Saturday, July 9, 2016

Enrichment - Charlotte Mason Style Electives: Nature Study....

Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he will learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God. - George Washington Carver

Oh, how I loved this quote by G.W. Carver from the first time I read it!  It put me in mind of Charlotte Mason...
Now the knowledge of Nature which we get out of books is not real knowledge; the use of books is, to help the young student to verify facts he has already seen for himself.  (Charlotte Mason Vol. 2, p. 261)
In the chief duty of man, his duty towards God, Nature is an exquisite instructor. (Charlotte Mason Vol. 4, Book 2, p. 99) 
Nature study is very important in a Charlotte Mason education. Getting outside in nature was the basis for science in Mason's schools, particularly in the elementary grades.  However, in our modern society, nature study can feel like a burden. We have become sedentary, parked behind digital devices for hours on end.  It's easier to think about nature study or look out the window and wish, rather than get up and go outside.  I must confess, I too have been lazy in committing to nature study.  I have the desire, but in the day-to-day, I just don't always take the time to do it.

Charlotte said that children should get out-of-doors for a walk everyday.  Yes, this would be ideal, but I'm here to tell you, one day a week is better than nothing at all.  Don't let ghosts of Mason past make you feel guilty.  If you're feeling overwhelmed by nature study, start small.  Simply commit to taking your children outside one day a week.  Now is a great time to start, especially here in Wisconsin because the thought of starting nature study in January is definitely not appealing to me in below zero temperatures, as is typical here.  However, summer is a fabulous time to see a variety of birds, wildlife, plants, and trees.

Even though, I have been sporadic, here on the farm, we are fortunate, our kids are outside on a daily basis with or without me.  Today, Ruben found a Leopard Frog while mowing the lawn.  I actually happened to be lying outside under an oak tree reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina when I heard his holler of excitement and the rest of the kids went running.  Ruben easily identified it and Riley knew it was a male because of past nature studies we'd done.  This prompted me to see how important those impromptu trips outside really are.  I was surprised by how much the kids retained.

Nature walks don't have to be a big ordeal.  Simply head out into your yard or a neighborhood park.  I remember reading about Orville and Wilbur Wright's mother packing a picnic and spending the day in the woods.  She would let her children romp and roam, making discoveries on their own.  Of course, they came back to her with questions, as will your children.  It's OK if you're a nature study novice and don't have all the answers.  After a period of time, you go back indoors and bring out the books to find answers to those questions.

Charlotte Mason recommended starting nature study with very young children, however, don't feel like you've missed the boat if your child is older.  Nature can be enjoyed by anyone from 1 to 100.  Just do it!

Once you've developed the habit of spending time outdoors, you could start a nature calendar of firsts throughout the year...
It is a capital plan for children to keep a calendar - the first oak-leaf, the first tadpole, the first cowslip, the first catkin, the first ripe blackberries, where seen, and when.  The next year they will know when and where to look out for their favourites, and will, every year, be in a condition to add new observations.  Think of the zest and interest, the object, which such a practice will give to daily walks and little excursions.  There is hardly a day when some friend may not be expected to hold a first 'At Home'.  (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 54)
Next, you could do a month-by-month study in order to recognize seasons....
They are expected to do a great deal of out-of-door work in which they are assisted by The Changing Year, admirable month by month studies of what is to be seen out-of-doors. They keep records and drawings in a Nature Note Book and make special studies of their own for the particular season with drawings and notes. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 219)
Other ideas for study are learning to identify birds and their songs or selecting a tree to follow throughout the year.  Turn over a log and see what's underneath, look at the clouds and notice what shapes you see, catch snowflakes and look at the different shapes.  The possibilities are endless.

You'll notice Charlotte mentions a Nature Note Book in several of the quotes above.  Riley is my Nature Note Book connoisseur.  She has kept a variety of notebooks over the years as you can see pictured below.  I personally really like Clare Walker Leslie's books on keeping a nature journal.   She has written several books which are very helpful, whether you're a beginner or a more seasoned naturalist.  Once you've established what kind of notebook your children will use, you can either take the notebooks outside to draw in while on your nature walk, talk photos of things they may want to draw, or let the kids bring in specimens to study and draw in their notebooks once your nature walk is complete. Unless, you're drawing a scene, the later is our preferred method.

A few other helpful nature study resources are:

Jimmie's Collage

Handbook of Nature Study

Nature Study as Independent Work

Brandy Vencel on Nature Study

Carol at Journey and Destination on Nature Study in Australia

Celeste at Joyous Lessons on Nature Study along the Pacific

Ambleside Online

Nadene at Practical Pages on Nature Study in South Africa 



  1. Sooo GREAT!!! TY so much for sharing!!! ^_^

  2. You're welcome...I'm glad you found it helpful :)