Tag Archives: nature study

Specimen Collecting

BalletBoy and I caught an awesome shiny green tiger beetle on our nature walk.  We examined him in the specimen jar then let him go.

photo (100)

We also collected one of each of the wildflowers we saw for a total of eight specimens, from buttercups to violets, and pressed them in the flower press when we got home.  We’ll see how they come out.

Overall, we’re having such a blast with biology this year.

Read Alouds to go with Nature Study

I was lamenting as I wrote my post about fiction books about science the other day that there are so few great children’s books that really focus on science.  Then, I suddenly realized that there are actually plenty of books for nature lovers.  After we wrapped up Sassafras Science, we dove into The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and the relief I felt reading aloud rich, quality language was pretty excellent.  So here you are, a list of fiction books with nature themes.  May reading them bring on spring!

My Side of the MountainChasing RedbirdThe Evolution of Calpurnia TateGone-Away Lake (Gone-Away Lake, #1)

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
This is the classic story a boy who runs away to live in the woods alone.  The details about survival and nature bring this story to life.  It’s been in our required reading list this year but so far neither of my children have picked it out.  I’m thinking of doing it as our first all together read next month.

Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech
I think of Sharon Creech’s work as the middle grades answer to Barbara Kingslover because she weaves nature and everyday life together so well in several of her stories.  This one is about a girl who, in the middle of lots of pains about growing up, decides to spend summer clearing a path into the forest behind her house.  Note that there is a family death in this book.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
As I said, this is our current read aloud and a story with lots of rich language.  It’s about a young girl in turn of the century Texas who wants to become a naturalist under the tutalage of her science-loving grandfather.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
I could have listed almost any of Enright’s books.  The Four-Story Mistake contains an entire chapter about a boy watching a moth at his window which is one of the most beautiful passages in any children’s book anywhere.  However, the entire focus of Gone-Away Lake is on the restorative power in nature and the descriptions of the wild plants and the progression of the summer season are the overpowering features of this book.  Don’t read it in winter like we mistakenly did.  Be sure to do it when summer is on the horizon.

A Week in the WoodsOperation Redwood

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Most people probably already know this classic about a girl who is revived by finding a mysterious overgrown garden.  It’s a lovely way to celebrate nature, gardening and life, especially in the spring.  As I’ve posted before, when we read it aloud awhile back, we especially loved the Inga Moore illustrated edition.

A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements
Clements’s book about a rich kid who finds his place in a small town is more about teachers and students than about nature, but there is an enthusiasm for being outside and getting to know the woods in the story.  Clements has a knack for making characters that kids relate to, so this book may make readers feel like anyone could spend a week in the woods.

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French
This book is full of humor and adventure.  Through a series of accidents, a boy takes on saving a small patch of redwood trees.  The redwoods are obviously the nature focus and the reader learns about these amazing trees as the main character struggles to fight his own family to save them.

Science Friday: Phooey on Nature

We’re a bit behind on science and I’m even more behind on my science blogging, but to anyone who might actually be reading with interest on the matter, it will be back.  Maybe next week or certainly the week after that.  In the meantime, I wanted to share some (probably disorganized) musings on science instead.


I sort of hate nature.  Yes, that’s right.  I’m a nature hater.  Well…  I take it back.  Nature is fine.  I like hiking and we try to get out in nature as much as possible.  My kids certainly know our national parks around here very well and we’ve explored nature all over the place when we’ve traveled.  While they’re city kids at heart, I’ve shown them the swamp, the rainforest, the desert, the mountains, and the oceans.  But if I hear one more person say that all you should do for elementary age science is take nature walks and do a few leaf rubbings, then I may go nuts.  If you want to ignore science to that extent, then I don’t think it will ultimately harm a child.  And I’m sure some people have a plan where they ramp science up in the later grades.  I also don’t mean people who do a year of environmental science or biology with a focus on nature study as part of a larger science curriculum during the elementary school years.  However, just taking nature walks and drawing pictures of leaves in a nature journal isn’t a science curriculum to me.  It’s P.E. and art class, if it’s anything.  I grew up in the middle of nowhere, taking “nature walks” every day of my early childhood.  It instilled in me a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for the beauty of nature.  It did not, by any means, provide me with a firm grounding in science or even a love or appreciation for science.

In fact, I don’t feel that I actually got a decent science education.  I remember being in nature, but can’t remember a single thing I learned about science in elementary school.  Nor can I remember anything about science from 6th or 8th grade – I can’t even picture the teachers or recall the general outline of topics, which is unusual for me since I could probably list dozens of things about my middle school math, English, drama, French or history teachers.  However, in 7th grade, the teacher made us do at least one lab every single week without fail and I remember a great deal about that class in vivid detail.  We dissected no less than 6 different animals that year to my memory: perch, grasshoppers, earthworms, starfish, frogs and mice.  I remember that the day we did the fish, the cafeteria also served fish.  A nasty coincidence.  This is just to say that the intense focus on scientific demonstration and experiment did have an effect on me.

However, it proved too little too late.  By seventh grade, I already had decided that science, as a rule, was boring.  I had already staked out my identity as someone interested in English and the arts.  I didn’t pursue science in high school and took no AP science classes.  After struggling through chemistry, I took the easy way out by avoiding physics the following year to take anatomy and physiology instead.  I didn’t take a fourth year of science so I could do extra English electives.  In college, I took geology, which was positive in a way because I did learn about a subject I knew little about, but still a bit of an easy way out because the lab component for the survey class was extremely simple.

It took me growing up and finding books about science to discover an interest in it.  Now, I love science and science books.  Physics, that subject I completely skipped at every level of my education, is something I’ve read about for pleasure many times.  So I desperately want to give my own kids the exposure to science that I lacked as a child.  Being taught mostly by humanities lovers and being naturally interested in reading and writing myself meant that I missed out on a lot of good science.  If they want to be grow up to be writers or artists, then that’s great, but I don’t want it to be because they didn’t have the right exposure to science.  So I don’t want to take the easy way out by hanging out at the nature center and walking around in Rock Creek Park and somehow imagining that it comprises a proper science education.  We do both those things anyway and they’re certainly a piece of an overall education, especially for two such urbanites as my boys are.  However, they’re not enough.  Nor would I ever say that they comprised a curriculum.  I’m glad we did biology last year and glad we’re exploring physics this year.  Next year, we’ll do earth science and I’m excited about that as well, but I won’t let it just be nature walks.