10 Things to Do for Summer Nature Study (free printable!)

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“I believe that a child’s interest in outdoor life is a kind of hunger, as natural as his interest in bread and butter. He cannot live on bread and butter alone but he ought not to try to live without them. He cannot be educated on nature study alone, but he ought not to be educated without it. To learn to obey and reason and feel — these are the triple ends of education, and the greatest of these is to learn to feel. The teacher’s word for obedience; the arithmetic for reasoning  and for feeling, for the cultivation of the imagination, for the power to respond quickly and deeply, give the child the out-of-doors.”

Dallas Lore Sharp, Summer

This week, I’m continuing the series I started last year and sharing another list from Dallas Lore Sharp’s Summer. In this chapter, he provided suggestions for things to do during the summer, and all of them are worthy pursuits (and many are easy to add to a nature walk)!

As with the other lists, I’m providing links where I can to hopefully make these tasks a little easier for you, especially as Sharp was in New England, and some of the things he mentions are not in other areas. We have been pleasantly surprised, however, when we’ve looked up a few things he mentioned, assuming they were only in his area, and discovered they were also here in Colorado.

Again, if you haven’t checked out his series of season books, I can’t recommend them enough for nature study! We got into the habit of reading from them a few years ago for ten minutes each week during our morning time, and we all look forward to that time. His books are truly living as he wrote in a conversational style that educates and inspires a greater interest in his topics. It’s very evident in everything he wrote that he had a passion for nature.

And now for the list! You can find a free printable version at the end of the post!

10 Ideas for Summer Nature Study


First, select some bird or beast or insect that lives with you in your dooryard or house or near neighborhood, and keep track of his doings all summer long, jotting down in a diary your observations. You might take the white-faced hornet that builds the big paper nests in the trees; or the mud wasp, or the toad under the steps, or the swifts in the chimney, or the swallows in the barn. It hardly matters what you take, for every life is interesting. The object is to learn how to follow up your study, how to watch one life long enough, and under circumstances different enough, to discover its manysidedness, its fascination and romance. Such careful and prolonged study will surely reveal to you something no one else has seen, too. It will be good training in patience and independence.


Along with this study of one life, keep a list of all the beasts, birds, insects, flowers, etc., that live — I mean, that build nests or dig holes and rear families — in your dooryard or in this “haunt” that I told you in The Spring of the Year you ought to pick out as your own field of study. This list will grow all through the summer and from year to year. I have a list of seventy-six wild neighbors (not counting the butterflies and insects) that are sharing my fourteen-acre farm with me. How many and what wild things are sharing your dooryard, your park, your favorite haunt or farm with you? Such a list of names, with a blank place left for each where observations can be entered from time to time, would be one of the most useful and interesting journals you could keep.


All through June and into July you should have a round of birds’ nests that you visit daily, and to which you can take your friends and visitors — that is, if you live in or near the country. One will be in the big unused chimney of the house, perhaps, and that will be the first; then one in the barn, or in a bird-house in the yard; or in the pear- or apple tree hole; one in the lilac or honeysuckle bushes, and then down into the orchard, out into the meadow, on into the woods and back — taking in twenty to thirty birds’ nests with eggs and young! Did you ever do it? Can you do it this summer? Don’t you think it would be quite as exciting and interesting as going to the circus? I can do it; and if you come out to Mullein Hill in June or July, any one of my small boys will take you on his “birds’ nest round.”


You should camp out — even if you have to pitch your tent in the back yard or up on the roof! You should go to sleep on a bed of boughs, — pine, or spruce, or hickory, if possible, — or swing your hammock between the trunks of sweet-smelling forest trees, and turn your face up to the stars! You will never want to sleep in a room with closed windows after that. To see the stars looking down upon you; to see the tree-tops swaying over you; to feel the fresh night wind stealing across your face and breathing into your very soul— yes, you must sleep at least one night this summer right out on a bed of boughs; but with a blanket of wool and a piece of sail-cloth or rubber coat over you and under you, and perhaps some mosquito-netting.


But you must not build a fire in the woods, unless you have a guide or older people with a permit along. Fires are terrible masters, and it is almost as dangerous to build a fire in the woods as to build one in the waste-paper basket in the basement of some large store. Along the seashore or by the margin of a river or lake, if you take every precaution, it might be safe enough; but in the woods, if camping out, make all preparations by clearing a wide space down to the bare ground, then see that it is bare ground and not a boggy, rooty peat-bed beneath, that will take fire and smoulder and burn away down under the surface out of sight, to break through, perhaps, a week after you have gone, and set the whole mountain-side afire. Build your fire on bare, sandy earth; have a shovel and can of water at hand, and put the fire out when you are done with it. It is against the law in most States to set a fire out of doors after the 1st of April, without a permit from the fire-warden.

