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  • Writer's pictureHeather Anne

Nature Study: Easy Hands-on Science Right in Your Neighborhood

“Every walk should offer some knotty problem for the children to think out, ‘Why does that leaf float on the water, and this pebble sink?’ and so on.” Charlotte Mason- Home Education

The best science does not come from reading about science in a textbook. The best science comes from experiencing it, especially during the elementary school years. Hands-on science makes kids excited about scientific discovery and it makes science real for them. If you establish a base of hands-on, experiential science when your children are little, they will find it fascinating and be prepared for the deeper exploration and reading that science classes will demand from them when they get older.

This article is ©2020 Heather Anne at Heather Anne Art and Soul. All rights reserved. See my copyright notice here.

Teaching hands-on science can be a challenge when you are educating your children at home. It's a lot of work to gather materials and set up a science lab at your dining room table. You have to make trips to multiple stores to get supplies and it can be expensive.

The great thing is that you have a free and ready made science lab right outside your door! Scientists throughout the ages have honed their powers of observation by doing the obvious... OBSERVING! You can teach your children science using the natural world around you, and even if you live in an urban or suburban area, there are still microcosms of nature in your neighborhood.

Nature study is a base component of the Charlotte Mason method of teaching. There are volumes written about Charlotte Mason. Below are some really good books that outline the basics. I won’t go into great detail here, except to tell you that in my opinion, Charlotte Mason is one of the greatest educational philosophers of all time. She is lauded in the homeschool community and largely ignored in the world of professional educators, a fact which I find sad and unfortunate. She was a teacher and author in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in England and her ideas are just as true and valuable today as they were back then, perhaps even more so.

As a homeschool mom myself, I did not do everything that the Charlotte Mason method encompasses, but there are two things I cannot live without while home educating my children: literature based learning and nature study.

See my article Disney Inspired Literature Based Thematic Learning! here for tips on using literature to create thematic units!


Nature study is simple. You get outside with your kids and just look! Listen! Smell! (Don’t taste. Eating grass tastes terrible... or so I’ve heard.)

Bring some drawing materials and draw something that you see. You can draw while you are out or you can bring a collection home such as leaves, acorns or rocks to draw when you get home.

Bert, what utter nonsense! Why do you always complicate things that are really quite simple?- Mary Poppins

It’s that simple! Once you start, you’ll find that nature study and nature drawing, for all its simplicity, uses deep and complex portions of the mind. Your kids will astonish you. I promise!

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. - Henri Poincare



You don’t have to drive an hour to a hiking trail or some special place to do nature study. Study the nature in your neighborhood. Streets and yards have plenty of trees, bushes and flowers to look at. I took this photo on a walk around my block. There is a lot to observe and draw there!

Parks are full of plants, insects and animals. The skies have birds in them. Making big trips is great, but some of our best nature walks when my kids were little involved just going around the block and paying attention to the things we normally ignore.


Children love to be rambunctious and run around, as they should, but children can surprise you with their ability to just sit quietly and observe something as fascinating as a ladybug on a leaf. Let the kids run and play a bit first before you ask them to sit and observe if necessary. You know your kids best. If they are focused now, then by all means do the observing now. JUST DRAW WHAT YOU SEE.

You don’t have to be a trained artist. Over time, your observation skills will get better and your hand will draw more closely what your eye observes. Practice makes you better. Notice I am saying “you” and not just the kids, because parents can participate, too!

Honing your powers of observation is good for everyone. It helps us be more attentive in all aspects of our lives. There is also a peaceful meditation in just looking at a thing and taking in all of its nuances. Noticing that there is a lot of gray in the bark of a tree, or that the knots actually look black, or noticing that a leaf has some unexpected purple in it, will surprise you when you actually look.

“We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.” - Charlotte Mason

I know that such an open-ended instruction like "just draw what you see" can be anxiety inducing. But how? I give some tips below, but you can also look at the book Your Artist's Brain: Use the right side of your brain to draw and paint what you see - not what you t hink you see by Carl Purcell

I promise you, if you take just put pencil to paper, without judgement, without trying to make it good, and you simply look for the shapes, you will shock yourself when you start to draw!


In the beginning, kids will get frustrated trying to draw an entire landscape. We can’t all be Bob Ross in a day! Collect a few leaves or flowers and just draw those at first. You might even just draw one leaf or flower and color it in detail.

You might want to trace and then color and that’s fine, too.


Look for true colors. (The ocean is often green or gray, not blue.)

Look for lines and symmetry.

Look for shapes within shapes.

Look for patterns in nature.

Draw small things like a tiny blade of grass. Notice how many shades of green are on that one blade and if there are other colors such as yellow, brown or black.

Draw big things like a tree and outline the big shapes that you see.

Look for highlights and shadows. What color are the highlights? You’ll be surprised at what colors you see when you really look.

You don’t need special skills to draw what you see.

You can also take photos and then draw from your photos at home. That is especially helpful with animals that might fly or scurry away.


Since we are blessed with powerful tools in the palm of our hands that scientists of old did not have, you can easily supplement your observations with online research about what you find in nature to round out your science lessons. Let your children’s curiosity guide the research. Take them to the library the next day or go online and look up what you saw in your trip.


I have created a nature study journal you can purchase. You download it and then print as many copies as you need to make a binder. Find it here in my shop.

It's really nice if it's printed on fine paper such as linen or cotton. You can also print the journal pages on watercolor paper or mixed media paper.

Here are some paper ideas below. Art paper will come in 9 x 12 and you can cut it to 8.5 x 11 to fit your printer. Of course, regular printer paper is just fine, too!

If you print these pages and keep them in a binder, over time you will see great improvement in your drawings. You can print them over and over and keep building your nature drawings portfolio.

You can also use a sketchbook and bring it along with you.

I definitely recommend keeping all of your work in one place and putting dates on it. Your children will love seeing their own improvement and looking at their nature journal is a way of reliving memories of the trips you have taken.


Field guides are great to take along with you in your backpack. Kids love looking up the birds, insects and plants they see.

There are advanced field guides such as the ones you'll find here.

There are also great field guides for kids like these here.

ART MATERIALS: The easiest materials to bring in a backapck to sit and draw while you are out on your nature walk are pencils, color pencils and water colors. You can use a small cup for water and just pour some from your water bottle.

Baby wipes make great brush cleaners.

Materials LIST:

Drawing pencils

Color Pencils


Paint brush



Baby Wipes

Paper towels

Printed journal pages


Snacks! Do not forget the snacks!

Get out and enjoy the natural world! You will find yourself refreshed and feeling peace. You and your children will get exercise and sunshine! All of you will hone your observation skills. Get out in nature… even if it’s in your neighborhood.

This article is ©2020 Heather Anne at Heather Anne Art and Soul. All rights reserved. See my copyright notice here.

Read my most popular homeschooling blog post. Homeschooling is NOT the Same as Crisis Schooling: advice during coronavirus COVID -19 shut downs At the writing of this article about nature study, we are still dealing with the COVID 19 coronavirus pandemic. My crisis schooling article has a wealth of information not just about homeschooling and crisis schooling, but about giving yourself grace as a parent!

See me talk about crisis schooling here on my Heather Anne YouTube channel.

Watch this video for advice on what to do when your children act up while you are homeschooling or crisis schooling. When Behavior Problems Happen While Crisis Schooling Your Kids At Home During COVID 19 Shut Downs

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