The concept of nature study can be intimidating, especially if you live in a snowy climate. When it is freezing outside, this can be the farthest thing from your mind. But, it doesn't have to be complicated or boring. There are lots of ways to engage in meaningful nature study in winter time.
The Basics of Nature Study
Get Outside and Go Together: When we get outside together we can explore lots of new places, I can model the basics of nature study and we can make memories together.
Observe and Identify: When we're outside, we try to notice all that is around us. Usually there is something that stands out--a deer across our path, some animal bones, budding flowers or a large tree in a clearing---and we look at it all together.
I will use my Seek App on my phone to identify it, if I can. If I know this is what the kids want to include in their nature journal I will encourage them to linger a bit longer for observation and take a few pictures. We discuss anything I find on the Seek App or anything that I know about.
- Read and Log: When we get home we get a hot drink and a snack and our nature journals out. Whatever we decided to log in our journals we will start drawing or water coloring. I will pull out any books I have on that plant or animal and read what I can. We label and date our drawings and I try my best to answer any questions my kids have about our subject.
And that's it! It really is short and sweet but the personal connections my kids make with nature (ie: "Remember that one summer we saw purple loosestrife all along the boardwalk, Mom? Look at it now!) are lasting and meaningful.
Some Ideas to Get Started with Winter Nature Study
Birding: I've written a lot about this here, but birding is one of my favorite subjects to study in winter. Put up a bird feeder near a window you sit by often (we have one near our school room window and our kitchen window) and keep binoculars and a field guide near.
You would be surprised how many birds you will see. You could even print out and hang a little check list to keep tally of which birds you see at the bird feeder!
Hibernation: This is such a fun topic to study in winter! You can observe which animals our still around in the winter and which are not. Many times we look for animal tracks in the snow and mud to identify and when we're out on the ice we try and spot wildlife under the water!
Sunsets, Moon and Stars: Especially for young children, who in warmer months are in bed before it gets truly dark, winter is the time to observe all of the beautiful sunsets, moon patterns and stars! We have enjoyed keeping a log of what time the sun in setting for each day, identifying major constellations and following the cycles of the moon.
Snow: This may be an obvious one, but sometimes it is hard to actually "study" snow, rather than just play in it. We have logged and measured big snowfalls, collected snowflakes on black construction paper to look at with a magnifying glass and identified various types of precipitation (like sleet vs. a blizzard, vs. powder snow, etc).
- Winter Weather: Winter is the perfect time to keep a log of the daily temperature, sky conditions or wind chill. We've enjoyed observing and learning about frost, especially different types, like hoarfrost. When we've kept the daily temperature we've been able to see how the wind chill affects the feel of the temperature.
When the weather is really bad we take our our nature collection of treasures we've collected over the year and look through them again. We might log some of these into our nature journal as well. Sometimes this gives us extra time to look things up or enjoy them than we did in the warm months when they were found!
Winter doesn't mean you have to be indoors more or give up on nature study! You can have just as much fun learning in the winter!