Outdoor Hour Challenge: Slowly Build the Nature Study Habit

Outdoor Hour Challenge

Week 5 – October 1, 2021

Take it One Thing at a Time – Slowly Build the Nature Study Habit

Adults should realize that the most valuable thing children can learn is what they discover themselves about the world they live in. Once they experience first-hand the wonder of nature, they will want to make nature observation a life-long habit.”

Charlotte Mason in Modern English, volume 1, page 61

Are you struggling with where to start with nature study? Have you wanted to ease into a study of nature that is meaningful, but you get overwhelmed with all the programs and methods?

Here is a simple suggestion that has worked for many families over the years.

Study one tree, one bird, and one flower per school year. Slowly, gradually, gently….it works. This way of structuring a bare bones nature study keeps the pressure off families just starting out with a pursuit of regular nature study. Working through the study of one subject at a time will help build your confidence and knowledge in a way that is not overwhelming.

It is sustainable over the years. In my family, I have seen the study of nature that is closest at hand build a love of things that seem common but on closer inspection, they are rather remarkable. Dandelions and oak trees spring to mind as examples of studies we did and gained a new appreciation for their design and beauty.

You can apply this idea to any areas of nature study that you wish. You could add an insect or a mammal each year. Or you can try a reptile or a fungus or a constellation. The beauty of this method of easing into nature study with your children is that you can follow their interests.

As a way of introduction to this method, I will share some ideas for a tree, a bird, and a wildflower.

Outdoor Hour Challenge Tree Nature Study Index @handbookofnaturestudyYour Tree Project

Take it slowly.

Find one tree in your yard that you can study for a whole term. 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 becomes acquainted with 12 trees, they are far better off than many of us.

If you have built the habit of getting outside with your children, you’ve no doubt encountered a tree of interest. Start there! No matter the time of year, you will have plenty to observe. See this entry for more information: 4 Seasons Tree Study. You may also be interested in this project with a free printable: 4 Seasons Tree Photo Project.


Outdoor Hour Challenge Bird Nature Study Index of Challenges @handbookofnaturestudy

Learning About Birds

Now try the same thing with birds.

“If we are teaching the science of ornithology (study of birds), we take first the [robin], then the swimming and scratching birds, and finally reach the songbirds, studying each as a part of the whole. Nature study begins with the robin because the child sees it and is interested in it, and notes the things about the habits and appearance of the robin that may be perceived by intimate observation……the next bird studied may be the turkey in the barnyard, or the duck on the pond, or the screech owl in the spruces, if any of these happen to impinge upon his notice and interest.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 5.

The particular bird that you start with in your nature study should be the one that you have noticed and is common in your neighborhood or yard. Anna Botsford Comstock was a promoter of the idea that children should be able to directly observe their nature study subjects. So, for your family, start with the most common bird you see. Look it up in the Handbook of Nature Study, look for the Outdoor Hour Challenge that corresponds with that bird, or simply use your field guide.

You can move on to the next bird when you are satisfied with your study.

Outdoor Hour Challenge Garden Wildflower and Weeds Index @handbookofnaturestudy

Picking a Wildflower

“They should be able to describe the shape, size and placements of their leaves and whether the flowers have a single blossom or a head of them. When they know the flower so well that they could recognize it anywhere, they should take a look at the area it grew in so they’ll know what kind of terrain to look for it again in the future…If any mother lacks a knowledge of plants, a good field guide will be indispensable, especially if she can find one that includes little facts and fun things about the plants.”

Charlotte Mason in Plain English, Volume 1, page 52

Learning the names of wildflowers is a lifelong activity that brings such joy. Children love learning the common names of flowers and I found that once my kids knew a name of a flower, they respected it more for its special uses for all living creatures. You can keep it very simple or you can use the suggestions below to go a little deeper with each wildflower you observe.

Elements of a Grand Nature Study of Wildflowers

Your child should be able to:

  1. Describe the shape, size, and placement of the leaves.
  2. Note whether there is a single blossom or a head of flowers.
  3. Observe the flower and its habitat so well that it can be recognized in any location in the future.
  4. Use a field guide to learn about the wildflower (with help from a parent if needed).
  5. Collect, press, and make a record of the flower’s habitat and location.
  6. Optional: Make a watercolor of the flower or the whole plant.

I would love for you to click over and read one of my favorite wildflower entries as a way to inspire you: For the Love of Wildflowers. If you want to do an in depth study of your wildflower, use the Handbook of Nature Study, the Outdoor Hour Challenge, and a field guide to create a lasting memory of each wildflower you study.

Ultimate Naturalist Members:

Look in the Getting Back to Basics – The Habit of Nature Study section of your printables library for the following printables.

