Whatever is Lovely: Nature Study


“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

If you’ve been following this series, you know that Whatever is Lovely has turned out to be a very broad category! I’m glad to finish it up with this post on Nature Study. After this post, I’ll be moving on to the next part of the Home Library Builders series, Whatever is Admirable: The Classics.

Every home library should have a significant section devoted to nature study. Time spent outdoors, admiring and observing God’s creation, will shape a child’s soul. We read in Romans 1: 20 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

As our children are learning about the God of Creation through the Bible, let them also learn about God’s creation–and thereby more about the nature of the Creator Himself–through time spent outdoors.

The Nature Study library should have books and field guides to help us identify and learn more about what we find outdoors. It should also have Living Books which inspire the imagination and increase love for God and His world. Also, good biographies about famous naturalists belong on our shelves, as they help us gain insight into how man can be faithful in his dominion over the earth.

A Word of Caution

One must be cautious in purchasing books for a Nature Study library. Many science books are overtly or subtly evolutionary in nature. As a Christian creationist, I don’t believe that evolutionary books have a place on my shelves. I prefer to save the teaching of evolution for my older children, when it can be compared side by side alongside creation, in order to teach them what we believe and why, as well as how to defend their beliefs in our secular society. I don’t want to always have to pause as I am reading to my younger children to refute claims about evolution. For this reason, I am careful when purchasing books to choose titles that have no bias whatsoever, or books which have been written from a Christian creationist worldview.

I am also cautious about the tone of my books. Many modern-day children’s books have such a strong conservation message that they seem to place the creation above man. I am teaching my children to protect the environment, as this is our responsibility in exercising dominion over the earth. But many nature books go much further than this, causing feelings of guilt and fear that seem to me to have a political agenda more than anything. Typically the older classics don’t have this tone, but many secular science books written for children in the last ten years do.

A “Must Have” for Every Library

One book that belongs on any nature-lover’s shelf is Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study.
We have had this book for many years, and it has served us faithfully on many occasions. When we caught a praying mantis, this book told us what to feed it. When we see an insect we don’t recognize, there are copious drawings to help us make an identification.

Nature Study Outdoors

A kind reader commented that she likes my digressions. Please allow me a rabbit trail…A simple way to do Nature Study is to take a leisurely walk outside in the yard or at the park. Let the children find whatever draws their interest: insects, pine cones, flowers, interesting leaves, a bird perched in a tree, or anything in nature that captivates their attention. Spend some time observing what you find. Use a field guide or the internet to learn a bit about what you’ve found. Take a few minutes and let the children draw what they see, to the best of their ability. They can write or dictate a few notes about what they learned, or copy an appropriate poem, hymn, or Scripture verse alongside their drawing.

This kind of nature study can be done in as little as an hour a week, but the memories–and the nature notebook–will be treasured for years to come. For some inspiration about how an hour spent observing nature can yield rich conversation, humorous memories and an opportunity to disciple your children, read this post, written last year after our evening spent watching a lunar eclipse.

Many times these opportunities are seized, spur of the moment, when the children find something while playing in the yard. If you plan a few outings to observe nature with your children, you may find that they begin to spontaneously find things to observe as they begin to notice the world around them more and more.

Nature Journals

Back to books! It is always fun to browse what others have done in their nature notebooks. I was blessed to find a copy of Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady
at a London thrift store (for a quarter)! It never ceases to amaze me the treasures that unknowing people throw away. If you’ve read the Charlotte Mason Companion, you know what a find this was.

Ms. Holden kept her journal month-by-month, with watercolor drawings of the birds, flowers and plants she saw on her nature walks. There are also poems and related folklore for each month. This is the type of nature journaling that appeals to me, where drawings and related text are combined. When we kept nature journals I liked to have the children copy poems, hymns or pertinent Scripture verses alongside their drawings. I found a few copies of Holden’s book available online, used, for $6 here, and many public libraries also keep this classic on the shelves.

You can also find good ideas for nature journaling, and ideas for teaching children how to journal, in the book Keeping a Nature Journal by Leslie and Roth.

