Here are some nature study ideas to help you get started with this exciting and wondrous way of learning about nature. Charlotte Mason talks a lot about nature study. When following the Australian curriculum you will find nature study covers aspects of homeschool science (biology, earth science and astronomy if you do some star gazing) and homeschool geography.
Nature study allows your children to naturally learn the scientific principles of observation and recording. The parent provides the activities and the field trips which is the scaffolding for the nature study.
When you have little children it can be difficult to get out of the house. Therefore I’ve put a few nature study ideas here so you can see how nature study can be done from home or close to home.
1. Start A Nature Notebook
Nature notebooks are for children to do on their own but it is quite reasonable for you as the parent to guide and suggest various inclusions.
We started our nature journaling in a simple blank notebook. We aimed to make one entry in our nature journal per week. Each child had their own notebook.
Recently a friend of mine went to the UK and visited Armitt Library, a place where all of Charlotte Mason’s archives are now stored and she looked at some of the children’s nature journals. Have a look. You can see how simple they are. Charlotte Mason Students Nature Journals.
What is Nature Journaling?
Nature journaling is a form of notebooking.
“Nature journaling is simply keeping a journal about nature.
You may read many different terms such as; nature diary, nature calendar, nature study, nature notebook and logbook. All of the terms have the same common theme, though they may have specific definitions. A journal is a record of events, observations, and feelings. It is a place for writing and drawing over a period of time. The word journal comes from ‘diurnal’ meaning daily, a diary implies a daily event, so does log book. This is not our aim. Our idea of journaling is that it does not have to be done daily, though a regular pattern of observation will help to establish a habit, improve observation skills and an awareness of seasonal changes.
We want to encourage children to observe and record what they see for the pure pleasure of it and to enjoy their environment and try to capture the memory – how they feel; of what they are reminded; or an expression of poetry may come with time. What they need is practise and inspiration. This is a complex skill to develop and your children may or may not be ready for it. Start with simple observations of colours, textures, patterns, shapes and movement and watch their skills grow.
Well known journals, like A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady or Beatrix Potter’s notebooks are the works of adults. They are essentially a form of nature journaling. What they include are illustrations, observations, poems, reflections of mood and feelings. An example of an Australian nature diary that we are aware of is, Amy Mack’s A Bush Calendar.
The advantages of Nature Journaling come from the habit of observation:
Children will benefit from journaling by becoming attuned to their environment, the wonder of creation, and the refreshment that comes from outdoor activity.
They will be encouraged to make accurate observations, and exercise their written and artistic skills. Countless artistic works have been created in the hearts and minds of people inspired by the wonder of nature.
They will also acquire:
- a knowledge of scientific names;
- basic researching; first hand observation skills;
- improved concentration and inspiration;
- captured memories;
- shared family experiences, etc.
Only the simple observations need to be recorded and this should be a delightful natural experience of learning and precious sharing of the moment.
Many of the positive outcomes of journaling will not be fully realised until adulthood, like the serenity and satisfaction that comes when you remove yourself from the bustle of everyday life and reflect on the beauty of creation.
2. Backyard Scientists
A trip outside is all we could manage some weeks but there was still much to learn.
Our small suburban backyard was still a good place to make observations and put an entry in our journal. We had birds (and a nest), lizards, spiders and butterflies. We had flowers, leaves and trees. We could look at the sky, feel the wind and temperature. We could observe the change of seasons.
Since the kids have become more aware of their surroundings they also created opportunities. I remember there was great excitement when one of the kids discovered a praying mantis on the back porch, everyone was called and pictures were taken.
From all these observations we can make a nature notebook entry.
3. Nature Study Ideas For Walks
Whilst it can be very hard to get out on a nature walk when you have small children see if you can schedule some on the weekends or with friends when you can have some adult help.
On these outings if making an entry into your journal is too stressful I suggest you collect specimens that you may be able to use for a home lesson.
Make nature journaling a part of your homeschool!
Charlotte Mason wanted children to be given the skills of the scholars, starting simply yet with intention.