  • Outdoor Hour Challenge Planning Pages: Use the term planning page to pencil out your topics for the year.
  • 6 Trees Project notebook page printable: In this simple ongoing project, your child should observe and photograph six different trees and use the notebook pages as a follow up with facts and photos. Remember you can do one tree a year until you complete the Six Trees Project. Follow the link for a complete explanation.
  • Deciduous Trees in My Yard and Evergreen Trees in My Yard notebook pages
  • February 2017 Newsletter – Trees and Bark (Article to read: Do You Know 6 Trees?)
  • There are ebooks in the Ultimate Naturalist Library for wildflowers and birds.

 Join Us Ultimate Naturalist June 2020

 If you are not a member here on the Handbook of Nature Study yet, please consider joining to gain the benefit of having a nature study library at your fingertips. There are numerous resources available for you to help create the habit of nature study within your family.

Please note that the Ultimate Naturalist Library will only be available until 12/31/2021. At that time my website will be shutting down.

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If you are an email subscriber to the Handbook of Nature Study, you may consider saving this email in a folder for future reference. The blog will be retiring at the end of the year as well.

Outdoor Mom: September 2021

Outdoor Mom

September 2021

Changing Landscapes

I think I’ve mentioned before how much I struggle with change. I decided that’s why I don’t really enjoy the transition from summer to autumn.  I see the change in the light, the change in foliage, the change in blooms, the change in birds and other wildlife. Here where I live in Central Oregon, these changes come rapidly.

Sept 2021 squirrel frog finch journal (4)

  • In the garden, we are planning/planting/harvesting…

We had a couple nights of freezing temperatures and overnight we lost a large number of plants to frost. Some of the plants have bounced back but I had to prune out quite a few of my more delicate flowers.

Sept 2021 squirrel frog finch journal (4)

With the decrease in bird activity, the squirrels have made a return to the feeders. In fact, the squirrels are pulling down the sunflowers and eating the seeds. Or, in the case of the golden mantle ground squirrel, they are climbing the stems and sitting on the flower heads to have a meal!

Sept 2021 squirrel frog finch journal (4)


Sept 2021 squirrel frog finch journal (6)

  • I added nature journal pages about…

I’ve been working on a late summer wildflower project. We don’t have many so it’s been a challenge to find flowers to include in my nature journal. Last week we took advantage of a very warm afternoon to take a long walk in Sunriver to look for flowers there. We found quite a bit of rabbitbrush and sulfur flower blooming in the dry landscape.

Sept 2021 squirrel frog finch journal (4)

  • The most inspiring thing we experienced was…

The bird of the month is the American goldfinch. They are abundant both at the feeders and in the flowers of the garden as they eat seeds and leaves. They are often at the water bowls and the birdbath. I love how happy they make me!

Sept 2021 squirrel frog finch journal (4)

  • One last image…

Holy smoke! We saw the biggest bullfrog ever in our lawn last week. My husband was mowing the lawn and spotted him before he ran him over. We carried him safely off to another part of the yard. Afterwards, I was looking up bullfrogs in Oregon and realized that they are an invasive species that we are supposed to “harvest” to reduce their numbers. I could have never done anything to harm this magnificent creature.

Instagram OutdoorHourChallenge small

You can follow me on Instagram to see more of our outdoor life here in gorgeous Central Oregon.

Want to join in the Outdoor Mom post?

Answer all or just one of the prompts in a blog entry on your own blog or right here on my blog in a comment. If you answer on your blog, make sure to leave me a link in a comment so that I can pop over and read your responses.

  • During our outdoor time, this month we went…
  • The most inspiring thing we experienced was…
  • Our outdoor time made us ask (or wonder about) …
  • In the garden, we are planning/planting/harvesting…
  • I added nature journal pages about…
  • One last image…






Outdoor Hour Challenge: Nature Study with Teens – Adapting to Different Needs

Outdoor Hour Challenge

Week 4 – September 24, 2021

Nature Study with Teens – Adapting to Different Needs

“Nature Study – It is the intellectual, physical, and moral development by and through purposeful action and reaction upon environment, guided so far as needed by the teacher.” John Dearness, 1905

“Some children are born naturalists, but even those who aren’t were born with natural curiosity about the world and should be encouraged to observe nature.”
Charlotte Mason, vol 2 page 58

The Challenge of Teens and Nature Study

Once my children were teens, our nature study sort of stalled out. I made the mistake of presenting our outdoor studies in the same way that I had always done with them in the past. I would pick a topic, share some information from the lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study, and then we would be out on the search for the subject. It was a habit but not really the habit I had set out to create. Where was the enthusiasm I had seen when they were younger? Why did we end of feeling like it was an item to check off our to-do list? I knew we could do better.

These questions led me back to the internet to research more closely how nature study develops into upper level science.

“The Field Lesson. When planning a field lesson, three points should be kept in mind:
First. The aim, to bring the children into sympathy or in touch with nature, through the study of that part of nature in which they have been interested.
Second. The conditions out of doors, where the children are at home, where they must have greater freedom than in the schoolroom, and where it is more difficult to keep them at definite work, and to hold their attention.
Third. The necessity of giving each child something definite to find out for himself, and of interest to the children so that each will try to find out the most and have the greatest number of discoveries to tell.”

