We all know the importance of nature study in our homeschools – particularly if you are a Charlotte Mason homeschooler. Images come to mind of idyllic scenes with a sweet happy family, sitting in a field or under a big leafy tree, all drawing and observing quietly and without fuss. For many of us, though, this will not be our reality. Nature study has been one of the most intimidating and overwhelming things for me to implement in our homeschool. I felt like I couldn’t draw well enough, I didn’t KNOW enough about nature, and I would never ever be able to do it as well as other moms seem to do it.
Do you feel the same? Then this post is for YOU! Nature study does not have to be complicated or scary – so I’d like to share my tips and ideas for mamas like me who just have no clue how to get this nature study thing going.
Why Add Nature Study?
If you’re reading this, then nature study is probably already on your mind – but here are just a few of the reasons why including close investigation of the natural world is an important addition to your homeschool:
- Nature study creates a connection to science that your children can engage in from a very young age – and really helps to set a firm basis for future science studies.
- Nature study helps to create a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world. Learning to follow the wonder will help your children in all areas of their studies.
- Nature study helps your children feel a sense of responsibility to our earth, and a deepening sense of their interconnectedness to the world.
- Nature study makes science INTERESTING. Don’t we all remember our early science studies as being a bit dry, disconnected, and full of terminology and labs and textbooks? What if we had learned from an early age that science was FUN and interesting and full of these great connections and curiosities? How would our relationship with science have differed?
- Nature study enriches a child’s life. It makes the world WIDE and full of new things for your child. Also, keeping a nature journal allows your children to connect their science studies with creative and artistic outlets as well. It’s not often that we make a connection between science and art, so nature study/nature journalling is a great way to do this.
- Nature study keeps us outside – and healthy! Fresh air, exercise, and sunshine – what better way to spend our days?
So How Do We Do This??
Okay, so we know WHY we want to add this to our homeschool routine – but if you’re anything like me, you’re stuck at the “so now what?” stage. I knew I wanted to add this to our routine, but got really bogged down in trying to create and plan the perfect nature study outing, in the details of HOW to draw or what to say, and in trying to KNOW everything before we started the nature study.
Don’t do what I did. Don’t let yourself put it off until it’s ‘perfect’, because you may find you never start at all.
Here are a few tips to help get you going!
- Just go. Just put on your shoes, grab your backpack and supplies, and GO! Don’t wait for it to be perfectly planned. It may feel a little awkward the first few times, but eventually you will feel more comfortable. So just do it scared, do it awkward, do it uncomfortably. Just do it.
- You don’t need to know everything ahead of time. Don’t overplan, or overthink this – let your (and your child’s) wonder be the driving force behind what you study and what trails you follow. You don’t need to have all the answers to their questions – you just need to know where to find them. (see #3)
- Get your hands on some good field guides – this will be your best asset in helping your children learn about what they are seeing. I have a field guide for trees, one for birds, mushrooms, as well as Anna Comstock’s Handbook Of Nature Study – these are my reference materials that we turn to regularly. (As a note, the Handbook is quite large so I don’t bring that with us, but we refer to it often when we’re talking about what we saw and experienced).
- SHARE YOUR WONDER! Be excited, tell your kids that you see something really cool and wonder about it out loud “I wonder why this fungus is growing here?” or “I wonder if that beautiful bird stays here all year?” – if you show wonder and excitement at the world around you, your kids WILL follow your lead, and soon enough you’ll see and hear them wondering about all manner of things – during nature study, and during their free play time!
- You don’t need to do this every single day. Once a week to start with is plenty – just make sure you are being intentional and focused with the time you are out doing this.
- You don’t need to be an expert artist or nature sketcher. Let me assure you, I am NO artist! I can barely manage to make a stick figure. So – my kids and I have a deal: I help them write and note what we’ve seen, and my daughter who LOVES to draw is the one who illustrates. But – that doesn’t mean I’m not working on it. I have tried to set aside time for myself to try to sketch the things that I find interesting. Creating art has always been a source of discomfort for me, so I am challenging and stretching myself to try to overcome this.
- Be prepared! Pack a small backpack with: pencils/colouring pencils, a notebook or sketchbook, your field guides, and also things like water and snacks and sunscreen!
- If you see something interesting, or your child asks you a question that you just don’t know the answer to – sketch or write as many details as you can about whatever it is, and then use it as a great opportunity to research when you get home. Take photos, if you have a digital camera or a camera on your phone. Going home and researching after the fact is also a great way to ‘recall’ and narrate your outing – helps to lock down what you saw and experienced into your memory!
- Don’t expect your children to sit quietly and sketch. Especially if they are younger or it’s your first time out – be focused, let them wonder, and then if they don’t feel up to sitting and sketching (who does, when there’s a whole exciting world to explore out there??) – then just do the journalling part of it when you return home. Have fun, get dirty, spend your energy connecting with the natural world – don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t “look like the perfect nature study”.
If Your Kids Are Less Than Enthusiastic?
First – I feel your pain, mama. I have a child who absolutely LOVES being outside – no matter the weather, or if she’s out there alone or with a dozen people, my youngest LOVES anything to do with being outside. So getting her started on focused nature study outings has been a breeze.
My oldest? Not so much. Until recently, getting him to go outside has been like pulling teeth. (I’ve talked a bit in this post here about the struggles we’ve had) I mean, he likes to play outside like any other kid – but nature study would ALWAYS trigger something in him, and it made him really uncomfortable. So he’d resist, then I’d get all “BUT WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE HAPPY AND PEACEFUL AND DRAWING STUFF!!” And well… nothing kills a peaceful nature study mood quite like Mom going batcrap crazy because it’s not “going just right”.
I digress. The point is – he did not care for nature study one bit.
So what changed recently? Me. I did. I changed my expectations, my pressure (on him AND on myself) – and most importantly, I started to HAVE FUN. I started to show enthusiasm for things that *I* think are interesting or cool or even bugs I see that I think are SUPER GROSS. Once I started to show that being outdoors, and connecting with our natural world, was important to me too? It changed the whole dynamic of our homeschool and specifically our nature study.
Currently, my oldest is making a project for himself in our backyard – he wants to create a Bird’s Paradise out of our backyard so all of the little birdies that visit our yard will stay and be happy. Is he sketching and journaling? Not exactly. But he DID grab the nature journal to start plotting out what sorts of feeders he wants to put where in the yard.
So, if you have a child who is resistant or uncomfortable with nature study “as it’s supposed to be done”, then do it differently. Show them how many cool things YOU see. Change the tone from “here’s a lesson about fungi” to “Wow! I have never seen a fungus that colour before – I wonder what it is?!” and perhaps the mood will change. Some kids just need to be swept up in the excitement, and some kids need that to be modeled for them.
I’m planning a blog post very soon that goes into this a bit more, with some ideas for projects that can get older kids (and also kids who are unsure about this whole nature study thing) a little more excited by the prospect of nature study. So keep an eye out for that if you are in a similar situation.
Do you include nature study in your homeschool? Comment below and let me know something you do to make it fun and engaging? We’re always looking for new activities and ideas for our nature study time.