Category Archives: Science

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling

Last year I was so blessed to go to the Charlotte Mason Institute’s 2016 Conference. It was an amazing 4 days of immersions and workshops, friends and fellow CM mamas, and learning and growing. (if you have a chance, you should go to one. They now have 2 full conferences a year: CMI East and CMI West. This is where my online video CM group met – and we’ve been reading her volumes and discussing them together for about 2 years now. They are all great ladies – and what a fabulous support group! But I digress…)

The keynote speaker was John Muir Laws (aka Jack Laws), noted naturalist, artist, author, and educator. His presentations were fabulous – especially since he had taken the time to read Charlotte Mason’s works. It was neat to see and hear how modern science is proving the things that Miss Mason said about  training our brains and how important nature study is, even today.

(John Muir Laws at lunch with my group! 🙂 )

I invited him to eat lunch with us one day and we had a fun time learning how to dry brush in the field. He’s lots of fun…and his ideas on involving people in nature and in recording what they see are inspirational and motivating.


CMI usually has pre-Conference reading book lists and so Jack’s new book was on the list. I actually resisted it for a few months – it is $35.00 after all, and I already have tons of field guides and lots of reference books on Nature Study. I finally bought it for the family for Christmas. It is AMAZING! It also is not what I thought it was, either. This book could easily replace several others on my shelf. It has so much stuff in it!

We have been using the drawing instruction section once a week as our “Drawing Lessons” for about 10-15 minutes. Then the next time we are drawing in our Nature Journals I encourage the kids to remember what we have practiced in our drawing lessons. So far it has worked really well.

If you don’t have the money to spend on his book, he encouraged us to look at his website – a lot of stuff in the book is available there. Birds, animals, landscapes, insects, flowers, plants, trees, etc. are located within the archives. It’s a great way to add practical drawing lessons to our lessons.




Composition Notebooks: Narrating, Organizing Papers, and Record Keeping at the Same Time

When I first started homeschooling, I used 3-ring notebook pages for my girls to record their school assignments on. It didn’t take long to decide that was a mess – the notebooks were huge and took up so much space on the table, they wore out quickly,  they took up a ton of space on the book shelf, and worst of all, the papers would tear out and be messy.

On the suggestion of a friend on the SCM forum, I decided to try using composition notebooks instead. They cost less than a $1, they are compact, they are small, they do not weigh a lot, and little hands can easily maneuver them about. I also made the executive decision that there were not going to be as many notebooks, so I combined history, geography, and science in one book since often it is hard to separate them. My younger girls officially started “real” school in 2014-2015, and I made them their own notebooks. We filled in the last pages of them last month, and what an unexpected treasure they were.

These are the actual notebooks. They span from August 2014 to March 2017. School years are separated by sticky tabs.

These are a couple of the science entries:

Some History entries:


I finally started dividing pages for multiple entries as well:

We also have separate notebooks for their Bible Studies:

As I was filing them away in their portfolios, my husband and I spent some time looking through them. It was particularly gratifying to me as we did because my youngest daughter kept looking over our shoulders, explaining what each page and drawing meant. I learned several things that night:

  • We are doing work and progressing, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the day-to-day trenches.
  • That knowledge was a very great blessing to me as I have struggled with my health at the beginning of this school year. (I am doing much better now. Still have issues, but I can function again!)
  • Narration works. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, it doesn’t always have to be “pretty” and “perfect.” Drawing, writing, speaking, acting: it all adds up and makes incredible differences in the ability to remember things.
  • The kids love to see and think about the things that they know. What a great refresher course for them, too!

Keeping a Nature Journal

“Beauty is everywhere – in white clouds against the blue, in the gray bole of the beech, the play of a kitten, the lovely flight and beautiful coloring of birds, in the hills and valleys and the streams, in the wind-flower and the blossom of the bloom. What we call Nature is all Beauty and delight, and the person who watches Nature closely and knows her well, like the poet Wordsworth, for example, has his Beauty Sense always active, always bringing him joy.”

~ Charlotte Mason (Vol. 4, pp. 41, 42)

There is a book called Keeping a Nature Journal by Claire Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth that has been much touted as an essential nature study book for homeschooling mothers who aren’t sure about how to DO nature journals in a Charlotte Mason Education. (You know – the moms who need to know everything about how to do something “right” before ever attempt to actually try it. 😉 ) A friend of mine gave it to me a couple of years ago and I have been reading it off and on since.


This book contains many suggestions of ways to Nature Journal: what to include, how often to go out, how to record what you see, and more. There are many chapters full of actual samples of different types of journals – by layout, topic, area, seasons, weather, and more.  It also includes a few tips on how to draw different things in your journals – with some basic ideas of how to get more practice before going outdoors. One way the author gets time to draw in her nature journal when she is busy is by collecting a few objects while out on a walk – a seedpod, leaves, a feather – and taking them home to save for a time when she can sit for a few minutes to draw. It is in this act that she finds time to slow down, concentrate, then think and relax.

The book also has a section called Teaching Journaling to Groups of All Ages and gives specific tips on  how to interest adults, children, school groups and more  in starting and maintaining a nature journal.

