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Homeschooling High School: Is Nature Study Relevant to High School Science?

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Too often, we homeschooling parents think that, when high school hits, it’s time to put away more delight-led learning and hit the textbooks. One of the things that can get pushed aside is nature study, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

Today’s guest post is from one of my favorite bloggers, Barb McCoy, from Handbook of Nature Study. Her passion for nature study ignited my own and countless other families’ excitement for the topic.

There is no argument that nature study for young children opens their minds to a sense of beauty and connects them with the world they live in by allowing time to explore the outdoors with a loving parent as their guide

Parents usually start with simple nature walks and allow time to observe things that interest the child as he goes about his outdoor activities. Early training to use their senses in the outdoors helps them become aware of the birds, wildflowers, trees, and animals that are to be discovered in their backyards and neighborhoods. As the child grows, he can learn many things by observing the world that surrounds him.

  • Does formal science take the place of learning about the natural world in your own backyard?
  • What nature study methods work with high school students?
  • Can nature study be introduced in high school successfully?

Formal Science vs. Nature Study – Using Nature Study to Supplement

Up until the high school years, nature study included whatever caught your child’s interest and preparing meant reading ahead of time about topics that might come up during your outdoor time. More often than not, the subjects came to you. Your child took an interest in the birds at the birdfeeder, they found some cones from a tree that they were curious about, or they noticed the dandelions growing in the lawn….you then took their interest and did some follow-up.

In high school, you can be more systematic about your nature study and use it as a supplement to more formal science learning. Our family has enjoyed incorporating real investigation of natural objects as part of our biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, and marine biology studies in high school. Keeping a library of field guides has greatly encouraged my boys to dig deeper than their science courses. Science texts came alive and nature study became the complement to their science books.

Methods for Nature Study in High School

Some modern nature study ideas create a sense of sentimentalism and give the impression that it is not “real” science. Many people equate nature study with pretty nature journals and poetry and not real discovery. Our family uses nature study to support and enhance our academic learning. How do we do that?

Take it Outdoors with Field trips (Daily Walks and Vacations): High school age students can reach out and benefit from the opportunity to include real subjects along with their learning. Plan day trips or even longer trips to include a variety of locations: ocean, forest, desert, or botanical garden. Prepare ahead of time by gathering field guides and bring along notebooks to record your learning.

Look into various volunteering opportunities that could include working at a national park, helping at a local nature center, or being trained to do some sort of animal rescue.

The concept of taking a field trip is not new but have you ever planned a vacation to include a nature center, special habitat, or opportunity to participate in citizen science? The idea is to get outside to make a connection with the real world and balance out all that textbook work.

Adventure: Not to be overlooked in high school nature study is the aspect of stepping out of their comfort zone and learning in new ways. They can now physically try things that are more appropriate for high school students like ocean snorkeling, rock climbing, hiking in the wilderness, or mountain biking.

Natural extensions of these activities provide the connections between formal science and the real world. In our family, our time outdoors has led to creative outlets like photography, gardening, and painting. I try not to limit our nature study to books and journals and I have found that just spending time outside with my sons builds between us a special bond.


Hone Scientific Observation Skills with Nature Notebooks (Journals or Pre-made Notebook Pages): Every high school student should keep a written record of their nature study. These become valuable references and tools when topics come up during science that they have already observed in real life. These are personal records, lists, sketches, photos, and/or impressions that they can document in a journal as a way to cement their experiences in nature.


New to Nature Study – Getting Started In High School

Is science meaningful in your family? Can you think of a way to spend time outdoors with your children that will enhance their appreciation of nature? Can you balance their text work with some active learning by giving them the opportunity to explore an area of nature study they enjoy?

Our family has greatly increased our knowledge by allowing time for nature study on a weekly basis. You can start in high school by allowing even 15 minutes outdoors each week to explore your own backyard.

We choose to use the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock to equip us with practical information on so many common subjects found right outside our door. I highly recommend this book as a reference and guide.

If you need additional help, I have written nature study challenges for over one hundred of the topics found in this book. You can access them on my blog: Handbook of Nature Study.

I have also started to include in the challenges suggestions for high school level “advanced study” along with companion notebook pages. These enhanced challenges are found in my new More Nature Study With The Outdoor Hour Challenge ebook and each challenge will be listed on the “autumn” tab at the top of my blog.

Finally, you may be interested in reading this Squidoo lens for ideas to enhance any biology text using nature study: Apologia Biology .

Nature Study continues to be a relevant part of high school science and is a valuable balance to academic learning. Get outside and give it a try!

Barb McCoy- Harmony Art Mom writes about their family’s outdoor adventures on her blog, Handbook of Nature Study. She also is the author and host for the Outdoor Hour Challenge and a series of ebooks helping families get started with simple nature study. Her home base is Northern California but she also writes about their continuing adventures in Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona. Barb also founded Harmony Fine Arts which helps homeschoolers with their art and music appreciation.



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This article was written by a Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers guest author. See the author's full bio in the body of the post.

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  1. What an important point about high schoolers continuing to keep a journal because the real life experiences with what they are studying are so important. I appreciate all the examples you include (and share often on your blog) – like photography and gardening being a natural extension of outdoor times. Plus not always journaling – just enjoying time together. We are so enjoying your upper level studies in your More Nature Study ebook! Clicking over to your Apologia Biology Squidoo lenses.

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