Saturday, September 18, 2010

OHC Autumn Series #1: Nature Journal

The new school year is underway, and it's time to start up our Outdoor Hour Challenges again! We spent plenty of time doing informal nature study over the summer, but I'm ready for some structure again.

An exciting development at Blue House Academy is the addition of what my kids call "Friday School." My friend, Casey, and her two children, Cameron and Avery, will be meeting with us for a mini co-op. Our mornings will include art, math or other games, and nature study. We are all looking forward to the fellowship and I'm looking forward to the accountability. It is so easy to put off those subjects, so hopefully this will help me be more consistent with our nature study this year.

The kids enjoyed decorating cardboard boxes in the style of Piet Mondrian and Frank Stella. Thanks, Casey, for a great lesson and activity!

Next was a short math game, and then nature study. This week's Outdoor Hour Challenge topic was the nature journal. Anna Botford Comstock says in her Handbook of Nature Study, "[The field notebook] is a friendly gate which admits the teacher to a knowledge of what the child sees and cares for." It is not to be corrected like a grammar or spelling assignment, nor is it to be forced upon the child. So we began our nature time by just talking about how it might be fun to keep a record of our adventures. I showed them a few pages from Keeping a Nature Journal, explaining that even adults can keep nature journals -- so it's not just a "school thing." I think for the purposes of our little group we'll stick with notebooking pages that they will keep in a folder, but both of my kids have little spiral notebooks that we also use for nature study. I also won this neat nature journal from my friend Dawn's blog and am eager to start using it. Finally, we'll also be using Beginning Birdwatcher's Book with 48 Stickers to go along with Apologia's Zoology I. There are so many neat materials these days to help us journal!

Then we headed outside to the front yard. There was no particular plan other than to just to look around and see what looked interesting.

There was some debate on the differences between mushroom and toadstools. I told the kids I would do some research on the topic and report back. I thought this explanation from the Australian website FungiBank was helpful.
The terms ‘mushroom’ and ‘toadstool’ are subjective rather than strictly scientific, and therefore are open to a range of loose interpretations. In general, fungi with fruit bodies that have a cap more or less centrally placed on top of a stem are referred to as ‘mushrooms’, or as ‘mushrooms and toadstools’. Some people broadly consider that all fungi with a cap and stem are ‘mushrooms’, while others consider only edible fungi as ‘mushrooms’. In the strictest sense, the word ‘mushroom’ refers only to members of the genus Agaricus, e.g. the cultivated white button mushroom. ‘Toadstool’ is typically applied to any fungus with a cap and stem that appears different from Agaricus, regardless of its edibility, or more usually if it is suspected or known to be poisonous. In a broader sense, ‘toadstools’ also includes other non-mushroom forms of fungi such as puffballs, earthstars, and coral fungi.
I'm not going to be nitpicky about what word they use, but it was a good opportunity to expand on something that interested them. We'll discuss it more next week.

While they were debating mushrooms and toadstools, I almost walked into this lovely web. This time of year it's more surprising that I didn't walk into a web on our nature outing!

Grace enjoyed showing everyone the pears that don't really look like pears.


Ummm... not so lovely. The girls were crying for us to save the butterfly (it was frantically flapping around while the spider did its work), while the boys just said, "COOL!!!!"

We found an empty bird nest in a tree surrounded by some sort of wild grapes. I clipped an article a couple of years ago that gave the name of these grapes, but now I can't find it. Apparently a local chef uses them in his upscale restaurant. I've googled, but cannot figure out what they are.

After our outdoor time we went inside, carrying handfuls of flowers, pears, grapes, moss, and whatever else we found. The kids all completed a notebook page, although the girls seemed much more interested than the boys. I would love some ideas for getting boys more interested in journaling! I followed Comstock's directions and did not correct backward b's or other mistakes.

Our nature study is off to a great start, and we've decided it definitely is more fun with friends!


  1. Accountability... yes!! It's a wonderful motivator, don't you think?! We get so much more done that way :) And... it looks like a great way to sepnd a day-- in God's creation with special friends. I don't think it gets much better than that!

    Happy weekend, Kellie!

  2. How wonderful for your family to have another family join you! We used to do that with a family when my boys were younger and it was a wonderful way to enhance your study of the adult time was great too.

    I think you did a great job on this challenge and your journals are perfect!

    Thanks for sharing you OHC.

  3. It is more fun to work with another familly. We did that with our birding the 1st year. We all enjoyed it so much and miss those days.

    The journals look great. Try packing a backpack with notebooking materials and a clipboard for each child and do your journaling as you go. With my boys that works better.

  4. Great post! And awesome pics!

    I have to admit, I did correct my kids' grammar on their record sheets. I'll do better next time...;)

    See you tomorrow, Lord willing!

  5. Looks like a fun and productive day. We haven't done a nature study in two weeks, it is so easy to get out of the habit. This week for sure.

  6. Beautiful photos! The notebooking page is wonderful too.

  7. Beautiful Journal page! I'd love to be able to do the study with another family on Fridays. :) We do not have any other homeschoolers in our area. How fun for the kids to have others to encourage!

  8. Sounds like so much fun! I haven't gotten us back into the 'nature walk/sketch' mode in quite a while but it is sooooo worth it! Nice photos!

  9. Nice photos. Looks like your family had a wonderful walk.

  10. very fun...enjoy homeschooling. I miss it. Dearly. Wouldn't trade the past nine years for anything.

  11. That's a really great spider web picture. Great capture! So nice to meet you.

  12. Thank you for sharing! What kind of tables are you using? Where did you get them and the chairs. I need to come up with a new table system.

  13. It's so nice to see familiar and new faces from OHC!

    Raspberry Leaf, the tables are just two old double school desks that I bought from a former homeschooler at my church. She found them when a local school was being closed. Usually I have them pushed up against the wall, but when we have groups over it's real nice to push them together in the middle of the room. I bought our chairs new from Biz Chair and I noticed they have some similar style desks:

    I was real happy with their service and the chairs have held up really well, but I'm sure there are other companies with similar desks. Hope that helps!