2016 is our tenth year of ‘officially’ home educating. Over those ten years, I have spoken with many parents who wanted to study nature with their children, but for one reason or another it just didn’t happen.
The mere idea of nature study can be overwhelming for many; they feel they do not have the time, or the knowledge, or simply the idea of getting lots of little children out of doors all at once can be a huge feat in itself!
“Nature Study is for the comprehension of the Individual life of the bird, insect or plant that is nearest at hand.”
Anna Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study.
Nature study at its simplest form is just that; closely observing whatever nature has put in your way at any particular moment, be it a bumblebee buzzing from flower to flower, a full moon heavy in the evening sky, or a bird at the feeder in your garden.
“Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life.”
Miss Mason gives us heed that a habit formed in childhood is a habit that will last a lifetime, and being outdoors greatly impacts our wellbeing.
Nature study involves the whole family. I have written a very practical blog post about How To Study Nature With Children Of All Ages. Children are fascinated by the natural world around them. Enjoy their wonder and take a moment to see the world through their eyes.
Regular, short times of nature study are of more benefit than a whole day once every six months. How would this work best for your family? A short walk in your neighbourhood each morning, or eating lunch together in the garden when weather permits (this seems like such a distant memory for us right now, we have had months of heavy rain!) Of course, there is nothing quite like the declaration of a ‘nature day’ to blow away those cobwebs and delight your young students!
They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this––that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder––and grow. At the same time, here is the mother’s opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit, without further help or knowledge of hers.
In Miss Mason’s wisdom, she advised us to let our children explore and make their own connections. We are not to hover, offering our opinions, and getting between our child and the object of their interest. If our child asks a question, we are there to answer. If we do not know the answer, we can reply with a cheery “let’s find out!” But we must allow the child to make their own connections and observations.
The main components of nature study would be the nature walk and the nature journal.
The Nature Walk
While wits are fresh and eyes are keen, she sends them off on an exploring expedition- who can see the most, and tell the most about yonder hillock or brook, hedge, or copse. This is an exercise that delights children, and may be endlessly varied, carried on in the spirit of a game, and yet with the exactness and carefulness of a lesson.
It can be helpful to have a ‘theme’ for your nature walk; as you walk along, ask your child to look for a certain tree, or flower, or whatever you have chosen as your focus. This can be useful in that, as a parent, you can read up a little on the topic before you go out for your walk, and be prepared for any questions your child may ask.
I wrote my book Exploring Nature With Children to be helpful in this respect. Forty-eight weeks of themed and guided nature study; four weeks for each month of the year, organised by season. Exploring Nature With Children can be used as a whole year’s study, or dipped in and out of as you please.
Decide where to go for your walk; a local woodland or park, a beach, your own garden or neighbourhood. Plan how long you will be out, and pack any needed supplies, such as drinks, snacks, sunscreen, a small first aid kit, even nappies for the baby! Make sure everyone is dressed for the weather and off you go.
I have always found it beneficial to let the children run and play a little before we start to look for nature treasures. Once they have blown off some steam, they tend to do this naturally anyway. At this point you could ask them to find an Oak tree, or whatever is is you have in mind for study.
The Nature Journal
“As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child.”
Keeping a nature journal is an important part of nature study; a record of what you observe on your nature walks. It is just as important for the parent to have a nature journal as it is for the child. Be an example; show an interest in the natural world and your child will follow. Do not worry about your sketching ability; the point of a nature journal is to record scientific data, so accuracy is much more important than creating pretty pictures. Drawing skills can be learned along the way. It will also be encouraging for your child to see you learning something new.
Nature journaling causes you to observe closely, really see something, and not just look at it.
As you sketch carefully, you begin to know your subject, connections are made, observations fostered.
The journal can be taken and worked on whilst you are out and about.
Or worked on at home upon your return.
(We have had many unexpected opportunities to study nature due to our two cats.)
I would recommend reading my blog post Getting Started With Nature Drawing For Both Parent And Child for support getting going with the actual sketching part of nature journaling.
The main part to take away about nature study is to just do it! Go outdoors, talk about what you see with your child, record what you see in your nature journals, and read books to find out more.
Please come along and join in the conversation in the Charlotte Mason Nature Journaling group on FaceBook, it will be great to see you there!