For The Young Naturalists

by Stefani on 26-November-2008

We like to astonish our friends with our latest, most greatest big word: “Propagation”

Nice one, right?

My middle son, the mad scientist, and I, found a piece of Purple Heart (aka Wandering Jew) on the sidewalk of a bookstore. It had broken off and been left to wither and die, but being that I travel with Nature Super Heroes, we were duty bound to bring it home and put it in a bottle of water.

Propagation (our new favorite word)

My guy watched it, drew it, took pictures of it, even measured and documented root growth.
Laying Down Roots

The result is a very cool display for his homeschool fair, and my kitchen counter becoming littered with an array of other “propagation projects.”


We’ve got a sweet potato soaking, a few other plant cuttings (swiped off of neighbor’s plants, when mama wasn’t paying attention) and an array of seeds and beans lifted from my spice cabinet and pantry, all in various states of growth.

A Garden In the Pantry

So, it should surprise no one that “Don’t Throw It, Grow It!” is now on our Christmas list.

My little botanist has been thinking of giving away several small bags of kitchen seeds and beans, along with some small pots as a raffle prize for those who visit his display at the fair. I think if you maybe added in a paint brush and some paints for decorating those pots, it would make a nice Christmas gift for a little indoor gardener.

For my entomologist, there will be lots of little clear boxes in his stocking.

One Small Part of Our Nature Table

He likes to use these (found at craft stores) for our bug collecting so that we can still get them out and see them from different angles, and look at them with the magnifying glass or microscope.

If you don’t yet have a magnifying glass, you can find them in the office supplies section of your local discount store for as little as $8, or you can go for the jeweler’s loupe, which makes for a highly portable magnifying option for young explorers on the go.

As for the microscope, one of our boys got one for a birthday some time ago, and we love it! You can find the one we have here.

There’s a really inspiring and fun book called, “A World In a Drop of Water” that is a must have for microscopic explorers. It talks about the many weird and wonderful creatures, a whole other crazy world, that can be found in a drop of pond water. That book, plus a few eye dropper bottles and some new clean slides are definitely on our wish list!

Really, nature exploration with young people can seem like a daunting task. As my son said, “there’s just so MUCH nature. Like a whole big world of it!” But really, it can be so simple and rewarding to study the things right in your own neighborhood or park or backyard for that matter. You don’t need much.

Basically, we take walks. Along the way we take photos of things we find, or if they are small, we bring them home for our nature table. The boys pick one thing at a time to learn and journal about.

We hold the object or the photo and start thinking of questions. Where did it come from? When did we find it? How did it get there?

We list any answers we know in the journal, and then we scour the Internet, field guides and such to find out more. They glue and paste or write down their information into their journals. It doesn’t take long for them to amass quite a collection of acquired knowledge of the world around them.

The day that one of them started to refer back to his own work to draw conclusions about something new that he’d found, was a very proud one for all of us. A light bulb moment!

Anyhow, if you haven’t begun a nature journal, get a nice big spiral bound blank book at a craft store, some colored pencils and a handful of field guides and get started!

Some of our favorite kid friendly field guides are the Golden Guides from St. Martin’s Press . My guys have five or six different ones, and a list of others that they’re hoping for. Considering the used prices on Amazon, I think that they might see a few pop up under the tree this year.

A couple of other great, and inspiring resources for any young naturalist’s bookshelf are The Handbook to Nature Study and my very favorite, unfortunately out of print resource, The Amateur Naturalist.

Now go take a hike! (and happy big feast day preparations to all our American friends!)

A World In Water

Sarah November 26, 2008 at 7:36 am

I just love how adventurous your little men are and how you encourage them to learn, create, and explore.

Kathleen November 26, 2008 at 8:37 am

Very cool, love the bird nest and wee bird skull!

heather November 26, 2008 at 9:17 am

This is inspiring. Those little clear boxes are a great idea!

