The Importance of Nature Study in a Charlotte Mason Education
“Out-of-door nature-study lays the foundation for science.” (vol. 3, pg. 281), Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason advocated that a child spend hours in the out-of-doors daily to get fresh air, exercise, explore, make observations, and play. But one half a day weekly was reserved for intentional nature study in her schools. Intentional Nature Study meant an afternoon where children observed closely, identified, and recorded their nature observations in a journal. It sound idealistic, doesn’t it? She was a teacher – she had help with the laundry, cleaning, shopping, training, and even with teaching. Surely this is one subject that could be relegated to the turn of the century past???
It seems too simple – an observant walk that points out things of interest in Nature and recording it in a journal – to be considered a Serious School Subject. And yet, Charlotte Mason wrote many things about why we should start pointing out and observing many different thing in nature when our children are very young. She said:
“It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.” (vol.1, pg. 61)
“… Nature teaches so gently, so gradually, so persistently, that he is never overdone, but goes on gathering little stores of knowledge about whatever comes before him.” (vol.1, pg. 66)
“And this is the process the child should continue for the first few years of his life. Now is the storing time which should be spent in laying up images of things familiar. By-and-by he will have to conceive of things he has never seen: how can he do it except by comparison with things he has seen and knows? By-and-by he will be called upon to reflect, understand, reason; what material will he have, unless he has a magazine of facts to go upon? The child who has been made to observe how high in the heavens the sun is at noon on a summer’s day, how low at noon on a day in mid-winter, is able to conceive of the great heat of the tropics under a vertical sun, and to understand the climate of a place depends greatly upon the mean height the sun reaches above the horizon.” (vol.1, pg.66)
“That the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes––moor or meadow, park, common, or shore––where he may find new things to examine, and so add to his store of real knowledge. That the child’s observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis of scientific knowledge.” (vol.1, pg. 178)
Upon reading Hours in the Out of Doors: A Charlotte Mason Nature Study Handbook by Karen Smith and Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason (a collection of Charlotte’s own words about Nature Study) and beginning to read her works for myself, my attitude started to change and I began to “catch the vision” and get excited.
A simple plan to intentionally go on a Nature Walk twice a week – varying our routes occasionally – has turned into my family’s favorite subject. My sweet children beg to go on an adventure. We see things. We enjoy them. We talk. We laugh. We marvel at the beauty. We come home as friends and companions – happy and refreshed physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Intentional Nature Study as part of our homeschool studies has revolutionized our Science classes, enriched our family relationships, and captured our interest in, for, and about the magnificent wonder of God’s creations.
You can see the other posts in the series here: