Two weeks ago, we had our first Nature Study Club meeting. An amazing mom from our homeschool group is organizing and hosting something like 90 kids (and their moms) every other month. She planned all the activities. (She's practically my hero; I hope she doesn't mind me sharing her lesson plans here.)
The older groups went on an actual nature walk with some specific activities to complete. The preschool and kindergarten kids (birth to age 5) listened to The Listening Walk. This book describes a walk in the city, but the kids easily made the connection with our rural setting. We were delighted to have an airplane soar overhead just as we read about a similar plane in the story. (We're Catholic homeschoolers, so we know it was God's plan.) I know our library has this book (since we read a library copy), but another good one would be Quiet in the Garden, also by Aliki.
We went for our own listening walk. I was surprised at how well the younger ones worked at listening while we walked. Even the boys up front (mine included) spent at least 50% of the time quietly listening (and the other 50% of the time asking which way they could go on the path). Then we made these very simple nature journals. Crayons and stickers were on hand for the decorating.
First Daughter went with yellow, and no stickers:
Here are the finished covers (with names blacked out, of course):
There was a scavenger hunt activity for the kindergartners, which many enjoyed. It was a slip of paper with some pictures that could be cut and glued into the nature journal if they were seen -- basic things like insect, tree, and cloud. First Son had no interest in that. He wanted to draw instead (which surprised me, as he had no interest in drawing anything outside before).
As you can see, he started by drawing a flower and a tree. Then, he drew a palm tree. I said to him, "Well, palm trees do grow in nature, even if we didn't see one today." Then he drew a trampoline.
Then he was done drawing. I think he wanted to jump on the trampoline. To be honest, he'd already far surpassed my expectations, especially given the fantastic play area. I was all set to write about how pleased I was that no Veggies were to be found, until I discovered one lurking on the back cover. Ah well, vegetables are found in nature, right?
I'm really pleased we're participating in the Nature Study Club. Our own official nature study did not go very well. I took the kids to a local trail and they spent the whole hour we were there complaining. Where are the swings? Where are the slides? This park isn't for kids. I'm hungry! (while eating peanuts) When can we leave? I'm too tired to walk back to the car. I'm thirsty! And so on. It was rather unpleasant, despite the beautiful weather.
I'd already decided not to push First Son to draw anything just yet. He's very particular about what he draws and often gets frustrated when it doesn't look just so. I'd prefer to encourage him to draw what he likes for now (and work on his pencil grip while we do handwriting). I had hoped to have some time to get away from the house and take notice of the seasons, changing plants, and so on, but I am not ready for a fight once a week for "nature study."
Instead, I make sure to point something out to them each day while we're outside anyway. Sometimes they respond, sometimes they don't, and I don't pursue it. More importantly, I am quick to respond when they notice something themselves. We have also sent them outside to see cool things Kansas Dad finds like turtles and a praying mantis. And we mustn't forget the bunnies and snakes. We also have the garden and chickens to encourage them to sit and notice. Hopefully our own enthusiasm will spread to the children.
The Nature Study Club hostess also suggested leaving nature books out around the house. We read books all the time about local animals, but I am going to make a more concerted effort to read seasonally appropriate books to subtly suggest items of interest for them to find outside. (A book can be very blatant and yet seem subtle to the preschool crowd.) I mentioned some of the butterfly books we read recently.
Today we read Why Do Leaves Change Color?. While First Son and I walked the dog during Quiet Time, we talked about the leaves on our trees. I promised him we could press some leaves in wax paper, if we found any good ones. (So far, no luck.)
I think, for now, we're going to enjoy the Nature Study Club, where he can see other parents and children engaging with nature, and be encouraged to draw in a journal. At home, we're going to stick with a few comments sprinkled in during our daily time outside. Eventually, we'll get more focused. I'd love to plan lessons much like Brandy described. I think First Daughter will be ready for a bit more structure at an earlier age than First Son so I think it might work well to start them together in a year or so.