Real Life Homeschooling in Your Own Backyard

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At this point in our back-to-school schedule, we still have a few free afternoons each week. Our weekly homeschool enrichment programs, such as worship dance, PE Plus, AWANA, and our girls book club co-op are just getting started for the fall, so we’ve been using the remaining free afternoons for projects and some outdoor observation time.

One of my favorite “real life” homeschooling activities is to observe the outdoors. Living in Colorado is such a blessing when it comes to places we can go to experience God’s creation, however cloudy days like today are perfect for exploring right outside the front and back doors. In recent days we’ve had a lot to observe outside in our backyard: we’ve been harvesting fresh food from our backyard garden, we’ve studied a few different birds that frequent our trees, we’ve watched thunderstorms move in and out, and today, we discovered a new caterpillar that we’d never seen before — in fact, two of them! — moving through the grass and looking very out of place.


Although I’m more of an eclectic homeschooler than a traditional Charlotte Mason method follower, I do appreciate her perspectives on notebooking and nature study. This year, I want to make a more organized effort to bring homeschooling off the kitchen table and outside our doors as much as possible, because why not? Why simply read about what we can experience and interact with? Opportunities for learning are everywhere, all the time — we just need to make time for them.

Here’s what we do with our outdoors observation time:

  • Sit quietly: Amazing what you hear when you’re completely silent!
  • Breathe: What do you smell? Is the air moist or dry? Does it make you sneeze?
  • Watch carefully: Whatever you’re looking at, watch it for a few minutes (even if it’s just a plant or tree). What colors do you see? Where does it come from? How does it move? Where is it going?
  • Sketch & photograph: Draw a quick sketch of what you see. Sometimes we’ll also take photos, but the sketch goes in their notebooks along with their observational notes.
  • Interact: Can you touch it? Catch it? Save a sample? Can you taste it?
  • Record: Jot down more notes on the experience or interaction that you want to remember. Was it exciting? Scary? Funny? What was the weather like? What time of day?
  • Research: Write down any questions you have about what you’re observing that you want to find answers for. Then search for the answers using your favorite resources (online, in books, at the library).
  • Expand: What did you learn? Do you have more unanswered questions? How would you tell someone about it?

Real Life Homeschooling caterpillar study

Back to the caterpillar: Because I’m really not a fan of worms, insects, etc., I let the girls capture one in a jar so we could study it more closely from a “safe” distance. The girls made notes on their observations about the chubby green guy, and then we pulled out the iPad to start doing some research. When we found mention that our caterpillar might be a hummingbird moth (aka sphinx moth) larvae, the girls went back outside to find a large moth they had remembered seeing yesterday. Sure enough, we found a sphinx moth napping in a corner of the front porch. Since caterpillars like these are sometimes known as tomato horn worms, we also checked our garden and — phew! — no ruined tomatoes or signs of more there.

After our observation time and snapping a new photos, we let our caterpillar out into the grass and far from our garden. The girls wanted to save it to feed and watch it create a cocoon, but being that this was not a cute, fuzzy, pretty little caterpillar, I was happy to let the big guy go. We’re planning to keep watch more closely in the garden and see what else materializes as the season is starting to change.

Want to read about more real life homeschooling adventures? Visit this month’s Real Life Homeschooling Blog Hop & Link-Up! You’ll find real life homeschooling examples from homeschooling mamas across the country. Share your own or tell us about your real life homeschooling adventures in the comments below!