In three parts, it is my joy to offer you a look at one of my favorite aspects of a CM education, and the one which I believe every homeschooler should implement whether or not they implement any others: nature study. Nature Study directly benefits our relationship with God, and for that reason alone, I believe that it is vital to an enriched education. First, we will discuss what nature study is, why we do it, and how to get started. Next, we will look at the difference between supplementing our science curriculum with nature study, and using nature study for our science curriculum itself, discussing Nature Lessons. Finally, we will look more in depth at nature walks and journaling.
Let's first understand what nature study is exactly and why we do it. Nature Study could be defined as the science of observing and recording nature. Charlotte Mason was perhaps a larger advocate and user of nature study than any other of her methods. In fact, not only did she do nature study, but she also had children outside for a minimum of three hours each day. One of her most famous quotes is "Never be within doors, when you can rightly be without". She understood that to truly be in awe of the Creator of the world, that we must study and admire the creation of the world, and I firmly believe that we should each understand that as well. Charlotte's goal with nature study was for students to be on a "first name basis" with the natural world, and this is still our goal for nature study today. Children should have a first hand knowledge of science and nature before they can attempt to experiment and master them. In fact, studies show that students with minimal exposure to the natural world struggle to ever truly understand "upper level" sciences (chemistry, physics, etc), despite a great deal of factual knowledge about them. We must first learn to observe before we can attempt to experiment or "do".
For Charlotte's students, nature study was THE science for younger elementary students and was the primary aspect of science all the way into middle school. Many Charlotte Mason homeschoolers have kept this approach and use it effectively.Although other observational sciences can be included in the elementary years, it is beneficial and accessible for everyone to follow Mason's lead and use natural science as the foundational science, forming that foundation in the younger years of a child's education. Even if other observational sciences are included, frequent and quality exposure to nature is integral to, and should be included in, the lives of developing born persons.
In order to first implement nature study, you need very little. Nature, some paper and pens, and preferably a few field guides are really all that is needed to get started. It is beneficial to introduce nature study and get started before adding other supplies and implementing a large focus on journaling. You can truly study anything, and your options are limitless. You can study animals, birds, plants, water, the sky and weather, tracks and scat, trees, mushrooms, flowers, grass, weeds, and anything else you find in God's creation. You can do nature study in your back yard, in the park, on the river, at the beach, in your garden, on a farm, on a trail, in the woods, and even in a flowerpot in your kitchen windowsill.
Simply pick a place to go for a walk, or just go out into your yard, and observe nature! As you go, you will probably begin to study certain things at certain times, but for beginning, you can just pick something to study and then... Study it!
I'm referring to you, because it's important that you go with your children and study along with them, especially for those under age 10 or so. You can send them out for additional study and observation at other times, but you will want to ensure that you're scheduling a weekly time where you're studying together. This could happen in 30 minutes, or as long as you can allow. At this age, or for brand new nature studiers, you will want to focus on learning to see and identify, one day adding in classification and more detailed description.
As your children observe, encourage them to look at what they're studying in ways that they haven't thought of, but don't hover over them and guide their every move. More importantly, don't direct their thoughts. You can offer natural and unobtrusive information, but you shouldn't talk throughout the entire study. Observation is key, not factual information. You will, however, want to gradually increase your own reading of natural topics, so that you can answer questions when they are asked. Even so, you can always find answers together, when you do not know! Children are never too young to benefit from nature study, and facts should always come AFTER ideas, so don't despair over it not going perfectly. If they are observing, they are learning.
Things To Ponder:
Everything God created is intelligently designed. It's a sad but true reality that most of us have limited and inferior experiences with the world around us. This shouldn't be so, and it's an issue that requires specific and intentional action on our part in order to change. Nature Study is not only a beautiful way to provide our children with quality exposure to God's creation, but also a tried and true, effective method to learning about our world. Not only does it hone our children's observational skills, and many others, benefiting them academically, but it also brings them closer to their Creator, the Creator of the Universe. Nothing could be more important! Nature Study often requires discipline at first, resulting in a blossoming love for the natural world and it's beauty. I think it's imperative to ponder this truth: both your enthusiasm AND your boredom are contagious. If you love it, so will they. If you hate it.... Well, you get the idea. We can pass along a passion for the intelligent design all around us, or we can pass along a disdain for being among the things that God created for us to enjoy.
Things to Do:
Bite Sized Challenge for Implementing-
1. Read This Article About Getting Started in Nature Study
2. Write a 30 minute nature study into your schedule and see what you can find and observe in your backyard. Evaluate the value of studying nature weekly.
Digging Deeper Challenge for Implementing:
1. Read the Above Article
2. Schedule a Nature Study weekly. Gather a few field guides from the starter list below, start in your backyard, and set a goal to go on a nature walk in a nearby park or trail in the next few weeks!
Great Starter Guides-
Fun With Nature Take Along Guides
Quality Set of Field Guides-
National Audubon Field Guides
Younger Child's First Field Guide-
First Book of Nature
From Charlotte Herself:
"We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things."
"Children should be encouraged to watch, patiently and quietly, until they learn something of the habits and history of bee, ant, wasp, spider, hairy caterpillar, dragonfly and whatever else of growth that comes in their way."
May All Your Days Be Spent Delightfully Feasting...