I haven't posted much about our nature study outings lately, which is rather strange because we have been spending more time exploring outdoors than ever!
The timing has been perfect for adventuring: the beaches are less crowded now that kids are back to school, the weather is still summery, and we don't yet have a newborn in tow. And as I mentioned before, my husband's schedule also just got way more flexible, so he's available to come along with us or keep the toddler at home while I take the bigs. Ideal!
So for the past couple months, we've been going to the beach a couple times a week with my husband and then hitting our regular weekly nature study outing with friends too. I am soaking up the many outdoor hours before the weeks of hibernation that the new baby may bring.
More on our latest beach finds another time. Today I want to talk about how we're structuring this year's nature study outings with friends.
We have been doing a weekly nature study group outing faithfully for several years now. Old friends have left and new friends have joined over the years; right now we have a fairly big group of local homeschoolers interested in Charlotte Mason's methods, and I can't describe what a treat that has been!
Our group has run differently depending on the families and the seasons. One year, we arranged topical lessons for our littles and met somewhere new each week. Another year, we were completely open-ended and let the kids run wild the whole time, always at the same county park. Whichever way, we've always learned much more than I expected and had lots of fun. The keys for us have been to refrain from too much "talky-talky" (love that CM term!), to encourage exploration and discovery, to provide some structure but not so much that it becomes a chore, to create a littles-friendly environment (most of us have toddlers along too), and to make it happen. (That last one is the most important one of all.)
This year, our group has a wide range of ages involved (high schoolers down to newborns), and my kids are getting a bit older and are ready for some lightly-scheduled study. But the two of us informally charged with organizing the meetings were both due with fall babies (my friend had hers a few weeks ago, and I'm due in a few weeks with mine), so we needed something simple.
We decided to choose a focus for the year--trees--and spend one outing a month on that focus. At our August and September meetings, we introduced six of our local native trees, ones most of the kids were familiar with from previous study. In each subsequent month, we'll make notes on changes, and we'll also consider things like oak galls, insects and birds that nest in those trees, branching patterns, lichen, leaf structure, and more. All the children--and the moms too!--bring their journals and spend some time nature journaling. After that 20-30 minutes, they're free to run around and discover on their own.
On the other 3-4 weeks of the month, we don't have a planned lesson. But a smaller group of us still meet at the same spot, explore, observe, and chat about our findings, then do our nature journals at home afterward. I'll admit, I personally privilege these meetings over the other kind because the kids just seem to find the most amazing things:
For example, after our journaling session for this month, during which we sketched the shape of our trees before they lose their leaves, two of the boys spotted a dead red-eared slider legs up in the pond and hauled it out for everyone to take a look at. You can imagine the excitement that produced...though we moms were a little concerned it might explode at any moment because it was so bloated!
|keeping their distance!|
On another of our "off weeks," a few of the kids spotted this garden spider among the reeds at the pond's edge. And then, wouldn't you know it, we read about epeira just a few days later in Fabre's Story-Book of Science!
Another week, they found a dead but well-preserved Anna's hummingbird. We were able to look at the amazing iridescence on the feathers up close.
And perhaps our rarest spotting from the last few months: a piano!
I didn't even need my field guide to help identify that one. ;)
Several weeks this summer were spent catching (and releasing) tadpoles, minnows, water boatmen, frogs, mosquito larvae and more. The kids have scooped half-eaten crawfish from the creek to take a closer look. They have listened to the kingfishers call to each other from the cottonwoods that line one side of the pond to the sycamores that line the other. They have watched a palm-sized bullfrog tadpole skirt the banks. They have built forts with dried reeds, then wondered what kind of reeds they were. They have walked through poison oak more times than I can count (no reactions yet, somehow!). They have noticed when all the coyote mint was in bloom and waited for the stems of the water smartweed to turn red. They have scattered seeds from the sedge, watched the rangers prune the field, wondered at the curly fireweed pods, seen spittle bugs for the first time, and so much more.
And my Baby Girls come running to me with "treasures" (empty snail shells, cracked acorns, or bits of peeled-off sycamore bark) asking if I can "please bring it home to draw" every week.
No matter how many times we frequent this spot, and no matter whether we have something planned or are just venturing out to explore in the fresh air, we always learn something new.
So that's enough from me. How has nature study been going for your family this year? Are you meeting with a group? Do you prefer exploring on your own? How often do you incorporate formal study versus casual walk-and-talk? Do you journal in the field or at home afterward? I'm always looking for ideas to try out with our local friends, so please do share!
I hope to go back to regular little nature updates here, and I'll definitely write soon about what we've seen lately on our beach trips. Hint: some new birds, another trip to the aquarium, and more connections to Madam How and Lady Why!