Nature study is a very popular topic with many homeschoolers. Like many moms, I love having my kids outside enjoying their surroundings and learning about the plants and animals that live in our area. And like many moms, I really don’t know squat about the plants and animals that live in our area, and when it’s 90 degrees, I really don’t feel like loading the kids in the car for a long drive to some wooded area where we’ll probably all get covered in ticks. There is a solution, though: study what’s in your own backyard!
A disclaimer: We live in the country. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve discovered killdeer nests, a turtle ambling across the yard, a rabbit hopping through the neighbor’s pasture, a snake left behind by an owl, wasps building a nest in our window birdhouse, caterpillars that look like sticks, and a homing pigeon–and those are the novelties. Pretty much any time we look out the window we see some kind of wildlife.
Before this, though, we lived in town with a postage stamp yard. You wouldn’t think that would be a great place to learn about wildlife, but we started small with a bird feeder in our back yard. The first lesson we learned? If you want birds to come to your feeder, don’t put it where your cat can reach it. After we figured that out, we moved it to a better spot and within a day we had hummingbirds coming to the feeder just outside my son’s window. He was just three or four at the time and thought this was the coolest thing ever. Now we have a feeder just outside of our school room window that attracts all kinds of birds!
If birds aren’t interesting to your kids, check out what’s in the flower beds. If you look closely, you can just about always find something creepy-crawly there! We’ve found snails, insects, spiders, and even a frog. Look up in your trees and even in the cracks of the sidewalks. It’s amazing that so many creatures can be living so close to you and you don’t even realize it!
If you’re like me, your answer to, “What is this thing, Mom?” is pretty much always, “I have no idea! A bug of some kind, I think!” So what’s a mom to do? The best thing I have found is the Fun With Nature Take-Along Guide. They also have a second one, More Fun With Nature. Some nature guides are a little intimidating, but these are super easy to use. Each one is divided into different categories, such as Frogs, Toads and Turtles, or Trees, Leaves and Bark. Once you find the right section, you can flip through and look at the pictures and read the descriptions and you will likely find what you’re looking for. I also like how they include a map of the animal’s habitat to help you narrow your search. We’ve used these books to identify several animals at our house, like a tree frog, killdeer, and more recently, a turtle. We read the description of the turtle and my son was excited that both times we had seen it, it was early evening and morning—just when the guide said they liked to come out!
If you have birdwatchers in your family, you definitely need the Birds of Oklahoma Field Guide. I like to look at birds, but I really don’t know much about them at all, and even I can use this guide. First off, you know you’re not going to have to sort through fifty birds that don’t even live anywhere near here. Second, the birds are grouped by color. Just find the color-coded section that matches the main color of the bird and you can quickly find the bird you want! We get a wide variety of birds at our feeder in the winter and this book helped us identify them easily.
My kids probably aren’t going to grow up to be the next Jane Goodall or Jack Hanna, but they are learning to notice their surroundings and how to learn more about what they see, and that makes me happy!