Jul 31, 2014

Getting to Know the Backyard

My daughter Alice has already begun school with her three school aged children. It's early, but she wants to get a jump on things. Beginning in July enables her to take GUILT FREE time off between Thanksgiving and the new year, and still get in a full year's work.

As I mentioned before, I wanted to be involved with Alice's homeschooling, to be of some help to her, and nature study seemed like the perfect area in which to lend a helping hand. Consistent nature study can often be challenging with all the demands of academics, cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc, constantly breathing down mama's neck. So with that in mind my plan is to spend time with my grandchildren once a week focused on nature study.

Earlier in the summer we all went to a local nature preserve for a walk.  I plan to take them back there on a regular basis so they can see the changes throughout the year. But right outside their door lies a world unto itself just waiting to be explored. Their own backyard.

I think most of us take our backyards for granted. We think, what's the big deal with the backyard? How exciting can the backyard be?  It's as if we don't see the forest for the trees. We rarely, rarely take the time to look closely and notice details. It's quite amazing what can be found right right under our noses if we will just use our senses and observe!

Recently I went over to their house to do just that; explore the backyard. We started in one corner and walked around slowly from one end of the yard to the other. I asked them to open their eyes and see what they could find. Their discoveries exceeded my expectations! All three of them were eager to find what they could.

Some children are born naturalists, with a  bent inherited, perhaps, from an unknown ancestor; but every child has a natural interest in the living things about him which it is the business of his parents to encourage... (Vol 1, Home Education p 58)

We found spider webs with BIG spiders 

and some with no spiders at all, yellow/orange mushrooms growing in the grass, Indian strawberries, pine cones, the wings from a butterfly (only wings and nothing else), bindweed growing up and along the fence just beginning to flower, and various other weeds scattered here and there along the fences and among the bushes. Like me, they don't spend inordinate amounts of time creating a pristine yard!

In the very back corner of the yard we found a young red bud tree trying to grow among some weeds, and next to that, one lone orange blooming daylily. We noticed how different from each other the leaves were on the various plants in the yard. Some leaves were quite big while others were very small. Some were lobed, some heart shaped, some jagged like razors but not at all sharp. We found a rose bush with no roses but lots of thorns (talk about sharp!) and were careful not to get too close.

 It is infinitely well worth the mother's while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation.  (Vol 1, Home Education p 71)

The backyard has 5 mature trees and each of the children chose a tree they wanted to claim as their own...their very own trees that they will observe throughout the year, noticing the changes from season to season.

Joseph and Charlotte each chose one of the two very tall maple trees, so tall we couldn't reach any of the leaves. I'm not sure exactly what kind of maple but I'm thinking they're silver maples.  Joseph decided his tree would be perfect to build a tree house in since the branches were widely spread. He also noticed a hole in the trunk up among the branches that looked like the perfect home for a squirrel. Charlotte's eyes got big as she excitedly talked about the squirrel she has seen going and coming from Joseph's tree.

Joseph's tree

Charlotte's tree
Calvin's tree

Calvin chose the only pine tree in the yard. Again, I have no idea exactly what kind of pine tree it is. They found pine cones and pine needles on the ground too. He was surprised the pine needles lying on the ground were leaves. Leaves? They don't look like leaves!

They took guesses as to how big around the trunks were. Joseph's guess of 54" was surpassed by three times. His tree measured 154 inches around. Charlotte's tree was just a tad smaller at 147 1/2 inches and Calvin's was 97 inches.

All in all I'd say we had a very successful backyard exploration. They very definitely kept their eyes open and I'd say they were pleased with all that they discovered.

I have some ideas of how we can build on what was begun that day...Next time I'll bring magnifying glasses and maybe even the microscope that we used when studying biology with my older daughters. Wouldn't those butterfly wings look interesting under a microscope...or the mushrooms, or a blade of grass, or a leaf, or, you name it?

There's so much to see! What discoveries have you made recently in your backyard?


  1. Sounds like you all had a wonderful nature study day! And what a great idea for the kids to each choose a tree as their own to observe throughout the seasons!

  2. Hi Karen, Thanks for stopping by. Having their own trees to study will be fun, but I'm thinking Calvin, who is only 6 may lose interest early on since his pine tree won't provide many changes to observe. Good thing there are 2 other trees in the backyard and 1 in the front in case he wants to make a change later on.


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