Did you know that one of the major principles of nature study is to visit the same place over and over throughout the season? That is why nature study is the perfect backyard outdoor kids activity for getting kids excited about going outside.
You might think the key to getting the kids excited about going outside is to take them to new and exciting places, but you might just be surprised at how much nature there is to discover in your own backyard.
The Habit of Backyard Nature Study Helps Your Child “Own” Their Knowledge
While I won’t argue that visiting new outdoor places can be exciting, oftentimes the best learning happens when you have spent enough time with some activity to “own” it.
When you spend several months in a biography about someone like Abraham Lincoln, you begin to feel as though you know him personally and you “own” the knowledge about him.
The same is true when it comes to backyard nature study.
Once the knowledge or skill becomes familiar, you get excited about what you can do with this new knowledge. This is true in developing new habits and skills and it’s true in exploring nature.
While it is exciting to see new things and we all love the adventure of the unknown, it is equally exciting to discover something “new” in familiar places.
Tools Needed To Begin Backyard Nature Study
Backyard Nature Study is easy to begin.
With a few techniques and easy to access tools, you and your kids will begin to discover a whole new world right in your own backyard.
The following tools are all you need.
- A Nature Notebook (this can be a simple blank notepad or a nature journal with prompts like this one. It’s up to you.)
- Your Backyard
That’s it! All you need in the beginning is a notebook, time, and your backyard and you and your kids can begin discovering a whole world.
As you progress in your studies and discoveries, you can add in tools such as books, Youtube videos, and other study helps. But, when you start, just grab your kids, a pencil, and a notepad, and go outside.
Mental Picture Painting Gets Kids Excited About Nature
Let’s consider the concept of ‘picture painting’ a landscape in your mind as the first way to get kids excited about going outside.
Charlotte Mason wrote much about nature study. When she speaks about the concept of ‘picture painting’ a landscape in the mind of a child, she states,
“Get the children to look well at some patch of landscape, and then to shut their eyes and call up the picture before them, if any bit of it is blurred, they had better look again. When they have a perfect image before their eyes, let them say what they see. Thus: ‘I see a pond; it is shallow on this side, but deep on the other; trees come to the water’s edge on that side, and you can see their green leaves and branches so plainly in the water that you would think there was a wood underneath….”Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 48
To learn more about Charlotte Mason and why we follow her methods in our homeschool read How to Plan Your Homeschool Day For Success
Mason explains that this is an exercise children delight in. It is a worthwhile endeavor to have your kids get in the habit of observing and painting pictures in their minds eye of what they see.
Mason warns, however, that while kids enjoy this outdoor activity, it can be fatiguing so don’t do it too often or push your child too hard.
This can be a fun exercise to do once a week with your kids in the backyard taking note of as many details as you can with each observation.
Over time, as this exercise is continued throughout the season, you and your child will begin to see and note changes in the landscape as well as the visiting creatures.
What’s Different and What’s The Same?
Playing this game of mental picture painting every week lends itself well to another game I call, “What has changed today?”
This time you and your child can take a walk around the backyard and try to identify as many changes in the landscape that you can.
Your child can take note of seasonal changes to the trees or grass, any changes a storm may have brought about, or any new homes built by new creatures such as new bird’s nests, bee hives, ant hills, etc.
You can even create a chart to monitor these changes and make notes or draw pictures once you return inside.
Choose A Special Study For The Season In Your Backyard
Another way to get the kids excited about going outside is to choose some special study object that they can easily find in your backyard and spend the entire season learning all you can about that natural object.
Let’s take, for example, the spring time Robin.
Begin by reading living books both about springtime birds as well as specific books about Robins.
Spend some time outside (preferably at the same time every day) watching for Robins and observing what they do.
Keep a chart every day and watch for the bird to return.
Over time, the Robin will begin to “belong” to the child.
He will take a whole new interest in the bird.
He may even begin to notice subtle changes about the bird as well as note where the bird always lands in the yard or on the deck.
Given enough time and observation over long periods, the child may actually begin to recognize “their” bird over other birds.
This is how you get the child really excited about nature and going outside. He may even decide to name his bird, draw pictures of his bird, and tell stories about his bird.
In fact, we encourage you to provide your child with a nature notebook for recording such things.
When you do have an opportunity to take a nature walk in a new area, you can challenge your child to find similar birds or trees to the one at home and to compare that new bird to “their” bird at home.
Now, you can see how this familiarity and friendship with the nature in their own backyard gives children new eyes for all nature and that is what gets them excited about getting outside.
These are just a few of the ways you can simply and easily introduce your kids to nature study as well as find pleasure in nature in your own backyard.
You don’t always have to drive to a new place or visit a large park to find pleasure in nature and to learn something new.
“By degrees children will learn discriminatingly every feature of the landscapes with which they are familiar; and think what a delightful possession for old age and middle life is a series of pictures imaged, feature by feature, in the sunny glow of a child’s mind!”Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 47
More Resources To Begin Backyard Nature Study
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