In this episode of “Your Morning Basket,” host Pam Barnhill and co-host Heather Tully, a mom of ten and a veteran Morning Time homeschooler, discuss the enriching experience of nature study. Parents will discover the benefits of incorporating nature study into their homeschool routine, learning how it can foster observation skills, connect children with science in a vivid and approachable way, and significantly benefit mental wellness by encouraging outdoor time.

This episode covers practical tips for making nature study a seamless part of Morning Time, including building drawing and watercoloring skills as well as choosing specific topics for deeper exploration. Listen in for inspiring strategies to bring the wonders of the natural world into your homeschool.

[00:04] Pam: Are you ready for homeschooling to feel joyful again? Do you want to build closer relationships, remove some of the stress around planning, and enjoy learning with your children? Welcome to your morning basket. I’m Pam Barnhill, a homeschool mom just like you, and I’m going to show you the magic and fulfillment that Morning Basket or Morning Time can bring to your home school. Grab your coffee or tea and let’s get started.

[00:32] Pam: Heather Tully is a mom of ten kids who’s been practicing morning time in her home for over 20 years. As a documentary photographer, she seeks to capture the wonder in everyday life. You can find her online at where she shares her work and photos of her family from their Georgia home. Heather is also the co-author of the book gather, exploring the wonder, wisdom and worship of learning at home. Heather, welcome back to the podcast.

[01:00] Heather: Thanks for having me, Pam.

[01:01] Pam: I hear that you have like a fabulous co-author on that Gather book of yours.

[01:07] Heather: The best co-author.

[01:09] Pam: Okay, so if you haven’t figured it out, Heather and I wrote that book together. It came out a couple years ago. And I love that book because it is just the best way for families to get a peek into what morning time looks like. And you just really ran the gamut with the families that you chose to photograph because you did all of that part. So, tell us about the families that you chose for the book.

[01:34] Heather: Yeah, I think there was around eight families, so there was my family, and then I came and documented your family and then several others in different states. So it was great to get a peek into their lives, into what Gather time was for each one. We had a wide range of ages of children, from babies all the way to high schoolers. And so I learned a lot. I was inspired. And then we just gleaned a bunch of tips that we then put into the book.

[02:03] Pam: Yeah. And one of the things I love about it, it was such a diverse group. And you had like families with one kid, and then I think you had the most. So all the way up to your family of ten kids, you win the award like every time for the most. And then just such a wide range of ages. Some families where the kids were close together, somewhere they were spread apart, somewhere all the kids were little, somewhere they were all older. So yeah, just if you haven’t checked out Gather, do go check it out. You can find it at And one of the things that we talked about in Gather was some very practical ways to do nature study. And we wanted to bring that back. We’ve met a couple of times and talked on the podcast here about some of the other subjects that we talked about and Gather. I think we’ve done geography already, and maybe grammar. We’ll find the episodes and link. Yeah, Heather’s like, I don’t remember either geography.

[03:00] Heather: I’m trying to remember what else we.

[03:02] Pam: Yeah, yeah. So we’ll find those episodes and link them in kind of the series that Heather and I are doing on really some practical aspects of morning time. But we are talking about nature study today. So as we get started, give me just a little recap, a quick recap for our listeners. Like, what is morning time looking like in your family right now?

[03:25] Heather: Okay. Right now? Yes. Pam asked me just before we got on how’s your day? And I was like, it’s been busy because I just left Morning Time, and it’s afternoon. So on Thursdays, it has to be pushed to the afternoon because we have Spanish classes that are in the morning. So I’ve got seven students this year, so high schoolers down to a first grader, and we meet about four days a week. So today we did a lot of read-aloud, and then we also went over composer. We actually did a little bit of nature study, so that was fitting. And we also did our artist study today. So, yeah, this is one of those years where I’ve got a big span of ages, but I love Gather because it catches everybody at one time.

[04:12] Pam: Yeah, but only seven kids this year.

[04:15] Heather: Only seven.

[04:17] Pam: But your pool is shrinking, which is kind of sad.

