Nature studies is a thing. It’s a good thing. But it always reminds me of one evening when our family went for a walk on the nearby bike trail. We got to watch bats come out to start feeding, and I have a soft spot for bats. The more they eat, the fewer bugs for me, and they’re like mice with wings, which is just awesome. Against the sky they look a lot like birds, but they have a crazier flight pattern. So we were looking at bats and a bike came along. We all stepped aside. For some reason, just as the bicyclist came close, Meg darted out and nearly tripped him. Neither of us could grab her and we all, bicyclist included, just about had heart attacks. We still remember the night we saw the bats and Meg didn’t get squashed by a bike. Nature is full of hazards.
Preschoolers do well with the “oh look” method of nature studies. You may want some structure and books, but beyond them every outing becomes an informal science lab, no beakers required. If those are cumulonimbus clouds, we’ll have to go inside. Bicyclists are fast and have a lot more mass than you. The sun is hot and a major source of ultraviolet radiation as well as visible light, so wear your hat. You can pick all the dandelions and violets you like; these purple berries are pokeweed and will probably make you throw up, so don’t eat them. We check out everyone’s garden as we walk past (I do that anyway), but now it’s for Education.
Last fall, we were able to sneak in lots of incidental learning, with trips to pick-your-own apple and pumpkin farms. You can usually find friends to go with, which is nice. I also like that kind of trip because you have fresh produce to eat at the end.
It snowed this winter. It was so snowy. Our winter nature studies were pretty much about snow. I’m not going to lie, I much prefer enjoying snow from the great indoors and I hate being cold. Meg had to go sledding by herself or wait for Daddy. But I will happily read books about hibernating bears and the formation of snow crystals, and I can cut paper snowflakes with the best of them.
When it finally warmed up, we went out to play and we found the first crocuses and tulip sprouts that had poked up. I did a happy dance and shrieked. “MEG! WE HAVE FLOWERS! It’s spring!!” I also took cell phone pictures and texted my mother about them. Was it just an East Coast thing? Spring was so welcome this year, and we’re having a gorgeous one.
We did try to plant seeds for school. It’s a thing. You hear horror stories about kids who believe that vegetables magically appear in grocery stores, and we want to avoid that. Only, I do so badly when it comes to seeds. There’s a reason I’m not a farmer, people. Our resurrection garden got overwatered and it’s still out there, first flooded and with the hill completely washed away, and now a little tin-edged desert. The empty tomb even blew away. There are, needless to say, no sprouts.
We spent a beautiful afternoon on the deck planting lavender, rosemary, and zucchini seeds in eggshells. I had lovingly collected the eggshells and Meg helped me fill them with dirt. We spent ages at the store picking seed packets and trying to find suitable dirt. Why are there so many kinds of dirt? And it’s so expensive. The eggshells looked impressive in their neat egg carton rows, but I’m not sure they all got watered, and not a single one of them has sprouted either.
I kind of regard seeds like housework … an activity worth doing is worth doing badly. One of these years seeds will come up. Maybe.
Birds, on the other hand, come around all the time. I don’t even put out feed for them. I just comment on them as they happen past. We have a couple of red cardinals who swooped in at the beginning of the season and had a knock-down drag-out flutter-fight on our lawn. We’ve got lots of chickadees. The power lines around here often have hawks or owls perching on them, which surprises me because I vaguely associate them with children’s literature and not so much as creatures you actually have around. Did you know owls and hawks really exist? And vultures?
Meg says her favorite part of nature studies was an observation scavenger hunt. The park we visited had a checklist of items to look for. “I liked it when we found soft green moss and threw sticks into the water!” That doesn’t sound terribly impressive, but the more I think about it, the better I like her answer. That’s where real life is.
Photo Credit: First photo taken by Jens Lelie, graphic design by Charity Klicka; second, third, and fourth photos taken by Carolyn Bales, edited by Charity Klicka.