How does one start ‘nature study’? What does nature study look like? What books will help in my journey? How do I learn names of trees and plants? These were questions I wrestled with and while we are still very early on in our journey I have seen progress from knowing nothing to where we are today, which is knowing a little bit more than nothing.
Nature Study is an important part of a Charlotte Mason educational approach.
Because of my own lack of knowledge of nature I did not enjoy nature study, nor did I think I could adequately teach my own children – but as with most areas where I realize my lack, I can see the Lord’s hand in equipping me.
Nature is His creation, the works of His hands, and it has been essential to heighten my own appreciation of God as the creator of all things in order to enjoy nature study.
We must always be more enamored with the Creator rather than His creation. Let it never be said of us;
“…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Romans 1:25)
It is interesting to see in Revelation that even the angels worship God for His works of creation;
“Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power,
for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
I have found it a natural progression to love more deeply the Creator and the works of His hands, and a love and appreciation for the creation follows.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)
But, that of course still leaves a deep lack in the practical realm of approaching nature study.
So, how does one start a nature study in ones home school?
Simply surround yourself with nature. Sit outside. Bring something inside.
Observe the smells, the textures, the colors, the beauty, or the oddities of something.Take time to just sit and observe – with eyes and ears.
Draw what you see. Oh! What a learning curve this is. I have not devoted myself to it, and therefore have not seen much growth – but it will come in time and discipline.
Plant a garden, even just a single pot – a hands on connection with nature. It has been exciting for our boys to watch a seed slowly transform. For them to nurture the seed and watch it, overtime, transform to a mighty plant.
Keep a nature journal of observations. Track the weather, the moon cycles, the temperature. Use the nature journal as a holding place for all drawings of nature.
Start a nature box – an area in your home dedicated to the things you find in nature that you (or the children) wish to save. We started ours a few years ago and it’s really been a huge deal in our family. The boys love adding to it and they love showing it off to interested visitors. We have also had friends contribute to it, which has been really cool! A lemon shark jaw is among our collection thanks to a friend.
Find a place you can go to enjoy nature. Our zoo is about an hour away, which is sad as we would spend way more time there if it were closer! They have such beautiful gardens. We will take backpacks to the gardens and sit and draw. I play music by our current composer study on my phone and hand out special food treats to make it feel like a special experience. There is a walking path with huge boulders that the boys enjoy running and jumping on, and it’s really just a very special place to go. We have beautiful parks that are much closer to our home, but the zoo gardens are our favorite. Having a special place, with a special ritual (for us, the music and food) creates a special atmosphere outside of our home study.
Take the time. Observation takes time. I have noticed the benefit to nature study far surpasses simply learning the names and details about creation. It teaches us to sit and be still. To see things. To take the time to see things. It teaches us that things change over time – and how much hope is contained in that truth?
Read good books. There are so many books on how to study nature or on nature itself. Broad sweeps of nature study, or specifically one aspect of it.
I try to keep stacks of nature books throughout the house as the boys like to grab something and sit. It would be foolish to label one book as “the best” for nature study – they are all SO different from one another and there is still a world of books on nature that we have yet to discover.
Below are some pictures of favorites. I have included pages of the insides of the pricier books, as I think they have been worth the money but tastes will vary. In our family we all enjoy just looking at pictures, and Cabinet of Natural Curiosities and The Art of Instruction are perfect for that. (both pictured in depth below.)
Books by Alfred G Milotte have been wonderful – him and his wife did a lot of traveling and nature observing for Disney (in the 50’s, I believe.) They are engaging writers and we have enjoyed the books we have read by them.
The Nature Connection – and really anything by Clare Walker Leslie – has been thoroughly enjoyed. I use her book as a guide and the drawing we do in our own notebooks, although as you see below she has plenty of room for drawing in the book.
I love BIG books with large pictures.
The Visual Dictionary of Animals – a great book for young children full of colorful pictures of various animals. Anatomy of Animals – a bit dry perhaps, but I have a love for Ernest E Thompson and his work. This book has pictures such as what you see above. His actual books about animals, told in story form, are SO good! I have mentioned his Life of a Grizzly in the past. It’s been almost two years since we read that book, and yet we still talk about Wahb, the grizzly. He has also written Two Little Savages – an exciting book for boys that ties in adventure and nature in a long winded but thrilling story.Cabinet of Natural Curiosities – a book of beautiful images, as you can see above.
The Art of Instruction – a collection of vintage posters, beautifully done.
I have many more books on nature that are either a wealth of knowledge on a specific subject, a broad covering of a subject that leaves you hungry for more, or beautifully illustrated books that we go back to over and over. I will work on pulling together more books to share on nature study, as they have truly been such a help in this journey of learning to enjoy nature study with my children!
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Does Nature Study come easily to me? What influences impact that response?
- How many trees can I recognize by leaf? How many birds by their call?
- How is my appreciation for God as Creator demonstrated?