Yard Work as Nature Study

If you have read my previous blog about my nature study “paradigm shift,” this one probably won’t come as a shocker.

As a quick refresher, I realized that nature study is more about observation than journaling. The journal is a record of our observations and experiences; it isn’t THE experience. When we shifted our energy toward experiencing nature, closely observing the bugs, plants, rocks, etc. in our area, and asking questions about them without writing a single word in our journals, we learned so much more! Then we would do research and write in our journals afterward. I love, love, love this approach!

Taking that discovery a bit further, I have realized that working in the yard with the plants requires the kids to internalize these observations. I’ll give some examples of the jobs that my kids have tried and how it has enriched nature study for them. My kids are 11- and 10-years-old now, so these reflect the kinds of tasks that their age group can do.

  • Weeding: Identifying plants is an essential skill! Can you recognize the difference between vetch and morning glory? They are both fine vines, especially as young plants, but the leaves are different from each other. Can you tell the difference between the grass and the early shoots from our tulip and daffodil bulbs? One is a lot thicker than the other!
    Planting: When you put a living plant in the ground, you need to observe closely where the roots end and the stem begins. My kids were amazed by how droopy plants in little plastic planters would suddenly perk up after being put into our garden soil and watered. They really connected to the plants as living things when they saw the impact of their actions on them!
    Roto-tilling: When we dig up the soil, we discover so many interesting objects! Worms, rocks, roots and so much more! My kids liked pushing the machine, but they didn’t understand why we were digging up the soil. Why couldn’t we just dig a hole and put a garden plant in it? It led to some great discussions about what helps plants thrive!
    Pruning: This one really helps kids to look closely at our rose bushes, trees and grapevines, to really see how they “branch.” Why do we trim certain parts in particular directions and not others?

I’m sure many of us want our kids to help out with the chores just because it is the right thing to do as a family member, but it helps me to remember that chores can also do double duty with our schoolwork. The kids can learn the skill, and then they can record their observations and lessons learned in their nature journals! They can go on to keep track of how “their” plants grew throughout the year. They develop that personal relationship with their own backyard not only through drawing a pretty picture, but by interacting with Mother Nature directly.

I hope you are all enjoying gardening season! It’s getting hot here in Idaho already!

(I will try to get some photos up soon!)

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