S6 E26 | Fun in the Fall Nature Study (Jeannie Fulbright with Cindy West)
Fall, with its changing leaves and lovely weather, is a delightful time for nature exploration. In this episode, Jeannie chats with Cindy West of No Sweat Nature Study. Together they discuss some practical ways for making nature study a regular part of your day. They also share some unique ways you can make fall and winter nature study an exciting and educational time for your whole family. From bringing nature indoors with object study and recruiting expert teachers from the extension office to counting nature study as your complete science curriculum, Cindy and Jeannie ignite the imagination for making nature study simple and streamlined for the whole family.
Cindy West has written for the homeschool community for more than thirteen years. She is the author of the NaturExplorers series, Homeschooling Gifted Kids: A Practical Guide to Educate and Motivate Advanced Learners, a grammar curriculum for third and fourth graders based on living literature, a how-to book for living math, and a step-by-step book for homeschooling in the Charlotte Mason style. I also teaches online, nature-based science classes to children in the No Sweat Nature Study membership.
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
Books for Teaching Nature Study During Morning Time:
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Jeannie Fulbright Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show, a podcast that is all things Charlotte Mason and her tried and true philosophy of education designed to help you homeschool with more confidence, joy, and success. It is our hope that you'll find golden nuggets that will transform the way you think and the way you homeschool. I'm your host, author of the best-selling Charlotte Mason science curriculum, Jeannie Fulbright. And I am so glad you joined me today.
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Jeannie Fulbright So today on The Charlotte Mason Show, we have such a special guest, Cindy West, who has a lot of wonderful things to say to us about nature study. And we are going to make this a Fun in the Fall Nature Study podcast. And Cindy just is a wealth of information on nature study. She has a podcast that is brilliant about nature study. And so we're going to talk about that a little bit as well. And hopefully everybody will get some golden nuggets out of this to make nature study happen during the fall and winter.
Cindy West Yeah, I'm excited to be here. Hi. Thanks for having me. That was a nice introduction.
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah, it's so exciting to have you here. So can you tell us a little bit about what you do, and what you're doing, and how nature study became sort of a focus for you in your podcast and in your ministry to homeschoolers?
Cindy West Yeah, sure. So I've been homeschooling— if I'm counting correctly, I think I'm in my 21st year, which is unbelievable. And way early on, like most people who did the Charlotte Mason—do the Charlotte Mason method—at some point, they've read For the Children's Sake. And so I was blessed to have read that way, way early in our journey and knew that I wanted to utilize nature study. I've always loved science; I've always loved nature. And so I saw that there just weren't many resources out there after doing it for several years. So I would say it's been probably almost 15 years ago that I started writing nature study resources and that would be just curriculum that gives you ideas of what to do when you go outside, what to look for, the background knowledge, that kind of thing. And that has morphed over the years into teaching about nature study—or teaching nature study classes—and then doing this podcast. And I am loving it so, so much because when people are excited about nature study and actually doing it—whether they're doing it by listening to something or watching a screen or getting outside, which I particularly love—I know that they're learning so much science and that makes me really happy.
Jeannie Fulbright That is so awesome. And I looked through all the topics on your nature study podcast, and you have so many fun ideas. There are just— I mean, I don't even know how your brain— you must be just exploding with ideas all the time because there are so many things you cover, just little things to, hey, let's look for. And these are the things that are going to be available right now when you go outside looking for nature study, I think it's awesome. What a helpful tool that is and what a blessing it is for a lot us. Even if you're not a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, but just everyday homeschoolers who want to incorporate nature study into their lives, you have got such an incredible resource there. What is the name of your podcast?
Cindy West Well, thank you, first off. The podcast is No Sweat Nature Study. The No Sweat Nature Study podcast would be another way to say that. And then those can— if someone wants, they're completely standalone and you can get bite-sized science information that prompts a wonderful nature walk that I suggest in the podcast. And then following each week's—the podcast comes out twice a month now—and so following one week's podcast, I actually do an entire video lesson that takes kids deeper into the topic if they want to do that. And that's just called No Sweat Nature Study Live with me.
Jeannie Fulbright And where is that? Where do you find that?
Cindy West That's a great question. So you can go to NoSweatNatureStudy.com or OurJourneyWestward.com. So OurJourneyWestward is where all of my blog and shop and all of that are actually housed. And so the shop on OurJourneyWestward.com is the place to find No Sweat Nature Study Live. But it's also a place to find bunches and bunches of free nature study resources through blog posts that I've written over the years.
