Saturday, December 30, 2017

How To Get Started With Nature Study


As we approach the end of our 12-year homeschooling journey, I have been pondering on some of the many aspects of our learning that we have enjoyed over the years. Nature Study has played quite an important part in our learning home and has been instrumental in leading my eldest daughter into her chosen career field. This year she will begin an illustration degree as she hopes to become a botanical illustrator, a passion ignited from years of nature study and keeping a nature journal.

The importance of nature study is this...it lays the foundation for science lessons and a relationship is formed between child and nature. It really is quite simple to implement although I know many moms feel daunted by just where to begin. I'm hoping that this post will encourage those new to Nature Study to set aside fears and enjoy being outdoors with your children.


Let's Do This Step-by-Step:


'Never be within doors when you can rightly be without' - Charlotte Mason


Charlotte Mason's concept was quite simple. Go outside with your family at least once a week. Give each family member a nature notebook/journal in which to record their observations. Their entry could include a sketch, notes, a watercolour painting, descriptions, even a quote or poem relative to their entry.

Charlotte Mason advocated spending many hours outdoors every single day, even in winter. She recognised that Creation, the great outdoors, nature, is a great place to learn. Most children have a natural curiosity about the natural world around them and the more time they have to be outdoors, the more they tune into the world around them. They become more observant, familiar with the rhythms of nature, with the plants they come across and the animals that cross their paths. Let your children discover the world around them by encouraging them to 'watch patiently, and quietly, until they learn something of the habits and history of bee, ant, wasp, spider, hairy caterpillar, dragonfly, and whatever larger growth comes their way...[vol 1 pp 57]' - OBSERVATION is one of the best ways to learn!


'They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of the earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this - that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder - and grow' - CM Vol 1 pp44


How tempting it is for us to 'teach', yet Charlotte Mason likens our good intentions to a perpetual cackle. Personally, I feel that this takes off an awful lot of pressure for us to 'know' everything. Nature is the teacher and we learn from observing. Don't get in the way of this education, rather facilitate it by making sure that you set aside a regular time each week to get outdoors.

Of course, we are to be ready to answer questions and every-so-often, to be the interpreter between our children and nature...


'There is one thing the mother will allow herself to do as interpreter between nature and the child, but not oftener than once a week or once a month, and with look or gesture with delight rather than with flow of improving words - she will point out to the child some touch of especial loveliness in colouring or grouping in the landscape or heavens' - CM Vol 1, pp79


when I say to be ready to answer questions I do not mean that you need to know the answers. I have Anna Botsford Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study book and together we read up on something that caught our attention or that we want to know about. 

'by-and-by he will learn the bearing of facts with which he is already familiar - a very different thing from learning the reason why of facts which have never come to his notice.' - CM Vol 1, pp 70


Don't fret about learning facts. They will come as Charlotte Mason says 'by-an-by'. First, your child needs to have formed that relationship which comes from being outdoors and observing.

Excited Yet?


It's really easy isn't it?  You don't have to 'know' it all, all you have to do is get outdoors with your children. Take that nature journal with you or bring something indoors from your walk to record in your nature notebook. I would encourage you to read Charlotte Mason's writings for yourself but if you find it heavy going I would suggest getting your hands of a copy of Karen Andreolas 'A Charlotte Mason Companion' which makes for an easy and inspiring reading of the Charlotte Mason philosophy in a nutshell.


Alternatively, read Karen Andreolas 'A Pocketful of Pinecones'. This is a story of a mother who begins her homeschooling journey with her two children. In this, her first year, she focuses on putting a Charlotte Mason education in place, more specifically, nature study. The reader gets a detailed 'how-to' on putting nature study in place in her homeschool. I have read my own copy at least 4 times over the years!

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Suggested Start-Up Supplies


Below I have listed some of the essential supplies that we use in our homeschool.

  • A little set of 12 half pan watercolour paints will last you years. I bought each of my girls their own set as a 'start-of-the-school-year' gift and only had to replace them 8 years later! Well worth the investment.


  • We love this square Global Art sketchbook. The pages are thick enough to take watercolour and it's easy to take outdoors with you. Of course, any sketchbook would do it is completely a matter of personal preference and budget.



  • Anna Botsford Comstock's book Handbook of Nature Study is a bit of an outlay but we have honestly used it every single week of our homeschooling over the past 12 years.



Along with Barb's Handbook of Nature Study nature challenges, this book has guided us, equipped and taught us so much. If you decide to use the Handbook of Nature Study weekly nature challenges, a free step-by-step resource (see below) you WILL need this book. If there is one nature book that you invest I recommend the Handbook of Nature Study.


Recommended Free Resource We have Used



The most valuable free resource we have used alongside our Handbook of Nature Study is Barb's Handbook of Nature Study weekly nature challenges

This is a fabulous resource that you can pick up no matter the season. I highly recommend visiting the 'Getting Started' section if you are new to nature study and read the tips on beginning your nature adventure.

I hope that this post has gone some way to giving you a boost in confidence to start nature study when you begin lessons in 2018. So often I hear mums say that they don't know where to start, or that they don't feel confident in their drawing skills with regards to keeping a journal. These things can feel like huge obstacles and become an excuse for procrastination so we end up never doing something that in our hearts we really want to do.

Lovelies, please take heart. Let nature do the teaching. Get outdoors with your children and enjoy making memories together. You never know where it can lead to. You could be raising the next David Attenborough or as in our case an aspiring botanical illustrator. May 2018 be the year that you jump in and begin this very rewarding adventure.

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