Nature study is for life, for all seasons and for all ages.
It is because we are busy with our homes and children that we need to get out into the big outdoors,
let the kids run and whoop and allow the fresh air and beauty of God’s creation feed our spirits.
“Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life.”
Charlotte Mason, Original Homeschooling Series
For children aged 6 and under she believes that all their knowledge will come from long extended periods in the open, fiddling with sticks and climbing trees, observing leaf differences and the change of seasons.
These informal walks, as they should be with young ones, should happen daily. It is not necessary to find a new place every time as by returning to the same place the child can notices changes and becomes intimately entwined with that environment. It can also be a walk around the neighborhood before dinner.
"The miserable thing about the childish recollections of most persons is that they are blurred, distorted... and the reason is not that the old scenes are forgotten but that they were never fully seen." The only formal thing that I did with my little ones is to make them take a mental photograph of a beautiful scene; this is something they do of their own accord now they are older. How? Get the child to look hard and well at a certain frame of the landscape. Ask them then to close their eyes and tell you a picture story. If they don’t remember much, get them to do it over until the mental photograph is captured and they are able to recall it with clarity.
Nature notebooks are introduced as soon as your child is ready.
If your child prefers not to draw then let them collect leaves and do rubbings, or flowers and press them and glue them in later.
As the child gets older their nature notebook becomes a joy and treasure. Flip files with loose sheets work very well for younger ones but after 8 a child is ready for a true nature journal. If this has enough pages, it will have space for most of their drawings during their school career.
Pictures in the nature study notebooks should have captions written by you for younger ones and older children can add biological names and their own paragraph about where they found their item of study. Charlotte Mason placed emphasis on learning the common and Latin name and the genus that it belongs to. Please remember this is age appropriate but also do not reduce the child’s capability of retaining the name to twaddle.
“To know a plant by its gesture and habitat, its time and its flowering and fruiting; a bird by its flight and song and its time of coming and going; to know when, year after year, you may come upon a redstart and the pied fly-catcher means a good deal of interested observation and at any rate, the material for science. The children keep a dated record of what they see in their nature notebooks, which are left to their own management and are not corrected.” Charlotte Mason, Original Homeschooling Series
When in the open at a botanical garden, field or some other such place, this is Charlotte’s advice: The children must be happy all the time so as not to miss the freedom of being in the open. They must be uninterrupted for as much time possible to "take in what they can of the beauty of the earth and heavens...wherein to wonder and grow."
The mother is to impart, during these nature study observations, kernels of knowledge or as Charlotte so eloquently puts it: "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."
Nature study in our home happens constantly, whether it is a cloud that we see out the window that looks like a horse or continent, a squirrel on the bird table, a gecko in our post box or a whelk on the beach. We also set aside time every week to do a nature walk and this is when we will journal something we find.
We made a list of the places we wanted to visit and as our nature bag is always packed, we take our picnic and set off for lunch to our chosen destination. If it’s too cold or wet to go out we will look at our favourite books that have rich nature drawings and as soon as there is a break in the rain take a walk around the block and sail leaves in the gutters or splash in puddles.
For older children who are not used to nature study I would advise that you take a low-key approach to it. Take a walk bringing your own journal along. When you find something of interest sketch it. After a few times your children may show an interest in what you are doing and request their own journal. Even if they don’t, by taking regular walks with them they will be noticing things anyway, even if they never tell.
In the teen years it is even more valuable to make sure that our children get lots of time outdoors for excercise as well as to enjoy the beauty God has given us in creation. Moms need to be particularly sensitive in this time when introducing nature study if it is not already something your family is used to doing. We so long to come with all our knowledge and pour it into our children, that we scare them off or make it a task to tick off in their lives. Rather our foucs is to instill a love for nature by simply being outdoors with your older children without the pressure of journalling. This can always be introduced later.
Teaching your children to draw
The best book that I have used to teach drawing skills and the book that has produced the most amazing results is ?Drawing With Children? by Mona Brookes. Her basic principles of drawing are explained so well and her lessons short enough to fit into a school day once or twice a week.
What to put in your nature bag:
- Either your journal or clipboards with lots of paper.
- Pastels, watercolour pencils, lead pencils and other stationary.
- Field guides appropriate to your area.
NOTE: Charlotte Mason preferred that children work with a brush over a pencil. A brush is almost an extension of the hand as the grip is not as tight as it needs to be on a pencil. No need to make this your ideal...but take a long the brushes and paints, perhaps one of your children will surprise you!
"I venture to suggest what not is practicable in any household, but what's seems to me absolutely best for children...a journey of twenty minutes and a luncheon in a basket will make a day in the country possible to most town dwellers: and if one day why not many and even every suitable day?" Charlotte Mason, Original Homeschooling Series
Want to know what we do when it's raining or too cold for outdoors nature study? We read our favourite nature lover's books.
You may also be interested in the Charlotte Mason book reviews.
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