[04:21] Heather: Next year, I’ll have two seniors, and that’s always like, it’s bittersweet when they leave. They’re supposed to leave your home school, but it’s such a bittersweet thing.

[04:31] Pam: Yes, it is. Okay, so let’s talk about nature study, and let’s just talk about our backgrounds with nature study. Did you do any kind of nature study when you were in school, or was this something that you picked up as a homeschooler?

[04:45] Heather: Yeah, this is definitely something I picked up as a homeschooler. I mean, I grew up for a little while on a farm, so I loved being outside, loved being with animals, but I never did hiking. I did a lot of horseback riding on trails, but I had never thought about studying it and why that was important until I had kids.

[05:05] Pam: Yeah, me either. And I was the kid that they were like, put down your book and go outside. You’re always inside reading, so go outside. Because there was no good daytime TV at that point. My husband and I talk about that. It was like there was nothing to watch on TV during the daytime day TV, yes. But now they’re streaming, and that is, like, the worst thing ever. I would just completely eliminate streaming if I could and go back to, like, you have to watch things in real time. But, yeah, so I read constantly, and I didn’t either. It wasn’t a subject. I mean, we did square dancing in school, but we didn’t do nature study in school.

[05:50] Heather: Awesome, though.

[05:52] Pam: Oh, it was.

[05:53] Heather: Has he been dancing in school?

[05:55] Pam: Yeah, it was totally awesome. Okay, so what inspired you to take up nature study?

[06:00] Heather: Yeah, I met a few moms who were doing it, so I saw that practice of getting outside because it can be easy as homeschoolers, especially ones who love to read. You’re just inside a lot. I’ve got a few kids who do. They take their books outside for their outside times. So being purposeful to get outside, and then I saw these mamas using it as a means to teach their children to observe, to make connections with science in a different way that’s living and approachable. So I saw it displayed, and then when I came to Charlotte Mason, I mean, she’s all about that, right? That children be outside. It’s a part of science for all the years, not just young kids. It’s for your beginning schoolers all the way through high school. It’s a part of the curriculums. So my understanding has grown through the years, but I think seeing it practically with some of those mamas, I’m really grateful for that.

[06:56] Pam: Yeah. So you came to nature study first, and then you came to Charlotte Mason?

[07:00] Heather: Yeah, that’s correct. Yeah. We had done nature study for years before we came to Charlotte Mason, but it was more, maybe a little bit more of a curriculum approach to nature study. We would go for a walk, and we were looking for very specific things, and that’s kind of changed. It’s a little bit more organic now, and we’ll talk about that as we talk about what we do at gather time. But I think my understanding has deepened through the years.

[07:26] Pam: Okay. I love it. So our experience with nature study is we were hit or miss with it. We were never nearly as consistent as you were. And I would get, like, this wild hair, and I would say, we’re going to do nature study. And then I would step outside and go, it’s 118 degrees. We’re not going to do nature study. We’ll do it when it’s cold.

[07:46] Heather: I want to be really real in that. When we were in Ohio, so we’ve been in Georgia, I always have to think about the numbers. 1314 years. It was hard to do nature study in the wintertime.

[07:57] Pam: It’s cold.

[07:58] Heather: Nobody wants to go out in the snow, at least not this mama. It became a lot easier when we moved to the south to get outside. And when I had a lot of babies, it was really hard to get outside consistently. So it’s gone up and down in that ability of actually getting outside. But we’ve always been good at trying to do a little bit. You can do it from your window.

[08:22] Pam: Yes. And we’re going to talk about that, because how does this fit in with morning time? So I interviewed Robin, like last year, I think, and she came on to the ten minutes to a better home school podcast, and she talked about seasonal homeschooling. And she was saying she divides her homeschool up into four seasons, and they just have different areas of focus for each season. They do different things in each season, and that’s just the way it’s structured. And so she is not doing nature study all year round. And I was thinking, and I know you do, Heather, it’s a regular thing you do. But I was thinking, what a relief for me if I had taken that approach where I just said, you know what? There’s going to be this time of year where I’m going to really lean into nature study because it works at this time of year, and then I’m going to let go of the guilt the rest of the year, because this is the plan. So there are ways that you can do it even if you’re not 100% consistent. But let’s take a look at doing nature study in morning time. So how does that look? Because moms might be listening and thinking, am I supposed to pack up the whole table in the middle of morning time and we go outside? I don’t think that’s what we’re saying, right?