One resource that is helpful in teaching simple drawing techniques is Mona Brookes’ Drawing With Children. A couple of hours spent with this book will pay off with much more realistic nature drawings.

We have kept nature journals in the past, but this year my middle boys are keeping a notebook of their favorite birds. We have been using the North American Birds Notebooking Pages in the boys’ birding journals. We like the pages with a small thumbnail drawing of the bird, a blank range map, and a few lines for jotting down notes. The boys consult a field guide to color in the bird correctly, and they color the range map to reflect where the bird spends its summer and winter. Then they dictate information, such as when they first spotted that bird in the wild or an interesting fact they have learned about the bird. We keep these pages in page protectors in a 3-ring binder, with a free-hand drawing of the same bird on the facing page. They are also working on getting digital photos of birds that come to our feeder, with the goal of adding some photos to their notebook.

Field Guides

My boys have loved this project and they take great pride in their notebook. It is helpful to have some good field guides on hand when doing nature study. We absolutely love Kenn Kaufman’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America. I would love to get Kaufman’s Butterfly guide titled Butterflies of North America, as well. It’s on my Nature study wish list! The First Field Guide series put out by National Audubon society is a good one for kids.

We also love using Living Books for nature study. A Living Book is one that is written by a single author (not a textbook) in a captivating, conversational style. The book draws you in through its story and helps you to remember what you’ve learned.

Here are some of my favorite Living Books for Nature study:

We love the art book Linnea in Monet’s Garden, so I was thrilled to find Linnea’s Almanac and Linnea’s Windowsill Garden, both by Cristina Bjork.

Citizen Bird by Mabel Osgood Wright, which is out of print but available for free download by the Gutenberg Project.

Minn of the Mississippi and all the other Holling C. Holling books are wonderful. Each book has detailed drawings alongside an excellent story, weaving history, science and geography seamlessly together.

I do Naturalist studies with my children, similar to our Artist studies and Composer studies. I like picture books that introduce children to conservationists and naturalists, such as Audubon: Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier and John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist.

Nature Study for Emerging Readers

Nature study books are perfect for emerging readers. These are books that my children can read aloud to me, or silently to themselves to improve reading skills. I use easy readers such as John Muir: Rookie Biography for emerging readers,
Christian Liberty Press Nature Readers
(graded readers, progressing from level to level) and books from the Childhood of Famous Americans (titles on Muir and Audubon) for 3rd and 4th grade level readers.

I have not personally read The Boy Who Drew Birds or Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream, but I’m planning to get them through Inter Library Loan. Others that I haven’t read, but which look interesting to me, include Gregor Mendel: The Friar who Grew Peas, John Muir: My Life With Nature, The Flower Hunter and Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists (which includes a chapter about Anna Botsford Comstock).


  1. Molly,

    Thank you for sharing these titles with us! and for digressing. : )


  2. I wanted to let you know that I gave you an award. Come to my blog to see what you are supposed to do to claim it.



  3. I love all of the books you’ve recommended for Nature Study! Something that I’ve found very helpful to keep my boys’ interest in nature study going now that they’re older (15 & 16) is their involvement in Boy Scouts – their monthly camping trips (in all seasons) has given them an intimacy with the natural world, and expands their knowledge in a way that supplements the books we read and the walks we took when they were younger.

  4. Beautiful post. Of course, exploring nature is the best way to learn. But books certainly enhance our study and enjoyment. I have many of the titles you’ve linked here.

  5. I ♥ The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady! I have a few of the others you mention, but I’ll have to look for those I don’t yet have. Thanks for a great post!

  6. You’ve got some great info here.
    Here is someone else you might enjoy: http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/Keri/588649/

  7. Loved your post! You mentioned some great resources. Thanks for sharing! Be Blessed–Angie in GA

  8. I happened to be visiting my dad and noticed The Country Diary as a table top book! I was so ecstatic over it that my step m took pity on me and gave it to me. LOL She probably thought i was crazy how much i oood and aaaahhhd over it. ;D

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