Nature Study in the Winter

Last week my kids and I welcomed winter into our home state of Idaho. This is one of our most beautiful times of year. Mother Nature insists that we slow down and look at our familiar landscape with new eyes. The narrow hillock that was a gymnast’s balance beam during the summer Olympics has now transformed into Mount Everest. The sandbox lid caught melting snow, which froze into an ice-skating rink. Our late afternoon walk is now dark. We carry a flashlight and watch as our neighbors put up Christmas light displays, one by one.

When we first started our Ambleside Online studies, I won’t lie. We didn’t get outside as much as we should have in the winter. Because I’ve been trying to follow Charlotte Mason’s philosophy as closely as I can, last year I decided to figure out what was stopping us. The solution was so easy that it was almost laughable.


Waterproof gloves. Heavy winter coats. Hats. Sturdy pants (with or without long underwear). Snow boots. Hot chocolate.

It was as simple as that.

My parents had grown up in California, and when they moved us to Idaho in elementary school, we learned to stay inside in the winter. My parents wanted us to go outside and encouraged us, but I didn’t dress warmly enough, and I learned very quickly how painful “snow burn” is! I didn’t want to go out anymore after that!  With my own kids, I continued to take them out with coats and gloves that were too thin for the Idaho winter. I will never forget how much my daughter cried and how guilty I felt when I realized that her little fingers were so cold! That was a very discouraging start.img_3280

Today my children are properly equipped for our winter weather, and they love to play outside. In fact, if I balk, they will insist. Even when the temperature dropped below 20 degrees, we spent over 40 minutes outside and came in with rosy cheeks!

We haven’t yet found a solution for completing our nature journals while outside in the winter, although the kids are clearly fascinated by the changes that they observe. Gloved hands and drawing do not go well together, unfortunately. Today we brought 2-inch thick ice into the house and studied it closely. We noticed that it had frozen in layers and that air bubbles were trapped inside.

Photography can capture what our drawings cannot. IMG_3298.JPG The tree branches were entirely coated with ice. As the sun warmed them, they dripped onto the snow below and froze into bits of “ice-glass”. The kids’ snowman, sitting just below the tree, is now an iceman!

If you have not had the opportunity to take your children out into the snow to explore this winter, I hope that you will find a way! It is well worth the effort. There is so much to love about winter. One of the greatest benefits is a new appreciation for poets! So, I leave you with a poem to ponder on a winter day.

“Winter Trees” by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

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