Tag Archives: Nature Journals

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.





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

Peony and Iris Nature Study

We had a terrific thunderstorm, and our newly-bloomed peonies and iris found themselves hammered to the ground from the force of the rain and wind.

Peony and Iris

Since it seemed a waste to lose them so fast without being able to enjoy them, we brought them into the school room in a vase, which naturally lead to a nature journal entry.

Peony & Iris Journal Entries

Nature Study in Winter?!! Ideas for Making It Happen

I shudder when I think about people being brave enough to sit out in the cold, snowy, windy weather with a bunch of cold, whiny children trying to accomplish their lofty goals of Nature Study year round.  That is why it works better for my family to do the Nature Walks and take mental notes of what we saw – then come home and notebook it.  Sometimes we do bring samples – leaves or nuts that have fallen, or something like that.  More often we take a picture with the camera and then come home.

But there are those nasty winter days (or weeks) when it really is not practical to go out.  I don’t want to lose out on Nature Study so here are some ideas that I have been using to help us get over the winter blahs of Nature Study.

1.  During the summer collect things like rocks, feathers, empty nests, cicada skins, shells, bones, etc that you can put it a Nature Study box and draw and label them on cold nasty days when you don’t want to be outside. The key to this box is that it is up and only you are allowed to get it down.  It will also have a time limit attached.  That way the Box is always new and exciting.

2.  Take digital pictures of insects, spiders, animals, birds, clouds, sunsets, fresh garden produce still “on the vine”, etc. and during the winter put it on the computer for nature study drawing.  Sonya Shafer says this allows for greater detail in some things.  Then look them up, label and add interesting details about it.

3.  My kids love to take pictures of the animals at the zoo.   Let them use those to draw, label, etc.

4.  Contact your Conservation Dept.  Our state conservation dept has created so much educational stuff about the states natural habitats, creatures, etc that they make available free to the homeschooling communities it is amazing.  We are very blessed here – they have tub kits about different subjects, videos, books, posters, flashcards, etc. that are free to anyone.  Something that I was totally impressed by was a K-2 science curriculum for homeschoolers that is basically a nature study through the seasons.  It has suggested activities for art, math, et… very cool.  See if you could do something different along those lines during the winter.

5.  Last year we  studied SCM Module 1 for history and geography.  What if we watched a video of African habitats and allowed my kids to pick an animal to draw and write about what they learned of that animal? They chose their subjects within the video parameters.  I could, in a fun way, reinforce my lessons in geography, zoology, etc.

 6.  Schedule visits to indoor nature places – Butterfly Houses, Conservatories, etc.   Even a visit to the art museum could count – let the children see how often artists depict nature (weather, animals, etc) in their work.  They could even draw their favorite in their nature journals.

7. Watch Nature dvds and enjoy the amazing animals and places that you will probably never go. 😉  Let each person choose one animal, bird, insect, creature, etc. to report (draw and notebook) about.  I have done this with some of my nature videos and it is neat to see what they pick up.  In order to keep attention focused, they had to have 1 fact for each “grade” they are in – so my 11 year old would have to remember 5 details of the animal she chose to focus on.

8.  National Geographic Kids online has a fun link to learn about animals.  My 4 and 5 year olds love to look at it:   http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/animals/creaturefeature/

Nature Study, Part 5: Tweaking the Ideas to Fit Our Family

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:

Nature Study, Part 1

Nature Study, Part 2

Nature Study, Part 3

Nature Study, Part 4

Nature Study, Part 4: Journaling the Experiences

So now that you have made your list of goals and gotten started on implementing them in your chosen space, you need to get started on the journaling aspect of nature study.  These were taken from our Nature Journals based on last years entries prior to our recent move.  These were on the deck and used our simple additions to create spontaneous Nature Study moments.  My goal in Nature Study is NOT to create fabulous prodigy artists, but to have them learn to LOOK at their surroundings and be observant.

