Sneezing and itching! Slapping yourself because you feel the mosquitoes swarming. Calling it quits after a few minutes outside because you feel your eye swelling shut. This is my experience with the great outdoors during most times of the year. If you are like me, don’t worry. Homeschool nature studies aren’t the only type of science for homeschoolers.
Seasonal allergies aren’t the only reason you may not like going outside to explore. I asked. “What do you hate about nature studies?” and one of my readers got straight to the point, “Bugs, frogs, dirt, weather, collecting things and taking them home.”
It can almost feel like you are letting your kids down in the homeschooling world. There are entire branches of homeschool methodology that rely on nature study for the science component.
It can cause all the mom guilt, but then I get real. I’m all about realism. The reality is that taking my kids that have issues with focus out into the woods to draw nature while 2/3 of us are miserable with allergies and the other one needs to “make good time” is not a learning adventure that has a big return on investment. I like hiking, but if we learn something along the way I need it to be accidental rather than the entire purpose.
The great thing is that homeschool nature studies are only one branch of life science and a small portion of science as a whole. You might be asking, what are the alternatives? I’m glad you asked.
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7 Alternatives to Nature Studies
Biology is composed of all the disciplines known as life sciences; there are many subdisciplines that don’t do anything with the outside. It probably won’t surprise you to find out that my field of study is one of them. My specialty is human medical physiology.
I actually went to grad school at a medical college and took classes with medical students on how the human body works. I was not exposed to the natural elements – well, except I went to grad school where it was so cold that your tears froze, but that is a story for another time.
If literature is about exposure to the classics for a shared experience, science is about understanding the basic scientific principles of the world and how they impact our daily lives. The necessity of scientific knowledge is never more important than when a loved one receives a serious diagnosis.
We need to prepare our kids to not only be ready for academic options once they are finished homeschooling, but a big goal of science education is to create an educated consumer of all things related to science including healthcare to pesticides.
Natural History Museums.
You can go in person or online. Natural history museums are a great alternative or addition to traditional nature studies. One of our favorites has several dinosaur models and an awesome megalodon jaw to give kids an idea of how large they are.
Hands-on Science Museums
There are lots of science museums all over the U.S. and the majority have some level of reciprocity to members (with restrictions) so we join one of our local ones and use our membership in other areas of the country all year.
Zoos & Botanical Gardens
This is still outside (for the most part), but you probably aren’t going to get poison ivy. Our local zoo is great. The kids get exposure to animals they would never see in the wild (and some I hope they would never see. No, thank you, Anaconda!).
Our zoo is currently going through an expansion. There is also some level of reciprocity for other zoos in the association of zoos and aquariums. We have gone to the Oklahoma City Zoo with our zoo membership for instance. Our zoo also has homeschool programs for a small fee that are awesome.
State and National Parks
Just because I don’t love formal homeschool nature studies and we have allergies doesn’t mean we hate the entire outdoors. We don’t and we try to visit some of our amazing state and national parks.
Most of these parks will also have a visitor’s center that might even have a mini-museum that is worth visiting with your kids. These are often our favorite parts. Although our kids really enjoyed checking out the gravestones at a local battlefield last year.
I am part of the generation that is more than familiar with Wild Kingdom and other documentaries and it is my exposure to that which caused me to hate animal movies/documentaries. Something is always dying which I understand is the circle of life, but that doesn’t make it less sad.
Disney has a great science documentary series called DisneyNature and we also still like to watch episodes of The Crocodile Hunter.
You can either choose to do physical or virtual dissections to help kids understand the structure of plants and animals. Dissections are powerful and can sway a kid’s opinion about science, I know it was dissection that got me hooked.
I always suggest that you talk about guidelines and respect for the sacrifice that was made in order to be able to dissect. Ground rules at the beginning help a lot.
Hands-On Science Kits
There are lots of great companies that offer hands-on science kits. As a whole, you will pay more money than you would by gathering the materials yourself. You are paying for the convenience.
There are science kits on sites like Amazon, but there are also subscription services that work too. If you have the budget, try a few different things out.
Let go of the pressures of the perfect homeschool and just experiment and have fun!
If budget is a constraint then try to do it yourself science. There are affordable resources that are readily available. For younger kids, I love STEAM Kids and Building Foundations of Scientific Knowledge. For middle grades, I suggest my ebook, The Lab Bench, which has the step-by-step resources to get you started doing hands-on science.
If you aren’t a lover of nature studies, like me, or a rainy day changes your plans these seven homeschool nature study alternatives are great ways to create science experiences that you and the kids will love.