“There is no kind of knowledge to be had in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves, of the world they live in. Let them at once get into touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”
-G. Dowton The Parents’ Review
Spring time brings about a desire for a fresh start or a renewal of focus. And I think for most homeschoolers, we all look to where we are at with schooling. For my family, one of the questions I ask is the following–
“Is what we are doing working and what do I do if it’s not?”
For us, we are struggling with integrating Nature Study into our school. It ends up being something extra that we try to work in and rarely do. When really I feel it’s very important and needs to be moved more to the forefront of our day.
I asked some fellow homeschoolers to share how they incorporate Nature Study. Below you will find tips that will work for everyone from the workbook crowd to the Charlotte Mason followers.
Don’t Be Afraid of Workbooks
There is an idea out there that unless your Nature Study is purely organic, it’s not Nature Study. I think that can scare many of us away. If a workbook is what helps us connect our children to nature, then go for it!
Beth says: “My son has been using the Rod and Staff “My Calendar Book “ each day. At the end of the month we make a graph of what we observed. In October, the theme was what to wear: sweater, T-shirt or winter coat? November was what did the sky look like: Sunny, snowy, cloudy? December was how low did it go? It was seriously fun. When I think of nature study, I usually think of a huge project, but by doing this workbook it makes it simple to evaluate the world outside your window.”
Birds are everywhere. The country, the city, all types of habitats. Anybody can learn about birds for Nature Study. A great place to find affordable Field Guides is at your local thrift store or at garage sales. Look for the ones that are made for your area.
Irene says: “Probably our best school year yet was a few years ago, when most of our science for the year was related to birds. Bird-watching, bird identification (with Peterson field guides), making suet and hanging feeders in our yard, field trips to places known as good birding spots, etc. We did some of the activities from Apologia’s ‘Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day’. For art my older son (who was in 2nd grade) drew all the birds he saw at our house. We lived in the Bitterroot (area near Missoula, MT) at the time and I think recorded around 27 different species. We included a little study of the history of people studying flight and building airplanes. It was a great way to get the whole family involved, and not just in ‘school time’ – whenever we were out and saw a ‘new’ bird, it was a great learning opportunity. We have also done a gardening unit study in the spring along with planting a vegetable garden.”
Nature Study is Life
Nature Study can be incorporated into daily life and can enhance other school subjects.
Rebecca says: “We give them nature. That is how we make it work. Hiking, camping, lakes, walks, outside at home, at the park! To help with nature study, we have lots of field guides that the kids can access. If we see a bird outside the window, we grab a book and try to figure out what kind of bird it is and what it does. We’ve spent a while observing Clark’s Nuthatches, watching them use their long bills to get seeds out of fir cones this fall.”
When our family hikes, we discuss the flowers, plants, animals and rocks we see. If we see something we don’t know we take a picture (if we can) and get the books out when we get home. We focus on the journey of the hike more than the destination, looking at tracks and whatever else along the way. We have rock collections, that we look through often. We all have “wish lists,” of places we want to visit and animals, plants and rocks we want to see; we update these yearly. We plant a garden, the kids have their own row to plant whatever they want. We do wild flower walks. This fall we did a leaf walk, we took the field guides and reference books with us and went to the Capitol, did a quick lesson on types of trees, why some leaves turn the colors they do, identified trees using leaves, form and bark, talked about leaf types, picked up leaves, ran around, then brought the pretty leaves back and did lots of art projects with them.
I set up projects at home and put a “lab book” by the project (current project is seeing if we can grow an avocado tree from an avocado seed). I start the project and enter the first entry in the lab book and just leave it out by the project. The kids come by and each opens the book and notes any changes they have seen. If we see something cool, we call everybody over to see it.
We have bug catching equipment (we let them go after observing them).
We (my husband and I) get excited about the things we see around us, from neatly folded rocks to a moose and I think that goes a long way.
We do some things formally, my son was interested in spiders so we sought out information on that but Nature Study is one area I want them to drive interests (and will entertain those interests with books, worksheets, and lessons as needed) and use the real world where we can.
This fall we did a leaf walk, we took the field guides and reference books with us and went to the Capitol, did a quick lesson on types of trees, why some leaves turn the colors they do, identified trees using leaves, form and bark, talked about leaf types, picked up leaves, ran around, then brought the pretty leaves back and did lots of art projects with them.
“The strange part is that although we are surrounded by Nature in some form at all times-though more so in the country than in the town-we see and know nothing unless we ourselves make the effort. This inertia on the part of so many people is the reason of so much ignorance of the Natural World. Nature herself is retiring and unobtrusive, but not secretive. There is nothing she hides from those who really want to learn and want to see. She is the greatest of all teachers, for once our senses are on the alert, she draws us on, revealing treasure after treasure, and broadening and deepening our experience. If we who are old enough to understand and appreciate this fact, know the joy and interest it brings, how much more ought we not to pass it on to the children from the very beginning, that they may miss nothing of the wonder of it all?”
-G. Dowton The Parents’ Review
Written by Katrina Thennis