Now, after this caution, you ought to go out some evening by the shore with a small party and roast some green corn in the husk; then, wrapping some potatoes in clay, bake them; if you have fish, wrap them in clay with their scales on, and bake them. The scales will come off beautifully when the clay is cracked off, and leave you the tastiest meal of fish and potatoes and corn you ever ate. Every boy and girl ought to have a little camp-life and ought to have each his share of camp-work to perform this summer.


At the close of some stifling July day you ought to go out into the orchard or woods and watch the evening come on—to notice how the wild life revives, flowers open, birds sing, animals stir, breezes start, leaves whisper, and all the world awakes.

Then follow that up by getting out the next morning before sunrise, say at half-past three o’clock, an hour before the sun bursts over the eastern hills. If you are not a stump or a stone, the sight and the: smell—the whole indescribable freshness and wonder of it all— will thrill you. Would you go to the Pyramids or Niagara or the Yellowstone Park? Yes, you would, and you would take a great deal of trouble to see any one of these wonders! Just as great a wonder, just as thrilling an experience, is right outside of your bedroom early any June, July, or August morning! I know boys and girls who never saw the sun get up!


You ought to spend some time this summer on a real farm. Boy or girl, you need to feel ploughed ground under your feet; you need the contact with growing things in the ground; you need to handle a hoe, gather the garden vegetables, feed the chickens, feed the pigs, drive the cows to pasture, help stow away the hay—and all the other interesting experiences that make up the simple, elemental, and wonderfully varied day of farm life. A mere visit is not enough. You need to take part in the digging and weeding and planting. The other day I let out my cow after keeping her all winter in the barn. The first thing she did was to kick up her heels and run to a pile of fresh earth about a newly planted tree and fall to eating it—not the tree, but the earth, the raw, rich soil—until her muzzle was muddy halfway to her eyes. You do not need to eat it; but the need to smell it, to see it, to feel it, to work in it, is just as real as the cow’s need to eat it.


You ought to learn how to browse and nibble in the woods. What do I mean? Why, just this: that you ought to learn how to taste the woods as well as to see them. Maurice Thompson, in Byways and Bird Notes, a book you ought to read (and that is another “ought to do” for this summer), has a chapter called “Browsing and Nibbling” in which his mountain guide says: “What makes me allus a-nibblin’ an’ a-browsin’ of the bushes an’ things as I goes along? I kinder b’lieve hit keeps a feller’s heart stiddy an’ his blood pure for to nibble an’ browse kinder like a deer does. You know a deer is allus strong an’ active, an’ hit is everlastin’ly a-nibblin’ an’ a-browsin’. Ef hit is good for the annymel, hit otter be good for the feller.”

The guide may not be right about the strength to be had from tasting the roots and barks and buds of things, but I know that I am right when I tell you that the very sap of the summer woods will seem to mingle with your blood at the taste of the aromatic sassafras root, the spicy bark of the sweet birch and the biting bulb of the Indian turnip. Many of the perfumes, odors, resins, gums, saps, and nectars of the woods can be known to you only by sense of taste.


“But I shall bite into something poisonous,” you say. Yes, you must look out for that, and you must take the pains this summer to learn the poisonous things of our woods and fields. So before you begin to browse and nibble, make a business of learning the deadly nightshade with its green or its red berries; the poison sumach with its loose panicles or clusters of grayish-white berries; the three-leaved poison ivy or “ground oak” (which you can easily tell from the five-leaved Virginia creeper); and the deadly mushrooms with their bulbous roots. These are the poisonous plants that you will meet with most frequently, but there are a few others, and it will be safest not to nibble any plant that is strange to you. Nor am I suggesting that you make a meal on the pitch of the pine trees or anything else. Do not eat any of these things; taste them only. I was once made desperately ill by eating poke root (I was a very little child) which I took for sweet potato. Poke berries are not good to eat. Take along a few good sandwiches from home to eat. But learn to know the mints, the medicinal roots and barks, and that long list of old-fashioned “herbs” that our grandmothers hung from the garret rafters and made us take occasionally as “tea.”


Finally, as a lover of the woods and wild life, you ought to take a personal responsibility for the preservation of the trees and woods in your neighborhood, and of the birds and beasts and other lowlier forms of wild life. Year by year the wild things are vanishing never to return to your woods, and never to be seen again by man. Do what you can to stop the hunting and ignorant killing of every sort. You ought to get and read “Our Vanishing Wild Life,” by William T. Hornaday, and then join the growing host of us who, alarmed at the fearful increase of insect pests, and the loss to the beauty and interest of the out-of-doors through the extermination of wild life, are doing our best to save the wild things we still have and to increase their numbers.

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