I realized I needed a plan, or rather a set of plans. A plan holds me accountable when I am frazzled and busy. This is why I turn to published curriculums rather than trying to create my own lessons. I find that there is great freedom for me in working my way through a book and someone else has done all of the prep work for me. When I realized I wanted a book to help guide me in our studies, I began to imagine what kind of curriculum I would want and what the book would look like. I wanted...pictures...language that was readable for my children and at their level...engaging writing...interactive reading/writing activities...for a love for nature to be clear in the writing...and formatting that made the book very easy to navigate and enjoy.
I found a book that is all of these things. I did also find two other books that are great supplements to it, but I will be able to use this primary book as the base for a year of nature study with my children.
The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms by Clare Walker Leslie
This book is wonderful! From the first page, I knew this book was what I looking for. First, she explains why we study nature. I agree with her reasoning that we need to understand that we are connected to this world we live in and we need to take care of it. Her desire, which she makes clear, is that children would grow to love being outside and begin to see all that is around them every day. I would also add one more reason why we study nature which is that God created this world and in realizing how amazing His creation is, we realize how amazing God is. His creation can't help but point to Him. This reason is the most important to me, but as the parent and teacher I can share that with my children when we begin our study.
Part One of this book is about How to Be a Naturalist. Ms. Walker explains how to look, what to write down, what you will need, and how to record observations. Part Two goes on to talk about the Sky, weather, and seasons. There are wonderful hand drawn illustrations and lots of great information in this section. The third part is a month by month guide which gives several activities for each month and relevant information for that time of year.
How will I use this book? I will get a copy for each of my children and myself. I will begin the school year going through part one and helping my children learn how to observe nature and record their observations. Storey Publishing also has a page where you can download printable copies of the pages which you would need duplicates of to make a nature journal. They are on this page: http://www.storey.com/thenatureconnection.php After we've put their nature journals together, we'll start in October or November with the monthly activities and divide them amongst the weeks. We typically study science one-two days a week. What makes this a good book to use with multiple ages is the writing, illustrations, and activities. Children can draw as simple or as elaborate pictures of what they see as they are able to. They can also write single words, simple phrases, or complete sentences to describe what they see.
What I most appreciate about The Nature Connection is that it makes nature study seem so simple and it no longer seems daunting to me as it has before. I'll be able to pick up this book, open it up, and use it to help us enjoy nature together. On Amazon, you can see a very thorough preview of this book which shows the table of contents, examples of the illustrations, and nature study information.
To supplement this book, The Kids Nature Book by Susan Milord, a Williamson Kids Can! Book is a great resource. It has 365 indoor/outdoor activities and experiences to do through the whole year. It would give you additional ideas for materials for your nature journal. Many of the ideas in the book are just pick up and go, very low prep activities--which happen to be the best kind for my family and me.
The other book I have to supplement The Nature Connection is a wonderful bird watching book, What's That Bird? by Joseph Choiniere and Claire Mowbray Golding. It is perfect for kids ages 7-12. In the beginning, there are pictures of the different types of feathers birds have. Then, a bird's body is illustrated with its anatomy identified. The diagrams are clear and easy to understand. From there, you will learn so much about birds. 75 of the most common birds are in a bird identification guide. The writing is clear and concise and is for a 5th or 6th grade reading level. I shared this book with a friend who grew up bird watching and she loved it. On Amazon, you see a great preview of this book.
If you're looking for a way to integrate nature study into your homeschooling or looking for an option for your science studies for next year, this might be a great option. I think these books would work well whether you lean towards unit studies or towards individual subject textbooks.
Please note that I received complimentary copies of The Nature Connection and What's That Bird? for review from Storey Publishing.