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Our family doesn’t completely follow the Ambleside Online (AO) free curriculum, but we pull heavily from it for our book list, among many other things.
One of those other things is their Nature Study schedule. If I want to pick a particular topic of nature study for us to focus on for a while, why not start with their suggested schedule and tweak it along the way, if need be? This way there is less choice-fatigue for me and I can find some community around what we are studying, whether with other AO families I know in real life, on the AO forums, or on the Facebook group.
This summer and fall is for the birds, so I’ve been doing a bit of research and collecting materials that will prepare me to assist and inform my children in their own observation and enjoyment of our feathered friends over the next several months.
I’ve seen a lot of materials for purchase on the interwebs, and many of them were quite tempting, but I wanted to see what was available to me for free before punching in credit card numbers.
First, I searched my own shelves.
We already own the Handbook of Nature Study, which will serve us for many years and topics to come, making the purchase price slim over the long haul.
Birds are covered on pages 27-143. The pictures are not the most impressive, but this book is chock full of information so that you, the parent, can be a literally walking resource for you children on the trail. Types of birds, parts of birds, migration of birds, lessons with suggested questions, pictures, diagrams, and even related poetry are included. I plan to read this section for my own knowledge and make a few notes on particular questions or topics to raise while I’m out with the kids.
Remember, the purpose of Nature Study is to get the child in touch with the world and creatures God has made and to enjoy it. The Handbook of Nature Study is NOT a textbook of information you have to cram into your precious children’s little heads. It’s a tool to aid the work of observation that the kids ought to be doing and delighting in on their own.
I found another volume that I may reference over the next few months: Living with Wildlife: How to Enjoy, Cope with, and Protect North America’s Wild Creatures Around Your Home and Theirs. I don’t think there’s much to say about this book now since the title is so descriptive! We found this gem at a library cast-off sale for probably about 50 cents.
The point here isn’t so much that any of you need THIS book, but that if you keep your eyes open, you may find something similar. If I didn’t have the Handbook of Nature Study, this book (or some other like it) would suffice quite nicely. Birds are covered on pages 180-252, if any of you by chance come across this guide or find it at your library. There aren’t so many pictures or diagrams, and it’s not aimed at teachers or parents to instruct their children, but the information is valuable and would do the trick of providing a parent with both a general and some specific knowledge of birds.
My oldest has read many chapters in The Burgess Bird Book for Children, one of the great selections found on the AO booklist.
It’s a narrative introduction to all kinds of birds, with animals talking and acting consistent with their particular habits and personalities. Each chapter covers a different bird, and we may just read one here and there for fun if we’re interested.
My mom gave us a laminated Pocket Naturalist Guide of Arkansas Birds for Christmas several years ago. This guide isn’t particularly detailed, but it does provide color pictures of a variety of birds, including their Latin names, size, and an occasional special note. Listed on the back are bird viewing areas and sanctuaries, as well as a state regional map.
For very young children, a laminated field guide is almost a necessity! Even when they can’t read, they love feeling like real explorers with a guide in their pack that they can pull out at will. And you as the parent love feeling like it won’t be destroyed on the first expedition! If you don’t live in Arkansas, you can look up the Pocket Naturalist field guide for birds in your state.
Even just one or two of the above resources is more than enough to get started with nature study. Actually, all you really need to do to get started is step outside and pay attention, and maybe take along a notebook and a pencil! But we’ve been at this for several years now and I wanted to add to our resource collection (and convince myself that I didn’t need to buy anything new or shiny in order to do so).
So…where did I go for new FREE resources?
I went online.
Many of the paid resources I’ve seen lately were all ebooks and video courses anyway, so I thought I’d search in the same format–starting with websites specific to my home state of Arkansas.
The Audubon Society of Arkansas and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have a wealth of free resources for studying birds, among many other kinds of wildlife! There’s a searchable database where you can find pictures, details, and songs of birds when you search by color, size, habitat, and more. The Game and Fish Commission provides free printable brochures on birds and so much more, but they will also send you a hard copy for free if you send them your mailing address!
If you’re outside of Arkansas, check out the corresponding organizations for your state.
All I asked for was the Arkansas Backyard Birds booklet, but they sent the other three as well! I suppose they figured someone like me would eventually ask for more booklets and they could save on shipping by sending them all at once.
There are two more ways I’d like to complement our focus on birds, and both can be achieved without spending a dime.
I’d like us to improve our artistic abilities in the area of drawing birds, so that our nature journal entries can better represent what we see out in the field. Enter YouTube. There are TONS of FREE video tutorials to help us hone our skills. I think we’ll get a start with watercolor painting a saucy little wren like the ones we see every day around our house.
Finally, one of the greatest gifts I can imagine giving my children when it comes to nature study is to tie God’s truth to what they see. The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and I want them to see it. I just read the Sermon on the Mount this morning, and I think we’ll incorporate Matthew 6:26 into our memory work as we observe the winged creatures around us:
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
I hope this has been helpful to you, my friends.
Do you have any other super awesome free resources for bird nature study? If you’ve studied birds already with your kids, what did your family enjoy most?