Very recently, I posted about how to get started with Charlotte Mason style Nature Study when you don’t know how to start, or what you’re doing. In that post, I talked a little about how we’re getting my “nature study resistant” son to do this in his own way.
My 10 yr old is NOT comfortable with sketching or art of any sort – so a typical nature journal entry would cause him a lot of stress. He deals with anxiety disorder, and arts/crafts in particular are almost his biggest trigger (second to writing, which we’ve gotten mostly under control since following the Charlotte Mason method). Forcing my hand here, would equal major setbacks in dealing with his anxiety. I felt frustrated that he wasn’t able to do the things I THOUGHT he was supposed to do for ‘nature study’ time. I found myself getting angry some days, and then he would get angry, and then all of a sudden nature study (which I find INCREDIBLY important in my homeschool) turned into a bad, bad time.
And the LAST thing that this Charlotte Mason method is about is forcing our kids and causing them to resist and dislike learning. I don’t want my son to equate “nature outings” with “inevitable distress when I have to draw or write in a journal”.
So what do you do with a child who is ‘nature study resistant’?
Well… you think outside the box. Or, ‘outside the journal’ may be a better way to word that.
The key element of why we journal, or record, or draw, our nature studies – is about connection. It’s about recalling the things we saw, or noting what we’re looking at. It’s about connecting ALL of the wonders in this world of ours, and developing a deep sense of awe and appreciation for what is around us.
This doesn’t have to happen in a sketchbook.
We have a lot of birds that visit our yard, and my son seemed particularly excited about figuring out which bird is which and why they did what they did. He declared one day that he wanted to “create a backyard bird paradise in our yard”. I started to smile it off, the way we so often do with our kids, but then a moment of inspiration came to me and I said “Let’s do it! What do you see in our backyard paradise?”
And he was off. He talked about ALL kinds of ideas, and I said very seriously to him “Okay. Let’s sit down and let’s talk this through. I really think you have great ideas!” His eyes shone, and he said he wanted to do some more thinking about it, and we agreed to talk about it the next day.
He read books that we had on hand about birds, and remembered the little things we’d learned here and there along the way as we were wondering about the birds in our yard. And he made a plan.
And all of a sudden my ‘nature study resistant’ son was deep into planning a project that would help him make those meaningful connections that is such a big part of the CM method.
How We Created a Workable Plan for My ‘Nature Study Resistant’ Child:
- My son took the nature journal sketchbook, said “I don’t like to draw but I’ll show you where I want the pieces of this project to go”. So I let him plan out the backyard, and he did his best to make it clear what will go where. I didn’t offer any critique or judgment, just let him plan his fantasy “Backyard Birding Paradise”.
- He showed me, explained all the pieces to me, and then… we put the journal away for a day or two. I told him I thought he had really great ideas, and had really remembered all the things we know about birds when he was deciding what kinds of things he wanted to add to the backyard. I told him that I thought we really should look at this together and plan out what we will do first.
- I wanted to treat this plan of his very seriously, and I did. So we had some time one day when it was just he and I, and I grabbed the nature journal, a clipboard with some blank paper, a ruler and some pencils. We chatted about how when you’re doing a project like this, you don’t just say “ok let’s build things” and run off to the lumber yard to get the stuff. You think through it, carefully, and make the best plans you can first.
- Out of all the elements of his project he wanted to start with a birdwatching bench – something small and simple that we could set in a good spot where we could watch the birds in the backyard – but without disturbing or startling them. We looked the seat we were sitting on in that moment, talked about what we liked or didn’t like about that size, and what sizes we thought would make for a good birdwatching bench. With a tape measure I showed him how the different sizes would look, and he made the choices as far as dimensions for his bench.
- I sketched very quickly, how he wanted the bench to look based on what he was describing to me, and while doing that we talked a bit about how you draw things to scale, why you might want to sketch designs to see them visually, etc.
- Then, we went outside with our design and tape measure and considered the space where he wanted to put the bench, and we made some changes to the design, accordingly. All of the decisions were made BY my son, with some input from me if he didn’t know something.
- I sketched a better version of it, and then we set it aside. With his stepfather, he then went to Lowe’s and looked at materials, priced things out, and came home with an idea of what it would take to complete the bench.
- When he was ready to go build it – he and his stepdad went to get the supplies, and got started.
- The bench was quite simply designed, and my son did the measuring (my husband did the cutting), and used the drill to get it all put together. He completed the first phase of his Backyard Birdwatching Paradise, from start to finish – with his own hands.
So what does a little bench project have to do with “nature study”?
Everything. This was a way that my son was able to connect what we had learned about birds and animals and what he knew of our own backyard, so that he could start to design small elements in our yard that would attract the birds and help encourage them to stay. But instead of drawing or writing his narration of these ideas – he is building it. With his hands. He’s SEEING the fruits of his planning, and his connecting. He’s proud of himself, he worked VERY hard and diligently and took this project seriously – and it’s just encouraged him even more to connect his learning to the world around him.
When you have a child who doesn’t fit the mold of the “typical CM student”, it can feel discouraging. I know that feeling. But instead of feeling discouraged – look at your child’s natural skills and strengths, and lock in on those and find ways to use those skills to help your student make connections to their natural world.
Some Ideas For Projects for Nature Study Resistant Kids:
It doesn’t have to be a bench – it can be anything at all that creates a sense of excitement and oneness with the natural world.
- Build bird feeding stations
- Volunteer at a local nature reserve to learn more about how we protect animals
- Use a camera and take photos of the trees in your area, making a photobook (you could do this on the computer with an editing program, or create a book through something like Shutterfly).
- Build bird baths, birdhouses, or roosts.
- Start a kids nature study club, going on regular hikes and each member gets to take the lead at least once, showing what he/she knows
- Maybe your child is great at computer coding – they could make a simple game or animation about a nature topic that they care about.
If you have a child who doesn’t “fit the mold” in your Charlotte Mason homeschool – I would LOVE to hear other suggestions for how you help them learn while honouring who they are and what their strengths are. Comment below, and share your ideas!