Nature study took a back seat in our homeschool this year. It wasn’t intentional, and I offer no clever excuse. I just didn’t make the effort to find the time, I guess. I could tell my nature-observing senses were growing dull, because I’d give a quick glance and an indifferent, “Huh,” whenever the kids presented me with a nature find. Thoughts about re-starting this habit came to mind on occasion.
Last week I decided to recapture this gem of home learning. As I dusted off the Handbook of Nature Study and opened its pages, I felt the excitement return. I remembered how fun it was to learn new and interesting things about common, everyday things found in nature. I read through the pages describing the garden snail — its looks, its habits, its peculiarities. I got excited about exploring these critters with the kids.
My next stop was the Handbook of Nature Study website to browse the topics listed in the Spring category. Garden snails were listed there, and I knew they would be just the thing because Carmen has been finding all kinds of them lately around my perennial beds. (She even keeps them in a box and “takes care of them,” which means she carries the box around wherever she goes, often lifting the lid to see how they’re doing).
The Outdoor Hour Challenge is a wonderful resource. Each study usually includes helpful links: sometimes YouTube videos, sometimes photos, sometimes interesting articles.
It made our study particularly interesting that the kids were holding snails in their hands as I shared with them my highlighted notes from the Handbook of Nature Study. The little critters cooperated quite nicely, sticking their necks out, stretching their eye stalks, and sliding around on the kids’ hands, arms, and laps, leaving snail trails of course.
We had the privilege of observing in real life these interesting facts about garden snails:
- Their “foot” secretes fluid which they use both as an adhesive and as an aid to help them slide more smoothly. When this fluid dries it leaves the glistening snail trail that we’re familiar with.
- They hatch from the egg with only one spiral in their shell. Their shell grows along with them; more material is added at the opening, extending the spiral a bit at a time until it is full-grown.
- They have a breathing hole on their underside right where their soft foot meets the shell. The kids watched closely and got to see the hole contracting and releasing to bring air into the snail’s lungs inside the shell.
- When a snail is attacked or when it is faced with overly dry or cold conditions it pulls itself inside and forms a sort of “glass” door over its opening, leaving only a tiny hole for air.
- The longer “horns” are eye stalks, which can move independently of each other and which shrink back when touched. The shorter “horns” are their feelers.
- Their head end is the first to hide and the first to come out of the shell. We got to see one slooowly ooze out of its shell.
We found out from the Handbook of Nature Study that we could make a “snailery” (don’t you just love that word?), with a bit of soil and some moss, a dish of water to one side, and leaves, lettuce, or fruit for the snails to munch on. We improvised with our butterfly habitat. It has clear, plexiglass windows, giving us a neat view of the snail’s foot rippling as it glides up the surface.
I had the kids draw a picture in their journals. We haven’t touched them since the fall — sad,I know. Some complained about having to do it at first. But, as I anticipated, once they started drawing they had fun with it and ended up with more than one picture, including different angles, close-up views, labels, and lists of interesting facts.
Getting into the details of garden snails reminded me of the good things about nature study. When I study such details on purpose, my observation senses are heightened, causing me to notice additional interesting things in nature.
It also is a good opportunity to interact with the kids in a unique way, seeing the individual ways they experience and react to nature. Some are very hands on, not afraid to touch or poke their hands into anything. Others are more hesitant, preferring to use their eyes from a safe distance.
I got to see my youngest’s sensitivity to what animals might be feeling when she grew quite concerned about the snail we found who had its glass door closed, probably because it got too dry. She wanted to put it in water and offer it food right away. And she cried about her tiniest snail when it wouldn’t come out of its shell, sure that it had died. In my grown-up, hard-hearted way I replied, “Honey, snails come and go; I’m sure you can find another tiny snail.” I’m afraid it’s sometimes hard for me to step back and view life from the perspective of children.
But I do know that since we are now well-acquainted with these fascinating little critters, we won’t look at them in quite the same way again. As I told a friend afterward, observing nature like this always makes me marvel at the variety and detail in God’s creation. He wouldn’t have had to make such interesting creatures, but he did — to glorify His great name.
I can’t help but praise Him.
Read more about how and why we do nature study in our homeschool.