Beginning to delve into the world of Nature Study can be scary, but worth the “jump”. When my oldest boy was about 5, we purchased a very old version of KONOS, a big yellow book of hands on activities meant to supplement a textbook/workbook curriculum. I once heard Jessica Hulcy, the creator of KONOS explain that she had to write a curriculum that was so hands on in order to combat what was going on in the homeschool world at the time. And what was going on in the homeschool world was that public school was being brought home and there was very little hands-on, real-life learning going on. So, in this big book there were many outdoor activities meant to introduce my child to the wonderful world of nature.
We sat on the back porch, put a blindfold on, and listened to nature for what seemed like a very long time. I got angry that my 5-year-old little boy didn’t marvel in the sounds of birds chirping and we decided that nature study was not for us. Hey, I was new at this Charlotte Mason thing!
So we ventured on and stuck to our literature rich curriculum. About a year and a half ago, as we were learning about the pilgrims and indians and the building of America. The stories about Davy Crockett. John Audubon, and Daniel Boone, and Sacagawea really interested the boys. They made costumes so that they could look like frontiersmen and the whole family chipped in as one set of grandparents gave them a real compass and the other gave them a real squirrel tail hat. When it was time to go to the park, they began favoring nature parks and hikes over playground type parks. When they saw a flower that stood out or looked interesting, they picked it for me. If the saw a nut or pine cone on the ground they collected it, as well as sticks of bamboo, and rocks. We have a mighty rock collection let me add! Although we weren’t studying these things, I saw the beginnings of what was nature study. Children have a curiosity and an awareness for the outdoors that awakens my soul, which was in need of an awakening.
The next natural step for us was to learn the names of what we saw. Now, if we see a particular animal over and over again, or a leaf, or a nut on the ground, or a bird, we try to learn the name. Sometimes we’ll learn about where “it” is in the food chain, or what a food chain is. From here, we can begin to journal. Keeping a nature journal is a personal thing, everyone has their own style and their own way of recording what interests them. Once I became sold on Charlotte Mason, I delved deeper into what nature journaling is and how to encourage my children in keeping one.
In my own, I like to sketch plant life, flowers, and trees. Those are the things my eyes are drawn to. I like seeing the changes they make season to season and using colors to show season, shadows to show time of day, and I like to write about what’s going on; date, weather, place, even my mood. I don’t expect my little boys to want to draw flowers. To force them in the process of learning to keep a nature journal I could turn them off to nature altogether. It is much better to follow the interest or lead them to observe something really interesting happening. I’ve found I get a much better journal entry from them if they are choosing the subject to draw or write about.
The point of nature study is to have a better understanding of life. It links us to our world as we are not separate from it. Dinosaurs can be such an abstract concept. I know that I often thought of them like dragons in a fairy tale. This year my kids were fascinated with prehistoric, extinct creatures, dinos! When we learned about the water cycle it was so funny to them that we are drinking the same water they drank, and urinated. And it linked them to a world in which dinosaurs were once a part of.
Overall, what I’ve learned about nature study and nature journaling, is that we can’t be too stuffy or too rigid. My kids are going to look for and find the cool, gross things and not sit gracefully on a quilt watching butterflies and sketching flowers. I had to get realistic and abandon my expectations. Instead of my children doing what I wanted them to, I’ve adapted to them and followed them on their journey to learn about bugs, animal tracking in nature trails, and keeping weird little creatures called “Triops” in our fish tank. Eventually we’ll dive deeper into plant life as one of our Weaver units this year plans several weeks on botany.
I think it’s extremely important to get kids outside and in touch with nature. It’s important to read books about nature filled with stories and facts. Science began with people taking notice and studying the natural world. The history of science began with naming and categorizing the natural world. Our best medicines come from plants and roots.
As I sign off today I want to leave you with some ideas to get going…
Going on a nature walk make a map of your journey, “X” the places where you find something interesting, like an animal giving birth (we got to see a mom duck about to give birth while visiting friends one day). Draw trees where there are big trees and grass where there are grass fields. Draw gardens, pools of water. Draw birds and label them, see if you can find the nest and draw that too.
Another idea is to go on a nature treasure hunt and see who can find the most birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects, fish, trees, flowers, or rocks.
Use watercolors or colored pencils to sketch a sunset
Put out a trail of raisins for ants to follow. Create the path using sticks as outer borders, putting the raisins within.
Set out different containers, tall, deep, wide, and shallow, full of water. Does anything grow in them? Do they drink, bathe or play? How long does it take for the water to evaporate?
Just some ideas. Have a wonderful week and enjoy the world outside your front door!