Benefits of Observational Nature Study

Wood Duck, Flew away when I brought the camera up to my face.

Spring is a beautiful time to start a nature study. New plants are emerging, new sounds in the forests, new flowers to add to your table. Trees are budding, worms are abundant, insects are plentiful. Migration changes the birds at your feeder and local parks.

Is your family like ours? A little overwhelmed? Someone might suggest to learn the names of the birds. Or memorize the names of the trees. Catalog all of the wild flowers on your road. Build an insect collection.All of those things are wonderful hobbies – if you already are thrilled about bugs, trees, birds or flowers.


No matter your age, or the age of your children, you may all start together. Observing the nature around you with intention. Take a walk around your yard or neighborhood. See if you can name any of the trees.  Find a great local tree guide book at your local bookstore. We enjoy Common Trees of the Pacific Northwest, which, is also all available online in the link shown – to help you work your way into figuring out the tree. If you use the online version, bring home a leaf or needle cluster, and a cone if available. Start one tree at a time, once a week.  The same can be done for birds, flowers, insects.

I’m nostalgic about our beginnings because this month we are studying Reptiles and Amphibians. We moved to a home in Central Oregon with 3 ponds that was home to hundreds, if not thousands of bull frogs.  They would lay long pipes of eggs that would almost fill one small pond entirely. We spent many long nights with flashlights playing with these fist sized monsters. One night we tipped over a long forgotten coffee can and a frog filled the entire circle of the pot.  Grand Daddy Frog! We learned a lot about tadpoles, eggs, how they burrowed into the dirt to sleep, and hibernation in the cold months of the high desert. How it takes some bull frogs 7 seasons (years) to reach maturity. We left Central Oregon thinking we were frog experts.


But then we moved to the coast. We heard croaking, lil tiny ribbits, in the forest and along the highway in the spring. However, we didn’t look for them until summer, since we loved those warm summer frog hunt times.  We could not find one. single. frog. We also quit hearing their songs at night.  When we asked at our science center, we were told that the birds pretty much have their meals of them in the spring. Frog populations are down on the coast. We learned that we have tiny tree frogs, and the Blue Herons and White Egrets love them. We were bummed to have gone a year without seeing them.


The next year we started as soon as we heard their sounds, but could not find any. We’d dive up to the place in town where they were the loudest, and look. and look. and look. Then we found out that they are not in the water, but near the water. On little bushes nearby. They were like birds – with sentinels. Happily singing until someone approached and then they’d go silent.  If you stay still for a few minutes, the sentinel would signal, and then the songs would begin. Once we knew their system, the boys found quite a few. We also got to collect tadpoles and eggs, this time in clusters like grapes.

And this is where nature study gets fun.  Several years into going to the same place, or looking at the same creature will help to develop patterns.  Once you see something that goes against the pattern, the spark of learning is ignited and all craziness breaks loose.

Say you have a bunch of yellow dandelions in your yard. Week after week, year after year, you walk by without much consideration other than the desire to pull it out. Then, one spring, the flower in the middle is blue. What do you think your kids would think? What would you think? Who would you call? How would you look it up? Would you take a photo? Call your mom? Instagram?


Year long, years long, observational studies do that very thing. Walking along, thinking an object is always the same, then BAM, it changes. Or adds. Or disappears. Fire Lit.

For this month’s Reptile and Amphibian studies, we’ve been more aware of where we are hearing the frogs. In times past we learned that the Gardner Snakes have their babies this time of year but have not happened upon any as we have before.

We have not found any newts, but they are usually more active later in the spring/summer.

We did put a post on Facebook to ask if anyone had any known frogs on their property and got a response from a tired mom who had been kept up nights by the frogs in her swimming pool. She asked us to come and get them out and move them far, far away.


The pool has had fresh water in it for 4 years.  It was LOADED with critters, tadpoles, frogs, skippers, water beetles, and all sorts of joyful things.  And GIANT spiders. Shiver.

We were able to catch 5 and let them go in our area. We spent a hour exploring her cement pond, er plastic puddle?

When we got home, Jon was more determined to find a tree frog in our forest, and came out without a frog, but with a new addition to the bird feeder area.


I can tell you, that those intentional 15 minutes a week are worth it.  It’s building their knowledge and observational bank. It increases their awareness and vocabulary. It gives them lessons on life and life cycles. It displays the glorious activities of our Creator God. the conversations we have on our rides and walks – oh how I wish I could carry a recorder with me and share our zany, insightful, questioning words with you.  If you start – you will be well on your way to having your own rich times together.


(All of the photos above were taken during our frog capturing activity on Weds.
Last year we answered a Craigslist Ad to help move newts from a front yard water fountain. Ask around with your friends,
someone is probably not sleeping well due to these little critters,
and would invite you over as well!)

If you would like to do an actual “Frog Study” instead of Frog Rescue – I invite you to visit The Frog Outdoor Hour Challenge over at Handbook of Nature Study. She has several resources to help you get started!

About +Angie Wright

The Transparent Thoughts of an Unschooling Family of Boys - Answering the question - What DO you DO all day?
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4 Responses to Benefits of Observational Nature Study

  1. is a blog post where I tell about years long nature study at our local pitcher plant (meat eating plant) bog. I share pictures from different seasons and different years.

    I agree that the year long/years long observational studies are wonderful in the way they string insights together.

    Great post.

  2. Enjoyed reading this post. We love nature study too!!

  3. pbandjmom says:

    That makes sense that the frog population is down on the coast. My kid’s and I haven’t seen any yet since we moved here three years ago this Summer.

  4. Nicely done…I so echo your thoughts about years long observations to notice changes and spot new interests. So much of our lives are filled with things we have to do and we don’t see the point but with on-going nature study we will reap the benefits for years to come. I know my boys share their knowledge and enthusiasm with their friends and so the influence grows.

    Thanks Angie!

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