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Nature Study, Part 1

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on January 22, 2010


Romans 1:20   For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Psm 119:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

 Psm. 111:2-3 Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them. Splendid and majestic is His work, and His righteousness endures forever.


     Isn’t that awesome!   The Bible itself says that studying nature reveals to us the very attributes of God; that creation declares His glory; that those who delight in the Lord will study His works (in other words, study nature.) 

      Therefore, the focus of nature study should be GOD.  Any study of science or nature that doesn’t show us the truth about God as Creator—any study that doesn’t lead us to marvel at God’s design, that doesn’t encourage us to praise Him and thank Him for all He has made, and has given us—is a waste of time.  

      I warn you this way because I have recently learned more about the origins of nature study.  Nature study is nothing new.  The oldest references to nature study come from the Bible (see above.)  The next applicable reference I could find was from the year 1824, when nature study was first introduced to colleges as “lab work”.  It was popularized during the Victorian age, and quickly spread to the “common schools” (public schools), where it was very popular through at least the 1920’s.  Recently, of course, nature study has made a comeback thanks to the homeschooling community–and especially the writings of Charlotte Mason (and those who write about her methods.) 

      I believe there are a lot of positive things that we can glean from the “nature study” movement, and I’m really excited about the possibilities it offers my kids.  However, I do want you to be aware that the roots of the movement include some very humanistic ideals. 

      I found some very old textbooks on Google Reader about nature study.  Some of them were really good.  Some of them really disturbed me.  (I’m learning more and more that “old” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” or “wholesome”.   We have must be diligent and discerning.)

    This is what I learned: To some of the early advocates of nature study, its purpose was not about science, nor about learning about the Creator.  One source stated that nature study was a revolt against teaching formal science in elementary school.  In the book, “the Nature Study Idea” from the year 1909, the author states that “nature study, then, is not science.  It is not knowledge.  It is not facts.  It is spirit.  It concerns itself with the child’s outlook on the world”.  That’s a red flag for me. 

     Its goal was to teach children to learn “nature sympathy”.  These teachers promoted the “faithfulness of nature”.  (What about the faithfulness of God?!)  Longfellow spouted on about the “soul-like pedals” of flowers.  Many of the old books I found even suggested introducing children to nature via an emphasis on the Greek gods.  When studying the wind, introduce the topic via the “god” Mercury, for example.

      The mottos of these educators were:  “Experience versus book learning.”   “Study nature, not books.”  Or,  “The ‘how’ is more important than the ‘what.’ “

      My response:  -Experiences are important. But book learning is, too.  We simply can’t learn all we need to learn about nature/science–even in the early grades–without books. 

    -I  believe that the content of study is just as important than the “how” or the “method” of study.

    -I don’t believe there is only one way to study nature/science (or any other subject, for that matter.)

     I hope you will  be aware of the problem, and watch for humanistic or extreme environmental ideas in every curriculum, book, or television show.  Correct any errors on the spot.  Be sure to bring the focus back around to the Creator. 

         For Part Two, we’ll talk about what nature study is—or rather, what it could be for you and your children.

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved. 


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