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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.
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?
Here’s some of what we’ve been up to lately:
- My boys recently participated in their first musical stage play, “No Strings Attached: The Musical Adventures of Pinocchio.” They had a fantastic time playing 19th-century school boys, donkeys, a marionette, and singing fish. They were the youngest in the production, so the five-hour-long dress rehearsal was pretty exhausting for them (and their parents), but they absolutely had a blast.
When the last performance was over, our five-year-old shed a few tears. I assured him that he would have the opportunity to be in another play sometime, but he was quite upset that it would likely not be Pinocchio again. “I like THIS play!”
He later had a dream that they did the play again, and he reported the following morning with a beaming smile, “It was the most wonderful dream!”
- Pink eye isn’t exactly the kind of visitor that you usually want to celebrate as a “special event,” but it’s been a guest at our house for a couple weeks this spring so it’s at least worth a mention. We’ve had pretty good luck getting rid of it by mixing a 1/2 teaspoon boric acid in one cup boiled water. Once it has completely cooled, you can place a few drops into each eye. We had our kiddos lay down on a table and close their eyes while we dripped a bit of the water onto each eye near the tear duct. Then they could open their eyes so that the water could come in. This is way easier than holding a spoon over open and very frightened eyes.
- I invited my local Scholé Sisters group over for a Nature Study Day at our place. We live on seven mostly-treed acres, have a creek running through our property, and last fall seeded a part of our land for wildflowers. We feel so blessed to have such a lovely slice of creation right outside our door, and it was so much fun to share it with friends! We identified trees and flowers, had a picnic lunch, and the kids spent the rest of the time playing in the creek. Having other curious moms around with their various field guides also meant that we now know a little bit more about what’s growing on our land than we did before.
- We also had our last day of co-op classes a week ago. In the first hour, my youngest got a cookie in his Hands-on-Science class, and my oldest enjoyed a cupcake complete with his own personally-decorated edible stamp for his Stamping Through History class. As if that weren’t enough of an end-of-year celebration, the much-anticipated Book Club Party awaited them after recess. Each family was to choose a favorite book and bring a snack and an activity to share with the whole elementary group. We settled on Stuart Little the morning of, and I like to think our little table-top presentation turned out alright considering the high level of procrastination. After so much excitement the kids fell fast asleep in the van while I ran errands.
Unfortunately when we got to the library and I actually had to get out of the van and take the kids with me, my little guy didn’t wake up happy and said he didn’t feel that well. I knew we only needed to go inside for five minutes, so I carried him–the five-year-old on my right arm, purse and bag of books on my left. Well, that did it, apparently. Just as we stepped up to the front door of the public library the poor little man puked all over my left side. And my purse. And on the bag of books. And all over the steps.
Again, I wouldn’t normally consider sharing a puke story as part of a “special event,” but how often do I get to be “that mom” with the sick kid who just made a horrid mess for everyone else to walk through? I’m at least hoping this was a “special” occasion–and not a new norm.
And, when I think about it, I am so incredibly thankful that the mess happened outside where a kind man washed it off with a few buckets of water. A few more steps and it would have been inside the library itself: on the carpet, smelling up the whole place for who-knows-how-long. Or it could have happened in the van. God was merciful. And I was thankful. With no fever and the sick feeling lasting only about six hours, I also thanked the Lord that this was apparently just a response to way too much junk food and not a virus.
Our last day of co-op sure was fun–a real blowout!
- This isn’t a last-but-not-least kind of #5. No, this is a save-the-best-for-last #5. Ten years ago today it was Saturday. I was studying for the last finals week of my senior year of college. Later that afternoon, I played paintball with a few friends, including this guy named Nathaniel. After the game we all returned to campus and discussed dinner plans. My dad had told me to go to a local Italian restaurant to try a few dishes so he could plan for an after-graduation lunch for our family and close friends when they would all be up for the ceremony the following weekend, so I lamented that I wouldn’t be joining the group for dinner. Nathaniel said he had a project to work on. We all parted ways.
But an hour later Nathaniel asked if he could borrow my camera for this project of his. I obliged.
After cleaning up for the evening, I grabbed some books to study at a local coffee shop after dinner and headed to the restaurant. I asked for the manager, just as my dad had instructed, and she curiously led me to a table in the back. A table set for two. A table where a cleaned-up Nathaniel sat with his Bible open to the verse that says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing…”
After a few nervous words and a question from him, I said, “Yes.” And he said he loved me for the first time. He pulled out a ring and my camera.A “project”, huh?!?
How about you? Any special happenings or celebrations lately? Any “special” visitors or messes?
