Homeschooling Nature Studies for Winter
Did you know there are tons of nature studies that you can do in the winter season? Some tend to think of these unit studies only as warm-weather activities, but that would mean you’re missing out on an entire season of wonder. For those that love nature, a little cold weather doesn’t deter the inquisitive learner. It only affords them a bit more of a challenge.
There are some things that can only be studied in the winter, whether you live in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere. That’s why it’s always important to keep an open mind and schedule in plenty of time to get those nature studies underway.
Why Bother Studying Nature in Winter Weather?
Are you a homeschooling parent that believes the study of nature sits on the “elective” side of the fence? Does it seem like something “extra” and not worthy of scheduling in because it’s not as important as math or literature or science? The truth is, a good nature study incorporates all the aspects of education as a whole, not just science, per se.
For children who love science, wintertime nature studies can be a very exciting time. There can be a fresh new appeal that comes with nature in the colder temperatures and provides extensive opportunities for hands-on activities, especially under the categories of earth science, space science, botany, and biology.
Taking advantage of online learning, like with NOAA or National Weather Service, that has you studying why the current snowstorm is about to embark on your area or doing a unit study by finding information online about the winter solstice would make for a lot of great hands-on activities. These sorts of things will allow your homeschoolers to continue to learn great stuff that can fall into different subject areas without them feeling like they're really even doing school work at all.
When you add in writing (about the experiences of the coldest season of the year!), art, history, geography, and math, you really have a whole approach to your school day right there in the backyard! How exciting to draw up a map of the backyard, marking important spots where nature sightings were experienced. Talk about the historical significance of any factor you encounter while in the great outdoors. Count things. Sketch things. And be sure to have lots of discussions as well.
You might even say you have your very own, comparably equipped science lab and the best part is that it’s completely free! There are no open and closing times, you don’t have to sign in or out, and you can bring as many guests as you like.
Cold Weather Birdwatching Teaches Patience and More
You could start simply by putting up a bird feeder and watching to see just how many birds will visit. In just a few weeks, you might even start seeing some “regulars” that always show up for the special treats. This provides many ways to conduct a nature study. The children could take pictures of those birds, or do a rough sketch in their Nature Notebook, along with some interesting notes about the bird’s color and eating habits, whether they were alone, in pairs, or in groups. Point out any distinguishing features such as anomalies, injuries, leg bands, or anything else that might set a bird apart from the rest.
Keep a running count of the different birds that visit your feeder and make special notes about what types they are. If a bird is spotted and no one knows what kind of bird it is, this could easily turn into a lesson as the research leads to more details. The children can also make notes about which birds show up in the morning, which ones show up in the evening, or if the same birds return at both times. It is also interesting to observe how well different birds get along with each other – or not. The habits of the birds might even change during a snowfall! There are so many ideas and things to watch when you're doing a bird nature study in colder temperatures or out. Online, you can monitor the migration of hummingbirds, both in the fall and as you approach the March equinox.
Learn About Animal Tracks
Fresh snow can offer lots of pleasure, from a beautifully serene landscape of a fresh snowfall, but perhaps the most appealing thing for children is to search for animal tracks. This is the easiest time to spot them, whether in your very own yard or in a nearby park or nature preserve. Even in cities with higher populations, animals are still in abundance, though you might not always see them.
It’s fun to find these tracks but be sure to collect evidence via photos or drawings. Once you have these bits of information, your children can go online to identify the tracks which can then turn into a great Unit Study, with lots of different paths to take from there.
Ice Studies for the Coldest Days
When the colder temperatures hit, it provides an opportunity for some great science projects. Check out icicles and start a register, recording lengths and how the icicles might change from day to day. Make sure to include information about each day’s temperature, the amount of sunlight, whether the length and width changed, and if they stayed the same color.
To take the experiment to another level, create your own. Fill a few select containers with water to leave outside in the freezing temperatures. Monitor when the ice starts to crust over the top, and then how long it takes to freeze to a complete solid. Did the containers freeze at different intervals? If so, what were the differences among the containers?
For some fun variations of the experiment, add common salt to one or more containers (but not all) to see how this changes the freezing pattern. Create a variety of containers, each with a different substance in them. Try sugar in one, baking soda, or any other substance. Remember to keep a “control container” that contains only pure water to measure all the other findings against.
Unit Studies that Cover Winter Subjects
There are certain things you must wait until cold temperatures to experience or learn about because they do not happen when the weather is warmer. Hibernation, for example, is a very important part of life for some animals. Migration is another. Both of these events change with and can be combined to create excellent unit studies. As noted above, you can go online and monitor the migration of hummingbirds, both in the fall and in the spring.
On the other hand, a study of coniferous vs. deciduous trees is a cold-weather subject, as is the creation of maple syrup. Combine online learning of these topics with getting out and exploring the possibilities as a family. If you happen to live near maple trees, take a field trip and create an experiment around tapping the maple trees, collecting sap, and then actually cooking up a batch of authentic maple syrup. Finish off this tasty study with a piping hot stack of pancakes for the perfect meteorological winter breakfast.
Another option for a unit study is survival and how the early American settlers might have survived harsh winters. How did they find food? What kinds of clothing did they wear? How did they care for their farm animals? This rich study can be both informative and practical, should an emergency arise.
Wintertime is Perfect for Crafting
Many homeschooling parents have taught their children to make “paper snowflakes”. The intricate folding and cutting are as exciting as actually unfolding the finished project to see what was created. Paper crafts are an excellent project, accompanied by some nice warm cocoa, but there are other artistic media options available as well.
Bundle up and head outside to gather supplies for your winter nature studies. Things such as pinecones, twigs, conifer sprigs, and wild winterberries can be used to enhance your winter until studies! Add a little wire and ribbon, or possibly a bit of glue, with a wreath base to create something truly unique. You can also use these pieces in microphotography to see the minute detail in God’s creation, which could spur some wonderful conversations about God’s world and the amazing detail He saw fit to put into each tiny, and seemingly insignificant, piece of nature.
As unforgiving as winter can sometimes be, there’s no doubt that there is an immense beauty, wonder, and detail in this season. As a matter of fact, for some, this is a favorite season just because there are so many things in it that only happen during these colder temperatures.
We’ve mentioned some fun wintertime activities and study plans here, but remember, you’re never tied down to ideas that already exist. Brainstorm with your children. Take time to plan. Experience all the joy of spending that time together as well as coming up with the ideas themselves.
Hopefully, but the time the vernal equinox rolls around, your children will have learned some amazing facts about the world around them. And that’s really what so much of the homeschooling life is like, isn’t it? Enjoy your school year! Especially in the winter.