The Joy of Self Directed Nature Study

By Holly Giles | Boy Crafting


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 We love nature study, but sometimes planning it seems to take the joy out of spontaneous interests in the out-of-doors.
Although my boys love a good show from the hawks outback or a new bird that shows up, they can balk at a scheduled time to go sit and draw what they see in nature. 

(yes, those are pj’s, bird watching can’t wait)

 So I gave up!
What happened next was quite interesting. I made sure the nature books and binoculars were in close range to the back door. I filled a nature tote with paper, colored pencils, and crayons.  I kept it on an open shelf that was easy to spot.
A few days later I was working down in our garage and Grant came to me and said he had decided to draw the lake. He was going to set up his studio down there and if I needed him, that is where he would be.  Ok, Sounded good to me. 
 Of course, as a homeschool mom, my brain began to come up with instructions for this art class that I was just about to announce, 
but then……… I bit my tongue and kept my mouth shut.
As I went back to work cleaning, I stuck my head out the door periodically to see what Grant was doing. He is nine, and loves to make a production out of most events. Grant can also abandon them just as quickly as he begins. 
He had set up a lawn chair, lap table, water bottle and he had found the nature tote.

Grant was wearing his new junior ranger hat from Colorado. He looked so adorable I had to pull out my phone for a picture.  He really hates it when I do that.
Grant sat there about an hour, intent on his drawing. Then he called me over to see his masterpiece.  There were about three crumpled up papers on the ground and this, his masterpiece. He said he wanted to give it to Grammy because she was not feeling good.

I had to laugh to myself because this is not what I thought his self-directed nature drawing of the lake would be. It was of himself sitting at the lake. That was what he saw, not what I told him to draw.
It was beautiful. He was happy and encouraged to maybe come back out again the next day.

 What can you do to encourage such spontaneous study? 

If your family already actively engages in nature activities, just leave the tools out within reach as I did. If you see something interesting, point it out, but don’t make a lesson out of it. Let them come up with the idea.

What if your children are not natural nature seekers?

This is where you will have to put in a little work before they will begin to initiate the learning on their own. Don’t be discouraged. 
  • Point out birds, bugs, plants, ripples on water or anything nature related as you go about your day. Even if it is a spider web on a window! See it from your car window, the grocery store parking lot, anywhere.


  • Announce that you are going to draw the tree in the backyard. (or anything available) Don’t make them do it with you. Let them be curious about you examining the tree, touching the bark and then choosing the colors to draw. It does not have to be perfect.


  • Your goal is not to make nature study a planned class, at least at first. Nature is always happening. You want to create an environment where nature is alive and can be interesting at any time of the day.


  • If you are trying to pull your children away from tablets and such to be interested in nature, use the tablet to look up fascinating nature. Use the screens as a tool to draw them away and to become interested in the real deal.

More Tips 

Find some inspiration in some of the other nature studies we have done like this butterfly study. This post was of an afternoon where nature just happened and the kids enjoyed it with friends,  Science Falling from the Sky and Slithering By
Adding nature study of any kind into your daily routine will teach your children over time the wonders of God’s handiwork. This will grow their curiosity. Then they will begin to see the small details that keep nature interesting and ever-changing.
Summer is a perfect time, although hot, to begin making this a routine. Routine will blend into your fall schedule and continue through the next year.
We have more nature study ideas than you can fit in your nature tote over at The Learning Lifestyle Revival. 


About the Author

Holly Giles is a wife, mother, and storyteller. As an author and Florida Master Naturalist, she writes about heritage homemaking skills, motherhood, and why Florida offers the best hidden natural gems to explore as a family.