Nature Study on Tybee Island

I often say that we don’t do as much nature study as I’d like, but what I’ve come to realize is that, although we don’t always have pretty nature journal pages to show for it, and I don’t always take my camera along to document it all, our lives have gradually become more nature-focused. I owe a large part of that to Barb’s influence over the past few years, and her Outdoor Hour Challenges.

As I think back on our recent vacation to Tybee Island, I realize nearly all the activities we chose to do centered around nature! We spent huge amounts of time either on the beach or walking around the island (sometimes with the dogs, sometimes without), chose to walk rather than drive to see the lighthouse, toured a nature center (Lindsey’s suggestion!), and went on a dolphin-watching cruise. I am very encouraged by this!

Rainy Day Nature Study

On our first full day in Tybee Island, it rained. It could’ve ruined our day if we let it, but we didn’t let it stop us. We — my girls, my mom, and I — went for a walk between rain showers, and the Lindsey and Kathryn played in the surf and looked for seashells. My mom and I just enjoyed having our toes in the sand.

Vacation: Mom on the beach

The break in the rain didn’t last long and we got caught in a shower that thoroughly soaked us! It was silly fun, and quite memorable.

A Nature Walk to the Lighthouse

Tybee Island Lighthouse

Another day, we toured the Tybee Island Lighthouse. This was mostly a historical “field trip” but we walked the 1.2 miles there and back on a sandy gravel road and observed all sorts of trees and Spanish moss, so it was a nature walk, too.

Tybee Vacation

{Sisters are handy for an occasional piggyback ride!}

Tybee Vacation piggyback

Marine Biology at the Beach

We spent time on the beach every day we were there!

Tybee Vacation

Throughout the week, walking on the beach provided so much nature to study! Of course there are always birds: pelicans, seagulls, and sandpipers.

Tybee Island sandpiper

But beyond the more common bird sightings, we also saw dolphins swimming off shore; a sea turtle nest (roped off to keep the eggs safe); a dead shark washed up on the sand; the girls caught coquinas and saw a small sting ray someone had caught fishing; we saw jellyfish (several different types, mostly dead on the sand); and when we were on the river side of the island we saw horseshoe crabs up close and finally figured out it was mating season. This one came up to say hello.

Horseshoe Crab

Seriously, he just came right up on the sand, looked at us with his little compound eyes, and then slowly turned himself around with his tail and headed back to look for a lady crab. (For the record, I couldn’t get up the nerve to actually touch it, but I did get really close!)

Later, of course, I looked up more information about horseshoe crabs; they are strangely interesting creatures, who have unusual abilities to fight infection, and are related to scorpions but cannot sting, even though their tail looks as though it has a small barb.

Beach Botany

Poor little Mocha, my mom’s miniature Schnauzer, kept picking up sand burrs every time she went for a walk.

Vacation Mocha

We did a little online research, and we paid close attention while walking, and finally identified the grasses these little sand burrs grow on. What a sneaky – and painful – way to propagate seed!


We took a dolphin-watching boat ride to see these delightful marine mammals more up close than we could watching from the seashore.

Tybee Vacation

Cruising up the Savannah River to where it opens into the Atlantic, we saw dozens of dolphins! Our tour guide talked about how dolphins manage to sleep without drowning, how to identify a baby dolphin, and more.

Tybee dolphin cruise

To throw in a little more history with our nature, we also got a close-up view of the smaller Cockspur Lighthouse.

Tybee Cockspur Lighthouse

More Mammals (and a few reptiles)

When we toured the Oatland Island Wildlife Center, we saw bobcats, foxes, wolves, various birds of prey, bison (not sure how they fit with all the other critters there), an alligator, and lots of turtles!


We realized after we saw this alligator that there was no boundary to prevent him from strolling on up the bank of the lake and over to the walkway we’d just walked up. And we wondered if he had BIGGER friends nearby.


As soon as we started planning this vacation, Kathryn made it clear that she wanted to be sure to watch a sunrise since we’d be on the east coast. On our last morning there, she and Ken ventured down to the beach early and watched the sun rise over the Atlantic ocean.

Tybee Island Sunrise

Unstructured Nature Study

As I’ve been thinking more about unschooling, or more specifically about interest-led home education, I find it interesting that I seem to have already gone this way with nature study, even though I didn’t plan to do so. Home education is an ever-evolving journey, or at least it is for me; I’m continually learning about myself, about my kids, and alongside my kids.
And I love it.