Sunday, January 4, 2009

Winter Nature Fun!

This may seem odd, but I'm finding that winter is one of my favorite seasons for nature study. Maybe it's because we live in the Midwest where it gets pretty cold and snowy (brrr!), and I need a really good reason to bundle everyone up and go outside during the school day. Unfortunately, this fall a busy schedule kept us from doing much nature study. When I look back at the fun we had last winter, though, I'm excited to make time for it again.

Here are a few nature activities we enjoyed during the cold months last year...

Winter time is great for watching our feathered friends (and squirrels and raccoons). They absolutely flock to our backyard feeders, and it's easy to see their color and detail against the snow. Of course, some days can be just too cold too go out, but there's no need to let that stop us when we can still explore nature from our family room window. We can see our backyard feeders from the window, but we can't get up close and personal for photos and sketching in our journals. To remedy this we purchased a couple of window feeders last year, and they have been a tremendous asset in our nature studies. I'm always surprised that the birds don't seem to mind the three little wiggly people pressed up against the window watching them. :)

We also enjoy whipping up homemade treats for our visitors. A few favorites we like to make are pinecones smeared with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed, stale bread (prepared the same as the pinecones), popcorn and fruit pieces strung on a garland, and homemade suet. Here's an easy suet recipe we've used:

Piecrust Suet
Mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup shortening, 1/4 tsp. salt and just enough water to form a ball. There's no need to bake it. Just put the treat out near your seed feeders, and watch it disappear.

Last year we participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count. It motivated us to keep a birdwatching log, and we look forward to it again this year (Feb. 13-16). (They also have a kids page with some fun activities and information.)

Animal Tracking
We tried this for the first time last year, and it was a blast! You may think of this as more of a warm weather activity, but we have found that it is much easier to find tracks in the snow than in the mud.

The kids enjoyed being "detectives" as they searched out tracks and followed them through the snow. This was a great activity for honing observation and problem-solving skills. We found bird, raccoon, and rabbit tracks. We even followed the rabbit tracks until we found the entrance to its burrow. We found Crinkleroot's Book of Animal Tracking by Jim Arnosky to be a fun resource for tips on tracking and track identification.

If we find some good tracks this year, I plan for us to try making casts of them. I know this sounds like a messy, summertime activity, but we're going to bundle up and give it a try. I got the idea from one of my favorite nature activity books, Outdoor Activities for Kids by Clare Bradley, but here is a link with good directions.

We went into the woods behind our house one cold, snowy night in search of a great horned owl that we had heard on several occasions. We didn't find him, but it was an outing we won't soon forget. Owl Moon is a memorable story to read before setting out on an owling adventure.

We also dissected owl pellets that same week. At first I was a tad grossed out at the idea of doing this, but the pellets we used were thoroughly sterilized, and I have to say that this was a highlight of our school year. The kids still talk about dissecting those pellets.

These two activities along with reading some wonderful living books ignited in the kids a strong desire to learn more about these amazing birds of prey. I imagine that we'll touch on owls again this winter, and we'll be on the lookout for our elusive friend in the woods again too.

Star (and Moon!) Gazing
During the warm months, we love to go out in our front yard and enjoy the stars. In the winter, we are more apt to do our stargazing from our front bedroom windows. We did make an exception to this last February when we stayed up late to view the lunar eclipse. Thankfully it was a clear night and well worth our effort. Most of our viewing was done indoors, but we did go out a few times with the binoculars and camera in hand. This year we have a telescope, so we'll hopefully bundle up and put it to good use, since darkness comes so early right now.

This site has a calendar of celestial events for 2009. (You'll have to scroll down a bit.)

I recently learned that our local parks department has some wonderful winter nature programs for homeschoolers (including a screech owl hunt, a bird walk, and a beaver watch), so we'll plan on donning our gloves and caps to participate in a couple of these as well. I encourage you to check with your local parks department or nature center, and you might be pleasantly surprised at everything they have to offer right now.

I hope that this winter you and your family will find ways to enjoy the winter wonderland that is God's beautiful creation.


  1. This would be a great addition to the upcoming Charlotte Mason blog carnival. If you'd like to submit it, the form is here.

    I love all these things you've done. This has given me a few great ideas! ;-)

  2. Great ideas!! Thanks for adding this to the carnival! :o)

  3. I need a good reason to go out when it's cold too! Thanks for the great ideas. I especially like your window bird feeder.

  4. I just tweeted your blog and am following you now.


  5. Great ideas Shannon! I love all these great activities.

    Can I share this in an upcoming Winter Wednesday post?

    Thanks so much,
    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  6. Shannon, it's so good to "see" you around the web! I love your winter nature study ideas, thanks for sharing!!

  7. Thanks for the post. I'm looking forward to convincing my dh that we NEED a couple of window feeders. The kids and I love bird watching. Thanks for all of your tips!


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