Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Nature Study Outing :: This Year's Nature Group


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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

16 comments:

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  2. You are very blessed to have a Nature study group in your area, Celeste. Makes me want to suggest one for our home school group. :)

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    1. When we first started, we did so with non-CM homeschooling friends. I suggested the idea (the kids and I had already committed to going weekly, and we just invited others to join us) and everyone was very enthusiastic. I have found that people are very excited about nature study but usually don't know where to start! So I bet you'll find others interested in your local community if you ask.

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  3. Some neat finds...I adore humming birds, so I'm sure that was lovely to see up close! I need to get us out for more purposeful walks...we were doing good, but have slacked off. This is just the push I need. They have been walking to go to a small, local lake that we love and I just need to DO IT. :)

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    1. I know exactly what you mean. The "making it happen" is usually the hardest part! Once you get out there, it's easy to be engaged and interested. :)

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    1. Thank you, Heather! I know you are a bosom friend when it comes to time outdoors. :)

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  5. Do you draw while outside or wait till you come back home?

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    1. Hi there! We usually draw at home (it's easier logistically), but I think there's value to drawing in the field, so once a week we bring our supplies along and journal at the park. :)

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  6. Hi Celeste, great post! Inspiring--I really want to be setting aside more intentional time for nature study. I think sometimes about doing a special outing one morning a week like you guys are doing, but I can't figure out how to do this without getting behind my AO schedule?? We seem to just barely finish each week's readings in Year 2. Do you guys do 36 weeks plus the exam weeks or do you spread it out a little more over the year to accommodate more nature study? Also, do your kids do AO readings in the afternoons on your nature study day at all?

    I just read or listened to where Cindy Rollins was strongly urging homeschool moms to prioritize getting their kids outside and that it really is as important or more important than "getting (other) stuff done!" Maybe I just need to make the nature study happen and if we get "behind," so be it? Of course I could just make my 7-year-old spend more time on school each day but we're already doing the PNEU style schedule plus about 3 hours a week and I want to preserve that free time to let them build their forts and so on…
    Any advice welcome! :)

    On your beautiful hummingbird, could it be an Anna's Hummingbird? I had to get out my Smithsonian guide and browse the hummingbirds because it looks like this bird has fuchsia feathers on its whole face, even above its beak? I could be misreading the photo and where the beak is on it--but I thought it looked different from a ruby-throated because they have green feathers on their heads/faces above the beak. Anyway such amazing finds!

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    1. We do 36 weeks and the exam week (although we do occasionally stretch a week out to two, like around the holidays, rather than taking a full vacation week, for example). I think it helps that we actually don't usually school in the mornings--the kids spend the mornings outdoors no matter what, so it's not technically missing much "school" time. But we school light on nature study days anyway, so it wouldn't really matter: our day after the outing is usually just nature journaling (often while we're listening to an audiobook of one of the AO free reads), mapwork and timeline for the week, and then my weekly meeting with the big kids. I also only plan our daily subjects (math, memory work, copywork, etc) for four days a week, leaving nature study day lighter. Basically, my priorities for the week are: AO assignments (both readings and other weekly work like picture study and so on) and time outdoors. Skill-based subjects we do year-round (4x a week during the school year and about 3x a week during the summer), so I figure we come out even. ;) I will also say, though, that the PNEU schedule had nature walks happening in the afternoon, during "free time." So I wouldn't consider adding a nature walk as adding extra school hours for your 7yo. But I heartily agree that the time outdoors is worth trimming the schedule if need be. It's essential for all of us.

      I think you are right that it is an Anna's! We have both here. I wish I had gotten a side photo so that it would be clearer, but since I didn't, I looked back at my kids' nature journals to check--and sure enough, they say Anna's too! I changed the post accordingly. :) I love hummingbirds. We have them all the time in our yard because they love our agapanthus and hibiscus.

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  7. Thank you Celeste, that's so helpful! It's helpful just to know that it's possible, KWIM? :) (Surely if *you* can make a long morning of nature study happen with so many littles and multiple years, I can do it with just 4!) We do get out in the afternoons pretty consistently in our own yard and neighborhood, but the days (Saturdays or on school breaks) where we spend the whole morning at a state park or some place like that are just so special, I'd love to be doing that more. Oh, I should have made it more clear that I was concerned about the school day getting too long on the *other* four days. But it seems like I can deal with that by doing a few things in the afternoon on a nature study day, and maybe by spreading some skill work across breaks like you mentioned. I really like that idea!

    Agapanthus....hibiscus...hummingbirds...every one of your nature study posts makes me want to move to California!! LOL

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    1. Yes, I see what you mean now. You are right that having only four days of school a week does lengthen the other days a tad, but since I only schedule daily items for four days anyway, that at least isn't spread to the other days of the week. (I would say their daily items take about an hour a day, so it's a significant cut.) If I were trying to do five days of Italian, math, copywork, etc. in four, it would be a bigger challenge. I hope you find a schedule option that lets you get out more often while still feeling comfortable with the amount of schoolwork you're getting done! It is such a refreshing break. :)

      And you're welcome to join me in CA anytime! Though I will warn you that it is still in the nineties here--ugh! LOL

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  8. Gleaning as much as I can. Thanks for sharing details for those of us trying to iron out the details of our own situations. We met weekly with two families in the summer. Didn't do notebooks and sometimes wondered if any observations happened ;) But our goal was to get out and develop habit. With the shift to fall schedules we haven't figured out a way to meet. I like how you make your nature study day a day to tackle different things. I'm thinking on making some adaptations like that. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Ha, yes, sometimes outings have more obvious "learning" going on than others! ;) BUT I will say that the times that it didn't seem like they really noticed much and pretty much just spent the whole time chasing one another and climbing trees ended up bearing fruit in the long run. And like you said, it's really the habit that's important. Once you get that going, the learning part really just falls into place with that continuous exposure. :) Thank you for stopping by, Jenny!

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