Natural Nature Learning

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Our family hasn’t been blessed with acres of property off in the country for our children to frolic to their hearts content. But a small city lot and many local parks have offered us tremendous opportunities for outdoor learning activities.

PARKS

To make up for the lack of open natural space in our neighborhood, we go to various local parks at least two to three times per week. We don’t go to the parks for the play equipment but for the exposure to a more natural setting. We are about half-an-hour driving time from Puget Sound so we often frequent parks with direct beach access. Continue reading

Nature Study for City Dwellers

by Catherine Levison

Even in the city, children should get their knowledge of nature first hand and get into the habit of being in touch with nature.  Here are some simple nature and science ideas for city (and rural) families to share together:

1) Press and mount flowers on cardboard. Write the names of the flowers, and where and when you found them. I recently saw a photo-album used to store pressed flowers. Having a field guide to identify flowers and flowering trees is very helpful. Continue reading

Winter Educational Ideas for Preschoolers


by Deborah Taylor-Hough


It’s always fun to use things in our children’s everyday lives to spark discussion and easy educational activities. Since many of us are currently in the midst of winter, this season can be a great topic of “study” for our littlest ones.

Study time with preschoolers at home mainly consists of talking and laughing with them, helping them notice the details of the world around them. No pressure. Just a fun time spent in the company of a loving adult.

To introduce the topic of “Winter,” ask your child what she knows about the seasons. Is she aware of spring, summer, autumn and winter? Does she know what the differences are between the seasons in your local area?

Don’t lecture. Just make conversation and find out what she knows already. Have her look out the window and tell you what she notices about the trees, bushes, flowers and gardens. Are there leaves visible? Buds? Flowers? Greenery? Bare branches? Brown stems?

Find a photo, painting, or picture in a book of an obvious winter scene. Ask your child if she knows what season it is in the picture. What things tell her what time of year it is? If she doesn’t know, point things out to her that will give clues: bare branches, snow on the ground, no flowers, people in warm clothes, etc. Hide the picture from view and have the child describe to you in her own words what she saw in the picture. Encourage as much detail as possible, but remember to keep it low-key and fun. This process of orally telling back what she’s seen, helps cement the image in her memory.

To suplement your discussion, enjoy together a winter-time picture book such as Ezra Jack Keat’s ‘The Snowy Day’ or the Alaskan tale ‘Momma, Do You Love Me?’ by Barbara M. Joosse. You can browse

these books online at:

Ask your child how people stay warm in the winter (warm clothes, mittens, fireplaces, warm houses, etc.). Let her brainstorm for awhile. Then ask how she thinks animals stay warm in winter (thick fur, migrate to warmer climates, hibernate in caves, etc.).

Sometimes a preschool child might say things like, “Baby squirrels snuggle up in a tree with a soft blanket to stay warm.” Ask her gently if she’s ever seen a real squirrel with a blanket. Does she think that’s how they’ll really stay warm in those cold, winter months? The line between fantasy and reality in preschoolers is sometimes thin … don’t harshly bring your child into reality, just gently coax her into thinking about how things really happen in nature.

But just so you don’t think it all needs to be a serious dose of reality, have some fun and brainstorm about “pretend” ways animals might stay warm. For fun, read one of these wonderfully fun and beautifully illustrated winter-time books by Jan Brett (one of my favorite children’s illustrators):

You can also visit Jan Brett’s website to print out coloring sheets and other fun projects based on Brett’s lavishly illustrated children’s books:

For a fun activity, throw a collection of clothing and accessories into a bag or suitcase. Without looking, have your child reach into the bag, pull out a single clothing item and then tell you if the item they grabbed is appropriate to wear in the winter. Have the child explain to you why each item is — or isn’t — seasonally appropriate. Include a variety of things in the bag such as: a warm hat, a pair of gloves or mittens, an open-toed sandal, a swimsuit, summer shorts, a warm sweater, a snow boot, a woolen scarf, a sleeveless top, etc.

Have your child finish the sentence, “Winter is …” For example: Winter is … “cold”; winter is … “snowmen”; winter is … “mittens”; winter is … “cocoa and marshmallows.” Consider writing down your child’s responses (she’ll feel so official seeing her words written down on paper). If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can even print out little “Winter is …” booklets using clip-art found on your computer that coincides with your child’s winter responses. Or have your child illustrate their own home-made “Winter is … ” book. Or let her cut out winter photos from magazines and newspapers, pasting them onto a large sheet of paper as a “Winter is …” collage.

Have a wonderful time as you explore the glories of winter with your preschooler!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (freelance writer and mother of three) is the editor of the Bright-Kids and Simple Times e-newsletters. She’s also the author of A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity, Frugal Living For Dummies and Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month. Visit Debi online at: http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com

Free Nature Study Resource

I was on the REI website recently  and stumbled upon this interesting item called the Family Adventure Program. It has a free downloadable journal for keeping track of outings and other outdoor activities.

There’s also some information on the webpage about family-friendly hikes in the local area, some free bonus activities you can download, and if your child is age 5-12, she can receive a certificate of completion and a free prize.

http://www.rei.com/family-adventure

Just thought I’d pass on the info in case anyone’s interested. Very unschooling and Charlotte Mason friendly. My kids are too old for this now (23, 20 & 15), but we all would’ve LOVED this resource when they were younger!

