Nature Study for the Very Young {Plus Birds of Northeast Printable}

I wanted to share a few thoughts on Nature Study for the very young. This fall, I’ll start integrating “Little B” (3 years old) into our homeschooling day. Of course, nothing will be formal because at this age play is the best tool for learning — and little boys don’t sit still for long.


But when we all go outside, we’ll bring Little B into nature study because it is completely natural for us to all observe the world we live in.

I think homeschoolers make nature study too hard, like there’s one way to do it right. We take all the fun out of it when we expect our kid’s nature journal to resemble a Marjolein Bastin print.


Nature study is really quite simple. Everyone goes outside to observe and appreciate the surroundings. You can go on an old familiar walk and note the changes in the season as the green grasses turn to lavender hued flowers, or watch the progress of a local corn field.

In our family, we note the changing seasons, the flowers, birds in our own back yard, the cranberry bogs as they flower and the fruit grows. If you have a little one, maybe he gets excited when he sees a spider, toad, or army of busy ants.


Why do nature study?

According to Anna Comstock, the author of the authoritative work The Handbook of Nature, nature study serves to:

  • cultivate the child’s powers of observation
  • build a knowledge of natures forces so they aren’t helpless in a disaster
  • cultivate a child’s imagination
  • give him a perception of what is true
  • discern and express things as they are
  • cultivate a love of what’s beautiful
  • give them an abiding love of nature

Anna warns against forcing nature study:

“As soon as nature study becomes a task, it should be dropped.” “If nature study is made a drill, it’s pedagogic value is lost.” pg. 7

Of course, she blames the teacher for mishandling the subject because she believes the world is full of wonder.


Keeping a Nature Journal:

There are so many misleading notions about keeping a nature journal that I want to share some direct quotes from the Handbook of Nature Study:

“No child shall be compelled to have a notebook.” (Interest should drive this, and if you keep one, most likely your child will want to as well.)


“The making of drawings to illustrate what is observed should be encouraged. (A drawing is better than a long explanation.)

“The spelling, language, and writing of the notes should all be exempt from criticism.” (This isn’t grammar or spelling class.)

“The book should be be considered the personal property of the child and should never be criticized by the teacher except as a matter of encouragement.”

Blueberry Picking at Grandpa's

Anna instructs the teacher to inspect nature notebook to enter into companionship with the child, or to evaluate where his interests lie so you can spread a larger feast of knowledge in areas of his interest on the next trip outdoors.

Hope poked holes into an old milk jug to make a watering can.

Practical aspects:

The field notebook should have sturdy paper able to tolerate watercolor, and  fit into a child’s bag or pocket.

The child should be free to choose his own medium, either pencil, crayon, or watercolor and should be trusted to know which medium will best reflect the object he is admiring.

Showing me the brine shrimp.

Let them begin with anything that catches their interest: plant or animal. As children get older, they may branch out into landscapes and other creative lettering in the journal.


Don’t criticize. Remember that this is a personal pursuit.

Anna Comstock on the child’s journal: “They represent what cannot be bought or sold, personal experience in the happy world of out-of-doors.”


Tools I’ve used over the years:

Pocket Watercolor Box

Moleskin Unlined Pocket Journal

Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils (especially great when you have lots of kids. You draw with the pencils, then apply the water when you get home! Sanity saver!!)

A few examples of early entries into a nature journal by my own 3-7 year olds.



Other articles on the subject:

Video: Adding Watercolor to Your Nature Journal using 3 colors.

Bird silhouette for beginners

Summer: The perfect time to begin nature study

Charlotte Mason on Taking Kids Outdoors

Birds of the Northeast


This post contains Amazon affiliate links to products I love and recommend.

2 thoughts on “Nature Study for the Very Young {Plus Birds of Northeast Printable}”

  • Thank you Sarah for this! I’m planning our first homeschooling year next year, and wasn’t sure how to implement Nature Study. We already do lots of outside walks, so something relaxed like this is perfect. Thank you for the recommendation!

    • You are welcome! It’s really not as tricky as it seems and the notebooks are supposed to be personal. The Handbook of Nature is an encyclopedia of knowledge and when the kids are older, the teacher chooses a chapter relevant to the season and region, then reads it to learn basic facts, then discusses it if needed on the nature walk. The child never gets lectured. She encourages asking probing questions, that stimulate interest, like “Why is that bird’s beak shaped like that? Let’s watch and see if we can tell how he uses it.” Enjoy!!

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