We as teachers and mothers make Nature Study so hard when we think we have to find the pristine, untouched nature around us – and that paralyzes those of us in cities. How are we to do that realistically??  I was struck by Claire Walker Leslie’s comment about including human structures in our drawings – we are part of nature and the habitat.  When viewed this way, we can let go and enjoy ourselves in the moment.  And that is the beauty of it all – learning and living!

Benefits of Nature Study: Building Skills and Knowledge

“A love of Nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them, will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humor.”

~ Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, pg. 71)

We have been keeping Nature Journals since we started homeschooling  – it seemed easy enough to do: go outside, observe something closely in nature and draw it. What I didn’t realize is how much the kids would actually enjoy it and look forward to our nature walks. I should have – Miss Mason didn’t build her philosophy and methods on things that she hadn’t tried and proven many times over – I now see that 7 years down the road of this journey.

It is a joy to take my youngest child on a nature walk. She is so full of enthusiasm and interest. She loves to point out things that she notices. Her seat in the car has a storage space next to it for drinks and stuff. It is always full of the treasures she wants to save, explore, draw and enjoy. 

“We must rid ourselves of the notion that to learn the 3 R’s or the Latin grammar well, a child should learn these and nothing else. It is as true for children as for ourselves that, the wider the range of interests, the more intelligent is the apprehension of each.”

~ Charlotte Mason (Vol. 3, pg. 209)

Nature Study and the subsequent journaling are natural invitations to explore the world – to see it up close and personal. I have written several posts before about nature study – how to do it and why. But recently I realized that I have noticed some things in my kids that made me want to re-dedicate myself to this so-simple-it-is-too-easy-to-work practice.

“The nature note books which originated in the P.U.S. [Charlotte Mason’s Parents’ Union School] have recommended themselves pretty widely as traveling companions and life records wherein the ‘finds’ of every season, bird or flower, fungus or moss, is sketched and described…. The nature note book is very catholic [universal] and finds room for the stars in their courses and for, say, the fossil anemone on the beach at Whitby. Certainly these notebooks do a great deal to bring science within the range of common thought and experience; we are anxious not to make science a utilitarian subject.”

~ Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, p. 223)

Some of the benefits of skills and knowledge that I have noticed include (but aren’t limited to):

  • increased appreciation of the beauty found in everyday nature
  • the ability to creatively express themselves in various media forms: written and drawn, even photography.
  • better technical drawing
  • increased perception of world around them and ability to question and wonder
  • ability to connect science reading and knowledge with real life experiences
  • increased self-confidence and self-awareness
  • better physical coordination and abilities
  • willingness to “be” in the moment – to slow down and see
  • shared family culture through enjoying experiences together

What are the benefits you have seen from your Nature Study?

P.S. – Some previous posts that you might enjoy:



Need Quick Subject Guide to a Charlotte Mason Education?

Did I ever tell you one of my favorite things about Simply Charlotte Mason? I haven’t in detail, I am sure, so I thought I would mention it today: their subject handbooks. Who knew? 😉

When I am reading Charlotte Mason’s original volumes, I often wish I had all her quotes on certain subjects together and I often daydream about having time to color code each subject for easy reference. But I then think that sounds overwhelming and I don’t do it. 😉  Today I picked up a book that has been on my shelf for literally years – and one that I read cover to cover and I realized that someone has taken the time to do that!  Yea!! And I realized that that book is the reason so many of her words are familiar as I read the Original Homeschooling Series. {Cue embarrassed smile}

Sonya Shafer, Karen Smith, and Richele Babarina have spent countless hours reading and gathering the ideas and words that Miss Mason wrote about various subjects and collecting them into cohesive comprehensible handbooks designed with both the newbie and the seasoned CM homeschool parent in mind. Each handbook includes:

  • extensive CM quotes on the subject with references
  • a sideline for you to record thoughts and notes
  • definition of unknown or less familiar words
  • explanations of unknown people or places referenced in the quotes
  • thought provoking questions to ponder, and
  • practical ideas for implementation.

These guides are invaluable to a busy person trying to educate themselves on Miss Mason’s philosophy and methods while actually in the trenches of teaching the children. They give you solid ground to build on as you work your way into the original volumes – the whys and hows are so important to help prevent burnout and build that solid foundation as you live out Miss Mason’s idea that “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.”  I highly recommend them. There are 6 of them available through Simply Charlotte Mason.

The Early Years: A Charlotte Mason Preschool Handbook (DVD also available)

Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook  (also available Laying Down the Rails for Children and Laying Down the Rails for Yourself)

Hours in the Out-of-Doors:  A Charlotte Mason Nature Study Handbook

Hearing and Reading, Writing and Telling: A Charlotte Mason Language Arts Handbook

Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching (DVD also available)

And, for extra clarification on narration (since that is the keystone of a CM Education),

Your Questions Answered: Narration

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way for my thoughts on the handbooks. I find them helpful and wanted to share. 


Random Nature Study Moments

I find often the best nature study moments are the unplanned, spontaneous times that we are truly engaged and interested in the subject – because it’s neat and it’s not “school”. =) Here are some of the fun, random moments from this summer.  Continue reading