Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.”- Charlotte Mason
There’s been a lot of conversation on the Ambleside Online Chat about what to do with Nature Study- what it is, how to do it, and why it matters. Nature Study is one of my favorite parts of school, and the children don’t even realize that it IS schooling.
Nature Study is the beginning of science. A child who participates in Nature Study has an “appreciative knowledge of things to begin with,” and can easily reach the “living science” level (Vol. 3, p. 77). It teaches children to think and question, “cherish in them, the love of investigation” (Vol. 1, p. 71). Studying the creation prepares children for worship of God, “Here is a duty that lies upon us all; for we all enter on the inheritance of the heavens and the earth, the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. These are things to which we have right, no one can take them from us; but, until we get as much as a nodding and naming acquaintance with the things of Nature, they are a cause rather of irritation and depression than of joy” (Vol. 4, Book 2, p. 97). It prepares a child’s mind to absorb a greater amount of information, “Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun — the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?” (Vol. 1, p. 61).
But enough of the technical stuff! I’m naturally an outdoors-woman so even before I knew who Charlotte Mason was and what she taught about anything, my children and I spent copious amounts of time out-of-doors. And that’s the first step of any Nature Study Program:
Spend as much time as possible outside, just enjoying the sunshine. Some children, and adults, aren’t used to being outside very much and will long for the comfort of their air conditioner and television. It’s just like anything else… you will soon replace those ‘comforts’ of being inside with the pleasure of being in out the world.
Go exploring, with no destination in mind. Again, the idea is just to cultivate a love of the outdoors and of nature within your child. Use this time to handle any unreasonable fears that the child may have. Pretend you are all Native American’s tracking through the woods and just let their imaginations grow to include their environment.
Don’t worry about the dirt! I promise… it washes off!
Don’t hover over the children. Let them experience the confidence that comes from overcoming obstacles and fears. Let them explore and conquer!
Be excited over all of their ‘discoveries’. Even if it’s the 500th of the same type of rock in the last 10 minutes, if they are thrilled they found it- you be too! Don’t browbeat them to be interested in one thing or another- let them explore their own interests.
Once their natural curiosity is peaked, engage them: ask questions, tell them to hunt for a certain type of plant, rock, bug, animal (whatever they are currently interested in), discuss what they’ve found, and LISTEN. Teach them how to find out what something is if they (and you) don’t know what it is in the beginning. Never leave the answer at ‘I don’t know’ but don’t spend so much time stuck in a field guide that you forget to enjoy the wonder of not knowing.
But don’t forget to play! God gave us the best park ever- Nature! Enjoy it for what it is!
Let the children take the lead. They are usually lacking the ‘have to know everything right now and learn it perfectly’ mentality adults have (myself included!), and you can both learn quite a bit that way.
Also, in the early years when you are fostering an inquiring mind and love of Nature in your children, don’t require them to document everything… knowing that it’s just more added on to the workload is often more stressful than committing things to memory for the sheer joy of it. If you need or want to document your excursions, let your child have the camera to capture the adventure from their eyes and make a scrapbook together, do some of the writing for them if they’d like, no pressure added.
Don’t worry- as they get older, they will want to document their adventures more and more and observe more without prompting if you do something simple and encouraging in the beginning!!
Well, there you have it- how we implemented an official Nature Study! I hope that helps you be encouraged that you too can enjoy this part of homeschooling- it’s one of the best!