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How and Why We Do Nature Study

November Flowers   Mushrooms

Dandelion                                                                            Salamander

10-12462  November Flowers

Buck Moth                                                                       Aster

November Flowers  0472

Honeysuckle                                                                    Sprouting Acorn

I don my jacket and shoes, grab the backpack of nature guides and magnifying lens, and trip out the door with five kiddos in tow for a nature walk.  We crunch gravels along the farm lane, then feel the cushion of sod and green growing stuff as we take to the fields, headed for the top of the hill and beyond.

Bluest sky, gleaming sunlight, cotton clouds, crisp fresh air, muted chatter of the excited crew behind me, — I stop just to inhale as deep and as long as I can.  All this beauty, and this pulse-quickening desire to explore, to discover, to know and to name every marvel of creativity placed before me by our Father pushes me onward.

The study of nature as part of our homeschool curriculum is not a duty to me;  it is most definitely a delight!  To spend time rambling through field and wood, pausing to inspect any detail that catches our attention, or lingering at the top of a hill just to drink in the grandeur spread before us, and to call it “school” — how much better can it get?!

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Feeling soft moss
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Examining hoar frost crystals with a magnifying glass

As I wrote earlier, there are several aspects of a Charlotte Mason (CM) education that I especially enjoy.  Along with the use of living books and narration, nature study ranks high on the list of reasons the CM method of homeschooling draws me in and keeps me coming back for more.

If you have a minute, why don’t you join us for our nature walk?

Each week, before we head out of the house for our nature walk, I take time to read the section in the Handbook of Nature Study that pertains to what we’ll be observing.  This wonderful resource, written by Anna Botsford Comstock in 1911 is just what its name implies:  a handbook.  It is intended for the teacher or mother to read herself in order to be informed about a particular nature subject.  She can then relate what she has learned to her children incidentally as she and they together explore that subject.

It is not intended as a curriculum or a textbook to be read to the children.  It is a reference tool.  Don’t be intimidated by its size (800+ pgs.);  it is broken down into short “lessons” topic by topic, with ideas for introducing the topic to the children and questions to find answers to as you explore with them.  It is written in a very engaging style.  Think of it as a conversationally written field guide.

Here’s an excerpt, written about Ladybugs:

“The ladybird’s history is as follows:  The mother beetle, in the spring, lays her eggs here and there on plants; as soon as the larva hatches, it starts out to hunt for aphids and other insects.  It is safe to say that no ladybird would recognize her own children in time to save them, even if the house were burning, for they do not in the least resemble her;  they are neither rolypoly nor shiny, but are long and segmented and velvety, with six queer, short legs that look and act as if they were whittled out of wood; they seem only efficient for clinging around a stem.” (p. 365)

You can learn more about how to use the Handbook of Nature Study and purchase it here.

I introduce the subject of our nature study during our morning school routine.  I give the kids a brief summary of what I learned in my research, highlighting details I think they will find interesting, or that I’m fairly certain we will be able to observe firsthand.  I might show them a diagram or close-up photo that I have printed off from the web.  This sometimes help them to better picture in their minds what exactly we will be looking for.

We save the walk for the afternoon after my three-year-old wakes up from her nap.  This gives us more flexibility and usually more time to explore and ramble at our leisure.

We keep our eyes open for the subject I introduced earlier that day, but we also just enjoy paying attention to anything that catches our attention.  I love seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces when they are able to find something we read about.

If time is limited, I’ll choose a topic which I’m pretty sure we will be able to find around the yard.  Then we just take a short jaunt out into the yard with a mission to find our subject and bring it inside for further observation.

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Cutting open an apple from our tree to look for signs of Codling Moth caterpillars
Hornets
Getting ready to look inside a hornets nest

Whether short or long, our nature walks usually end in nature journaling.  Depending on how “technical” our observations are, we might include a diagram, a life-cycle, or just have fun making beautiful pictures of what we see.  Sometimes this journaling is begun when we return from a nature walk and then taken up again after dinner if we don’t get finished before the evening clean-up and dinner routine.

And there have been times when we haven’t been able to actually lay our eyes on whatever it is we’re studying.  That’s when the pictures I’ve printed out come in handy.  The kids just look off of them and record a pictorial summary of what they learned from the pictures and diagrams.

Tree Pests 13-1-11 010 buttercups

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0332  0271

Observing and studying nature in this way inevitably leaves us with a desire to know more.  And once we’ve given such close attention to a particular critter, or cloud, or plant, or whatever the case may be, we start noticing it everywhere!  I’ll bet that’s happened to you too. 🙂

Here’s a list of what I believe to be some of the benefits of doing nature study with my kids.

  • Nature study lays a foundation for understanding more technical science concepts.  Learning the parts of a flower and the function of each of those parts makes so much more sense when one has sniffed, peered into, and otherwise “met” many, many flowers during nature walks.
  • Nature study teaches the kids to be more observant. This practice of noticing detail holds benefit for all other subjects as well, particularly drawing/art.
  • It gives them delight in God’s creation. And it teaches them to appreciate the greatness of the creator and the smallness of the creature in comparison.
  • It is a very satisfying feeling to be able to see something in nature and name it.

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Although trees, rocks, and plants are nothing new, to children just discovering them, they are new.  Through nature study the natural world opens up to them with interest and intrigue.

For those of you who are interested in more. . .

Outdoor Hour Challenge –weekly on-line guide with specific topics of nature study

Charlotte Mason Help — LOTS of information, inspiration, and practical ideas for nature study

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9 thoughts on “How and Why We Do Nature Study

  1. This is so great! I love how different parts of the country have different critters! We are in Kansas and we do not have salamanders! But I’ve had friends visit who think chimpmunks are unusual! I admire you for homeschooling! What a big job!

  2. I ran across a homeschooling blog about a month ago that quoted Charlotte Mason from her Home Education book. I thought I knew all about CM education (even though I’d never read a book about it!), but something about the quote made me want to read more. I ordered the book, and I am amazed. The nature studies, the habits… I’m hooked and can’t wait to find out more! It seems I stumbled upon your blog at just the right time! I had fun looking through your posts when I couldn’t sleep at 3 am this morning! I’d like to look into the Handbook of Nature Study you mention here. Thanks for sharing all of these great resources. It looks like your family really enjoys learning together and with you! 🙂

  3. Thank you for visiting my blog and deciding to follow. I cover lots of nature in my photos and love finding beautiful things every day. I bet your kids find marvellous things too on their nature walks too. I’m going to enjoy following their progress 🙂

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