Since I started doing a little more research into Charlotte Mason homeschooling, I've become increasingly interested in nature study (something Ms. Mason was passionate about, I think). Having grown up in the greater Los Angeles area, I've always been quite the urbanite. My freshman year in college, my roommate came from Nebraska, and her stories of deer in the backyard and rows of corn on rolling farmland were like fairytales to me. Around here, we get excited when we see lizards! ;) Of course, my friends that came from more rural backgrounds we just as fascinated by the "big city" aspects here, like the way you can drive such a short distance and go from city to city without realizing it.
I've since broadened my horizons, lol, but until recently didn't realize that there were SO many places, even in an urban place like where I live to experience nature. At Christmas, my mom gave me a wonderful book called Fun Places to Go With Kids in Southern California, and it covers all the counties here (Ventura, L.A., Orange, San Diego, San Bernadino, Santa Barbara and Riverside counties). This book has been a GREAT resource for us!
We've tried out several of the nature preserves and large parks with hiking trails. Many of them are only a few acres nestled in a business district, but we do have a few semi-local large parks with hiking trails and such. It's been amazing and exhilarating for both my husband and I and our little ones.
We purchased this field guide a few weeks back after a few online friends recommended it, and have been taking it with us to identify the different plants, flowers and creatures we encounter. Having grown up with VERY little exposure to nature, this guide is a necessity. On our very first hike, I stopped and pointed out this plant to Little Bean because it has such attractive leaves. Of course as he reached out to touch it, my husband tried to stop him (a little too late though!). It was a stinging nettle plant, which apparently causes itching pain to the touch. Hehe...it was at this point I realized we really needed a field guide. ;)
Today we spent some time at a large semi-local park that is used a lot for camping, but you can get day passes as well. Out on the trails the kids encountered their first snake sighting! It slithered out right across the trail in front of us. Little Bean was so proud that he was the first to spot it. We also (yipes) saw a baby rattle snake, an abandoned bird's egg, two bee hives in hollowed out trees, and lots of smooth, black, stink bugs! Down at the stream, there were tons of tadpoles swimming the in the shallow water. The kids folded up their jeans and took off their shoes and socks to walk in the water and observe. We even caught a few and brought them home with us to observe the frog life cycle. From the research I've done, if we take proper care of them we can safely return them to their habitat as adult frogs.
Here are our tadpoles. It appears we have two different types in there, although you can't tell from the pictures. We took some pond water with us, as well as some of the sand from the pond. We can see the tadpoles in there munching on the algae! Little Bean has just finished up a lapbook called All About Me, so up next will be (of course) a frog lapbook!