For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies:
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
For the wonder of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light:
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild:
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
For Thy Church that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love:
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
For Thyself, best gift divine,
To our race so freely given;
For that great, great love of Thine,
Peace on earth and joy in heaven:
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
For the Beauty of the Earth by Folliott S. Pierpoint, adapted text
Swirling in the wind
Yellow, Green, Orange, Red
Making a crunchy carpet
For little feet
Piled high they become
Copyright 2016 Lauren Scott
Bow Hunting, Changing Seasons, Country Living, Creation, Gone Country, Honeysuckle in May, Hunting, meditations, Moving to the Country, Naturalist, Nature, Nature Studies, Nature Study, Outdoors, Reflections, seasons, Therapy
I grew up in the booming, bustling suburbs of North Texas. While it wasn’t exactly a concrete jungle, it was a far cry from “small town America”. While most of my time was spent in school or organized sports, I loved to venture off on a trail near our neighborhood—a trail that wound its way through town, along a creek and what little pasture land that was left. This was always my escape, my therapy, if you will. Getting away from everything else and catching glimpses of what God has made—birds in the trees, ducks in the creek, the rare treat of a rabbit popping out of the bushes, an orange sunset beyond an empty field and the line of trees that scaled the horizon—whether I ventured out in a pair of running shoes or on my bike, this was my retreat. My place to think, to pray, to cope.
I know that I more or less grew up as a “city girl”, but I like to think I was a country girl at heart.
Fast forward a decade or two—through my college years and beyond early married life in the sizable city of Tulsa. My husband Nathaniel and I had now moved back to our small college town in Arkansas, eager to find a quiet place in the country; a place we could let our energetic young sons roam free. After two years in an apartment, we found it. A nice little cabin of a house on seven acres. And in our price range thanks to its being on the market for over a year and the owners’ eagerness to get out from under their mortgage.
And probably also because of the three-foot-deep 1980’s Jacuzzi tub that took up an entire small bedroom upstairs—surrounded by pink carpet for good measure.
The Lord answered our prayers for a “good house for cheap”. The day after we closed, a bunch of our friends helped us begin the moving process.
And they helped us rip out the defunct tub, taking it out the six-foot-wide window and lowering it carefully down from the roof with a friend’s tractor, happily opening up another bedroom for us.
We spent the next two months sleeping sometimes at our apartment and sometimes at the house while we worked late into the night to remodel the upstairs (all of it having been covered in said pink carpet). It was a tremendous relief to finally move in for good.
Another great relief came when someone paid us $200 for the tub. Seeing as how it sat for a month on our front porch, making us feel a little too hillbilly for my liking, I would have paid someone to haul it away! But this is Arkansas, after all, so it thankfully didn’t take too long to find some real hillbillies to take it off our hands.
That was two years ago.
I’m now sitting on our front porch just after sunset, enjoying the mild spring temperature and the sound of the water rushing in our creek after last night’s heavy rain. Our creek. This has to be one of the best features of this slice of creation we call home.
It provides the pleasant sound of rushing water and supports the lush vegetation and wildlife we get to see on a regular basis. Not to mention it’s fun to play in when the water is low.
One of my favorite sensations since moving out here is the smell. The flowing water and cooler temperatures of evening bring wafts of sweet, clean smelling air—and especially this time of year, when the honeysuckle is in bloom.
I’ve found that I am far more aware of the changing seasons now that we live in a home surrounded by grasses and trees. At the very least, I have to notice the first dandelions of spring since my boys love to pick these yellow flowers and surprise me with them on a daily basis as soon as they pop up out of the dead grass. And I don’t think I ever had any idea what time of year honeysuckles began to bloom and share their sweetness with the world—but now I know it very well and look forward to the end of April and all of May, when they are at their peak.
Soon, too, it will be berry picking time. There are wild blackberry bushes by our creek that have already worn their white blooms so beautifully—and I know that the berry farm two miles away must also be showing signs that the rich, juicy fruit will be ready for the picking in just another month. The boys and I read Blueberries for Sal each year before we go and gather several gallons of them, popping them warm from the sun into our mouths, the boys with purple juice running down their chins. It’s not a bad way to mark the beginning of summer.
I can’t say that I wasn’t aware of the seasons when we lived in town—I was, to be sure, and especially the coming of fall when I have always found sweet relief from the relentless heat of summer in the south. But I don’t think of seasons like I did as a kid (mostly by the arbitrary signposts of school starting or winter and spring breaks) or even as I did a few years ago (seeing summer as something to merely endure and winter as a time for Christmas and trying to avoid the flu). Being out here means I simply can’t help but notice the changes in the grass and trees, the flowers and the wildlife when I step outside our door. I now don’t just lament that we didn’t get any snow to play in this year. I’m wishing we’d had a good solid freeze to kill off more of the ticks and mosquitoes. Despite the fact that I’ve mostly learned to shrug off all kinds of insects and spiders, simply ducking away from wasps and bees and brushing other assailants away when they happen to land on me rather than freaking out about it, I’m still not looking forward to increased numbers of the two aforementioned blood-suckers and the itchy welts they inevitably leave. This year’s bug situation aside, however, I now understand so much more the beauty and unique bounty each season brings—and how much we depend upon them for our food.
The colors, smells, sounds, and other sensations that mark the seasons have been great fun to share with our children. It’s a huge part of their early education, just to notice the world around them, the things that God has made: collecting leaves and bark, flowers and insects, poking with a stick at an ant pile in order to observe the little red soldiers at work, sitting outside at night to watch the moon and the stars, playing “Pooh Sticks” on the bridge over the creek and noticing how sometimes the sticks move quickly and sometimes they don’t move at all depending upon how much rain we’ve had recently.
