Nature study is a habit we are trying to instill in our weekly rhythms. Getting ourselves out in nature can be as easy as taking walks or as complex as one would like to investigate and read up on a specimen of interest. My 7 & 5 year old daughters, along with my 2 year old son, really enjoy getting outside for fresh air and play, so taking a few moments out to examine birds or flowers & trees isn't too difficult. Of course, this easily gets forgotten and set aside without a plan, so I tend to follow the plans that I find at the Handbook for Nature Study
At this site, Barb posts weekly challenges to go study, and they tend to go along with the time of the year. We don't do much of it during the winter months, but we work hard at making time for it the rest of the year. There are a variety of challenges that a student can choose to do, and many have free downloads or printouts. A major tool that goes along with nature study is the book, Handbook for Nature Study, a rather thick book that is chock full of information and lessons to go with your specific study. You can buy this from bookstores like Amazon, or you can download it for free right now from the Homeschool Freebie. There are 6 parts to the download, so make sure you get every part.
While nature study sounds nice and maybe even fun, you may wonder why bother? I mean, is there enough learning going on here to totally skip doing other science? I suppose that's really up to you and what you're looking for in elementary science. I choose to follow a curriculum during the winter months, because it's cold and snowy in Michigan. But here's why I choose to incorporate it the rest of the year.
I believe that in giving our children "regular opportunities to get in touch with God's creation, a habit is formed which will be a source of delight throughout their lives." (A Charlotte Mason Companion, p. 253)
Children need to be taught to observe carefully the world around them, and a way we do this is by creating a nature notebook, where the girls draw or color pictures of what we've been observing. They also add a few notes, such as where and when the item was observed, and maybe a few sentences about it.
As we studied violets outdoors in our yard, I brought out our Handbook for Nature Study and read a few things about violets. The book contained far more than was appropriate to teach to a 1st grade and younger, such as petioles and stipules (meaning, Mama didn't know what those were yet), but we did discuss how the violets were shaped, how many petals there were, what color the center of the flower was, and the leading lines into the center where the nectar is.
I took pictures of the violets so we could continue the study indoors, and Hannah picked a few and made this bouquet that fit into a curled piece of bark. I thought it was quite creative and pretty! She also picked a few so we could try pressing some flowers.
A few days after this, we got out our watercolor paints and first sketched and then painted the violets. For Makenna, 5, this was the first time she sketched out a picture before painting. She decided to include a variety of colors, so we came up with bluebells, poppies and snapdragons to go along with her violets.
Hannah was more careful in her approach. She made sure that the violet in her sketch contained the 5 petals that she observed.
Hannah, age 7
Makenna, age 5