Nature Study the Gentle Way

My suggestion: Study one tree, one bird, and one insect per school year.

Take it slowly.
Find one tree in your yard that you can study for a whole term.

    • Find out what kind of tree it is.
    • Make rubbings of the leaves and bark.
    • Does it drop its leaves or does it stay green year round?
    • Does it have any birds in it? Any insect holes? Hollows for critters?
    • Can you climb up into it and see what the view is?
    • Can you lay under your tree and watch the branches move in the breeze?
    • Does it have blossoms, fruit, cones, seeds, or other objects to study?
    • Do you see a nest in the tree?
    • Is the trunk straight, crooked, twisted, rough, or smooth?
    • Do the leaves or needles smell good? How about the bark?
    • Watch and observe and narrate one thing at a time you will find that it is really not so hard. If you feel like recording the experience, put something on paper.

I don’t look at outdoor time and nature study as one more subject I need to plan and be ready for, I just let it unfold. If your children want to learn more about something they find while outdoors, gradually teach them to look things up for themselves in a good field guide or on your next trip to the library.If you observe and identify one tree per year, over the course of your child’s education, you will have learned about 12 different trees…I don’t know about you but I have a hard time just listing 12 trees by name so if your child has become acquainted with 12 trees, they are far better off than many of us.


Slowly, gradually, gently….it works.

So I decided to follow my own advice and I went out and found a tree in my yard that I was interested in learning about. Turns out that after examining the leaves and the trunk of the tree, I discovered my tree is an Interior Live Oak. I know there are several varieties of oaks in my yard but I have never taken the time to identify them as any particular oak. My oak has leaves with pointy edges and they are glossy on both sides. It also has pointy acorns. While I was examining the trunk I discovered that one side of it has *lots* of woodpecker holes drilled into it. I have walked by this particular tree hundreds of times but have failed to notice the holes. Amazing….now I will on the watch to see if I can see the woodpecker that makes the holes. :)

I used a tree identification guide and my new tree field guide to help me. This whole process, including taking the photos, only took a few minutes. I plan on watching my oak to see if there are any other things that I can learn about it.

The Getting Started ebook is available in every level of membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study.

Birdwatching 101 Attracting Birds To Your Yard

How do you attract birds to your yard for birdwatching? We love to watch birds and do so on a regular basis without ever leaving our backyard. We can watch from our window or our deck and see usually around 4-5 different kinds of birds each day. At sometimes of the year, we have a lot more than that and it is exciting to see a new kind in the feeders.

Here are some ideas to attract birds to your yard.

  • Try a variety of birdfeeders. We made most of ours from scraps around the house and my boys love to hammer a nail and saw boards so this is a great project with a little supervision.
  • We have some that are called platform feeders. The birds actually land on the feeder and eat from the seed in the tray. We have scrub jays (blue jays), tit mouses, towhees, dark eyed juncos, and house sparrows in these feeders.


  • The second kind of feeders are the hopper kind of feeders where the bird lands on the perches and eat from holes in the sides of the feeders. Birds like house finches, goldfinches, and house sparrows like these types of feeders.

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  • Now for the more “natural” way to attract birds to your yard. We have chosen some plants for our garden area that seem to attract birds…especially hummingbirds. We planted butterfly bushes and trumpet vines on our arbor to attract butterflies but they seem to attract more hummingbirds. I am not complaining because they are beautiful and I say the more the merrier.


We have several varieties of sunflowers in our garden…..both planted with seed and those that came up from our feeder spillage. The yellow finches seem to like to eat the whole leaf of the the sunflower leaving just a little skeleton for us to look at.

We also have a fig tree in our yard and the scrub jays love to sit and peck at the fruit for an evening meal. They make a big mess but I’m glad someone is eating the figs. :)
So hopefully that gives you at least an idea of how to attract some birds to your own yard so that you can enjoy birdwatching from your window or backyard.

You may also be interested in visiting my page on feeding birds in winter….which would also apply at other times of the year as well: How To Feed Birds

Handbook of Nature Study: Benefits of Giving it a Try

Handbook of Nature Study 
Benefits of Giving it a Try 

The last ten weeks have brought me to a new understanding of the Handbook of Nature Study. Pulling together and organizing the Outdoor Hour Challenges every Friday on my blog has pushed me to really get to know how to use and benefit from this rather large book.

Here are the some benefits so far:
1. I have read the introductory pages of the book about ten times, highlighted and underlined the parts that spoke to me, and found many gems to share with others. These pages teach *me* to help my children better with their nature study.
2. Our family picked a focus area in the book and used that focus area to learn more about garden flowers. There were about ten flowers listed in the book that we have access to and we have used the observation suggestions from the book to help us better know about the flowers we have in our local area. Even when a flower isn’t specifically covered, the garden flower introductory pages helped us learn the basic structure of the flower and so much more.
3. I know now that I won’t find every item we want to study in the book and have gathered a few local field guides to supplement our study.
4. We are regularly working in our nature journals and keeping up with making field guide cards for our focus area.
5. I am no longer trying to fit our nature study to the book but rather the book to our nature study.

Are there things I don’t like about the book? Yes. Do I think that this is the only book we need for nature study? No. Is this book a positive influence on our family? YES!

If you decide to try the book, go through the first few Outdoor Hour Challenges and read the suggested pages to get you started. You don’t need to follow the activities but just reading the assigned pages in the book will give you a better idea of how you can use this book in your family.