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directed nature study

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My 5th and 3rd graders need direction in their nature study.  Just giving them a sketch pad and the wide outdoors is not enough.  They need exact assignments.  Where can I find a list of assignments for them?  I'm looking for curriculum, or blogs, or books to follow.  I already know handbookofnaturestudy.com .  What else do you suggest?


I want 15-20 minute assignments for them to do 3-5 times a week. 


fyi: we live in Michigan, if that helps you know what "nature" we have around us to look at. 

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I would also recommend Nature Connection. 


With my children it has also been helpful to have local books on nature.  Naturally Curious by Mary Holland is perfect for northern New England.  It is essentially a nature journal packed with photos, etc of what is seen each month of the year. A local, independent book store should stock books like that.  I am hesitant to suggest going to the library to browse b/c you might not find what you're looking for, especially this time of year--everything might be checked out!


Naturally Curious was really inspirational to my children (grades 4 and 5 this past year) along with lots of other field guides.  I made my own nature study sheets based on the Nature Connection and assigned them approx 3x's per week.  It was a lot of fun and worked really well.  My kids are now going through lists of amphibians that they want to find in our area.  They've gone through most of the list so far and we want to track what we find and where on various hikes we go on.


Another suggestion would be to get local nature books for places that you vacation.  We love finding shells, etc. and identifying them when we go to the beach. 


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What do you want them to get out of nature study? That's what I would answer first, and then determine what assignments I would want to cover, and how much time to allocate for it. 


As an example, my goals for nature study would be a working knowledge of what plants grow in our area, what wildlife we have, and the conditions needed for those things to flourish. To that end, we make a habit of checking out flowering times for plants and note whether our bees are working them. We have let parts of the yard grow up into meadow to encourage insects and hopefully our turkeys that live in the area will take advantage of it like they did last year. We flushed a fawn up out of the high grass by accident yesterday, so I know the deer are making use of it. 

This year is going to be a major botany year for us. I'd like to draw out the whole plot of land, and go through doing identification of our trees, looking at water flow, and we plan to put in some more trees for bee forage this fall. I'm kind of getting into the idea of api-forestry as a good way to improve our land for bees. The boys will also be helping with the honey harvest this fall, so part of nature study this year will be handling the hives, learning how to brush bees gently, and how to identify castes, look at brood patterns, etc.

So you could say my view of nature study tends to be somewhat utilitarian, in that we focus on nature knowledge for the purpose of managing our land to better provide for our bees and our native wildlife. My agenda of recognizing trees, plants, knowing where they live, seeing what feeds on them, and identifying insects, birds, lizards, snakes, etc reflect that. I tend to set an agenda for study, and if we deviate from that, great! But it will be reflective of our broader goal for nature study.

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I highly recommend The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason by Laurie Bestvater - it explains notebooks a la Charlotte Mason and the reasons behind them. You might find it useful in determining what you want to accomplish through nature study. 

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