[09:37] Heather: No. Yeah. So I kind of have a different approach, a few different things I do, I should say so. One of the things we do is we try to build skills of drawing or water colonering that help us when we later get outside. Sometimes when children are nature journaling, they struggle because they don’t know how to draw or they don’t feel like they’re good at watercolor. And so morning time or gather time can be a great time to build those skills. John Muir laws has wonderful videos, and he also has some books of like how to draw birds or nature drawing. And journaling. And so you can do some of those tutorials in your gather time. And then your children learn these skills and they become more comfortable with a pencil and a water brush so that when you go outside to nature journal, they just have that confidence. So gather time is a perfect time to do that practice together. And so we do that often, and we usually turn on, like, composer music. So you get to multitask.

[10:39] Pam: Oh, I love it. I love it. Efficiency.

[10:42] Heather: Do multitasking. Another thing that we do is our family picks one thing to study each term to do a deep dive into. So this year we’ve studied rocks. We did that during term one. Term two, we did evergreen trees, and now we’re into garden invertebrates. And so we’ll take that topic rocks. And I can use Gather time to read about rocks. We can pull out our guides and look them up. I’ll pull out the handbook of nature study. Right. The big, massive book, everybody. Now, I think it’s also sold now in colored versions and smaller.

[11:19] Pam: They’re beautiful. Yes.

[11:22] Heather: I have the big, massive tomb, the big black and white book.

[11:26] Pam: But we, that one’s free online, too, so you could pull it up in Google books and you can search up and just pull up the rocks articles as. Yeah.

[11:35] Heather: So taking time to actually do some reading or watching some videos, like, we’re going to learn about worms and snails. And so I found a few videos to watch from YouTube, and I saved them. So Gather time is a perfect place to do that. We’re all around the table. We can watch that, and then the children can narrate. So you’ve got your special study. You’ve got building skills to help them have confidence in nature journaling. And then the other thing we do is we do a nature lore reading. So nature lore is talking about science and nature in kind of a literary way. And so it’s like a story. And so I brought a few favorites I wanted to remember. So Buckley, Arabella Buckley, is one of my favorites for younger children, probably grades one through three, maybe a fourth grader if they want to read it by themselves. And there’s a series called Eyes and no Eye series. And so she has by the pond and river. So if you’re studying pond life, you can read these stories about animals and the life that’s going on inside the pond. They’re really short chapters. Another favorite series for me is among the meadow people. And I think they’re also, like, among the pond people or among the forest people. So reading those stories at Gather time, it opens up their eyes because along the way they’re learning some facts, but it’s in a story. Then when we go for that nature walk, they’re starting to notice things they hadn’t seen before because we had read it at Gather time. So I love doing that together. And we tend to read a nature story once a week and then we tend to do our special studies, maybe hit it once or twice a week at our Gather time.

[13:25] Pam: I love it. I love it so much. So you’re just honing in on skills, information, and bringing some of that truth, goodness and beauty through those literary nature stories which really piques their imagination about what they’re seeing when they’re outside. For sure it does.

[13:44] Heather: Yeah. And it’s just nice to do it all together because then I don’t have to worry about did you read that book? And so gather time’s up. Perfect. I’m catching everybody. I was going to also mention, when the children are older, you can read aloud like a naturalist book, so you can move away from the pretend stories that are great for building information but capturing their imagination to reading about the life of a naturalist or their journal. And so a favorite book of ours is Circle of Seasons and it’s a naturalist diary. So there’s an entry every day of what he observed out in nature. And we’ve read that. We just started it again for the second time. And it really helps my children to see, oh, this is what you’re supposed to be noticing or, oh, it’s a lot simpler than I thought. And it gives them a picture of what a naturalist does and how they go about keeping it.