Jeannie Fulbright How wonderful. Thank you so much for doing all that you do for homeschoolers. It is huge and it is such a blessing. I know that you're pouring yourself out for homeschoolers, and we just all thank you so much because I just think about when my kids were little, how wonderful it would have been to have such a great resource to keep me on track. Because sometimes just being a mom and all the things that you have to do to come up with ideas for nature study feels like a lot. It feels like it's too much in addition to cooking and cleaning and discipline and dealing with all the little issues and all the little parental things and then homeschooling on top of all that. And then, okay, now we need to do nature study. What do I do?
Cindy West Yeah, it's a lot. And honestly, I've been so thankful over the years for resources that have told me what to do next. And I still look at my own resources when I'm doing nature study with the last kiddo of mine. I'm sometimes sitting there going, "What are we going to do today?" So I go grab one of my resources and look for that creative idea that is just right there to be able to go out. That is sometimes the stopper where people will say, "No, we're not doing nature study," and it's simply because they do have to add one more thought into their brain and come up with what are we going to do? We don't want to wander aimlessly. And so many people give up on it because of that. So that's the premise of what the resources are all about.
Jeannie Fulbright Well, that is fantastic. Thank you so much. So let's dive in to some practical ideas for the fall. I think fall is obviously a beautiful time of year to do nature study. I live in a little bit north of Atlanta, Georgia. And this is everybody's favorite season because it's cool and the world has exploded with beauty. The flowers are still in bloom, everything is still happening. But as things get cooler, people tend to shirk their nature study goals, if you will. So what are some of your best ideas for making nature study happen even when the weather is not beautiful? Because there's a lot of people who live—a lot of people, a lot of homeschoolers—up north where it is actually starting to get cold.
Cindy West Yeah, already. And I'm so glad I don't live there. I live in Kentucky and we have all four seasons which I am thankful to be able to experience that. But I'm certainly a warm weather gal because I love being outside so much. One thing I'll just mention—no matter where you live—this fall season is full of activity. So a lot of times we think the coolest things to see are in the spring and in the summer, because in the spring everything's coming back to life. In the summer there's just so much activity. Well, in the fall season, there is just as much activity as in spring. It's just different. So thinking about all of the animals and plants preparing for the winter ahead and all of the migration activity or the coping with the cold activity or the changing of leaves. There is so much to see. And honestly, when a lot of the plants begin to die back, that's when we can see some of the things that are otherwise hidden through those summer months when a lot of us do get out more often. So I do encourage lots and lots of outdoor nature study obviously. But for people who are struggling a little bit to either do it or want to do it, there's one simple trick. So many of us do a morning time ritual with our kids.
Jeannie Fulbright Mm hmm. Morning basket, they often call it.
Cindy West Yeah, morning basket, morning time. Some people call it circle time. Just whatever, that time when you gather your family. For us, we would do Bible together—and I say "would" because I'm only homeschooling one. We still do our morning time together, but my mind is so often still stuck in that wonderful family where we were all just together that I miss so much.
Jeannie Fulbright Oh, the memories.
Cindy West The memories are so precious. But Bible's in there, a lot of times we'll think about poetry being in there. So many things can be in there, as can nature study. So if you will do something like read a quick picture book, read an excerpt from the Handbook of Nature Study. Pull out a field guide and just look at a few things and maybe read their descriptions. Pull in an object from outside to set upon your table and everyone observes it, talks about it, maybe sketches it in a nature journal. Look outside and start keeping a daily calendar of the changes that are happening right outside your window. What I find is when we do things that aren't necessarily going out into nature, but they're nature related, that prompts people to want to go out and discover it outdoors. So it helps people get over the hurdle if it's too cold or people aren't interested—someone's not interested or a lot of people aren't interested in the home. So that's one really, really simple tip.
Jeannie Fulbright Yes.
Cindy West Take you 5 to 10 minutes a day to do that.
Jeannie Fulbright Add it into the nature time. And, you know what? I'll list some resources in the show notes of things that you can use in that special morning time. And and I'm sure you'll have some great ideas for me to add there as well, Cindy, so that people can go directly to the show notes. Okay, I'm going to get these things, Handbook of Nature Study and the different aspects that you can just 5 minutes, read about them, and then we're going to go discover it.
