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Pond Study Using the Handbook of Nature Study

Updated on July 28, 2015

Nature Study Around Ponds

Nature study using a pond as your centerpiece can be fun and educational. The Handbook Of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock gives simple ideas to discover more about the animals, fish, plants, and amphibians that live in this complex habitat. Spending time outdoors with your family can be a great experience if you are armed with some good information, develop some of your own questions, and then seek the answers together.

This lens will focus on four aspects of nature study in your local pond:

1. Dragonflies and damselflies

2. Ducks and/or geese

3. Cattails

4. Frogs

Pond Study How To
Pond Study How To

Handbook of Nature Study

Pond Insect Study Ideas

One of the first ideas you can try as a way to study your own pond is to read pages 400-415 in the Handbook of Nature Study. This section is all about insects of the brook and pond.

Lesson 102 gives a great tutorial on how to study pond insects (aquatic) up close using a tray or a small aquarium.

The lesson says to tip a jar a little and pour in very gently at one side water taken from a pond or stream. Fill the jar to within two or three inches of the top. Let it settle. Now dip in a net and get some living creatures for the aquarium to observe.

Now you can observe and identify your creatures using your pond field guide.

Please supervise your children closely anytime you are near water!

Pond Reference Suggestions

Our family likes to have a few references on hand to take with us when we visit our near-by pond. These are basic pond study ideas that will give your children something to look at and to keep in their nature study library.

Pond Life: Revised and Updated (A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press)
Pond Life: Revised and Updated (A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press)

This classic pond field guide is a fantastic reference and is small enough to fit in your daypack.


Read this book before and after your visit for loads of pond study ideas.

How to Draw Insects
How to Draw Insects

This book is worth finding used to have as a reference when you are drawing insects in your nature journal.


Pond Study Living Book

This book from the series "Eyes and No Eyes" from Arabella B. Buckley is a wonderful introduction to pond life for children.

By Pond and River (Yesterday's Classics)
By Pond and River (Yesterday's Classics)

The living book style of this series is attractive to families that want to gently introduce nature study to their children. The story format is enjoyable as a read aloud and with the accompanying ideas for nature study, this is a wonderful mix of fact and instruction.

You can preview the book here at Yesterday's Classics.


Pets in a Jar

This is another book worth finding used for your nature study library. We have used the directions in this book many times over the years to make different habitats for creatures we have found outdoors.

Pets in a Jar: Collecting and Caring for Small Wild Animals (Puffin Science Books)
Pets in a Jar: Collecting and Caring for Small Wild Animals (Puffin Science Books)

We have found this book helpful in making habitats for a variety of creatures.

Pond snails


Hermit crabs (We purchased these at a local store.)



Various aquatic insects

I highly recommend this book if you can purchase it used at a reasonable price.

Goose at the Pond
Goose at the Pond

Pond Study - Ducks and Geese

Visit Your Near-By Pond

Children always love to visit the local pond to view ducks and geese who live there. Here are a few ideas for making a simple study of these common but interesting birds that you can observe up close.

Look at their feet, beaks, and wings.

Watch them walk, swim, and fly.

Listen to their quacking and honking.

Observe them eating.

Find a feather.

Look for footprints in the mud.

Another Living Book for Your Pond Study

This living book is a wonderful way to learn more about the changes a pond goes through as the seasons go by. I was first introduced to this book in a Charlotte Mason Nature Study group and we started going through it chapter by chapter together.

Watchers at the Pond (Nonpareil books)
Watchers at the Pond (Nonpareil books)

If you can find this book used at a reasonable price, I would highly recommend it for older children or as a read aloud for younger children. The narrative style and the details shared make this a wonderful living book for your pond study.

Dragonfly - orange skimmer
Dragonfly - orange skimmer

Dragonfly or Damselfly Study

Frequent Fliers at the Pond

Dragonflies and damselflies are a great pond study subject and you can use your observation skills to learn more about these interesting creatures. You may see them flying just over the water, darting fast here and there. You may find some of their larvae in the pond water to observe. Use your pond field guide to get an idea of what to look for when you scoop up some water to view.

Here are some dragonfly and damselfly nature study suggestions:

Count wings.

Notice if the wings fold up or stay down when the insect lands...this will help you distinguish the dragonfly from the damselfly.

Observe the color and size of your insect.

Use a butterfly net to try to capture an insect to view up close and then release.

"The frog is a powerful jumper and has a slippery body. Its eggs are laid in masses of jelly at the bottom of ponds. The frog may be studied in its native situation by the pupils or it may be brought to the school and placed in an aquarium." Handbook of Nature Study, page 183

Pond Study - Frogs as Your Subject

There are many ways to learn about frogs at the pond but the best way is to follow them as they develop from a tadpole into an adult. If you don't have access to tadpoles, observing the adult frogs closely will still give your child an introduction into the amphibian world.

Here are some suggested observations to make.

Watch the frog swim, hop, or hang in the water.

Compare the front legs to the back feet.

Observe the colors and markings of the frog.

Notice the eyes and/or the mouth of the frog.

What does your frog sound like?

“A pond without dragonflies darting about it, or without the exquisitely iridescent damsel flies clinging to the leaves of its border would be a lonely place indeed.”

Handbook of Nature Study, page 40

Dragonfly or Damselfly?

Dragonflies have a larger body and hold their wings down when they land. The damselfly has a slender body and holds its wings over its body when it lands.

Cattail habitat
Cattail habitat

Pond Plants - Cattails

This common plant can provide a complete habitat for all kinds of creatures.

Use all your senses to observe your pond's cattails!

Look at the cattail’s habitat. Use your sense of sight to look for birds, insects, and animals living or resting in or on the cattails. Look for nests. See if you can find the cattail flowers.

Sit or squat near your cattails and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and see if you smell anything.

Feel the leaves, edges, and spikes of the cattails.

Listen as you stand or sit near your cattails. Can you hear any birds or insects? Water running?

Handbook of Nature Study Blog Pond Entries

Here are some links to our family's pond study entries. My boys have a pond they can visit anytime they want to at their Grandpa's house. Over the years, they have studied so many things from the pond and I have written a few of their experiences up on my blog.

I love to hear your comments.

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    • Bellezza-Decor profile image

      Bellezza-Decor 5 years ago from Canada

      I bet there is lots of interesting things to study in ponds. I especially liked frogs, minnows, turtles and ducks.