Category Archives: Natural History

Hatching Baby Chicks

chick 1Several years ago I decided I wanted chickens. Live ones, living in the backyard. I had been moving my family to a more traditional lifestyle, and growing my own food and raising chickens were part of the deal. Maybe I should tell you right up front, though, that at the time we lived in a neighborhood. Have you ever thought about having pet chickens in the yard? Neither had my neighbor. Or my husband actually. I checked the statutes of my area and found that it was legal. As for approval from my hubby, he was tolerant of the idea…sort of.

chick 2There is a lot to know about raising chicks, so I did much reading and preparing before they ever arrived. Two of my favorite resources were the website Back Yard Chickens, and the book Chicken Tractors by Andy Lee.

Our first batch of chicks were delivered through the United Postal Service. (Really!) We had a temporary home prepared for them in the laundry room, and we snuggled them in directly.

chick 3In these early days, baby chicks require much care, (mostly because they are messy and have to be cleaned up after very regularly,) but more importantly, they are so CUTE that you have to watch them for hours! And what is nature study beside observation? Anyway, it was February, and indoor nature study seemed much more inviting.

Shortly after these cuties got moved outside, my sister decided she would like some ducks for her pond. She bought an inexpensive incubator and ordered some eggs through the mail, but we did the incubating at my house. By this time I had figured out that this was a pretty neat school activity.

Some of the kids built an egg candler, which is used to shine a bright light through the egg to see what is happening on the inside. (Later, we found that the flash light setting on my smart phone works just as well.) This was a great nature study activity because we could track the development of the embryo. You cannot hold the light to the egg for long, because it’s important that you don’t change the temperature of the egg. Therefore, each child had to take a quick hard look, then put the egg back, before going to the table to draw what they had seen.  We did weekly drawings like this in our nature study notebooks, and I think they came out wonderful. (Click on the picture below to look more closely.)


We did find that hatching ducks is harder than hatching chickens, and really requires a better quality incubator. I ended up having to help some of the duck get out of their shells at the end, which is a pretty precarious thing to do.

duck 3

Over the years we have hatched several batches of chickens and ducks. I also got a batch of meat chicken by mail once, but that’s a whole other story! And most recently we hatched some Sebastopol geese. Geese are harder to incubate than ducks even, but my sister got a really nice incubator which we used for them. We also used eggs which her own geese had laid, and 5 out of 7 of them lived, which apparently is really good.

This goose just hatched and is still in the incubator.

This goose just hatched and is still in the incubator.


Whether you incubate some eggs, or just want to learn more about their development with your kids, I would suggest the following books:

For young children and early readers
Egg to Chick by Millicent Selsam (63 p.) This has excellent drawings which show embryonic development. There is an in-print version, but I haven’t been able to compare it with the original. Sometimes books are “revised” when they are reprinted, but you never want a revised version of a Selsam book.
Where do Chicks Come From by Amy Sklansky (LRFO1, IP)
Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones by Ruth Heller (PB, IP) Shows other animals that also lay eggs.
All About Eggs: and how they change into animals by Millicent Selsam. Another one that considers other animals that lay eggs.

Middle to upper elementary readers
A Chick Hatches by Joanna Cole and Jerome Wexler (47 p. with a medium amount of text on each page) This book includes photographs of embryonic development.
Science Projects With Eggs by David Webster

Middle School and up
Window Into an Egg: Seeing Life Begin by Geraldine Lux Flanagan

Thank you Kim B. for inspiring this post! I hope you and your family enjoy incubating your eggs.

Nature Study and Science Lingo

Does the science “lingo” used in Mason’s volumes and around the CM community confuse you at times? I thought I would take a few minutes to clarify some of the nature study and science terms that get tossed around.

Natural History was the blanket covering for all things science on the PNEU programs. Under this heading, we find a variety of activities and books, including nature lore, special studies, nature study notebooks, and resources for these topics. We also see typical science topics listed, such as chemistry, physics, the earth sciences, and botany.

Sometimes we also see the heading “Natural Science” or “General Science“, but the topics covered under these titles were listed under the general heading of “Natural History” at other times.

Nature Lore is essentially the use of naturalists’ books to open the students’ eyes and pique their interest regarding what is to be seen outside. This is seen on the PUS schedules at least once a week through form 2 (grade 6), but I feel like it should still be included for older children if they have not been homeschooled using the Charlotte Mason method for several years.

Some examples for form 1 students are:
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children by James Herriot
Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers by John Burroughs
Wild Life in Woods and Fields by Arabella Buckley

Some examples for form 2 students are:
The Storybook of Science by Jean Henri Fabre
The Secret of Everyday Things by Jean Henri Fabre (381 pp.)
Insect Adventures by Jean Henri Fabre (298 pp.)
The Lay of the Land by Dallas Lore Sharp, 214 pages

Some examples for form 3+ students are:
The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell
Anatomy Of A Rose: Exploring The Secret Life Of Flowers by Sharman Apt Russell
A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

You can find many examples of these kinds of books on my Nature Lore page.