Cindy West Well, let me tell you, you can go to my blog OurJourneyWestward.com and in the search bar type "morning time nature study"—just those keywords—and I do have a blog post with several ideas. So let me think of what besides the Handbook of Nature Study and field guides. There are games listed, so you could play a simple memory game of birds, for instance, where you are playing and learning the names of these birds. It takes 5 minutes. You're doing some early morning brain training and then all of a sudden these kiddos are noticing some birds out the window that they can recognize.
Jeannie Fulbright I love that.
Cindy West We talk about picture books. YouTube videos are great. And then I've already mentioned No Sweat Nature Study Live. There's actually a digital series called No Sweat Nature Study, and it's called No Sweat Nature Study because it can be done around the morning time table. So they are quick. Get some information in, do a quick sketch, do a quick hands-on activity. And nature study even you can count a lot of it towards perhaps your entire science for the day if you want. That's all written out there for you, too.
Jeannie Fulbright Perfect. Great. So that's a great idea. So adding it to your morning time. Do you have any other suggestions for fall/winter focused nature study?
Cindy West Oh, for sure. Well, I mean, leaves changing are a big, big deal. I find that studying trees in general in autumn is really cool. So we can still watch transpiration happen with the transpiration experiment. Look that up online. It's very easy. It uses a baggie and a rubber band.
Jeannie Fulbright 100%. We do that in my in my botany book, the transpiration.
Cindy West That's right.
Jeannie Fulbright The trees are sweating.
Cindy West They are.
Jeannie Fulbright They are releasing water into the air. That's why the rainforest is so humid.
Cindy West Yeah. Which is so incredibly cool to see that happen in that baggie. And all of a sudden you're like, "Where did this water come from?" The trees are sweating for sure. It offers you a great opportunity to not only watch leaves. I'm looking out my window at some beautiful fall colored leaves. You can do chromatography experiments if you still have green ones to see if the— and that's on my website, so you can just type in that search bar "chromatography" and that will come up. But that's an experiment that shows what colors should be in the green leaf that's coming up.
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah, the secret colors you don't even see start coming out on like a coffee filter or something like that. Such a fun idea.
Cindy West And then there are so many measurement things that you can do with trees this time of year, too. So we can measure circumference by taking a tape measure that you would use to measure clothes. So the really— not the stiff tape, the flexible ones. You can measure circumference of trunks and branches and just all kinds of heights and lengths. And I'm a big, big, big believer that we don't go out into nature study and do the same thing every time. So if we're going out and we're always just observing things and then sketching them in a nature journal, maybe looking them up to identify them in a field guide, that we are creating boring nature study. And you really lose kids.
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah, I agree.
Cindy West But when you decide, all right, today we're really focusing in on these leaves. We're going to bring a leaf home and do a chromatography experiment, no nature journaling involved. Or tomorrow we're going to go out and measure some trees and all we're going to do is write some measurements in our nature journal. Then that keeps everybody excited.
Jeannie Fulbright Yes, I think that's great. How fun. One of the things that I always recommend doing in the winter, when the leaves are gone, the tree has already started to sprout the little buds for next year. And so like cutting a little limb off of your tree and forcing it to sprout in water, you can actually grow a whole new tree. All summer long, you can choose a different tree. All the different trees, you can just grow new trees and plant them and wait until spring to plant them outside.
Cindy West Which is another great point. There are so many things in the winter when it actually gets way too cold for my bones. I don't love to be outside in the winter. I do go on winter nature walks, but there's so much you can bring indoors. Like you just said, that would be a great thing to not only do, but watch and observe and maybe make notations on throughout the winter as well as any kinds of plants that you might plant in an early spring garden. Or just watch plants for the sake of watching plants.
Jeannie Fulbright Definitely. I think it's so fun to sprout seeds under grow lights in the winter and let them grow into little seedlings that will— as soon as the last frost is passed, or if it's a plant that can be planted before the last frost, then get it out there into the garden and watch it become— over an entire year, you can watch this incredible transformation and grow edible food that you— your children will never, ever be tired of eating food they have grown themselves.
