10 Tips for Studying Nature with Tots & Preschoolers

The following is a guest post from my friend Maureen {Spell Outloud} she has a natural gift for bringing nature into the lives of her young children, I pray her words bless and inspire you!

Do you love the idea of doing nature study with your toddler and preschoolers but aren’t sure where to start? Or do you think the idea is admirable but totally impractical to implement with your toddlers and preschoolers? I understand. As a mom of 7 children ages 14 down to infant, I know that it can be overwhelming to go on excursions with toddlers and preschoolers. Here are some of my tips (in no particular order) for getting out and observing nature with young children:


1. Go with an interest. My 14 year old was recently studying about birds in her biology class. She downloaded several bird apps and bird books which made my younger children curious. They asked if they could study birds too. I took my toddlers and preschoolers to the store to pick out birdseed and a bird feeder. We hung it up so we could view the birds from the comfort of our own home. They loved having some ownership in our nature topic. I would find them sitting at the window watching the birds and naming them correctly!

2. Be aware of every-day situations that could be turned into science or nature experiences. Many of our science and nature activities weren’t planned at all. I would be going through my day as usual and something would either cause my child to ask a question, or I would find something to show my child. That spider I just trapped in a cup? A science discussion. That dead plant I forgot to water? Science discussion. That moldy food I pulled out of the fridge. Science discussion. That baby robin hopping on the ground? Science discussion.

3. Go on local nature walks.


My favorite place to observe nature is our own back yard. I’m in a neighborhood in a suburban area, yet there are so many things to find! Many times I will go look out in the backyard for something to point out to my kids. For instance, I found some shelf fungi growing on our garden box. I brought the kids over to see it. We looked at the colors and I asked them if they thought it was a plant or an animal. This led to a discussion about mushrooms and how some mushrooms found in the wild can be dangerous but the ones at the store are fine. In addition to our own backyard, our city has several parks that are perfect places for young children to learn about nature. Many times we’ll go on a short nature walk and then head on over to the playground.

4. Train kids to observe things around them.

Nature Study with preschoolers Observation is an important skill to teach young children. Just like you wouldn’t expect a young child to ride a bike without learning to balance first, you should not expect your child to be observant without teaching them observation skills. In order to help develop this skill, I created a series of printable I Spy cards for us to take along on our nature walks. These cards help the kids look for something specific and give us a goal to reach on our walks.

5. Have helpful science tools on-hand. I like to keep a pair of binoculars, several magnifying glasses, large plastic tongs, and large eye droppers on hand. That way when an opportunity for observation arises, you know right where to find the right tools for the job. We also have a high-quality microscope that is fun to use periodically.

6. Keep it short and simple. When first starting, make the nature walks/nature observation times short. Many of our walks are less than 10 minutes. Mix in ways for the kids to be moving, exploring, digging, or collecting in order to help keep them on task. Often I’ll tell my kids, "Run to the tree with the rough bark," or "Find 3 different sizes of pinecones."

7. If you can’t get out, bring nature in.

Observing Ants

Every spring we bring various insects and animals in for closer observation. It is the perfect time to watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly, see a tadpole change into a frog, observe ants, start a worm farm, and observe ladybugs! Don’t limit yourself to animals-you can also bring in rocks, sticks, leaves, flowers, and dirt. Kids love to be able to see things up-close and use their senses for observation.

8. Read quality literature that teaches science in the context of the story. By pairing hands-on activities and observations along with great literature and songs, young children learn and can retain much of what was taught. There are so many great literature options that this would be a whole separate blog post.

9. Set up observation centers that can be used independently.

bird science basket from Spell Outloud Give your child the opportunity to learn on their own. Periodically I set up nature themed baskets for my toddler and preschooler. It usually contains books on the topic, pictures, objects, tools such as binoculars or magnifying glasses, stickers, magazines, games, stuffed animals, or any other item that goes along with the topic. We are not "teaching science" but rather letting young children explore and observe nature and science principles in action. Now is the time for the young child to learn by playing, observing and using their senses. Make a basket that allows them to do just that.

10. What nature study tips do you have?

Maureen Spell is a former elementary school teacher who now has a classroom of 7 at home. She blogs at Spell Outloud, a blog that has nothing to do with spelling and everything to do with learning. With kids ranging from toddler to teen, she highlights many homeschool activities, toddler and preschool crafts, and free printables. Stop by her blog for more preschool science activities.

This post is #5 in my series, “Homeschooling Tots & Preschoolers,” for the iHomeschool Network Spring 2013 Hopscotch. Visit other bloggers participating here!



Homeschooling-Tots-and-Preschoolers_[1]Day 1 ~ Where to Begin with Tot School eBook

Day 2 ~ You Don’t Have to Do it All!

Day 3 ~ Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Day 4 ~ Time Invested in Tot Schooling

Day 5 ~ 10 Tips for Studying Nature with Tots

Day 6 ~ Exposure vs. Mastery

Day 7 ~ Why Themes?

Day 8 ~ Teaching Tots in a Large Family

Day 9 ~ Our Favorite Learning Tools for Tots

Day 10 ~ Early Childhood Theme Printables A-E