While I did include some aspects of nature in our early home schooling experience, it wasn't until I read about Charlotte Mason that I began to intentionally make Nature Study a formal part of our studies. Over the last two years, nature study has become an integral part of our science curriculum.
"The child who learns his science from a text-book, though he go to Nature for illustrations, and he who gets his information from object lessons, has no chance of forming relations with things as they are, because his kindly obtrusive teacher makes him believe that to know about things is the same as knowing them personally." - Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling SeriesNature Study allows my children to focus their hearts and minds on the beautiful cycles that flow through our outdoor world. When they connect with nature, there is serenity, wonder, and joy.
Planning for Nature StudyTo make Nature Study an intentional part of our schooling, I plan and schedule it into our school days. I schedule time for nature study at least twice a month. On days when I plan for us to do Nature Study, I make sure that we have at least 2 hours that will be uninterrupted by other events or projects.
In addition to our scheduled Nature Study times, I also watch the outdoors for Nature Study opportunities. For instance, since we live in the desert and have infrequent rain, I try to be flexible so that my kids are able to enjoy the rain and mud when they are present, and that we can explore the outdoors afterwards to see the changes that rain brings. I watch for seasonal changes that we can observe together, such as the budding of flowers and the changing of leaves.
I also keep Nature Study in mind for rough days, when the children are overly argumentative or are bickering incessantly. Nature Study can be a complete mood-changer on those days. It can bring us back to balance and peace.
Examples of Our Nature StudySome days, our Nature Study can be very simple; other days we make it more complex and in-depth. A few ideas from our Nature Studies are the following:
- grab our nature notebooks and head out to the desert where we can observe and journal about plants, insects, and animals
- take short field trips to the arroyo (dry creek bed) behind our house, where we can observe the way that water shapes and reshapes the land
- make leaf rubbings of various leaves
- capture a bug or critter, which we can observe in a small terrarium for a few hours before setting it free
- work in the garden, preparing the soil, planting seeds, weeding, watching the plants grow, and reaping the fruits of our labor
- observe and collect wildflowers
- capture and raise a caterpillar into a chrysalis and then butterfly
- birdwatch through our windows, observing the different species and their variety of behaviors
- use a microscope to study and perhaps draw samples of any of the above
- use nature observations as a jumping off point for further study with library books
Just Get Outside
Nature study doesn't have to be formal. In A Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola writes, "young children will discover toads, butterflies, beetles, earthworms, robins, thistles, squirrels, mushrooms, berries, and run into thorn bushes on their own, without any prodding from us."
Making sure that we spend time outside is one of my priorities. While my daughter loves to play outside, I find that my son often requires some gentle nudging to go outside. Once he is outside, however, my son thrives on the experiences of watching birds soar overhead, collecting rocks and leaves, and finding insects.
I also have to intentionally find time for myself to be outside; I can too easily stay indoors working, writing, and studying, but yet I find that I, too, benefit from spending time outdoors. Even simple things such as reading aloud in the back yard can make a difference in my mood and well-being.
Resources and Materials that Aid Nature Study
We can certainly explore nature without any special materials or equipment, and yet I have found the following items to be particularly useful in making Nature Study an intentional part of our home schooling.
- National Audubon Society Field Guide, which is used several times a week to help us in identifying the creatures and plants that we encounter
- A Charlotte Mason Companion, which includes a chapter on Nature Study and a chapter on Nature Study for City Children
- Find the Constellations and The Stars, by H.A. Rey, are fantastic helps for stargazing
- Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, which aids in bird identification since it shows various views and coloring
- Strathmore Art Sketchbooks are used for our nature notebooks
- Celestron 44202 Microscope, which we use to take a closer look at insects, plants, rocks, and anything else we think of
- Nikon Compact Binoculars, which are used to better see birds and critters
- ebird.org, where we can log our bird observations
- Star Walk App, which aids in locating stars, planets, and constellations with iPhone or iPad
- Terrarium, which we use to temporarily house insects and reptiles for observation
- Live Butterfly Garden, which is a kit that comes with everything needed to raise caterpillars into butterflies