Friday, June 13, 2014

From Kathy: The Gentle Art of Nature Study

Recently, I was talking with a group of homeschooling mothers when one of the mothers asked me, “Kathy, how do you do nature study?” To be honest, it doesn’t seem it was that long ago I was asking myself the same question. When our daughter was a toddler, I decided it was time to read up on this particular topic. After all, I was a homeschooling parent and I needed to be able to facilitate and guide my child in this particular branch of science. How hard could it be?

A Charlotte Mason Approach to Nature Study

I began to peruse the writings of Charlotte Mason and during my readings I came across this golden nugget of information from her: “It would be well if all we 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 in 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.” (1)

Introducing Children to Nature

Bingo! I hit the jackpot and now had something to work with. The first thing I did with our toddler was to take her outside in our backyard several times a day for “nature explorer time.” Basically what this consisted of was the two of us venturing into our spacious backyard to look at nature. Looking for and observing birds, ants, worms, flowers, trees, spider webs, the weather became a daily adventure for us. As our daughter grew older, I began to take her to the local botanical center and nature garden several times a week. With her toddler energy she would run laps around the botanical center, stopping every now and then to look at the plants and flowers. In the outdoor garden, she would explore the various themed gardens and the wonders within them. Here I practiced what Charlotte calls, “Picture Painting.” I would get my daughter to look at a portion of the garden, then have her shut her eyes and tell me about the picture she saw in her mind. The purpose of this exercise is to teach your child to see fully and in detail. Although this act is fun for the child, it helps to develop their powers of attention, so that they begin to do it unconsciously, until it becomes a habit. On the weekends, our family would go hiking at a nearby state park. Here, our daughter was introduced to the woods, forests and its inhabitants. Daily outings to a local park offered an afternoon out in the open. I learned to allow my child to play vigorously, and at the same time allowing her to stop occasionally to observe the beauty of the earth and the heavens.

Incorporating Guides and Literature into Your Nature Study

As she grew into the primary and intermediate years the study of nature grew as our daughter grew. She began to develop an interest in botany, which led us to utilizing the following books: One Small Square: Backyard, The Usborne Complete First Book of Nature, and The Golden Guides. Interest in nature gave way to conducting science experiments which revolved around a nature theme using Janice Van Cleave’s Let’s Play and Find Out About Nature, Science Play: Beginning Discoveries for 2-6 Year Olds, and The Usborne Book of Science Activities

Photo by Kathy Alphs
“As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature diary is a source of delight to a child.” (2) During the latter primary years, our daughter started her own nature diary. The diary is filled with her drawings of flowers, plants, leaves, flowers, observations based on nature, the science experiments she conducted at the time and photographs she has taken of the great outdoors. Her study of nature has also crossed over into the world of literature. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss and Aesop's Fables are some of her favorite “nature themed” pieces of literature. 

Nature Study as a Part of Everyday Life

“On fine days when it is warm enough to sit out with wraps, why should not tea and breakfast, everything but a hot dinner, be served out of doors? For we are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage turns to see; and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increases of brain power and bodily vigor, and to the lengthening of life itself...Never be within doors when you can “rightly” be without.” (3) I heartily concur with Charlotte’s advice. Our family has made it a tradition to eat all three of our meals out of doors as the weather permits. As we talk together as a family, we are able to witness the miracle of God’s creation in the form of birdsong, bees buzzing from flower to flower and the scent of wildflowers and lilac wafting through the gentle breeze.

The pursuit of nature study can be a family activity or a solitary pursuit. To assist you in your study, I would recommend Karen Andreola’s book, A Pocketful of Pinecones, and Exploring Nature with Your Child by Dorothy Edwards Shuttlesworth.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote from one of our daughter’s favorite scientist, George Washington Carver, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”


1. Mason, Charlotte M.; Home Education: Part II Out of Door Life for Children: Nature
Knowledge the Most Important for Young Children
 page 61; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Wheaton, Illinois; 1989.
2. Ibid, page 54.
3. Ibid, page 42.

Thank you so much Kathy! These are wonderful suggestions and thoughtful ways to incorporate nature study into our daily lives. And summer is the perfect time to start making a habit of getting out of doors and enjoying God's beautiful creation. 

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