Nature study


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  • Morgan1

    Hi everyone, I was watching the SCM video on long term nature study with Karen and Sonya. I left that video with a renewed curiosity and a very unsatisfactory knowledge on nature. I wish Karen would write a book or make a movie about all her nature knowledge and experiences. Things to do to spark that curiosity and want for knowledge for us all and how to go about it in our daily lives!

    Wishing and Watching


    Karen Smith

    I was blessed to grow up in a family that went camping a lot and was given the freedom to explore the nature around me. In addition to all the camping, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience of spending my 6th year of education in a program that was focused on science and nature. So I grew up gaining knowledge and experiences in nature that turned into a lifetime habit I do without even thinking about it.

    Not everyone is blessed with the childhood I had, but let me encourage you to begin building your knowledge of nature now. The best way to develop a curiosity for nature is to begin with something that interests you. Do you like plants, animals, birds, insects, rocks, weather, chemical reactions? Start there, whatever it is. Take the time to notice a little more every time you see something in your area of interest. As you gain more knowledge and experiences, add in something else from another category.

    To get your kids interested, tell them nature study is like a treasure hunt. The treasure is knowledge of things in our world around us. You can pique their interest by giving them some general things to look for when you do nature study (or anytime you are outside, because some of the best nature studies are unplanned). Wherever you are doing nature study —in your yard, at a park, while you are camping, at the beach — give your kids 2 or 3 general things to look for. For example, ask your children to find two different types of mushrooms, evidence of squirrels, two different types of birds, three different types of insects, three plants that grow near the shore, two different bird songs, the buzzing of a bee, the chirping of a cricket, something that smells good and something that smells bad, or something bumpy and something smooth, basically anything that you know they will be able to find if they use their senses.

    For long term nature study, choose something you know you will see over an extended period of time. A stump, a tree at a local nature preserve that has fallen over, a pond, your bird feeders at home to name a few. Then, be intentional about observing that thing over weeks, months, or years. I mentioned the bird feeders at home because if you keep the feeders stocked with food and offer a variety of food, you will observe more birds over time as they discover what you have to offer. Also, watch for birds that migrate through your area but are only in your yard for a short time before moving on with their migration. I have been feeding birds at my home for almost 30 years. The beginning years only the most common birds came to my feeders: house finches, house sparrows, cardinals, grackles, starlings, and chickadees. Now I still have those same species of birds coming to my feeders, but also downy, hairy, and other woodpeckers, gold finches, other sparrow species, orioles in the spring, hummingbirds galore at my hummingbird feeders, juncos, cat birds, red-winged blackbirds, grosbeaks, various warblers to my birdbaths, robins, an occasional bluebird, and more.

    Another thing that will help you gain knowledge of nature is to use a field guide to help you identify your nature finds, rather than using an app to tell you what it is. The process of using a field guide to identify what you find will teach you how to observe better, what to observe, and give you an idea of things in nature that look similar to what you are identifying. There is a learning curve to figuring out how to use a field guide, but you will learn far more than just the name of what you are identifying if you put forth the effort to use it.

    The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to have a knowledge of nature to begin nature study. You gain that knowledge by continuing to do nature study. And whatever knowledge you do gain will make your life richer as you begin and continue to make friends with the things in nature.

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