 I love REI and even used to work there … 😎

Taking Your Homeschool Outside

by Geoffrey Moore

Like anything else in your life, your homeschool can be in a rut. You wake up every morning, crack the same books and do the same lesson plans. After a few months of this, both you and your kids are yawning and dreading sledging through the drudgery.

The good news is that you have the power to change this! You don’t have to do school-at-home. Do you have an outdoor fire pit or other fun area you can gather? Put down the plan book and break away from the textbook rut.

Here are a few tips to get you started. Continue reading

Nature Study for City Dwellers

Even in the city, children should get their knowledge of nature first hand and get into the habit of being in touch with nature. Here are some simple nature/science ideas for city (and rural) families to share together:

 1) Press and mount flowers on cardboard. Write the names of the flowers, and where and when you found them. I recently saw a photo-album used to store pressed flowers. Having a field guide to identify flowers and flowering trees is very helpful.

 2) Keep a nature calendar. A calendar devoted to nature observation could be kept with simple entries on when the leaves first fell or the fruit tree in your yard first ripened for the year.

 3) Leaf identification. Children should know the leaves of their neighborhood. For example they can begin to notice that some leaves are heart shaped, some are divided, and some fall off in the winter.

 4) Give children a pocket compass, a magnifying glass and possibly a microscope. We like using the magnifying glass better. Buy the best magnifying glass or microscope you can afford and check it at the store — they seem to vary in how they focus.

5) Learn about the wind. A weather vane mounted on the housetop or porch railing is not only a decorative object but also a learning tool. Charlotte Mason said to teach children to notice winds. Tell the children that the wind is named by what direction it comes from; for example, if someone is a Mexican because they were born in Mexico, they don’t become a Canadian when they visit Canada.

6) Even children in the city can observe natural animal life. City dwellers can try to feed and observe city birds such as sparrows. Children can place a caterpillar in a box with a netting over it and watch it spin. Keeping an ant farm is fun and educational.

7) Swamps and ponds are an excellent resource for science learning. Have children go to the pond, gather some frogs’ eggs, and place them in a large glass jar. After the tadpoles begin to form legs, take them back and release them at the pond.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Catherine Levison is a popular speaker to parenting and educational audiences throughout the United States and Canada. She’s the mother of five, a grandmother, and the author of the book, A Charlotte Mason Education: A How-To Manual, the sequel, More Charlotte Mason Education, and A Literary Education. Catherine resides with her family in the Seattle/Tacoma area. Visit Catherine online at: CharlotteMasonEducation.com  Catherine Levison’s books can be browsed at:

Nature Notebooks

Copyright (c) Deborah Taylor-Hough. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://www.simplemom.com


Nature Notebooks (also called Nature Diaries and Nature Journals) are essentially artist sketchbooks where the children can draw whatever natural items strike their fancy.

The more options you offer the child, the more likely they’ll find one or more ideas that spark their interest. The Nature Notebooks should be voluntary, by the way–not an assignment or a plea from the parent (“Now, draw the pretty bird for Mommy, honey. . . .”).

  1. Information from first-hand observation the child has done themselves (not things they’ve learned from “teaching” or in the classroom).
  2. Drawings of leaves, flowers, birds, insects or anything else discovered by the child in it’s natural setting.
  3. Labels for their drawings—both English and Latin names if applicable.
  4. Notations on where the object was found.
  5. Notations about the temperature or weather conditions, dates, etc.
  6. Life cycles of plants. Draw the bare tree in Winter; the Spring buds; the Summer blooms; the Fall colors and seed pods. Or in a backyard garden you could draw a seed; draw the sprouting seedling; draw the full grown plant; draw the stem, leaves, flower, etc.; draw the fruit, vegetable or flower; draw the new seeds for starting the cycle again.
  7. Draw and describe an ant hill or a bee’s nest.
  8. Take out a hand-held high-power magnifying glass and draw the intricate details of a bee’s wing, or whatever else might be fascinating viewed through a magnifying lens.
  9. Science experiments the child has actually performed. Set-up, observations, results, etc.
  10. Pressing and mounting leaves or dried flowers.
  11. Samples of different types of leaves: divided, heart-shaped, fluted, needles, etc.
  12. Samples or drawings of different types of seeds: nuts; seed pods; seeds that fall to the ground; seeds that float through the air; etc.
  13. Parts of the flower: petal, sepal, stamen, etc.
  14. Sketches of animal tracks.
  15. Sketches of the lifecycles of animals. Caterpillar to cocoon (or chrysalis) to moth (or butterfly); or egg to tadpole to frog (or salamander).
  16. Nature-related poems or quotes. The poems can be ones found during the child’s reading time, or poems composed by the child.

For an outstanding example of a fully developed Nature Diary, take a look at the beautiful book The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, 1906. This book was out-of-print for a number of years, but recently became available once again.

I also highly recommend the book, Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a whole new way of seeing the world around you, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. The book is written and illustrated by science educators who use Nature Journals as their primary way of teaching people to learn about nature firsthand. A beautiful book! It totally changed the way we approached Nature Journals — the first day we looked at the book, my oldest daughter and I spent two hours at the local beaver pond sketching red-winged blackbirds, Canada geese, rough-skinned newts, turtles, and wildflowers.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (author, freelance writer, and longtime homeschooling mom of three) is the editor of The Charlotte Mason Monthly and Simple Times e-newsletters. She’s also the author of A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity; Frugal Living for Dummies; and the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series. Visit Debi online at: http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com/