My mother and her father (my grandfather) was a little bit of a naturalist. My mother use to take walks with me in the woods and share that her father use to do the same. He would know every name of every tree and they would talk about it as they went on. My mother would tell me of these stories and do the same with me as we took our walks together through the woods. My favorite was when we started to go on wildflower hunts in our neighboring forest. She wanted our back yard to flourish with native wildflower so she began a hunt to find a variety of local wildflowers and transplant them to our backyard.
She pulled a moderately rusty red wagon behind her through the woods, with my sister and I trailing along behind her. My mother would stop at a patch of plants with long green stalks that lead up to leaves which hung like an umbrella. The first time we saw these she crouched down beside them and lifted the leaves so we could see the white flower beneath, as though she had unearthed gold she softly whispered, “Mayapple.” This was how I learned just about every wildflower in lower Michigan.
Nature Study is relationship building.
Yet, it wasn’t just that I was learning all of the names of local plant, animal, or insect life rather it was how I was learning it. These expeditions are some of my fondest memories with my mom and sister, ones that I would come to cherish for many years to come. My entire childhood was a soft introduction to nature study, planting a love for the out of doors that is deeply rooted in my heart.
20 years later and I am scaling the local forest with my own children then teaching them through a living science.
Perhaps you desire to teach your own children a living science through nature study?
Initially, I began with in-home insect kits that I purchased off of amazon. Then I read Home Education by Charlotte Mason a classical education philosopher from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. Charlotte’s works are meaty, I’ve found that it isn’t enough to read anything of hers just once. Rather, her works need studied, referred back to, particularly after experiencing something that correlates to her methodical approach to education. Charlotte’s instructions in nature study have aided in honing the art of teaching nature study to my own children. I highly suggest reading her first volume, Home Education.
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What is actual Nature Study?
Ideally, your child is immersed in nature in close observation. It could be a monarch caterpillar inching the stalk of a milkweed plant. Watching as it climbs to the bridge where the leaf stem and plant stalk merge. Your child takes in all that s/he can which comes under all of their senses. They mentally process what they observe and if they should pick up the caterpillar, then they experience their nature observation through kinesthetic learning. Young children should be let to explore in wonderment until their curious minds pose questions.
I recall our most recent nature walk with a group of other children that are also educated at home. We had already walked for about an hour when some of the older children of the group wandered ahead to explore. I can still hear their excited voices, “We found a whole bunch of skunk cabbage.” Then a still softer voice, “Does it really smell like skunk?” Then another, “Lets find out.”
The beauty of nature study.
This is what makes nature study gentle yet so enriching for children. Their observations, natural curiosity, and self lead exploration bring them to countless questions which upon further inspection and careful watching may be answered on their own. Each intimate interaction with nature forms deeper connections within the minds eye and builds an intricate and solid foundation in natural science.
If you are looking to begin nature study then start with giving your children endless time out of doors. Begin softly by taking a weekly nature walk to build the habit of regular nature exploration. In this way, your children will begin to learn the environment and habitat of their local wildlife, plant, and insect population. In time, they will become familiar with the very ground certain plants grow each season or where certain animals build their homes.
To get you started in nature walks here is a free wildflower themed nature walk printable to take along with you.
This printable includes both the common and scientific name of each provided wildflower. It is a good habit to use both interchangeably while learning of each nature observation, your child will pick it up and learn them both this way as well.
Introduce a nature diary or journal.
“As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter…” Charlotte Mason
The idea of a nature diary is for your child to visually record his or her nature observation. It isn’t so much about how well your child can paint or sketch, rather it is them studying their nature observation closely and then further building those neuropathways by reflecting on the mental image and committing it to paper. At first, it may be a rough sketch or a blobby looking piece of artwork but as the child progresses they will develop into recognizable pictures. Soon you can guide them in labeling them and pointing out the anatomical structure of each nature observation. When a child is able to write then they may reproduce a favorite poem or a written narrative on the adjacent page. To fill in the cracks of what nature didn’t answer children should be supplied with information obtained from field guides or through lively stories that convey those necessary facts as the story unfolds.
I often reflect on those wonderful childhood memories of taking walks in nature with my mother. It was both informative and a joyous pillar in building our mother daughter relationship. Can you see yourself teaching your own children through living science? Would you like to start? What are your thoughts on nature study?