Cindy West Oh, for sure. And that teaches so many amazing skills throughout all of the academic areas, as well as physical health and all of— to have a garden outdoors. Something else, I just took a class at my extension office. I would think most people listening in the United States have an extension office nearby. You guys, they are a fantastic resource for science in general, but nature study in particular. And so our horticulturalist there, he just did a class—for adults, but kids were welcome—on growing succulents and microgreens. And those are really cool plants to grow indoors in the winter and they can even eat their microgreens within 7 to 10 days. So if you have one sunny window, you can grow microgreens and then they can have almost an immediate sense of accomplishment because they can eat those.
Jeannie Fulbright Oh, my goodness, how wonderful would that be? That is bringing nature indoors. I don't care how cold it is, your kids are going to be so excited. They're going to learn so much to watch the growth, the evolution, if you will, the—we call it phenology—the phenology of a plant and its progression over time. And then to be able to put it on your plate. And I'm sure it would taste so much better than anything you could get even at the organic section of the grocery store.
Cindy West Yeah, they do. Because I grew my first set and I will just say that it's very expensive to buy microgreens at the grocery. This was prolific. I had so many greens and they were able to be used on so many dishes from wraps to smoothies to anything in between. And it was tasty. So the interesting thing about microgreens is they're basically just the little sprouts on a plant and you eat them before they continue to grow and they taste like the plant that you're growing. So in other words, if you're growing broccoli sprouts, these cute little tiny sprouts tastes like broccoli. It's so fun.
Jeannie Fulbright How fun. What a great idea. I love that. And to get in touch with the extension office, what kind of search would people do online to find their extension office and see what kind of classes they're offering?
Cindy West Okay. That's a great question. So extension offices are usually run through a large university, usually a state university in your state. So I live in Kentucky. The University of Kentucky is the biggest state school, and they send extension agents into all of the different counties. So I could look up my county, I could put that in a search, my county extension agent, and I would be able to find them and contact them and say, "Hey"—so this is how you do it—"I'm a homeschool mom and I am so super interested in helping you to help me teach my kids and maybe even other homeschool kids things." And when they know that you're willing to step in and help with a class or bring several kids so that it feels worthwhile for them, they're likely—they have moneys waiting to bring these resources to people—so they're likely to help you present or help you put together any kind of class that you're interested in doing.
Jeannie Fulbright Wow. That would be such a great thing to do to schedule out at least one a month in the winter months because they too— you know, when you have a passion and you have an interest in something that you love, if you meet children who have an interest in it as well, it's exciting. And it's so exciting to teach people whose eyes are open and who are wide awake and listening because they care. And that is one of the things about homeschooling, especially using the Charlotte Mason model, is that we help children to continue that interest in learning through providing them tools, materials to learn from that ignites and continues to burn the fire of fascination that children are naturally born with. And so to call up these extension offices, schedule out maybe some teaching for the winter months, then you've got some no sweat nature study right there.
Cindy West Yeah, well, and the horticulturalist, for instance, he's willing to do the teaching so you can even turn the teaching over to an expert teacher, which is always fantastic.
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah. That's a fantastic idea. I love that.
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Jeannie Fulbright All right. So we've got some good ideas for the fall and the winter. Is there anything else you'd like to share with us, Cindy, before we close?
Cindy West Well, just don't forget that getting outside is really the ideal environment for nature study. It's hands-on. It's experiential. And in my experience of now having graduated two and I have another in high school, when we have hit biology and really even chemistry and physics in some cases because nature study makes so many connections into every single academic area, but particularly biology and earth and space science. So biology is plants, it's animals, and it's human body. So nature study is generally not hitting on human body, but it also hits on earth and space science really well. So those are covered. By the time my kiddos got to high school and we started pulling out biology, earth and space science studies, they had already experienced— just per chance, it's not like I planned this. Per chance, they had experienced and made connections that made it so, so, so easy to transition into that high school level science. We still do nature study in high school, but we're doing a lot of it in elementary and middle school. In fact, that is a large portion of the science that we do. So remembering that getting outside is so, so, so important. But if you can't or you hate it— well, first off, if people hate it, try some creative things, some of the creative things we've mentioned. But let's say people still hate it or you can't for some reason, or it's genuinely just so cold or so hot, there are plenty of things that you can bring indoors. You can watch on screens. And I would love at any point for you to join me at No Sweat Nature Study Live. The thing we do there is dole out science information with the lens of nature study and we create nature journal pages together. And I'll usually put out a challenge to try to get outside and see some of these things. So I'm trying to inspire them to do that through some resources that are indoors, even if you don't love being outdoors.
