Exploring nature is a wonderful addition to your homeschool routine. However, it can get a bit overwhelming if this in new territory for you. There are so many wonderful resources available that it’s often difficult to know where to start.
I love to follow a child-led approach to exploring nature. It’s easy to make nature study look like school, but it’s more important to just get out there to observe and explore without an agenda. (On the upside, that means you have very little preparation to do!) Here are some tips to help you start down the path of sharing regular nature adventures with your kids.
Make Time for Nature and Commit
If you have trouble making time for nature adventures with your kids, put it on the calendar and treat it like you would an appointment or scheduled group class. It’s easy to put it off when life gets busy, but those are the times when we most need the healing power of nature to help slow us down.
Short, easy outings still count if that’s all you can do. Slowly work your way up to spending more time outdoors. Commit to those appointments with nature, and soon it will become part of your homeschool routine.
For accountability, invite others to join you. I prefer to explore nature with friends, but too many kids can quickly scare away wildlife. However if you're motivated to keep outer committments, making plans with another family will make you less likely to cancel your plans. You won’t want to let your friends down by not showing up.
Explore the Easiest Nature Location
We often overlook our own immediate environment when looking for nature experiences. Your own yard is the easiest location for daily nature observations. (If you don't have a yard, you could use an apartment courtyard or a nearby public park.)
Encourage your kids to slow down and quietly explore and observe. It will amaze you what can be found in our usual areas. My kids attack the backyard with their loud play, but the birds and butterflies quickly return to the area when they slow down and are quiet for a bit.
Here are some easy backyard nature ideas to get your kids exploring:
Attract more birds to your yard with a birdhouse or bird bath. A bird feeder near a window is wonderful for getting an up-close look without scaring them.
Go on a spider web hunt.
Look for insects under rocks and plants.
Watch from a distance if you have harmful spiders or insects in your area.
Set out a small saucer of water with river rocks in it. Butterflies and bees love to visit these.
Hatch your own butterflies, praying mantises, or ladybugs. There are kits available. Release them into your yard. Some local nurseries carry praying mantis egg cases, ladybugs, and worms in the spring.
Dig for worms or build your own worm farm.
Follow a trail of ants back to their hill.
Send your kids on a nature scavenger hunt. Have them find items matching descriptive words such as something smooth, rough, or prickly.
Have your kids sit quietly with their eyes closed and see how many individual sounds they can pick out.
Plant a garden; even a small one can give you many options for flowers, fruit, and visiting insects.
Plant something with long, tubular, brightly colored flowers to attract hummingbirds.
Expand Your Nature Locations
Make a list of areas near your house that will make a good location for exploring nature. You’ll want to look for two different types of locations: local parks and day trip destinations.
Aim for a trip to your local park once a week. Do what you can now and slowly build up to more frequent outings. If you have a homeschool group that has park day events, arrive at least 30 minutes early for some quiet nature time. Look for parks that have these features:
plants in areas away from playground equipment
a water source such as a small stream or pond
close enough to your house that you will go frequently
a variety of plants and trees
deciduous trees that you can watch throughout the seasons
- slightly wild areas for free exploration
For more adventurous outings, make a wish list of nature preserves, nature centers, hiking trails, and state and national parks that are close enough for a day trip but far enough to be special outings for your kids.
Plan on these outings taking the whole day. Even if the trip is shorter, the kids (and you) may be too tired to do much else for the day. I count these days as a full day of school for us, but I don’t expect my kids to do formal lessons on top of these big adventures. Instead, we’ll just curl up with some good books to wind down from these long days.
We go to these areas twice a month. That may be tough if you’re just starting to include regular nature outings in your homeschool routine. Start where you are now, and slowly work more adventures into your schedule.
Keep It Simple
Exploring nature as a part of your homeschool routine does not have to be complicated. There are many wonderful books, activities, and curriculum resources available for nature study, but none of those are really needed—especially when you’re first heading down this path. Let your kids guide their own explorations through play.
The only basic supplies you need are sunscreen, food, water, map or directions, a hat, and a change of clothes. Optional supplies are
- magnifying glass
- nature sketch journal and colored pencils
- identification guides
- bags or jars for collecting items (if allowed)
Always take your trash with you. As soon as kids are able, have them pack and carry their own nature exploration kits or backpacks.
It’s okay if you don’t know much about nature. You can learn along with your kids. It’s more important that they have you as an interested partner rather than an experienced guide. Approach these adventures without a schedule or agenda.
Learning the names of plants and animals is not as important as being able to freely explore and observe nature in a child-led manner. Keeping it simple with these tips will help make exploring nature a regular part of your homeschool routine.
About the Author
Terri Kurcab is a homeschool mom who lives in Nevada with her husband and their two daughters. Nature has provided the cornerstone of their homeschool journey which began in 2013. National and State park visits, mountain hikes, and outdoor-based learning adventures are what Terri and the girls can be found doing most often. When homeschool is not in session, you can find Terri in the garden or spending time with a good book and a cup of tea.