Nature Study When It Is Hot Outside

I live where it gets really hot outside in the summer. We have had just a taste of the heat so far this year but it has been enough to remind me just how hot it can be in the sun in the afternoon.

I want to encourage those that have emailed me lately telling me that it is too hot to participate in the Outdoor Hour Challenges right now in their part of the world. I sat and thought about how we can accomplish the Outdoor Hour even when the temperatures and humidity get up to the point where staying outdoors is unpleasant and potentially dangerous.

Here’s what we do in our family.

We try to get outside early in the day when there is still a little shade. We take a few minutes first thing to take a walk around the garden to pull a few weeds, make sure the watering system is working, harvest any goodies that are ripe, and enjoy the progress of the garden. This gives us an opportunity to watch birds, look for worms, see butterflies, look at spider’s webs, watch ants, pick up some acorns, feel the cool breeze, look at signs of nocturnal visitors, and so many other everyday sorts of nature study.

Other than working in the garden, we many times take a short walk just around the perimeter of our property just looking for anything interesting. Ten or fifteen minutes is usually all that takes. Do we sometimes get hot? Yes we do but then we come inside and get something to drink and take a little time looking up anything we found interesting online or in a book while it is fresh in our minds. It might be a feather we found or an interesting rock. It could be a new flower blooming or a spider we don’t know the name of. Here is a quote from a newer participant in the Outdoor Hour and what she wrote on her blog.

“I have noticed in our studies that if we wait, nature will come to us.” Paula, from Wakefield Academy.

I love that and it is so true. It is the little things that come your way during your everyday business and travels that enrich your nature study. It really isn’t about the big field trips or the nature study classes, it is the day to day, ho-hum stuff that is fascinating. The house fly that you look at with the hand lens, the ants crawling on your front step, the bird gathering twigs for a nest outside your window, the things we so many times fail to notice.

I think in the heat of summer you just need to plan and have a focus for your nature study. Currently in the Outdoor Hour Challenges we are focusing on garden flowers. Each challenge can literally be completed by taking a ten to fifteen minute period of time outside. You do not need to travel to a nature study area or spend a half-day or a whole day outside. For instance, challenge #17 was to look at leaves. My son and I went out and found about ten different leaves to look at and we were only outside about five minutes. We brought the leaves inside and we looked at them and then he drew them in his nature journal in the comfort of the cool indoors. You really only needed to find one leaf and bring it in to look at….tops outdoor time would be five minutes and that is still doable in hot weather.

I find that if I involve water in some aspect of our outdoor time the children and I enjoy it more. Watering the grass or watering with a watering can can provide just the touch of coolness to our time even if the temperatures are soaring. How about a squirt bottle to cool off with as you take a few minutes in your yard or neighborhood exploring?

The promise of a cool snack at the end of a short period outside is always a great way to keep spirits up as you have your outdoor time. We keep popsicles and Go-Gurts in the freezer for a refreshing snack in the shade after we have made our observations.

The other aspect of nature study is that we are really training our children to see the differences in their world in each season. So many children today are raised in houses heated and cooled to a comfortable temperature year round. Our cars and the grocery stores are temperature controlled as well. Our kids need to feel the hot air of summer and the cold air of winter. It is part of growing up and experiencing our world and developing their senses.

I think that until we recognize that our children need outdoor time in nature close to their own homes, we do not make it a priority or think that it is worth while. Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in The Woods has a chapter titled “A Life of Senses: Nature vs. the Know-It-All State of Mind”. He makes some excellent points. Here is just one quote.

“Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore,
for learning and creativity.”

Change to the Outdoor Hour Challenges: Please read if you participate in the challenges or are thinking about getting started!

So here is what I am going to do from now on with the Outdoor Hour Challenges. I will continue to give you the main challenge as before but in addition I will also suggest a way to pare down the challenge to a mini-challenge for those that are trying to “catch up” and for those that are going to need to keep their outdoor time to a minimum because of weather conditions. It will not be a different challenge but rather a suggestion on how to complete the activity in a shorter period of time. Some of you have already figured out how to do this but for those that are just starting out with nature study maybe this will encourage you to give it a try.

Sound good? Do you think this will help those that are hesitant to have nature study in the summer? I hope everyone that has a willingness to try will now not use the heat (or cold) as a reason to procrastinate nature study and participating in the Outdoor Hour Challenges any longer.

So Many Leaves- Outdoor Challenge #17

Nasturtiums just starting to sprout in the flower garden

We had fun looking for different shaped leaves in our yard this week during our Outdoor Hour time. Once you get started you begin to see so many varieties of shapes and sizes. This entry is sort of my photo nature journal entry for this week. My son worked on drawing his leaves in his journal and you can find it below.

Hydrangea leaves have a fantastic vein pattern.

The fig leaves are really big this year.

Mimosa leaves are feathery and soft.
This is the catalpa tree leaves that are really big and so colorful in the fall.

I have about twenty more photos but I will stop there. I tend to get a little enthusiastic when we are in the middle of nature study. :)

Here is my son’s journal entry for you to enjoy.

He came up with his own way of drawing the leaves which I will share with you. He takes the leaf and traces the outline and then he fills in the details with his pencils. It is a compromise between free-hand drawing and rubbing and it really gives great results.

Another great week and challenge.

Why Use the Handbook of Nature Study?

“A mother should read these kinds of books to herself, not just to collect little bits of knowledge to pass on to her children as they come across things she’s read about, but so that she can learn enough to answer their questions and help the children with their observations….Children will love a person who knows the things they want to find out about and such a person may influence a young mind to have a passion for nature that will be retained for life…”
Charlotte Mason, Volume 1 page 64

That is a clear reason that the Handbook of Nature Study should have a solid standing in our science and nature study materials. This book makes it so easy to look up something we observed outdoors and flip to those pages and read a little to ourselves. I know some families enjoy reading the selection together but it is not necessary. The meat of each section is the section for observations. I love to read through those questions and learn how I can better guide my child to their own understanding of the subject.

Our goal:

“And this is exactly what a child should be doing for the first few years. He should be getting familiar with the real things in his own environment.”
Charlotte Mason, Volume 1 page 66

If you need help getting started with the Handbook of Nature Study, please join us for the Outdoor Hour Challenges posted every Friday. Or if you want an example of how our family uses this book, read through our responses to each of the challenges and you will see how easy it is to use once you get the correct idea about what it is for.

So even though you might look at the copyright date of this book and wonder how it could still be relevant today, you have your answer: It helps you to your goal. Your goal of helping your child become more acquainted with nature close to their own home.