Saturday, July 04, 2015

Homeschool Bee Nature Study For Teens

I think that a part of why we lay off nature study in our homeschool for a while was that I was struggling with how to take what we have always done - using The Outdoor Hour challenges - and stepping it up a bit so that it challenged my teens. 

I'm sure that someone who has gone on before me would say that it is a natural progression, but it was not so for me. I really felt that I wanted to take our nature studies deeper - not just touch on a new topic each week but rather really spend an extended length time on a focus area so that we all gain a deeper insight and thorough understanding of our topic. I needed to feel that we were progressing from our elementary processes into something more challenging for all of us.

 I'm sure that there must be other homeschoolers who are in the same boat so I have created a page (see top bar) entitled "Nature Study With Teens" where I shall share a detailed account of how we are implementing nature study with my  own homeschooled teens. These are not lesson plans but rather a picture as to how we are doing things. My hope is that it will encourage other homeschoolers of teens who are facing similar concerns.

Friday saw us instituting my 'shake-up' plans in our homeschool. We started the day with our daily devotions, moved onto our English and Maths lessons and then packed away the books in favour of our nature journals, paints and magnifying glasses.

I've chosen to look at bees as our first focus area. We will take 3 or 4 weeks for this study so that we can cover many different sub-topics and really observe the nature of bees, really form a connection and relationship which means that we  care about these little creatures and that we don't just 'move on to the next thing'. I suppose it's a bit of a unit study in a way.

My Own Prep Work:

Before starting our study I put together a binder into which I put laminated identification charts that we can take out into the field of bee species in the UK and of bee-friendly plants. I also wrote out detailed lesson plans for each week.

I listed the aims and goals I want to achieve for our study:

  • Modern day problems our bees face
  • Different UK species and their habitats (focus on a new species each week)
  • Identify and list bee-friendly plants and create a list in our journals. 
  • Bees as communicators
  • The Hive
  • Over the next year create a bee-friendly environment in our garden and build a bee hotel for solitary bees.
  • Visit a bee-keeper. The girls must take with them a list of questions of things they want to know about bee-keeping and about bees in general.

I read the section on Bees in The Handbook of Nature Study (pages 384 -400) highlighting bits that I want to share, questions I want to ask etc. Allot of these things were included in my lesson plans.

I made a list of activities and field trips that I want to tie into our study

I made sure that I had all the supplies that I need for this study stocked on the homeschool shelves.

Lesson 1:

This was an introductory lesson. I wanted to know how much my girls knew about bees and about their importance and their modern day challenges. So I started off by asking them to talk about what they knew about bees - I jotted down their answers. They knew quite a bit but there were certain things that they had made assumptions on that weren't quite accurate like all bees are social and live in hives and other things that they were unaware of such as their declining numbers and the reasons for that.

So allot of discussion went on as we spoke about the challenges the bees face, why their numbers are declining, what our world would be like without these pollinators, how we can help them etc.

I read a little from The Handbook on Bumblebees then we went outdoors to catch, identify and observe the bees that were visiting our garden.

This activity proved to be very engaging and the girls really enjoyed the identification process. They spent far longer than I thought they would catching these lovely insects.

What we discovered:

  • Bees are not just bees. In 45 minutes we tallied 7 different species

  • We identified flowers in our garden that the bees find most delicious - white clover being their most favourite food of all. As you can see above our lawn is full of it which makes for happy bees.

  • We observed from a few of our temporary captives how they brush down their furry bodies and pack the pollen into their little pollen baskets on their hind legs.

  • We observed their jointed legs, their 2 sets of wings, compound eyes and antennae. 

  • We observed that our little captives were much more relaxed if there was a clover flower in their temporary glass prison.

Of course a certain feline found our antics rather fascinating and gate-crashed the party causing a little distraction from the task at hand.

The last part of our lesson was to create our journal pages. I've decided to make it a habit to sit down with the girls and create my own journal page. Over the last two years I have slipped into a habit of letting them get on with it while I concentrate on housekeeping tasks. As a result my nature journal entries have been getting less and less frequent and as I mentioned in a post earlier on in the year I really want to change that. It was lovely to sit down with the girls and chat while we all painted and worked on our nature journals.

Miss V's entry...

Miss J's entry, she wanted to incorporate a bit of artistic license into her journal and why-ever-not? :) I love it...

and my own entry...

We have made a great start but already I can see one area that I want my girls to pay a bit more attention to - their nature journals. I love their drawings and to be honest if they didn't want to draw but rather past in photographs I would be happy with that too. But I do want to see more written observations and facts. My reasons are simple.

1. It makes a wonderful life-long record.

I personally love to page through my nature journal. Because I write observations not just on my focus area but also on the day, what we did, where we were, what the weather was like etc. It is a comprehensive 'picture' of that day. I am able to recall that memory vividly. It is a blessing in my life. I want my girls journals to be a constant blessing in their lives.

2. It's a great review tool

Lets face it - time can dim the memory of things that we learned and thought that we would never forget. If I note down my observations of - in this case - bees. I am reminded when I page back years later of what I learned.

And that's it really - simple, uncomplicated reasons.

I'm going to wrap up this post now as it has become extremely long! But I hope you will join me on this adventure of including nature study with teens in your own homeschools.


  1. Great stuff :)

    I love the photo of your girls with your cat. That is so sweet (pun with honeymakers intended ;))!

  2. A super post. I am sure that the girls will get so much out of their nature studies. We keep a hive of bees here and I love to sit with my morning coffee by the hive watching them coming and going. I visited the National Botanic Garden of Wales recently. They have a bee garden with about a dozen hives, one of which has a camera to watch the bees close-up. If you are ever in South Wales you are welcome to come and visit the bees.

  3. Fascinating read. When I was 11, my school had a competition... Keep a daily nature diary. Every day for 365 days I wrote and drew an entry. I won the prize of a book about wild flowers. But the best thing is I have two exercise books of a nature diary to treasure. Have you shown them the diary of an Edwardian Lady? Also you can attend a 6 week course on beekeeping through the beekeeping association, with practical sessions. Good luck. Saving the bees is a worthwhile endeavour.

  4. Love this post. It's really interesting.
    And your girls are very artistic! As a professional artist, I'm always so happy to see the new generations in love with color and brushes.

    1. Nature study and keeping a nature journal has been part of our homeschooling for so many years. These journals have become such treasures - I'm hoping that my girls will continue with them throughout their lives. It is so therapeutic to sit quietly out in nature and sketch and paint it's beauty.


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