Outdoor Hour Challenge: Nature Study with Teens – Adapting to Different Needs

Outdoor Hour Challenge

Week 4 – September 24, 2021

Nature Study with Teens – Adapting to Different Needs

“Nature Study – It is the intellectual, physical, and moral development by and through purposeful action and reaction upon environment, guided so far as needed by the teacher.” John Dearness, 1905

“Some children are born naturalists, but even those who aren’t were born with natural curiosity about the world and should be encouraged to observe nature.”
Charlotte Mason, vol 2 page 58

The Challenge of Teens and Nature Study

Once my children were teens, our nature study sort of stalled out. I made the mistake of presenting our outdoor studies in the same way that I had always done with them in the past. I would pick a topic, share some information from the lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study, and then we would be out on the search for the subject. It was a habit but not really the habit I had set out to create. Where was the enthusiasm I had seen when they were younger? Why did we end of feeling like it was an item to check off our to-do list? I knew we could do better.

These questions led me back to the internet to research more closely how nature study develops into upper level science.

“The Field Lesson. When planning a field lesson, three points should be kept in mind:
First. The aim, to bring the children into sympathy or in touch with nature, through the study of that part of nature in which they have been interested.
Second. The conditions out of doors, where the children are at home, where they must have greater freedom than in the schoolroom, and where it is more difficult to keep them at definite work, and to hold their attention.
Third. The necessity of giving each child something definite to find out for himself, and of interest to the children so that each will try to find out the most and have the greatest number of discoveries to tell.”

Nature Study and The Child, Charles B. Scott, 1900.

I found with my teenagers that there needed to be a different sort of follow-up to our nature observations…more than just a nature journal. They needed to be more connected to their nature study by finding patterns and relationships between past experiences and new ones.

“But true science work does not stop with mere seeing, hearing, or feeling; it not only furnishes a mental picture as a basis for reasoning, but it includes an interpretation of what has been received through the senses.”

Nature Study for the Common Schools, Wilbur Samuel Jackman, 1891

This is the part of nature study I found the most meaningful to my children. To take what they already knew and to build on it with new observations, developing a real interest in knowing more. I could no longer just relate facts, no matter how interesting the facts were.

Here is the key: Teens need to find the answers to their own questions and then express those answers in a way that makes sense to them.

3 steps to a better nature journal experience

My research found that this pattern – observation, reasoning, expression – is nothing new or unique to nature study. This pattern is the process that all science is built upon. I have created a printable that explains this process and you can download and read it here:

Three Steps to a Better Nature Study Experience

What Can Parents Do?

It would be ideal if all nature study could be spontaneous but that hardly seems practical in a busy homeschooling week. For ease of scheduling, there must be some provision for getting outside each week (or in a perfect world it would be every day).

Aim for three things in your nature study: to really see what you are looking at with direct and accurate observation, understand why the thing is so and what it means, and then to pique an interest in knowing more about the object.

What if my teen is still not interested in nature study?

Sometimes, despite all my efforts, my teens’ interest wasn’t equal to my interest in nature study.  I could take them to the most fascinating places to explore and they would just want to sit and talk or take a walk by themselves. The setting was perfect and the subjects abounded, but they are more interested in throwing rocks or digging a hole.

I knew the value of getting teens to get outside and see the wonderful things that existed right there under their noses. I knew I could not force them to do nature study but giving up was not an option. The answer is patience. The best way to handle this issue was to allow them the space and time to experience nature on their own terms.

In My Experience:

Here is a real-life example My two boys and I regularly made visits to my dad’s pond together.  When younger, they would go right to the business of scooping up water and critters and talking in excited voices about what they were finding. But once they reached the teen years, I noticed a different atmosphere, an attitude of “we’ve been here and done that”. I tried to remind myself that this was their normal teenage reaction to just about everything. They rarely appeared to be too excited on the outside. More often than not, they would later on relate the whole experience in a more favorable light to their dad or one of their siblings. Apparently, the outside of a teenager doesn’t accurately reflect the inside at all times.

So if you have older children and they appear to not be interested at first, don’t give up. It may be that they just aren’t showing it outwardly but inside the experiences are deeply affecting them. Don’t give up on the habit of nature study with your teens.

Enhancing a Nature Walk with Teens

Digital Photography: A love of the natural world does not come automatically for all children and sometimes we need to find a way to hook them into getting outdoors. Most of our children have a lot of screen time each week. Rarely are they without a device that has a camera function. Take advantage of this tool in enhancing your time outdoors!

Although there are advantages to taking a walk “unplugged”, there are distinct benefits to allowing your teens to take photos as part of their nature study time.

  • It slows them down.
  • Helps them focus and really see an object.
  • Everyday things in their own backyard can now be captured and viewed.
  • They can see the beauty.
  • They make their own connections.
  • Perfect for our teens…they are comfortable with the technology and love to share with their friends.

For more thoughts on nature photography, see the June 2014 Newsletter in the Ultimate Naturalist Library.

Ultimate Naturalist Library Members:

  • Three Steps to a Better Nature Study Experience posted in the Getting Back to Basics- The Habit of Nature Study section of the Library.
  • December 2012 Newsletter Article – Is Nature Study Relevant to High School Science?
  • June 2014 Newsletter – Nature Photography
  • August 2015 Newsletter – several articles on building a nature library (especially helpful are suggestions for field guides for older students to use in their studies)
  • May 2017 Newsletter Article – Interest Driven Learning – Ocean Creatures

More Nature Study ebooks and Nature Study Continues ebooks

Please remember that many of the OHCs include an Advanced Study option and accompanying notebook pages. If you are a member, please look in your Member’s Library to see which ebooks contain those suggestions for older students as part of the nature study lesson. My children used those lessons when they were in high school as part of their biology courses.

You may be interested in this entry found on my blog: Nature Study as Part of a Biology Course

Join Us Ultimate Naturalist June 2020

Members can click here to log into your account to download any of the Member’s items listed above.

If you are not a member here on the Handbook of Nature Study yet, please consider joining to gain the benefit of having a nature study library at your fingertips. There are numerous resources available for you to help create the habit of nature study within your family.

Please note that the Ultimate Naturalist Library will only be available until 12/31/2021. At that time my website will be shutting down.


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