[14:44] Pam: I love it. Okay, so I’m just going to plug some of our resources at Your Morning Basket Plus, Heather was talking about the specific studies that they do with things like rocks and birds and things of that nature, evergreens. And in our plans we do have different. We’ve linked all the videos for you so you don’t have to spend hours searching YouTube. You can find the videos that you want your kids to watch. They’re going to be appropriate and everything. We’ve also got some famous naturalists. I believe they’re in our modern history plans. There’s like a whole series on famous naturalists. So we pull up some of their books for you to read and we have picture books about them. And so, so many good resources where you don’t have to go seeking it out for yourself. We’ve linked some of those things just to make it super easy with your morning basket plus or in some of the morning time plans. And every set of morning time plans has some kind of nature study focus in there for the weeks that are in there. Hi, friends.

[15:42] Pam: I’m interrupting this episode to let you know that we took all the hard work out of planning morning time. Our morning time plans are designed for ease of use. For new morning time moms and veterans alike. You can bring beauty and fun to your homeschool with our easy to use guides. In fact, you can get a free month of morning time today. Head to the link in our show notes to get started with your free morning time sample.

[16:09] Pam: Well, Heather, what are some must have nature study supplies?

[16:14] Heather: Pencil and paper is the basic, right? You can do so much with just pencil and paper. You can do shadow work and get the form. But I love to have watercolor, and my kids, they start watercolor. They get their own palette when they turn six. Right? Like, they’re a big kid. They get a special little water palette, and we get watercolor paper, which is a little bit thicker. So those are my favorites. Is getting that watercolor, getting a pencil, a good eraser, one that actually erases, that’s important.

[16:48] Pam: Do you use, like, one of the. I don’t even know what they’re made out of, like, the gum erasers or something? Or is it just a big, good one?

[16:55] Heather: We have in the past, if we’re doing charcoal work, we’ll get the gum eraser, but it’s called a moo eraser, and it’s white, and it’s like a rectangle, and it just gets out white. The pencil marks really good. So if you look up moo erasers.

[17:09] Pam: M-o-o, like a cow. Okay. All right. And then for watercolors, one of the things that Heather does is, do you use the Altoid tins at home? Because for our retreats, Heather will make up little palettes for us using tubed watercolors. And she puts them in these little. So you don’t go to the craft store and buy just a hard palette. You actually give them the little tubes of stuff. Right.

[17:35] Heather: It depends on the kids. Some of the children have a palette that’s, like, pre bought, but I always buy the tubed paints to refill it. So some of them have a store bought one that I then refill with colors that are better colors, and then some of them have the Altoid ones too. But I like them to mix colors. So you don’t need to go buy this massive watercolor palette. Choose your primary colors and let them start observing and mixing watercolors. That’s the fun part. And it teaches them to start to notice. Oh, there’s a little bit of brown in that yellow, and in that green, I see yellow coming through, or red. So you’re teaching color theory and art along with nature journaling.

[18:20] Pam: Yeah. And for mixing, you need those three primary colors. And then Payne’s gray, right?

[18:24] Heather: Yeah, I like Payne’s gray. It’s my favorite color, and it helps to add in shadows. And then I always tell people, a good magnifying glass is really great for nature journaling, and often it’s on the table. So that’s something else you can do, is you can grab a leaf off of your tree and bring that to the table and listen to your composer music at morning time and have those magnifying glasses so they can look a little bit closer. So sometimes if it’s a really rainy Friday and we can’t get out on a nature walk, we’ll do our nature journaling at the table. And so a magnifying glass is really important.

[19:04] Pam: Okay. And then what resources do you have for teaching those skills that you were talking about? Do you have any favorite resources for that?

[19:12] Heather: Yeah. So we mentioned in the book drawing textbook, and I’m not sure how to say his last name, so we’ll link it in the show. But it’s a really simple, little short lessons on how to draw. And it starts out super basic. Like, they’re drawing a box that they then turn into a house, and they draw a cylinder that they turn into a cape. But it’s teaching them starts with very simple skills, and they build on each other, and they only take, like, five minutes or so. And we would do these on an index card, a large index card. So that is one of my favorite, like, how to draw books. So drawing textbook, and then another for watercolor. I really like simply. Charlotte Mason sells brush drawing, a basic course, and it has videos. So the videos would be a great morning time or gather time thing that you could do with your kids. And it also comes with five x seven cards that show the templates for the watercoloring. So it’s really beautifully done, and it’ll give you the basics of how to watercolor, how to brush draw.

