This year, as I try to embrace a more Charlotte Mason style in our homeschool, I decided to commit to nature study. I have attempted nature study in the past but, I must admit, that we have never really gotten past the first month or so. I thought that this was because I didn’t fully understand how to do nature study. No matter how much I read and researched, I couldn’t figure out how to apply the concept. It seemed simple enough but I failed in application. This past summer Dominique and I were discussing Charlotte Mason methods and she told me how she felt a little intimidated by the idea of beautiful nature study journals. She was not alone. I felt the same. So I researched ways to create better nature notebooks. I thought that this was what I was lacking in my previous attempts with nature study. Well, for us, I was wrong, but I think I have finally found some ways to apply, and improve, nature study for my family.
First, I will start with some of the places I was going wrong. To begin, I didn’t really know how a nature journal should look. Sometimes, it is helpful to see the final product. I realized this when I stumbled onto a beautiful example of a nature journal. While looking for an art book, I found The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden at our local library. It is a real life nature journal with beautiful pictures, poems, descriptions, journal entries, and the like. I loved it so much that ordered my own copy on Amazon. It is a visual model of what I want to achieve.
With my model in hand, I thought we were ready, but I ran into another problem. My kiddos and I read through Ms. Holden’s book and set out to recreate our own. The only problem was our entries didn’t look anything like hers. My lovely darlings didn’t seem to mind at all. My lovely darlings were part of the problem. I discussed in this post, how my kids had become great box checkers. Somehow they didn’t have the same desire that I had to soak in God’s creation and beautifully record it in a detailed, timeless treasure;) They wanted to be done. So, they scribbled the first weed they came to and announced they were finished. Box checked! How could this be? My children, actually love nature. We read animal books for fun and enjoy many documentaries. Zoos, aquariums, and museums are some of our favorite places. So why did their nature journals look like a two year old’s work. Note, I do not have a single two year old. I have seen their art skills put to good use in other areas so, I knew that they were not putting their best effort into their entries. Plus they were done in 30 seconds. I had been trying to model what I wanted from them. I was left to finish my entries by myself, since the kids had long been finished. I tried some discussions about doing our best and threatened “do overs” for careless work but this just brought contempt for nature study. That is not what I wanted at all. So I decided to make some changes.
We left our nature journals at home. I decided it was time to concentrate on the journey instead of the product. The nature journals were, at least currently, getting in the way of our observations. My kids were too focused on completing the assignment and I didn’t even want it to be an assignment (we have plenty of those in other areas of our school day.) We have had some great nature study days since we have done this. We just pick a spot, go for a walk, and talked about what we see. Sometimes, we look up some of the things we saw, mostly to confirm if we correctly identified them. We have a couple nature guides that we use but Google does help us too. We only look up things that we are truly curious about. We have let our study be more organic. So far, this is working well. My sixth grade son is currently researching ways to test if water is fresh or salty (other than tasting.) He decided to do this after we came to some water, during one of our walks, and didn’t know if it was freshwater or saltwater. My daughter even surprised me last week by coming home, and pulling out her nature journal, and adding her own entry without being asked. I hope to bring the journals back one day, but right now our goal is to just enjoy learning.
We read books about nature but not during our nature study. We love to read about nature and I have found that when we do something for enjoyment the quality of our learning is better. So we read nature books to just enjoy them and we go out and observe nature to enjoy it as well. The kids have begun to relate things we have read to what they have seen and are making their own connections, which are by far more lasting then the artificial ones that I was trying to force. We live by the ocean, so we are currently reading The Burgess Seashore Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess. During our nature walks we have been able to identify some of the animals that we have seen, as well as some of the treasures that we have found, from our reading. We do continue to look at The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, but no longer with the idea that we are trying to recreate it.
We do nature study at the end of our day. When we do it earlier in the day, my children try to rush, in order to get back to their independent work. When I think about it, I am the same way. I cannot relax at home until my chores for the day are complete. They enjoy being outside more, and put more thought into their observations, when they are finished with their other things and feel more free. I thought that nature study would be a nice break in the middle of our day but the kids didn’t see it that way. Flexibility is a lovely part of homeschooling. Side note, we only do an official nature study once a week but we try to spend time outside every day. We also do science outside of nature study.
We relax and just observe and discuss nature. It really can be a simple as it sounds.