Special Studies are an opportunity to focus on an individual topic in the area of botany, biology or earth science. They are usually seasonally based, and although they can be done as a family, older students can pursue particular interests of their own. Typically time is scheduled during the morning hours to read books pertaining to the topic, and then during afternoon nature study the topic can be looked at more closely by way of observation or an object lesson. Read more about implementing special studies.

Object Lessons are usually done during nature study time, as a compliment to your special study topic. The Handbook of Nature Study is a great resource for this as it contains many short lessons divided by topic. The idea is that you take about 10 minutes to look much closer at something specific, even directing a few “casual” questions to the children to help them notice something they may not see without prompting. This activity should only take about 10 minutes. Read more about the use of object lessons in my article on implementing special studies.

Nature Study is done every afternoon when the child is young, but even as they get older they should have a minimum of one full afternoon spent outside each week. Frequently a nature walk is done during this time, but it is not necessary. The goal is to spend time outside observing what there is to see, however, this is not a time for the teacher to teach, but rather should be child-led. Read more about what afternoon time looks like when you have young children.

Brush Drawing is a form of water color painting that requires very little water. It is a way for students to record their observations, even when they are still too young to write in their nature notebooks. Learn more about it in my article keeping a nature journal.

I hope this helps! Let me know if I missed one that you would like to know more about.

Special Study – Minerals

Natural bodies are divided into three kingdomes of nature: viz. the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms. Minerals grow, Plants grow and live, Animals grow, live, and have feeling. — Carolus Linnaeus, (1735)

Where to look for books in your library: J 552 primarily

True Book of Rocks and Minerals by Illa Podendorf (48 p.)
Rocks and Minerals by Lou Williams Page (32 p.)
The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky (IP, PB, gr. 3-6, 48 p.)
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky (IP, gr. 9+, 496 p.)
Salt by Augusta Goldin (LRFO)

Field Guide:
A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals by Frederick H. Pough

Teacher background: HoNS*
Rocks and Minerals, p. 743-744
Minerals, p. 750-759

Object Lessons, choose from the following:

  1. Grow [LARGE]Alum crystals over the whole term. (Here’s how we did it.)
  2. HoNS 
    1. Lesson 211, Crystal Growth, p. 752
    2. Lesson 212, Salt, p. 753
    3. Lesson 213, Quarts, p. 755
    4. Lesson 214, Feldspar, p. 758
    5. Lesson 215, Mica, p. 758
  3. Janice VanCleave’s Earth Science for Every Kid by Janice VanCleave (chapter 2 only.) The following specific lessons would be good:
    1. Lesson 8. Salty, p. 24: To determine how salt beds are formed.
    2. Lesson 9. Needles, p. 26: To demonstrate how crystals form.
    3. Lesson 10. Deposits, p. 28: To demonstrate the formation of caliche deposits
    4. Lesson 11. Dripper, p. 30: To demonstrate the formation of stalagmites and stalactites.
    5. Lesson 12. Bubbles, p. 32: To demonstrate a positive test for limestone.
    6. Lesson 13. Spoon Pen, p. 34: To demonstrate a mineral streak test.
    7. Lesson 14. Crunch, p. 36: To demonstrate the formation of metamorphic rocks.
  4. Mineral Investigation Labs (for MS or HS)
  5. Adventures with Rocks and Minerals: Geology experiments for young people by Lloyd Barrow
  6. Break Your Own Geode *Is a geode a rock or a mineral?
  7. Make your own rock candy
  8. Place a small drop of various mineral solutions on microscope slides, then look at them through a microscope when they have crystalized. (see pictures below)

Other Resources: – the world’s largest public database of mineral information with an army of worldwide volunteers adding and verifying new information daily. (Click on Advanced Search and then enter your state or county to search your “locality”.)

Rock and Mineral Playing Cards

*Note: HoNS = Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock

**Note: When you are studying “earth science” you will encounter more explanations of the evolutionary theory than when you are studying botany or elephants, for example. Older books have less inclusion of this perspective usually. My guiding line is that they not mock or attack the young earth view point. We can have a conversation about “millions of years”.

The following resources might be useful: – Engineer Goes Back to School: Don Batten chats with geologist Dr Tas Walker (Flood model solves geological puzzles)
Answers In Genesis – Radioactive and Radiocarbon Dating (video)
Dr. Ron Carlson – Origins (video, covers carbon dating)
  Dinosaurs, Flood Pt 1
  Dinosaurs, Flood Pt 2

Natural History Rotation
Natural History: Implementing Special Studies (full explanation)
Implementing Special Studies – An Outline