The habit of nature study

The habit of nature study

This summer we spent a good deal of time at the beach. On one of these times, one of my relatives came running out of the water holding a bit of seaweed to show us. We were not sharing her enthusiasm, but we soon became engrossed as she drew our attention to the fact that it was sea grass, and that it was a floating home to the tiniest of amazing creatures that we had never seen before. What would you or your children do if you saw a bit of seaweed float by you at the beach?

The object of nature study

The object of nature study is first to cultivate in your child a love and appreciation for God’s creation allowing him to see and judge true beauty from His perspective. It ignites wonder in the intricacies of God’s handiwork as your child knits together in his mind the relations between living things and the forces which impact and influence their behaviours. Nature study teaches the skill and power of observation so necessary to a thorough grounding in science and helps him understand what is, as opposed to what may have been. As he studies the world around him and collates information in his own mind, he will become familiar with his environment and will better understand his own place in relation to the rest of the world. His imagination is sparked and nurtured, and his sense of wonder drives him to further knowledge. What he learns is not just data, it relates to his own life. It is also through the study and understanding of the web of life that good stewardship of the earth can be developed.

When to do nature study

Different lessons from nature are given at different times of the day, so taking a walk in the yard, along the beach, or out in the bush can be done at varying times. Invariably, when you walk to the shops or around the block with your children, they will pick up rocks, flowers and sticks. The key is to try and remember to take all these ‘other purpose’ activities opportunities to observe what you see along the way. Don’t always be in a hurry.  Make room for deliberate nature study in your timetable, and by these two methods, you will teach your child that interest in nature is part of normal everyday life, as well as the importance of including nature study in their education. Go out at differing times of the day and evening. Take your notebooks, cameras and magnifying glasses, but do not stress if you forget them. The enjoyment and wonder are what is wanted most; talking about what you see, or in some cases, silently watching. A record can be done from memory at home if need be.

Drawing what you see

Drawing comes naturally to some and not to most, and if you or your child are one of the latter, don’t despair! Perseverance and practice are the keys. Mediocre artists can improve, so use nature study as your opportunity. Your drawings do not have to please all who see them, but they should be meaningful to you, the notebook owner. What should you draw? Draw what fascinates you, or draw what you are able. Parts or close-ups, and wholes of your subject matter, e.g. the bird, a feather, feet, beak, etc. You may like to study the beaks of different birds and what they eat; or nests and eggs, etc.

Other records to keep

There is no bound to how much information you can collect, and some children will want to know more than others. I have included space for daily temperatures and rainfall, however, please do not become a slave to filling these out. On the other hand, if you love seeing patterns in nature, you can go further and graph your results (on graph paper) and include the page in the relevant month. If you haven’t already got one, get yourself a rain gauge.

Other data you could collect is hours of daylight (sunrise and sunset times); night sky data; types of cloud and conditions in the sky; flight patterns of birds; animal tracks; what you observed the creature eating, what creatures inhabit a particular plant, etc. Different things will be pertinent at the time of observation. The Notebook Journal pages allow for free drawing and note taking. I have included some pages with lines and blank spaces so you have a choice about how you’d like your child to record the information.

The most important information to be kept in this journal is recording what creatures and plants look like. Print the pages as single sided, so they are blank on the back giving room for more drawing. Draw whole bodies/plants and draw parts, e.g. a bird, its beak, wing and feet.

Some children may be dissatisfied with their drawing efforts, but please encourage them and keep going with nature study as practice will show improvement.

Using technology in nature study

Drawing certainly trains the eye to detail and in observation, but do not be afraid to use a camera. If your child is frustrated with drawing, then taking photos is fine. My youngest daughter has a nature journal on the computer in which she has data about all the birds in our garden, their nests and incubation of eggs, growth of the young, etc. all with photos of various stages of development.

Equipment for nature study

  • Appropriate clothing: hats in summer and gumboots in winter
  • Notebook, pencil, eraser, coloured pencils or crayons
  • Magnifying glass or “bug catcher”
  • Plastic jars with air holes for bringing back specimens
  • A drink and snack; a bag for rubbish


  • Rain gauge
  • Small ponding/fishing net
  • Camera
  • Traps for catching live creatures (rat, possum, yabby net, etc.). Make sure you keep what you catch for only a short time and let it go again.

Joelle Grubb Copyright 2016

Inspirational books for nature study

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