It can be very tempting to put aside nature study in the wintry months – but there is plenty to observe and learn even in the sleepy winter season. Nature study has become a really important aspect to our homeschool routine, and being a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool it really is foundational to our curriculum. But here’s the thing – I am not known to be a very big fan of snow and cold, so I’m not exactly running out the door to go hiking in the winter. However, living in Northern Ontario – I’ve had to learn to embrace our long winters. Not only for homeschooling purposes, but getting out and about is necessary for our mental and emotional well-being too! So, read on to learn the 5 winter nature study activities that have even gotten THIS non-winter-person out and active!
5 Winter Nature Study Ideas:
1. Backyard Birding – If you’re lucky enough to have a few trees in your yard, keep an eye out for the winter birds who have stuck around. We love keeping track of which birds we see in the winter months! Last year, we kept a running tally on our blackboard (you can use a whiteboard, or even just a piece of paper kept close by your favourite bird-watching spot!) of which birds we saw, what time of day they popped by, and what they were eating. Speaking of winter eating habits, we also loved making homemade bird-feeders and leaving seeds around the yard for our feathered friends to find. Our winters can be harsh, so helping the winter birds find and forage for food not only helps the birds, but it keeps them coming to our place to visit!
2. Animal Tracks – Winter is a GREAT time of year to spot animal tracks in the snow. Head to your favourite hiking spot, or walking trail (or if you’re lucky, check out your own backyard!) and watch for tracks. We’ve had a lot of fun trying to identify what the animal is who made the tracks, and learning more about them. Draw the track in your nature journal, and when you get home – look up in a local guidebook or online, to see if your guesses were right.
3. Nighttime Nature Walks – Since the days are short and the nights are long, winter is a great opportunity for “nighttime nature study”. Where I am, it gets dark around dinner time, so we can head outdoors to check out the night sky – and not have to worry about staying up ridiculously late. If you’re lucky to live where there isn’t a lot of light pollution, you can bundle up, make a thermos of hot cocoa, and do some star-gazing. On a crisp, clear winter evening the stars in the sky are so bright! If you’ve found a few constellations in the summer months, see what you can spy in the winter – our view of the stars changes with the seasons.
4. Build A Winter Shelter – Learning how to build a ‘quinzee’ makes for a GREAT snow-Fort in the backyard, but it can also come in handy if you’re ever in an emergency in the snow. Scoop snow into a large pile, ideally as high as you are. Wait for at least 20 mins but the longer the better, for it to harden and settle. Start tunnelling out at the bottom to make an entrance and then hollow out the “cave” of the inside. Make sure you keep the walls at least a foot thick. Once you’ve got your shelter all done – make some hot cocoa, and hang out in the quinzee for some winter poetry sharing!
5. Keep A Weather Log – In your nature journal, keep track of when the sun rises and sets, what the temperatures were, and what the weather conditions were. This is something that can be done from INSIDE the home – so on those extra cold or blizzardy days, you can still observe nature from the cozy warmth of your home. You can watch for patterns in the weather – does it feel warmer on sunny days, or is it colder? You can also track how much snow has fallen, what the moon phases are, and eventually you can watch for signs of impending spring!
Nature study may not seem do-able in the winter months – particularly if you live somewhere with harsher winters. But hopefully, these winter nature study activities will keep you warm and active and most importantly – having FUN while you learn. If I can do it, ANYONE can!
Some of my favourite winter nature study resources:
Knee High Nature: Winter – a great selection of winter nature activities, we pull this one out each winter and it’s one of my faves!
Winter Poems – a beautifully illustrated collection of winter-inspired poetry. Perfect for sharing while you hang out in your winter shelter!
A Child’s Guide To The Night Sky – not specifically about winter, but this is a beautiful resource to aid you on your winter nighttime nature walks.