Nature Study and Outdoor Education for Exciting Adventures

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I love it when others give me an idea for a post.  Today’s post is courtesy of Terri over at the Homeschooling Doctor.  If you have some time, go check out her blog!  She has fantastic information on nutrition and healthy eating, in addition to homeschooling.  In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of the outdoors for our family.  My kids love to go for a hike in the woods (which is funny because if you ask them to walk a mile down to the store, they moan and groan like you are torturing them immensely).  So how do we make hiking in the woods educational?  I have a couple of things that I typically do.

1.  I try to have another person with us.  I know, I know.  We should be happy going on our own, but bringing someone along or hiking with someone else adds a new element.  The extra person always has information that we can learn from-ALWAYS.  Also, an extra person gets my children talking and teaching.

2.  This is a sneaky one.  I don’t tell my kids that I do this but it works every time.  I pick something to find and I take pictures of it throughout the hike.  After a couple of pictures, they stop and start studying it as well.  Then they start looking for what ever it is that I am hunting for too.  Some ideas include-trees, leaf shapes, leaf colors, different types of pine needles, seeds, wild flowers, animal tracks, animal homes, tree bark, letters in nature, mushrooms, flowers, flower petals, snails, birds, bird calls, bird feathers, rocks, ground covers, berries….the list goes on and on.  Try to find something easy that uses one of your senses.

3.  Nature study.  We typically stop and do a nature study where ever we stop.  Everyone separates and finds a “home.”  This is the best part for the kids.  They like climbing a tree or a rock or burrowing into a hole somewhere.  A predetermined amount of time is set to sit quiet-no noise!  This is tough.  I highly recommend starting with only 30 seconds for kids under 8.  If they don’t know what to do, give them an idea such as close your eyes and listen for the next 30 seconds, watch the clouds,  observe the tree for insects, etc.  I bring paper, watercolors, and colored pencils usually for our nature studies.  They write words sometimes, paint sometimes and occasionally, nothing but listen and observe.  We come back together and talk about what each person observed.

4.  Snacks and water are essential.  They are kids and they are totally motivated by food, even fruit leather.  Knowing that they can stop and have a snack keeps then interested in hiking as well.

Don’t think that this has to be an all day adventure.  It can be short like 15 minutes or as long as a day.  Getting outdoors is amazing for our senses.  It is amazing for our well being.  It is amazing for our health.  And for our family, it is ESSENTIAL for our homeschool!

(Below is a slide show of our latest hike finds.  We were looking for different mushrooms and fungi.  If you happen to know what any of them are, please speak up!  We have been looking through tons of nature books and online resources, but we have a lot we have not named yet.)

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Hiking the Prairie

The warm weather is finally here!  For us, that means we are back to exploring creeks and hiking.  (Yes, we did do this in the cold weather.  However, we definitely did not do as much research and exploring as we do in the spring, summer, and fall.)  This week, Sims and Sawyer headed to McDowell Nature Preserve for some geocaching, while Parks and I explored the creek and the prairie.

Latta Plantation Nature Preserve has backpacks filled with activities for the prairie, the woodlands and the lake front.  Parks and I did the prairie backpack.  He researched rocks and minerals.  He was thrilled to find out that many of the rocks that he collected on a recent hike to the Blue Ridge parkway were magnetic.  He spent quite a while watching a dragonfly eat mosquitos and chasing bugs to investigate.

Later in the week, I took Sims and Sawyer out to the prairie.  It was amazing the difference from one day to the next.  When I took Parks to the prairie, the day was bright, sunny and full of activity.  When Sims, Sawyer and I went, the prairie was overcast and calm.  We had to search for the bugs on the trees and in the tall grass.  Sawyer practiced her bird calls and Sims worked hard to catch some bugs.

Both days, the kids wanted to investigate the creek.  Parks discovered the amazing way ferns grow; while, Sims and Sawyer discovered rock erosion and animal tracks.  All the kids ended the week with the Latta plantation staff in their Muddy Boots class where they hiked yet again.