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Nature Study, part 2: What is Nature Study?

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on January 23, 2010


      Traditionally, there are two parts of nature study:  The “doing” part (spending time outside/taking nature walks) and the “documenting” part (nature journaling, video logs/photos.)

      In the strictest terms, nature study during the Victorian times was all about getting children out into nature. Charlotte Mason  encouraged parents to take their children outside as much a possible—up to 4-6 hours a day from April to October.  She also suggested a planned nature walk weekly.  She stated that “children should never be inside, when they could rightly be without”…she even suggested that children take their meals outside.

         During nature study, parents were to keep quiet and see what their children observed.  Only if children brought a natural object to the attention of the parent was there to be any sort of teaching going on, and even then the emphasis was to be on learning through observation and discovery, versus learning through books or lecture (remember the motto– study nature, not books.)  The parent could occasionally draw their children’s attention to a specific object or animal to observe, but there weren’t to be any formal lessons.  Instead of a teacher, the parent was to be more of a facilitator.

    I don’t hold to a strict Victorian view of what nature study should be.  To me, there is no right or wrong way to “do” nature study.  I believe nature study is science, and it can be taught via books. If you think about it, without books, there would be a great deal about nature we could never experience.  We live in California, so don’t have access to an arctic environment, for example; nor will most of us ever be able to dive to the depths of the ocean to study the plants and animals there.  Furthermore, I believe that if you have something to teach your children, you should.  Lectures and discussions about nature are perfectly acceptable.  This is where I deviate from Charlotte Mason’s teachings; I believe that hands-on nature study can go hand in hand with more “formal” lessons. 

    I do, however, encourage you to get outside, as Charlotte Mason says, and experience hands-on nature study as much as you can.  Learn about the natural world by being out in it. That is the true heart of nature study.  You can do this in your own backyard, in a city park, alongside the road, or in a special location you seek out–such as the beach, or a state or national park. You can also bring nature inside via plants, collections, aquariums and critter cages. 

     Once you’ve spent time outside, it’s ime for the “documenting” part.  Some parents skip this step altogether…especially those with young children.  Others have their children keep journals of their discoveries.   They take sketch books and colored pencils or crayons along with them during their nature walks.  Children draw what they observe, and later write about it, too (more on how to do this later.) Still others “journal” via their cameras or video cameras.

 What are the goals of nature study?

  My personal goals for nature study do include helping my children appreciate the beauty of nature–but as I said, I want to do this in a way that draws their attention back to God. 

 My goals are:

-To draw my children’s attention back to God.  I try to instill a sense of wonder in my children, and aim that wonder right back to Him.  We marvel at God’s design and His sense of humor.

 -To help my children become aware of their responsibility to become good stewards of God’s creation. 

 -I want them to become familiar with the common plants, animals, rocks, etc of our area.  

 -I’d like them to be able to recognize the sounds of common insects, as well as bird calls and animal cries.

 -I want my children to learn how to be observant and self-controlled.  There are times when children must walk slowly and carefully, and keep quiet if they are to observe animals and birds.

 -Another goal of nature study is the development of thinking skills:  The comparison and classification of objects, plants and animals trains your child’s mind in logic, and when children come to conclusions about what they observe and then test those conclusions through further observation, experimentation or book-learning, children learn about the scientific method and scientific thought.

 -I want my children to learn science, and some of the laws of nature that God has put into place. 

   Next time:  Ideas/How to Get Started

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.   

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