Interest-led nature study on the coast

Y’all. I had big plans this year for nature study. We were going to do Barb’s awesome outdoor hour challenges like I did back when Kathryn was little. We were all going to have nature journals and update them regularly. We’d even incorporate art lessons with our nature journals. It would be Elementary Nature Study version 2.0, because I’m soooo experienced as a homeschool mom all these years down the road. (Ha ha!)

interest led nature study

A few major adjustments to our schedule this year, combined with our gradual but continued shift towards unschooling meant we didn’t end up doing all those things as planned. But thankfully, nature study has become a seamless part of our lives. I believe this is due to two key factors: being raised to appreciate nature myself (while being out playing in it), and using Barb’s nature studies when we were new to homeschooling.

We’re at the same latitude and similar climate as in metro Atlanta so many things are the same here, but obviously living on the coast gives us a host of new things to study.

Nature we’ve studied this year:

  • Weather patterns, including hurricanes. Being in the path of Matthew last fall gave us all a crash course in hurricane formation, behavior, impact, and preparedness!
  • Coastal trees: live oak, cypress, palm, and eucalyptus.
  • Coastal plants: cacti, palmetto, fire-wheel flowers, sea oats, and more.

coastal plants

  • Birds! Many of the same birds we had back in Georgia frequent our yard here including cardinals, sparrows, wrens, brown thrashers, chickadees, doves, red-tailed hawks, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, starlings, and more. We’ve even noticed our local mockingbirds have additional seabird-songs in the mix.
  • More birds we’d never (or very rarely) seen until we moved here: cedar waxwing, yellow-bellied flycatcher, red-winged blackbird, and red-headed woodpecker.
  • Coastal birds: egrets, herons, ibis, pelicans, gulls, skimmers, cormorants, plovers, kingfishers, wood storks, and merganser ducks. We visited a wild bird rescue center, where we even got to pet a pelican; they’re softer than you’d think!
  • Marine life: sharks, rays, dolphins, manatees, alligators, many kinds of fish, sea squirts, jellyfish, crabs, mollusks, and of course sea turtles!
  • Habitats, including ocean dunes, sloughs, marshes, and estuaries.

coastal habitats

Even when we’re not formally doing any nature studies, I keep a variety of field guides handy. It’s a common occurrence for us to come home from seeing a new bird or critter or shell and pull out a guide to figure out what it is.

A few of our favorites guides: Peterson First Guide to Seashores; Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Birds; Reader’s Digest North American Wildlife (a newer version of my out-of-print copy); and the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Seashells.

This summer, I plan to resume my own nature journaling. Barb has been sharing her nature journal pages on instagram and they’ve been inspiring me! Next homeschool year we’ll be a little more intentional with our nature study, but I won’t sweat it too much because I know we’ll also keep on learning as opportunities present themselves.