Nature Study Dos and Don’ts

A nature study does not have to be challenging or difficult. Read below for all the tips and tricks I use for designing a nature study in an authentic way with my sweet, spirited, and LOUD little boys!

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DON’T – Get Frustrated

I had spent the morning preparing my boys, just turned 7 and almost 3, to go on a birding hike with me at the local wildlife center.  They’d advertised the hike as “open to anyone who enjoys birds”. We all LOVE birds.  We got up early and went to our local bird refuge.  When we got to the meet-up spot and started up the path to meet the other avid birders, my 2 yr old immediately screamed “It a duck, mama!!  Look-it!  IT. A. DUCK!!” while jumping up and down.  After 10 minutes of him exclaiming loudly about every bird we saw during the introduction of the hike, I excused myself.  I walked my noisy boys back to my car.  As I passed, a fellow birder on the hike said “thank you” with a sigh.  I could have been annoyed at her, but we were both there for the same purpose- to see the birds- and we both knew that wasn’t going to happen while my boys were making so much noise.

Shoveler Duck at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

DO – Have a Goal in Mind

Nature study was too important to give up because I had one failed experience.  The advice I received when expressing my frustration varied from “Just wait until they are older” to “Wild Krats teaches my kids ALL about nature, just do that!”  I wanted to give my boys a more authentic nature study experience where they are not constantly told what they are seeing. Instead, I wanted them to be given room to come to their own conclusions in the messy, un-narrated world.  I started to search for the ways in which I could continue bird watching and nature study with my boys. Of course, this nature study would have to allow for the challenges that young, enthusiastic children may bring.

Nisqually River Delta

DO – Start in your own Backyard:

Once you start looking, you will be amazed at what you already know.  I recently lead a group of Boy Scouts on a birding hike. Several of the boys were already frustrated when they got there.  They were convinced they would never be able to identify a bird call, or even be able to identify a bird. A few minutes later, a flock of geese flew overhead and one of the boys  yelled “Geese!”  In his mind, things that flew over his own apartment complex couldn’t possibly count as ‘bird watching’, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth!  The best place to start studying nature is where ever you are!

King Boletus Mushrooms in Tacoma, WA

DO – Go on School Days:

It is far more likely that you can enjoy a nature study hike with your children if you go on a Tuesday morning, rather than a Saturday afternoon.  I plan for one day a month. We do our home school in the car, bring a thermos of hot cocoa, and spend the whole morning at the wildlife refuge.

Great Blue Heron at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

DO – Bring a Camera:

Most birders carry binoculars, and they are a wonderful tool. However, I have found that my zoom camera is the best tool for birding with children.  You can zoom in.  You can look at the photo later (after someone uses the potty).  And best of all, you can take a photo in a second and not have to worry about a kid running up and yelling about it. The kids will be able to squeal with glee at seeing it and as it flies away. However, you can rest assured that you will be able to look it up later from your photo.  Plus, some of the moments I capture with my camera just wouldn’t be the same while trying to focus a pair of binoculars.

DO – Explore Live Nature Cams:

One spring we spent each morning watching an eagles’ nest that was four states away.  We were watching a webcam that a university had set up to keep an eye on a pair of eagles they had tagged that spring.  We watched as they built a nest. Then a few weeks later, laid eggs. Then the eggs hatched, and we watched them feed the ugly baby eagles until they started to get feathers. It was fascinating!  We were able to have a nature study while we were eating our breakfast on a normal school day.  It may not have been in person, but it was real life, unscripted, and unedited. And that worked for my “authentic nature study” goal.

My boys watching tree frogs

DON’T – Stop Trying:

If you have a bad nature study experience, or even a few, don’t give up!  Within our climate of iPhone, Xbox, and screens, hiking and bird watching is so good for the soul!  Even just a walk around your neighborhood can give you tons of things to look up and learn about.  Grab every chance to share that with your children that you possibly can!

Pacific Tree Frog at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

More Nature Study Moments:     

About Val

Valerie Rose, creator of the blog Collecting the Moments… one by one spends her days cooking, gardening, and homeschooling her 4 children on her urban homestead in rainy western Washington. With camera in hand, she is constantly collecting the moments of life and encouraging others to do the same with activities and inspiration for a simple, creative household. You can find her on Pinterest, Facebook and on her homeschooling blog where she documents all the fun learning her kids do day to day.