Jennifer November 26, 2008 at 9:24 am

Sister, you really should be writing curriculum!

Thanks for all the great links.

melissa s. November 26, 2008 at 9:32 am

Thanks again for the great suggestions. Your blog has been my main source of Christmas list ideas!

nancy November 26, 2008 at 10:12 am

thanks for all this great info. I think my boys are ready for some “tools” to help investigate nature! Happy Thanksgiving!

patricia November 26, 2008 at 10:33 am

Such wonderful inspiration, yet again. Your photos are always such a lovely partner to the text.

I wonder if you’ve seen the book The Private Eye, by Kerry Ruef. It expands on the idea of looking at items from nature with a loupe and sketching them, to really studying them, and making analogies to what they remind you of. It shows kids how scientists, artists and writers all strive to make unexpected connections. It’s a great way to bring language arts into nature study, in an organic, unforced way. I love it. (And no, I’m in no way professionally connected with this book!)

maya November 26, 2008 at 11:12 am

“Oh, there’s the bugs! Hey,they REALLY DO collect bugs!! How did I KNOW THAT?” Mahal
“Oh, that’s funny they have the same bugs we do. And the same ones the BLue YOnder Boys have.” Lake – I love that 3 yr old logic. The boys are ecstatic to see what you guys are up. Great resources! Thanks!

elissa Finger November 26, 2008 at 12:13 pm

great pics, great suggestions, incredible mommy teacher. blessing to you and your family on this thanksgiving!

Relyn November 26, 2008 at 6:52 pm

I love these posts full of ideas and glimpses into your family adventures.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and the Blue Yonder gang!

Sarah November 26, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I need your help! Jack wants this handy manny truck from the big elf. I hate that truck (it looks crappy) and I think we would all be better off with something else he can “fix”. I am thinking we can build him a workbench to replace his crappy plastic one, but I can’t seem to find any sort of toy that he can “fix”? Do you know of any wooden type toy things he can tinker on? (He obviously isnt big enough for taking apart sewing machines yet, but I do let him loose with screws and screw drivers, levels, tape measures, etc.)

Help this mama out!

Mary Smith November 26, 2008 at 10:15 pm

Your last few posts are just so inspiring with your discoveries and hands on learning. As a mother and a teacher, I come away feeling so motivated!

Elisa November 27, 2008 at 1:17 am

Great post in an absolutely lovely blog! I’ve been reading it for a few weeks now and am full of admiration.

My parents gave me “The Amateur Naturalist” for my eleventh birthday and I couldn’t get enough of it. My husband used to borrow it regularly at the library when he was a boy (he even tried the stuffed mouse experiment!), no wonder we found we had so much in common when we met! Have you read Gerald Durrells childhood memories in “My Family and other Animals”? Hilarious! Bet your boys would like it.

Joy November 27, 2008 at 5:55 am

You are such a wonderful help- so many gift ideas. Woohoo. Here I wanted to do something useful and fun….what a help! Thanks so much!

Cath November 27, 2008 at 8:11 am

your posts are just hugely inspiring to me – thank you!

Barbara November 27, 2008 at 3:12 pm

We are also in a big science phase around here, especially chemistry…the other day when I was making pudding with my daughter she said, “Mom, is there any science happening in this?” which lead me to try and figure out how exactly cornstarch works as a thickener.

I love getting to learn more about the world with them as my guides.

hanna November 27, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Thanks for the great ideas. My boy is only 2 1/2 but I’m already starting to think of things that I can do with him like this. I’m planning on homeschooling so I’ve tucked these ideas away in a folder to refer to later :o).

Amy November 30, 2008 at 6:58 am

Very inspiring! The more I read posts like yours, the more I feel encouraged to go for home schooling. Kudos!

Carrie December 2, 2008 at 1:55 pm

Hello! I just found your blog and am really enjoying it. You are doing some really neat things with your kids. Don’t Throw It, Grow It is on my wish list as well. I’m giddy thinking about it.

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