Winter is my favorite season for nature study. Maybe it’s because we live in the Midwest where it gets cold, gray, and snowy in the winter, which leads to some serious cabin fever and Mom needing an excuse to go outside. True, it takes a half hour to get everyone bundled up to go outdoors, but in the long run the fresh air and learning that takes place make it worthwhile.
So whether you’re experiencing cabin fever up north or doing school poolside down in sunny Florida, here are a few nature activities we have enjoyed over the last few winters that I hope will inspire you to head outdoors with your kids.
Winter time is great for watching our feathered friends (and squirrels and raccoons, too). They absolutely flock to our backyard feeders, and it’s easy to see their color and detail against the snow. When it is absolutely too cold or yucky to go out, we can watch our backyard feeders from the window, but we can’t get up close and personal for photos and sketching in our journals. To remedy this we purchased a couple of window feeders, and they have been a tremendous asset in our nature studies. I’m always surprised that the birds don’t seem to mind the three little wiggly people pressed up against the window watching them.
We also enjoy whipping up homemade treats for our visitors. A few favorites we like to make are pinecones smeared with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed, stale bread (prepared the same as the pinecones), popcorn and fruit pieces strung on a garland, and homemade suet. Here’s an easy suet recipe we’ve used:
Mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup shortening, 1/4 tsp. salt and just enough water to form a ball. There’s no need to bake it. Just put the treat out near your seed feeders, and watch it disappear.
We have found that finding tracks in the snow is much easier than on dry or even muddy ground.
My kids enjoy being detectives as they search out tracks and follow them to see where they lead. It’s a great activity for honing observation and problem-solving skills. We have found bird, raccoon, rabbit, and deer tracks in our backyard and have even followed rabbit tracks until we found the entrance to their burrow.
Crinkleroot’s Book of Animal Tracking by Jim Arnosky is a fun resource filled with tips on tracking and track identification. If you happen to find some good, clear tracks, you can try your hand at making casts of them.
Did you know that stars are most visible on clear, cold winter nights? That’s because cold air that has moved in from the Arctic is typically cleaner and drier than the air found in a hot, hazy summer night sky.
Even if you don’t own a telescope, the winter night sky is dazzling to the naked eye. Bundle up and head to a dark area away from city lights. Take a pair of binoculars with you for some excellent moon and star viewing, and if you’d like, print out a map of the night sky to help you and your children look for constellations.
Our local astronomy society offers free telescope viewing to the general public. The members enjoy sharing their knowledge and passion for the night sky with folks who come out to their viewings. If you are able to locate a society near you, I think you will find it an invaluable resource for your homeschool. (The list I linked to is by no means complete, but it is a good starting point.)
Local Winter Nature Programs
Oftentimes, local and state parks offer winter nature programs – some even specifically for homeschoolers. Contact any parks departments or nature centers in your area and you might be pleasantly surprised at the programming they have to offer right now. (Here is a nationwide list of nature centers. Once again, it is not complete, but hopefully it will help you in your search.)
I hope that this winter you and your family will find ways to get outside and enjoy the season.