Jeannie Fulbright That is so good. I love that. And I think that a lot of people don't realize that, yes, you can bring nature indoors and that still counts as that object study, that it does count as nature study when you are studying nature, even if you bring it indoors. And so that's really important, I think, especially for those who live in the really cold, blistery winter covered in snow areas. If it's covered in snow, you can order items from some of the science supplies and study them indoors. Just like in my botany book where I have you build a grow hut where you can grow things indoor using grow lights. You can— there's so many fun experiments and ideas, things you can do and you can order and you can get and you can discuss and continue to— what we're trying to do is we're trying to continue that fascination with nature.
Cindy West Yes.
Jeannie Fulbright Through the winter months, through the fall and winter months, we can do that a lot of times by bringing things indoors to study.
Cindy West Yeah, for sure. And one thing that is kind of my go-to phrase is nature study is science. So I don't want anyone to ever think that nature study is an additional thing that they have to add. Nature study can be science. It doesn't have to be your only science. You guys go get some of Jeannie's books and do nature study once a week or twice a month, and all of those things eventually connect into one another. And they're all very, very worthwhile to do as science. So, in other words, think differently that science doesn't necessarily have to be this programmed thing of we get through chapter one and take a test. And that's why I love your book so much, Jeannie, because it's so very much living literature that then turns into real life, meaningful activities. And that is exactly what I try to do with nature study too. We learn stuff that's real life because real life never fails us in the end for keeping the information in our mind and then being beneficial and motivating to our kids.
Jeannie Fulbright And another thing is that I've talked to so many homeschoolers at conferences and the GHC conferences in a lot of different places, and a lot of people that I've talked to, they get my books as a resource for nature study rather than going through a curriculum each and every day, which is how I wrote it. But I have met so many people who use it as, "Okay, we really want to learn about leaves." So they pull out my botany book and they open up to the leaves section and they just read a little bit each day about leaves. They're studying leaves, they're going outside, they're making leaves a part of their everyday experience. And then maybe they just want to learn about squirrels. They pull out the zoology three book, they read all about the squirrels and their teeth and how they— so many fantastic things. You don't have to do my books as a curriculum, but they are a wonderful resource, written in a living way that brings science and and all of the outdoors to life for a learner. So I agree with you. You can do nature study really alone as your science in elementary through middle school because it is true and deep learning. It is science. And as long as you have great resources, again, like my books, but also there are other ones out there that will be helpful as resources, as spines, if you will, to help you give the information to your children.
Cindy West Yes, for sure. And one thing, so many parents get overwhelmed when they think about not using a book all the way through as it's written. So what I like to say is just have your plan in mind. So are you going to study animals this year? Okay, well, then just find the animal resources. You don't have to necessarily go get a book on animals. I love that they could pull this, that, or the other from your zoology books or they could find an animal and then be inspired to go learn by grabbing some books from the library or a YouTube video. It's whatever can keep your kids so, so inspired by learning. And never be afraid to step out of a textbook and kind of pull together your own thing based on interest. Because remember, we're igniting a fire of learning.
Jeannie Fulbright 100%.
Cindy West And that's the best way to do that.
Jeannie Fulbright Yes, I agree. Well, it's wonderful to mind meld with you, Cindy, and it was so fun to have you on the show today, and maybe we'll do it again in the future.
Cindy West I'd love that. Yeah. Thank you for having me.
Jeannie Fulbright Well, it was wonderful to have you here. We will talk to you next time again. Thanks.
Cindy West Bye.
Jeannie Fulbright Thank you for tuning in to The Charlotte Mason Show. If you want to learn more about Charlotte Mason, go to my website at JeannieFulbright.com. There you can find my blog where I discuss so many of Charlotte Mason's principles and how to implement her philosophy in your homeschool. You can also take a peek at my Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, which is much more than a planner. It's a Charlotte Mason mentor that not only teaches you Charlotte Mason principles, but it keeps you focused on the things that are important each week, such as habit training, nature study, and scripture, read-alouds, prayer, and self-care, which often gets neglected. And I would love to meet you in person at a Great Homeschool Convention where I'll be sharing a lot of different Charlotte Mason topics. To sign up, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. Thanks again and have a blessed and bountiful week as you fulfill your call to educate your children at home.