Here are some of Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on being prepared for Nature Study –
“Uses of ‘Naturalists’ ‘ Books.––The real use of naturalists’ books at this stage is to give the child delightful glimpses into the world of wonders he lives in, to reveal the sorts of things to be seen by curious eyes, and fill him with desire to make discoveries for himself. There are many [Kingsley’s Water Babies and Madam How and Lady Why. All Mrs. Brightwen’s books. Miss Buckley’s (Mrs. Fisher) ‘Eyes and no Eyes’ Series. Life and her Children, etc. All Seton-Thompson’s books. Long’s The School of the Woods, The Little Brother of the Bear. Kearton’s Wild Nature’s Ways. Living Animals of the World.] to be had, all pleasant reading, many of them written by scientific men, and yet requiring little or no scientific knowledge for the enjoyment.
Mothers and Teachers should know about Nature.––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 observations. And not only the mother, but any woman, who is likely ever to spend an hour or two in the society of children, should make herself mistress of this sort of information; the children will adore her for knowing what they want to know, and who knows but she may give its bent for life to some young mind designed to do great things for the world.” (vol 1 pg 65)
And I agree with her. We as parents and teachers should know as much as possible in order to help the child have names for his/her discovery. It is really satisfying to hear my 4 and 5 year olds identifying birds by their real names – as well as animals and insects. As I am not a walking nature study expert, I do get stumped sometimes! (Sometimes, though, I think it would be fun to study and become a Master Conservationist through our state’s Dept. of Conservation when we are finished homeschooling – then I can still play in all this fun stuff!) When I get stumped, it is a wonderful opportunity to teach my children how to use their powers of observation and turn it into a lesson on researching for desired information – we have many books and the computer in our home to aid in that.
As always, I have to say – Charlotte Mason was definitely an inspired lady. However, life has changed a great deal since she was writing her ideas. We need to understand that it is okay to tweak her ideas to fit our families and individual children’s needs. So, make Nature Study your own. Do what you can and enjoy God’s wondrous creations.
Because it is so frustrating to try to sketch what I see, keep four kids happy, and not lose anything, I have discovered a secret. It may not be what Charlotte Mason had in mind when she taught about and advocating spending hours out doors in Nature Study type activities, but I find it infinitely more practical and helpful to observe it, identify it, and then come home and draw it around the table. Some things you can bring home like these acorns:
Others we observed, identified with our trusty little reference books, and turned into a science lesson and nature study. The butterflies are a great example of this. After we identified the Question Mark butterfly, we came home and researched it on the computer. The fabulous photos were so wonderful that I ended up giving them pictures of it at all stages of development. HorseyBug cut hers out and made a life cycle page – I liked it so much we all did one.
Then for several nature walks we focused on different butterflies:
And here is JitterBug’s Painted Lady:
These were done at home using the reference books to give us our guidance on colors and things.
I have to say that the quality of our entries has improved dramatically since we are at the table and not worrying about the mosquitoes, gnats, escaping 2 year olds, and other interruptions (dogs!) on a busy walking trail. Maybe someday when the kids are older we can spend those idyllic days in the fields with watercolors and papers. In the meantime, having tweaked this to suit our family, Nature Study is now our favorite subject.
See the other posts in this series: