Nature study is often reserved for spring, summer, and fall during the “nicer” weather; however, winter has great opportunities for nature study! In fact, as life slows down, it seems like we have more time to interact with nature as well.
Bird studies! We purposely put a bird feeder right out our front windows where the boys always play. Sure they fly away briefly when we first come out, yet they are in a high traffic place for us to observe on a regular basis. Try participating in a bird count or project feeder watch to include citizen science opportunities. We keep bird books by the windows, yet really enjoy our homemade bird books. Find a local winter bird hike.
Visit a nature center or wildlife-viewing window. We have at least 8 wildlife-viewing windows within an hour of our house. It’s great to see the feeding stations hopping at these. Each place has a unique set of birds with identification helps nearby. There are also several nature centers nearby. We can check out the exhibits, looking for specific study items (owls, rocks, fossils, mammals, etc.), use the nature play areas inside or out, or attend a great program, like a winter wildflower hike!
Check out the tracks! On sunny days with little wind, we drop everything to get outside! Hikes through favorite spots yield quite different results than what we find during the summer. With most of the leaves down, we find nests hidden all summer, can see birds more easily, and count dreys (squirrel nests) as we walk. It’s a perfect time to discover animal tracks, trying to recreate what might have happened, whether a squirrel was digging an acorn or a coyote chased a rabbit.
Read about nature. I love snuggling up to a good book when it’s cold outside. Make it a nature selection! Form a book group and/or record what you learn in your nature journals.
Study nature indoors. Try science experiments, cooking with local foods (make your own maple syrup!), and exploring your seasonal nature table. We typically keep rock and fossil studies for wintertime as it’s an easy indoor study.
Explore the many properties of snow. We love looking at snowflakes in the Handbook of Nature Study on pages 781-786. The photos by W.A. Bentley show the detail of snowflakes. We bring snow inside for nature play; take in a program on snow; experiment with water, snow, and color outside; and even make snow ice cream!
Study the stars. With the earlier sunset, we find it easy to gaze up at the stars as we go back and forth between activities in the winter. It’s great that we can see Orion and Cassiopeia at 7 pm!
Take time for fun! We love combining recreational activities with nature studies. When outside using the toboggan run, snowshoeing, tubing, or sledding, we naturally find ourselves asking questions, making hypotheses, and sharing observations with others. As we make snow people, snow animals, and snowballs, we readily notice differences in snow and nature around us.
This was first published in the December 2014 Handbook of Nature Study newsletter. It's a great resource!