10 Tips for Successful Free Range Nature Study with PreschoolersJeniffer Do Nascimento
Being a Charlotte Mason-esque homeschooler, I strive to give the children lots nature exposure, but living in a suburban housing addition makes nature study difficult. Thankfully, there are several types critters that find their way into our yard on a regular basis. From toads and beetles to grasshoppers and dragonflies, my preschoolers love finding, catching, and observing critters of all kinds.
Nature study doesn’t have to be planned, stressful or expensive. In fact, it really should be just the opposite — natural, relaxing, and fun.
1. Set up a bird feeder
Bird feeders encourage our feathered friends to come around and stay a while. And, if you keep it well stocked, they will make their visits a regular occurrence which means more bird watching! It’s easy enough to buy a bird feeder at the store, but it’s more fun to make one. To make your own bird feeder, you just need a couple of pine cones, some peanut butter, string, and bird food.
2. Collect treasures while taking nature walks
Nearly every family walk we take culminates in the children’s examining and sharing the treasures they found while out and about. Sticks, rocks, leaves, flowers, acorns, pinecones, walnuts, and even snake skin have all made their way into our nature treasure collection.
We take turns identifying items. Sometimes they want to glue their treasures to some cardstock so they can proudly display their finds on the fridge. Sometimes they take great interest in what they’ve found and want to learn more, in which case we consult Anna Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study.
3. Make a DIY ant farm
Making a DIY ant farm can be fun for littles. Using items like mason jars and panty hose make it an easy impromptu nature or science activity!
4. Have a critter case on hand
Having a Critter Case means you have somewhere to put those grasshoppers, praying mantises, toads, butterflies, beetles, worms, and whatever else your children find. Truth be told, I got tired of puncturing all my mason jar lids! We invested in a couple of these and haven’t looked back!
5. Have nature books available
Having nature books readily available encourages them to want to learn more. Some of our favorite nature books include:
- The Magic School Bus
- Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature
6. Encourage them to look closely and draw what they see
Your local dollar store probably carries magnifying glasses and butterfly nets. Whether they are looking at treasures from a walk or leftover broccoli, little ones love using magnifying glasses to see how things look up close. Discuss what these things would look like from an ant’s perspective.
7. Plant flowers that attract butterflies
Butterflies are mesmerizing. By planting flowers that attract them, you’ll be helping the butterflies and providing more opportunity for nature discussions.
8. Don’t forget about weather
So often when we think about nature study, we forget about the weather! Using daily forecasts and weather are excellent nature subjects to discuss. What makes thunder? Why does it come after the lightning? What is hail? Where does the sun go when clouds are out? All of these are excellent discussion starters!
9. Keep a nature backpack
We keep a nature backpack hanging on a peg by the front door. It contains nature journals, colored pencils, baggies, magnifying glasses, a cheap camera, I Spy Nature Cards, and binoculars. We take it on impromptu walks around the neighborhood and planned nature trips to parks. You never know when the opportunity to study nature will arise!
10. Create a nature journal
Nature journals can be so much fun! I used to think I had to purchase expensive journals, but that wasn’t practical. So we started making our own by stapling plain printer paper between a piece of construction paper. Other times we have used wide-ruled notebooks and even paper bags.
The idea is just to have fun, Mama! Don’t get bogged down with planning and staging. Nature is everywhere and what’s more… He put it there for our enjoyment! Let’s take in this beautiful gift and show our children His glory!
How do you do nature study with your preschooler?