Nature Study and Toddlers

I recently helped a friend with some advice on how to have nature study with your school-age children with your sweet toddler tagging along. I thought you all might like to hear what I shared with her.

Here’s what I related to her about my experience with nature journals:
Nature study is not so much about the journals, it’s about the experience of being out-of-doors. It’s great when it culminates in a nature journal entry but if it doesn’t….no big deal. You said you wanted to instill a love for nature and you could quite possibly be already doing that just by focusing a bit of time outside. Let your kids direct you when you have the time to wander the yard or the neighborhood. Don’t expect anything and don’t try to force it.

Here’s what we would do when the boys were younger:
I would send the boys outside and let them play. I find that if they get that initial burst of energy out they are ready to get down and focus on something.I would go with them and just wander the yard. I might find something of interest and call them over. “Hey guys look at this!”

It worked sometimes…..or they would do the same to me. “Look at that spider on the slide mom, do you know what it is?”

This was usually followed but utter horror by me because I am not a “bug person”. I would usually go over and look at it and then I would point something out like how many legs it had or what color it was. Later when we were finished playing, we would go inside and I would pull out the journals. They could draw whatever they wanted as long as they narrated back to me what it was. I would write the labels or as they got older, they would write the labels. If we felt like it, we would look up in a field guide whatever it was we had drawn. I have a lot of the Audubon field guides so we could usually find something in there. I found the internet to be a great help.

Let your younger one do things like leaf rubbings or texture drawings for his very own nature journal. Send him on a scavenger hunt while you work with your daughter. “Go get me a leaf.” “Find a rock.” “Can you find a bug in the grass?” “Find me something brown.” Just something to get him involved.

We handle nature journals a little differently now that they are older but you get the idea. Take a walk or just go to the park, there will always be something to draw their attention to. They have to learn to notice things and then it is easier.

Also remember you have *years* to work on your nature journal. My daughter that is 21 years old still works in her nature journal. It is sort of a “life project”.

Enjoy God’s creation!

Ideas for Drawing in Your Nature Journal

I decided to share some links to pages that I use to help us draw in our nature journal. Several are links to coloring pages but I like their black line drawings that simplify an object so we can learn to draw them on our own in our journals. Make sure to check out all the links even if they are from a state or habitat other than one where you currently live. Many times there are animals, plants, and birds that you will have in your location too. I don’t necessarily print the coloring book pages out and color them. We will use them as a guide to draw our own sketches of things we see in our Green Hour or for our nature journal.

Celebrating Wildflowers from the US Forest Service
These coloring pages are in PDF format so once you bring up the page, you can print out just the page you want and there is no need to print every page out on your printer.

Feeder Birds Coloring Book from Cornell
These are not only coloring pages but could actually be used as notebooking pages for your nature journal. I print out the table of contents to keep in my notebook as a reference. This way I know what birds are included in the coloring book.

Guide to Tree Sketching
I’ve shared this one before but it is worth listing again.

How to Draw Flowers and Plants
Step by step to various garden flowers

How to Draw a Duck on YouTube

Draw a Butterfly-Scientific Illustration

This is a fantastic page that teaches about how a scientist draws a specimen.

Various animals, birds, and reptiles:
Wildlife of New Mexico
This coloring book is worth a look. I think it is especially well done and many of the animals are found in other states as well. PDF format.

Wildlife of New Jersey
This is another really well done coloring book.

Wetlands Coloring Book
Lots of great ideas for drawing animals and scenes in this book.

Nevada State Wildlife ABC Coloring Book

Texas Wildlife Coloring Book

Hope there is something here that will help you with your endeavors to draw in your nature journal.

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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