This is our journal entry of the imaptiens on the deck.

We set up a hummingbird feeder and had many visitors.  Here is how the girls journaled that experience while sitting at the kitchen table:

There is always one really possessive bird in that bunch!  He will try to drive everyone else away – you can actually hear the vrooom of his swiftly diving wings as he is doing that.  They become so used to you on the other side of the window or door that you see them very closely.  One day I was sitting on the bench outside the door and the birds flew within 12 inches of my head.  I’m glad that they missed my forehead, LOL.

Here is one of the first entries the girls made:

Grandpa caught this amazing moth and brought it to the girls to observe and draw.   It was in a container while they drew it.

These are opportunities that I must now seek out since we moved.  Instead of being home and taking advantage of the moments, I have to plan them.  Here are some sketches we did out on the trail.  The plants are the easiest to do since they are generally not walking, flying or slithering around. 😉

They turned out well that week. However,  the next few entries look not so nice – lots of distractions and they were not focusing.  It is hard to do serious Nature Study on the trail with lots of small children, a busy trail, and different speeds of drawing.

Next week, I will share how I tweaked our Nature Study and how it has become our favorite subject. 

See other posts in this series:

Nature Study, Part 1

Nature Study, Part 2

Nature Study, Part 3

Nature Study, Part 5

Nature Study, Part 3: Using your porch or patio

We should remember that Nature Study is not a formal topic requiring lots of information in order to pass a test.  Charlotte suggested “all is incidental, easy, and things are noticed as they occur.” (vol. 3, pg. 237).

Nature Study can be intentional and you can set goals, make plans, and “revel” in nature with a little bit of work.  My statement here refers to creating an environment where nature study is normal, interesting, and exciting without being forced or coerced.  We are merely INVITING nature to be a bit closer to us for our mutual benefit.

We can do nature study anywhere – even in our backyard on the deck, in our front yard, in the vegetable garden, on the window ledge.  Even in a flower pot in the house or an ant farm, a fish tank, hermit crabs, etc.

When we had a lot of green growth and small trees surrounding our yard with a stable source of water for the birds and animals, we saw lots of things.  All I needed to do to the deck was add a hummingbird feeder and some easy care flowering plants and some hostas for green foliage.   We had some moments there – from turtles and opoosums, to raccoons and 25 year old spiders as big as my hand (don’t ask – it still gives me the willies) to butterflies, mud-dabbers, snakes and moles.  Then we moved to a house with no trees (they had to be cut down) and not much greenery for birds and animals.

To enjoy the seasons and invite nature into your area, think of the goals you have.

  •  Do you want birds?
  •  Do you want insects like butterflies, ladybugs, and bees?
  • Do you want to watch a plant grow, flower and produce?  What are you interested in?
  • Do you want frogs or fish?

There are many ways of attracting these things to your small space and you can do it fairly easily.  Since we recently moved, I have realized that my goals will need to be re-examined and new ones made.

Things that are important to us are the birds and so feeders and bird baths are important.  We love wild animals (from a safe distance) and so we need to provide cover for them – and maybe some food to help them be interested.  We also want insects – bees, butterflies, praying mantis’, ladybugs, and other critters like, gulp! – spiders.  We want color and interest in our yard year-round so need to plant some things that will accomplish  that.  We have wanted a little waterfall and fish pond for years.  I have been studying the Grow Native! plans on what to plant and where for optimum color, soil retention, and wildlife habitat.  I am excited to get started on it!

Here are some kid and nature friendly ideas for small spaces:

Simple Fish Pond

Terra Cotta Flower Pot Bird Bath

Plant some colorful flowers

Add a hummingbird feeder

Stick a shepherd’s hook in your flower pots and hang a bird feeder on it.

Look who you attract with that:

How fun to watch him up close and personal!

See the other posts in the series:

Nature Study, Part 1

Nature Study, Part 2

Nature Study, Part 4

Nature Study, Part 5