One activity she assigned great importance to was outdoor observation. However for those of us who feel illiterate in our nature identification this can seem daunting.
Here are some tools and ideas to help make your nature walks a success.
“It is infinitely well worth the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation…” Charlotte Mason Series Volume 1, p.71
Direct contact with nature and teaching a child to notice what is going on around them is a deliberate activity that can be worked into the fabric of your homeschool routine. Nature study, nature walks and backyard science observations are to be encouraged. Think of these activities as part of your science lesson not as optional extras.
“In science, or rather, nature study, we attach great importance to recognition, believing that the power to recognise and name a plant or stone or constellation involves classification and includes a good deal of knowledge…The teachers are careful not to make these nature walks an opportunity for scientific instruction, as we wish the children’s attention to be given to observation with very little direction. In this way they lay up that store of ‘common information’ which Huxley considered should precede science teaching; and, what is much more important, they learn to know and delight in natural objects as in the familiar faces of friends.” Charlotte Mason Series Volume 4, p.237
4. Nature Readers & Nature Stories
First-hand experience with nature is wonderful but we all know we can’t see it all. Trips to the zoo to see giraffes and monkeys are a special treat rather than a regular event, so we used living nature books for learning about the nature’s wonders in other lands and habitats that we cannot directly observe.
Over the years I have collected a number of books that are good for nature study. I also have a number of drawing books that teach my children how to draw different animals.
After reading about some of these places or animals we would also add an entry into our nature book. Other times I asked the kids to narrate from a nature book and gave them pictures to sketch or cut out, to help them create their nature pages.
Nature books can also help develop a desire for more nature study. However don’t read too long. You may need to skip over some bits if they seem a bit boring.
Science and Nature Living Books
Science biographies, stories of inventors and living books that help children put science in its context. These suggestions can be read aloud or used independently for the more confident reader. We have also made some suggestions for some literature based high school homeschool curriculum.
Nature Study Tools for Classification
One thing I hate about going for a nature walk is that I see so many different plants and birds and I can never actually name them. Whilst walking recently in the bush we found many small orchids. However, we couldn’t work out the name of a single one (and I only knew it was an orchid because my nature walking buddy told me).
This can be discouraging when you are trying to teach your children nature study and you are personally hopeless at it. Even with a carry around field guide I often can’t find the species that presents itself before me.
Learning About Classification As A Family
Keep learning about science and nature yourself so you will have information to give your child as he desires it.
“The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observation” (Charlotte Mason Series Volume 1, p. 64, 65).
I’m a suburban girl and I didn’t really learn to appreciate nature as a child. As a homeschool mum I have found Charlotte Mason’s admonitions to do nature study a challenge but I have also learnt that I can learn more. Our nature study has become a time of us all learning about nature together. Whilst I’m still an advanced beginner in nature study I have had some successes with classification that I’d like to share.
Three Tools of Nature Classification
1. Take a knowledgeable person on the walk with you. This can often work both ways if you both have some knowledge so you can share it with each other.
2. Take a specimen home, however this is often an impossible thing to do but you can take a photo or put an entry in your nature journal.
3. Use a field guide or dichotomous key in a book, or online, to identify your species when you get home.
I have a small pocket general field guide that I have taken with me on walks but it’s been pretty useless. I only find what I am looking for about 5% of the time. Most times I find I have to search quite specifically when I get home for what I am looking for. Here are a few useful sites for online identification.
Dichotomous Keys and Identification Keys
Recently a friend showed me how she identified a small snake they found in their backyard using a dichotomous key. This is a checklist that requires you to make observations of the specimen in a series of couplet characteristic observations in order to eliminate and work out a species.
You do need to have some knowledge of biology to use them for they use the correct terminology for identifying parts of your specimen. These keys while great to use if the species clearly can be separated into this linear process.
Here are some Australian identification and dichotomous keys for:
My Homeschool Curriculum
If you are looking for a curriculum that has already worked out all the planning for you then My Homeschool Graded Courses might be for you!
In short, it follows follows state and territory syllabus requirements while using a literature rich approach inspired by Charlotte Mason.