhere you go regularly like the library or the grocery store. Observe the tree each time you go by for changes and differences. We will be starting a year long tree study with the Outdoor Hour Challenge soon and this would be a great way to participate. There is nothing wrong with a little tree hugging every now and then.

Tempt Nature To Come To You
I know several city dwelling families that are able to put up a bird feeder outside a window in their apartment. You might be surprised at what you attract right to your own window.

Look For Parks
Most big cities that I have been to have some sort of central park area that could provide a way to have a study of nature. Ducks, geese, or pigeons can usually be found in urban areas and are covered thoroughly in the Handbook of Nature Study. If there is a pond, look for tadpoles, turtles, or minnows. Study the plant life around the pond or the algae if there is any.

Notice the Trees
How about a collection of leaves? Leaves are something easy to collect and then press or make rubbings of when you get home. Collect leaves on your nature walk, while running errands, or anywhere else you visit during your regular travels.

Collect Seeds
You could do a study of seeds by saving seeds from your meals. Oranges, apples, tomatoes, grapes, watermelon, or any other seeds you come across can be examined and drawn into a nature notebook.

Here is an important quote from the book Last Child in the Woods that I think may be helpful. Read the entire quote and then think about somewhere you might have close at hand that can provide you and your family with a place to get to know even if at first it seems like an “empty” lot or a “weed patch” along the sidewalk of a city street.

” Your job isn’t to hit them with another Fine Educational Opportunity, but to turn them on to what a neat world we live in,” writes Deborah Churchman in the journal American Forests, published by the nation’s oldest nonprofit citizens’ conservation organization. She recommends re-creating all the dopey, fun things you did as a kid: “Take them down to the creek to skip rocks-and then show them what was hiding under those rocks. Take a walk after the rain and count worms…Turn on the porch light and watch the insects gather…..Go to a field (with shoes on) and watch the bees diving into the flowers.” Find a ravine, woods, a windbreak row of trees, a swamp, a pond, a vacant and overgrown lot-and go there, regularly. Churchman repeats an old Indian saying:“It’s better to know one mountain than to climb many.”

I love that saying. The Outdoor Hour Challenges were started to do just that very thing: Get to know what you have close at hand, right outside your doorstep. I admit that for some this is more of a challenge but I know you can do it.

If all else fails, you can always bring nature to you.
How about a balcony garden?

Balcony Gardening 

Or a Square Foot Garden on your deck, patio, or roof?
Square Foot Garden 

Table Top Garden
Complete instructions for growing a table top garden indoors

Hatch Some Butterflies Indoors
Butterfly Garden

Maybe this will help those that are finding that the real challenge is to just find some sort of “green” to spend some time in.
Keep me posted on how it is going for your family.

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Nature Study vs. Nature Journals

I have come to the conclusion that the line between nature study and a nature journal is getting sort of fuzzy. You can have lots of nature study and not have a nature journal.

Don’t let your lack of skill in drawing keep you from your nature study.

Nature walk=
Time outdoors+time spent in observation

Nature study=
Time outdoors+time spent in observation+time learning about your discoveries

Nature journal=
Time outdoors+time spent in observation+time learning about your discoveries+time recording your observations and thoughts

I am in no way discouraging nature journals but I am convinced that if you spend enough time in nature study, you will have more to write about in your journal.

Nature Study for Young People

“As soon as a child is old enough, he should keep his own nature notebook for his enjoyment. Every day’s walk will give something interesting to add–three squirrels playing in a tree, a bluejay flying across a field, a caterpillar crawling up a bush, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider suddenly dropping from a thread to the ground, where he found ivy and how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, and how ivy manages to climb.”
Charlotte Mason Volume 1 Home Education page 54.

Here are some other thoughts on nature study from Charlotte Mason.

  • The skill of drawing should not be addressed in the nature notebook. pg. 55
  • If the child is too young to write, the mother should do it. pg. 58
  • Encourage your children to sit quietly and patiently and to look closely. pg. 57
  • Some children are born naturalists but all have a natural curiousity that can be encouraged. pg. 58
  • Most children will think of a million things to put in his nature notebook. pg 55

Here are some of my own observations on nature study.

  • It takes my children a long time to explore outdoors and they can do it very well without my interfering. I try to follow their lead and not rush them.
  • I need to participate in the nature study myself. I try to model how to find a subject for my notebook and really observe the object.
  • Drawing the object in the notebook is the last step in really “seeing” the object.
  • There is no use in forcing a child to work in a nature journal. Regular exposure to the outdoor life will eventually lead to a desire to keep a record of what they see that interests them.
  • Every nature journal is unique to the owner. I tend to record scenes in my journal. My daughter usually finds something pretty to draw. My boys find “things” to record in their journals like sticks, bugs, leaves, and seeds.
  • Don’t limit your journals to sketches. Sometimes we include photos in our journals. We have taken rubbings of bark or leaves. We have even taped small objects into our journals. Variety in our journals make them more interesting.

We have been working diligently in our notebooks this summer, recording our adventures. It is comforting to look back on the sketches and remember what fun we have had exploring the outdoors.