Nature Study and The Child, Charles B. Scott, 1900.

I found with my teenagers that there needed to be a different sort of follow-up to our nature observations…more than just a nature journal. They needed to be more connected to their nature study by finding patterns and relationships between past experiences and new ones.

“But true science work does not stop with mere seeing, hearing, or feeling; it not only furnishes a mental picture as a basis for reasoning, but it includes an interpretation of what has been received through the senses.”

Nature Study for the Common Schools, Wilbur Samuel Jackman, 1891

This is the part of nature study I found the most meaningful to my children. To take what they already knew and to build on it with new observations, developing a real interest in knowing more. I could no longer just relate facts, no matter how interesting the facts were.

Here is the key: Teens need to find the answers to their own questions and then express those answers in a way that makes sense to them.

3 steps to a better nature journal experience

My research found that this pattern – observation, reasoning, expression – is nothing new or unique to nature study. This pattern is the process that all science is built upon. I have created a printable that explains this process and you can download and read it here:

Three Steps to a Better Nature Study Experience

What Can Parents Do?

It would be ideal if all nature study could be spontaneous but that hardly seems practical in a busy homeschooling week. For ease of scheduling, there must be some provision for getting outside each week (or in a perfect world it would be every day).

Aim for three things in your nature study: to really see what you are looking at with direct and accurate observation, understand why the thing is so and what it means, and then to pique an interest in knowing more about the object.

What if my teen is still not interested in nature study?

Sometimes, despite all my efforts, my teens’ interest wasn’t equal to my interest in nature study.  I could take them to the most fascinating places to explore and they would just want to sit and talk or take a walk by themselves. The setting was perfect and the subjects abounded, but they are more interested in throwing rocks or digging a hole.

I knew the value of getting teens to get outside and see the wonderful things that existed right there under their noses. I knew I could not force them to do nature study but giving up was not an option. The answer is patience. The best way to handle this issue was to allow them the space and time to experience nature on their own terms.

In My Experience:

Here is a real-life example My two boys and I regularly made visits to my dad’s pond together.  When younger, they would go right to the business of scooping up water and critters and talking in excited voices about what they were finding. But once they reached the teen years, I noticed a different atmosphere, an attitude of “we’ve been here and done that”. I tried to remind myself that this was their normal teenage reaction to just about everything. They rarely appeared to be too excited on the outside. More often than not, they would later on relate the whole experience in a more favorable light to their dad or one of their siblings. Apparently, the outside of a teenager doesn’t accurately reflect the inside at all times.

So if you have older children and they appear to not be interested at first, don’t give up. It may be that they just aren’t showing it outwardly but inside the experiences are deeply affecting them. Don’t give up on the habit of nature study with your teens.

Enhancing a Nature Walk with Teens

Digital Photography: A love of the natural world does not come automatically for all children and sometimes we need to find a way to hook them into getting outdoors. Most of our children have a lot of screen time each week. Rarely are they without a device that has a camera function. Take advantage of this tool in enhancing your time outdoors!

Although there are advantages to taking a walk “unplugged”, there are distinct benefits to allowing your teens to take photos as part of their nature study time.

  • It slows them down.
  • Helps them focus and really see an object.
  • Everyday things in their own backyard can now be captured and viewed.
  • They can see the beauty.
  • They make their own connections.
  • Perfect for our teens…they are comfortable with the technology and love to share with their friends.

For more thoughts on nature photography, see the June 2014 Newsletter in the Ultimate Naturalist Library.

Ultimate Naturalist Library Members:

  • Three Steps to a Better Nature Study Experience posted in the Getting Back to Basics- The Habit of Nature Study section of the Library.
  • December 2012 Newsletter Article – Is Nature Study Relevant to High School Science?
  • June 2014 Newsletter – Nature Photography
  • August 2015 Newsletter – several articles on building a nature library (especially helpful are suggestions for field guides for older students to use in their studies)
  • May 2017 Newsletter Article – Interest Driven Learning – Ocean Creatures

More Nature Study ebooks and Nature Study Continues ebooks

Please remember that many of the OHCs include an Advanced Study option and accompanying notebook pages. If you are a member, please look in your Member’s Library to see which ebooks contain those suggestions for older students as part of the nature study lesson. My children used those lessons when they were in high school as part of their biology courses.

You may be interested in this entry found on my blog: Nature Study as Part of a Biology Course

Join Us Ultimate Naturalist June 2020

Members can click here to log into your account to download any of the Member’s items listed above.

If you are not a member here on the Handbook of Nature Study yet, please consider joining to gain the benefit of having a nature study library at your fingertips. There are numerous resources available for you to help create the habit of nature study within your family.

Please note that the Ultimate Naturalist Library will only be available until 12/31/2021. At that time my website will be shutting down.


Handbook of Nature Study Subscribe Now 2

If you are an email subscriber to the Handbook of Nature Study, you may consider saving this email in a folder for future reference. The blog will be retiring at the end of the year as well.