[20:21] Pam: I think I need that for me

[20:25] Heather: Well, moms, we should be doing it then. You know, John Muirlaws is my favorite for nature drawing. I mean, his books, his videos. And then we have done some of the videos that are in your morning time plans, and they have been so much fun. It’s a treat for my kids to get to watch a video, and so when we bring those in, there’s a lot of excitement.

[20:48] Pam: I love it. So listening to you talk about nature study in your household, it sounds like you do just as much, if not more, nature study at the table as you do outside.

[21:03] Heather: So we get nature study at our Gather time, usually at least twice a week. We’re going to read aloud that nature lore book and talk about it, or the naturalist book, if I’ve got mostly big kids around the table. And then we do either our special study or building a skill. Let’s do a little bit of watercolor practice. Let’s do a drawing practice. So we’re hitting it twice a week. We do Gather time four days. So two of those days are usually nature study. One component of our Gather time.

[21:35] Pam: Yeah. And then how often do you get outside for a regular nature walk?


[21:40] Heather: So we have a group. That’s how I’ve learned to be consistent, was start a group. And if you start a group, people come. And so we go every other week with our group, and then we’ve been trying to build the habit of getting outside for five minutes, find something to draw. And so that’s not happening daily yet, but we’re getting out a few times a week, even mama, just a few things. Notice, what does the clouds look like? What’s the weather? What’s the tree looking like? Springtime is a great time to start to do that. So it’s not long, but just get us outside for just a few minutes.

[22:20] Pam: I love it. You’re inspiring me so much. I love it. Okay, well, with so many core subjects to cover and even in morning time, sometimes I feel like we think, oh, we’ve got to get to the composer, and we’ve got to get to the artist. My kids need to know these things. There’s just not enough time to do it all. Why should we consider making time for nature study?

[22:40] Heather: Yeah. I think nature study is essential because it teaches your children to pay attention. It teaches them to slow down and start to make observations. And I also think nature study is just important because it’s just good for your soul. That’s why I’m trying to get us outside just for five minutes each day, is you need that fresh air. You need that little bit of peace. Listening to the birds, feeling the wind, it’s just calming to yourself. But I’ve seen connections in my older children being able to compare and contrast things because they started to notice and observe on nature walks. And it’s that foundation of, oh, notice the water. It’s going downhill. The stream always flows downhill. Where is it collecting? Watching the erosion of the rocks and paying attention to, like, look at how the water was causing this erosion on the rocks, and it’s worn away. So we’re starting to make these foundational knowledge that then it builds on later when they’re older with their science studies that they saw when they first were going for a know. Charlotte Mason said that you should never give the children a definition of a pond until they’ve seen a pond like that. You shouldn’t go give them know verbal explanation of it. Go take them outside. They’ll understand it at a different level than just memorizing the fact that a pond is whatever the definition is. So I think you need to see seeing is different than just memorizing. And I think sometimes we forget that as homeschool moms, we’re so afraid they have to know all these things, but you need to touch and feel it and smell it also. So, yeah, it’s a good thing. I think it’s even worth big kids time. I think that they make connections in their other areas of learning differently when they’re doing nature study. And just remember, it doesn’t have to be long. Like, we talk about this in the book, that our gather time is a gathering of a lot of subjects. And in our family, it’s like we’re moving through things pretty snappy. We’re spending 510, about ten minutes is the tops, and then moving to the next thing. And so you can put quite a bit into your basket when you’re not lingering too long on one subject. So you don’t have to overcomplicate it and think that you have to sit there for 30 minutes watercoloring.