Of course, there are some unintended consequences of raising boys in the country—like when my youngest, who was only two when we moved out here and thus is more thoroughly countrified than his older brother, saw a swimming pool at a hotel and exclaimed gleefully, “Look Mama! They built us a pond!”
It was one of those Beverly Hillbilly moments.
And there’s the unavoidable skill that little boys pick up from their father when there aren’t neighbors within view—peeing off the porch. This easily translates, in a three-year-old’s mind, into peeing off of the top of the slide at the playground or out of the side of the van in a parking lot.
Theoretically speaking, of course.
Perhaps this has created some extra work for me in training the boys on how to behave in public, but along with that there have been many good opportunities for us to work together as a family—clearing trails in the woods, piling up tree branches and sticks to make a bonfire, digging up rocks and dirt in our crawl space so that we can encapsulate it, lining the smaller creek that runs by our house and empties into the big creek with stones, watering freshly planted peach trees, and this year preparing the ground and growing seedlings to start our first garden.
I’d like to say we are eagerly anticipating a bountiful harvest, but at this point we will be doing well if any of our crops survive.
Living in the country has certainly brought a heavier work load for me (and a heavier dirt load for our floors—one day, I keep telling myself, we will have a mudroom), but I welcome the opportunity to be outside in a place I love. About four of our acres are covered in trees, but the rest is a mixture of various grasses and ground-covers that needs to be mowed six months out of the year. After mowing just the half-acre right around our house with a used-to-be-self-propelled push mower, I was elated to get a zero-turn riding lawnmower. Cruising across our yard, feeling the warm sun and breeze on my skin and the speed and power of the machinery beneath me, I have almost come to appreciate the annoying few lyrics that I can remember from “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” that used to play over the loud speaker at high school softball games.
Speeding around on the mower has perhaps translated too easily into speeding along down the curvy asphalt roller coaster on our route into town. I used to be so much more careful when we lived in town. I guess there’s something about the fresh air, the usually unpopulated roads, and the general feelings of independence that bring out my inner libertarian. That and it makes driving a minivan much more fun if I can imagine it’s a race car. Oops.
On a much more law-abiding note, living in the country (perhaps, if I’m honest, along with my fascination with The Hunger Games) has led to a growing interest in hunting, what with my recent acquisition of a compound bow and the plentiful supply of deer that grace our land. Of course, to make this paragraph accurate, I’ll have to get a hunting license first. Cue screams from my inner libertarian.
It’s clear to me that living in the country is beginning to leave its mark on us. As a matter of fact, my husband insisted on playing “Sweet Home Alabama” on his guitar while I read him this article to get his feedback.
Silly interludes aside, I have to say that since I didn’t grow up in the country, and despite having lived in this place for two years now, all of our activities out here are still so new to me—bird watching, star gazing, gardening, lining a creek with stones, attempting to identify flowers and plants and bugs, cutting trails, pitching tents and hammocks, talking about raising chickens next year—it’s helped me to realize that while I received a good education, and even a degree, I still have so very much to learn about the world God has made. I’m like a child trying to soak up every experience of the natural world around me, just beginning to learn that each object I encounter has a name and a purpose.
Purpose. I’ve wondered at times if we’re not just hiding ourselves away on our land without one. Having never lived on more than a quarter acre before in my life, the thought of “Are we actually making good use of this land?” has crossed my mind.
Of course we want our children to have room to run around and explore. And we enjoy the quiet and privacy, as well as the potential for food production. But it wasn’t until last fall that I had a moment of confirmation that, yes, this is why we have this place.
We held a shindig with somewhere near forty friends, old and new. Our small living room was easily crowded with only a fraction of the people who had come over. Cars lined the long driveway from the big creek up past the house. I had been so busy with serving food that I missed a good portion of the activities. But right around dusk, when I finally stepped out on the front porch to see how things were going outside, I had to stop and smile. I could see shadows of our friends circled around a bonfire a stone’s throw away on the other side of the yard creek. Someone was playing a guitar. Most were singing praises.
Yes. This. This is why we’re out here. Not just for our family to enjoy, but to be able to share this place with others.
I can only hope that our guests (and the members of my family) will find this place half as beautiful and comforting as I do. I’ve always needed to get outside to get away. Getting out of the four walls of our house is a metaphor for getting out of the four walls of my own mind. I need to be able to see beyond myself—beyond the duties and messes and failures that can so frustrate me, the thoughts that seek to entrap me—to see the expanse of the sky, the bigness of the world outside of my concerns, and to know that my God has made it all and holds it all together. His faithfulness to His creation and His transcendence keep me grounded when I am tempted to give into the waves of turmoil spilling over within my soul.
Living in the country doesn’t make anyone more godly or more spiritual, but I have found it a balm to my soul to be able to walk outside and see what God has made—to catch a glimpse of His nature revealed in creation.
So I’m thankful to be right here where we are.
The Lord knows I need it.