Nature Study … or Creation Appreciation?
I’m a nature study junkie. And my kids have been along for the ride since birth. It’s so much a part of our life that we can be very annoying to hike with. Ahem.
We need to reclaim “nature study” and call it “Creation Appreciation.”
Nature study (or Creation Appreciation) is a delightful opportunity to get to know our Creator better. His Creation is truly magnificent. The order inherent in nature testifies to his design and sovereignty over every detail; google the fibonacci number and flowers, pinecones, or shells, and be amazed. If ever we needed reminders that the Lord is in control over nature, including things we can’t see (like germs), it is this year.
Butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, ladybugs, beetles, honeybees all have amazingly beautiful and intricate bodies. Watch a group of ants marching in orderly fashion, each carrying a tiny morsel of food. Pull a dandelion apart and marvel at the way it is constructed. Watch the trees change colors over the seasons and marvel that God made these huge plants grow from water and sunlight.
Nature Study in YOUR Backyard: Love Your Street
It’s likely that all in-person education this fall will look dramatically different. Nature study is one small thing you can add to your day at home that will do much to focus your thoughts on our magnificent Lord and also help everyone destress, regardless of whether you are officially homeschooling, participating in virtual schooling, or attending school in person.
The good news is that you can appreciate God’s creation from your dining room window, in your own backyard, or simply by taking a walk down your street. You do not need access to a lush park system or nature trails.
Use Books to Spark Creation Appreciation (or “Nature Study”)
The best books for this are ones that prompt us to notice more about the natural world, not ones that provide scripted activities. Read naturalists’ delight in their surroundings and then look out your own window. Learn about different birds and then see which ones you can find in your own yard.
Consider reading the Psalms alongside. So many Psalms praise the Lord for his Creation!
Many of the books below contain some Darwinism/evolutionary language, but it is minimal and/or the book is worth reading anyway.
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Nature Study Books That Spark Creation Appreciation
Nature Study Gold Standard
Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. This is a GIANT doorstop of a book. DO NOT READ IT COVER TO COVER. Read the introductory materials (worth the price of the book). Then, before you head outside with your children, skim the section on a particular flower or bird or insect and note a few interesting questions. When you’re out with your kids, use those questions to help them notice more details. This book is far better in print version than on kindle. Note the John Muir Laws titles below for more good resources on teaching nature study.
Nature Study Books for Younger Children
Life in a Bucket of Soil by Alvin Silverstein and Virginia Silverstein. Perfect for kids who love to dig in the dirt–they’ll be amazed at what lives in that bucket of soil.
The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton Burgess. Put a bird feeder outside your dining room window, and you can do nature study without leaving the house! Children adore watching birds, and this classic book is a perfect companion.
Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith and illustrated by Wendy Halperin. Lovely, delicate illustrations show the many ways seeds are dispersed in the wild. This is a good one to read in the fall when so many plants dispersing their seeds!
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children by James Herriot. Even your pets can provide “nature study” fodder, and there is no one better than James Herriot to awaken your interest in the eccentricities of your feline or canine companions (or farm animals).
Picture books abound on any “nature” topic you can think of; if your local library is open, ask your librarian for the locations of books on birds, insects, weather, and more.
Nature Study Books for Middle Grades
The Tarantula Scientist by Sy Montgomery and others in the Scientists in the Field Series. This series is a fascinating look at scientists doing what scientists do: observing, making hypotheses, drawing conclusions, researching, and more.
The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-ups by Gina Ingoglia. Lovely drawings and a large picture book format make this a great introduction to botany and the study of trees.
The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley (and others by Sibley, Audubon Society, Peterson, etc.). By the time children are in upper elementary/middle school, they love to know the names for things, to recognize them, to muse over the Latin scientific names, and more. Field guides are a must. Depending on your children’s interests, there are field guides for:
- birds (Audubon has colored photographs; Sibley guides have more helpful drawings–and include juvenile/male/female drawings, too.
- and more!
We recommend the Peterson “First Guides” as a good first step if your children are on the younger side, but you’ll end up amassing, um, plenty of guides. Definitely make sure you get a guide for your particular region.
Nature Study Books for Older Kids and Teens
The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose. Based on her own nature journals, Zickefoose devotes each chapter to a particular bird she observed in her yard/region. Her illustrations are lovely. See also Baby Birds by the same author.
Nature’s Everyday Mysteries by Sy Montgomery. A delightful look at the flora and fauna in this naturalist’s backyard. Look for a used copy!
Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. A modern conservation classic, this book includes the original Almanac plus additional essays by Leopold. Thought-provoking and much more balanced than many contemporary conservation books.
A Different Shade of Green by Gordon Wilson. Wilson is behind the Riot and the Dance movies, so his name may be familiar to you. This is a Christian look at conservation and environmentalism, and it’s worth the read. I wish he’d included more practical tips for working out his philosophical recommendations, but it makes an excellent companion read to something like Sand County Almanac.
A Walk Through the Year by Edwin Way Teale. Daily reflections on Teale’s farm and surrounding countryside. These will cause your teens (and you) to notice what’s going on around them in the ordinary ebb and flow of the seasons. Teale is a Pulitzer Prize winning author (for Wandering Through Winter) and a pleasure to read, even when he says things that I disagree with philosophically.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. Another Pulitzer-prize winner, this meditative work is set by Tinker Creek in Roanoke, Virginia… a short hop and skip from where Megan and Betsy earned their children’s literature degrees at Hollins University! It is stunning countryside.
Signs and Seasons by Jay Ryan. A Christian look at classical astronomy, based heavily on observations you can make with the naked eye (no telescope needed). Nature study isn’t limited to what’s on the ground! If you’re homeschooling high school, consider getting the accompanying field manual; Ryan claims that the field work will equal a high school lab credit, and this is one lab credit that doesn’t require expensive, extra equipment.)
Nature Journaling Books
Keeping a nature journal isn’t essential, but it can be a great aid to your observation of life around you!
The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws. A gold standard reference that is as much art instruction as it is nature study how to. See also his newest: How to Teach Nature Journaling.
Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie. A delightful complement to the Laws book and full of examples.
Orienteering-Type Books: Nature Study as a Means to Navigation
Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass by Harold Gatty. Written by a skilled navigator, this is a fascinating look at how “primitive man” first navigated, and how we can apply some similar principles as we find our way in the wilderness. A touch dated, but the information is lots of fun, and your kids will be testing to see if they can walk in a straight line, follow migratory bird paths, discern direction from signs on trees, and more.
The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley. This is a current bestseller and is likely to be in your local library. I actually prefer the above book, but this one is easier reading and covers much of the same content.
Related Reading from Redeemed Reader
- A Book List: Birds of a Feather (lots of bird books)
- A Book Review: Sing a Song of Seasons (a nature poem for every day of the year)
- A Book Review: Hey, Water! (a picture book about water; see also Water is Water)