[25:18] Pam: It can be exciting, and it’s just like, such a simple transition. And maybe I don’t even know if we could do a whole podcast episode on this, but I feel like it’s important enough to do a whole podcast episode on. It’s like, how do I transition from one thing to next? You close it, put it in the basket, pull the next thing out, and get started with it. There’s no ceremony. There’s no announcement. There’s no nothing. You just move to the next thing, and that’s the way you get it done. You are talking about not having kids, not defining something for a kid until they’ve seen it. And that made me think of the poor people who live in the middle of the country, who have never seen the ocean. And I’m like, okay, there’s the exception. Right. But then that made me think about the quote, and I can’t remember at this point who said it, but it was like, if you want men to build boats, don’t teach them how to build boats, but make them long for the ocean. And I was thinking that that’s kind of what we’re doing with the nature study, is we’re having them long for things, and that’s going to propel them into action, those beautiful things that are around them. Yeah.

[26:21] Heather: And those stories, I think they help to build a know, when you read about, we read John Muir law, not John Muir laws, they’re two different men. And so we read John Muir law, his journals of the mountains in California, and it was such a different environment than what was familiar to us. And we just all had this longing, like, we have to go see these mountains. And so stories can do that also. So that’s why it’s important to incorporate that part of your nature study is reading and then going to see and explain where necessary. But I think when, always best let your kids see it before you explain it. It’s okay for them to ask questions and you do not tell them the answer. Let them ponder those things, and nature study lets them do that. It lets them start asking questions, wondering. Let them go search the guide books before you’re quick to tell them, well, this is the definition of an invertebrate. Ask them, what does it mean? What do you think it means?

[27:29] Pam: And then it lets you off the hook if you don’t know the answer often the it. I love it. So, so. Well, Heather, thank you so much for coming on and chatting with us about nature study. I’m sorry you had to bear almost the whole burden on this one, but you are the queen when it comes to nature study around here, so we appreciate you sharing your knowledge and your wisdom. I know every year you do nature study at our beach retreat, and every year the moms just love it and are so inspired by it. So thank you so much. Well, you’re welcome.

[28:07] Heather: I’m learning right with all of you.

[28:11] Pam: Thanks so much for listening to your morning basket. If you are ready to spend less time planning and more time engaged in learning with your children, children, join your morning basket plus a monthly membership with everything you need to start a morning time practice in your home school to join. Head on over to YMB plus, and I’ll see you there.

Links and Resources From Today’s Show

Clara Dillingham Pierson's CompleteClara Dillingham Pierson’s CompleteClara Dillingham Pierson's CompleteEyes and No Eyes: Volume I With All Original IllustrationsEyes and No Eyes: Volume I With All Original IllustrationsEyes and No Eyes: Volume I With All Original IllustrationsThe Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and JournalingThe Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and JournalingThe Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and JournalingGather: Exploring the Wonder, Wisdom, and Worship of Learning at HomeGather: Exploring the Wonder, Wisdom, and Worship of Learning at HomeGather: Exploring the Wonder, Wisdom, and Worship of Learning at HomeCircle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist's YearCircle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s YearCircle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist's Year


Key Ideas About Nature Study

  • Nature study in homeschooling encourages children to observe and connect with science in a tangible and engaging way.
  • Integrating nature study into morning time can be achieved through skill-building activities like drawing and watercoloring, and by focusing on thematic studies such as rocks or evergreens.
  • Even without venturing outdoors, nature study can be effectively conducted at the table with resources like nature lore books and magnifying glasses for closer observation.
  • Consistency in nature study can be fostered by forming groups for regular nature walks, thereby making the practice a communal and anticipated event.
  • Nature study not only deepens child’s understanding of the natural world but also promotes mental well-being by encouraging them to spend time outside, observing and appreciating their surroundings.

Find What You Want to Hear

  • [0:32] Intros
  • [4:31] Nature study
  • [6:56] Personal experience with beginning nature study
  • [10:42] Gather time
  • [14:44] Specific Morning Time resources
  • [16:09] Supplies
  • [19:04] Favorite resources 
  • [20:48] Nature study at the table
  • [21:35] Nature walk 
  • [20:48] Nature study at the table
  • [22:20] Why consider making time for nature study
  • [25:18] Transitions
  • [27:29] Closing