Nature Study in a Nutshell

“OK, I’m convinced that nature study is a great thing! We’re ready to go outside and do nature study! . . . Uh, . . . what do we do when we get out there?” Here are some of Charlotte’s key descriptions of how to do nature study.

  • Make the acquaintance of wild flowers, trees, creatures — all natural objects near your home. “Let him know, with friendly intimacy, the out-of-door objects that come in his way — the redstart, the rosechaffer, the ways of the caddis-worm, forest trees, field flowers — all natural objects, common and curious, near his home. No other knowledge is so delightful as this common acquaintance with natural objects” (Vol. 2, p. 77).
  • Watch creatures patiently and quietly until you learn their ways, “until they learn something of the habits and history of bee, ant, wasp, spider, hairy caterpillar, dragon-fly, and whatever of larger growth comes in their way” (Vol. 1, p. 57).
  • Let your child observe what he will without making a big deal of it. “Let him do just so much as he takes to of his own accord; but never urge, never applaud, never show him off” (Vol. 2, p. 77). (Note: In Volume 1, page 54, Charlotte did encourage parents to share the joy of discovery with their children. Here she is warning us to be careful that we don’t give our children the idea that nature study is a performance or a show.)
  • Notice things as they occur. “All is incidental, easy, and things are noticed as they occur” (Vol. 3, p. 237). In other words, nature study is not an outdoor structured, organized, and pre-planned science class lesson.
  • Give additional information as your child is ready for it. “They notice for themselves, and the teacher gives a name or other information as it is asked for, and it is surprising what a range of knowledge a child of nine or ten acquires” (Vol. 3, p. 237).
  • Take nature walks so your child can notice weather, clouds, rocks, the course of the sun, and the lay of the land. If desired, invite a knowledgeable friend to accompany you on your nature walks to provide information that you may not know as your child requires it. (Volume 3, page 237 gives a great description of a nature walk.)
  • Record your observations in a nature notebook. (We will talk more about the nature notebook next time.)
  • Remember, even if you live in the city, you can

    1. Observe pets;
    2. Take a field trip to a pond to gather tadpoles in a bottle;
    3. Observe an ant farm;
    4. Observe other insects, such as flies, crickets, and spiders;
    5. Watch the sparrows or other local birds;
    6. Look at clouds, trees, hills, streams, or flowers (Vol. 1, p. 56, 60; Vol. 4, Book 1, p. 42).

Karen Andreola has written a delightful living book that allows you to follow one family as they do nature study: Pocketful of Pinecones. Parents will learn a lot about what nature study looks like by reading this story and will be inspired to “go and do likewise.” (Note: Pocketful of Pinecones is designed to be an instructional book for parents, not to use as a read-aloud to the children.) Look for Pocketful of Pinecones at your local library or follow the link in our CM Bookfinder.

Now that you’ve read Charlotte’s main principles, what are some ways that you’ve put them into practice? Do you have any examples you could share?

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3 Responses to “Nature Study in a Nutshell”

  1. Betty August 10, 2007 at 7:12 am #

    Most of our nature experiences find us! We pray for it! Living in the city and in a suburb, it is challenging to experience nature the same way as my more northern friends who even have different seasons.

    While planting some new flowers along the front of our house, (I wish I could remember what they are!!!), all of a sudden we had a snail invasion. The snails only attacked the flowers with the purple blooms! We tried a couple of homemade remedies like salt to get the snails off the flowers, but had to resort to some store bought powder. That was such a learning experience for us.

    Also, two years ago, we bought a mulberry bush hoping to attract birds. Because of our neighbor’s 10 cats, we don’t get any birds, but we have found a peculiar beetle we have never seen before. As far as we know, this beetle has never been spotted in our yard till now. Our goal is to identify it. But how did it “find” it’s host tree? That’s amazing.

    We rescued a baby dove and I really thought the little thing would not make it. But we have been feeding it “baby bird formula” and watching all his developments. (I call it a “he” but don’t know). We have seen his feathers come in, he’s walking now, and he just started perching. What an up close nature experience!

    We have collected shells from our various trips to the beach, and on rainy days, I’ve thought to get them out with a field guide and have the children identify them.

    When it’s too hot to be outside during the day for much, there’s always meteor showers to look at! I’m trying to get more creative with night nature study!

    So, my point is to take advantage of what the Lord places in your lap. If I would just do that, we would have so much to do outside. We try very much to bring nature to us with bird feeders and plants. That really makes nature study almost effortless. But for me, it takes “eyes” to appreciate it and take advantage of it.

    Grace & Peace,

  2. Deborah D August 11, 2007 at 6:09 am #

    We have a woods and creek behind our house. The kids LOVE exploring there for hours. They find frogs and lizards frequently, and tons of fossils, rocks and crystals. We have spent time collecting leaves for identification and rubbing. And we love going for long hikes. We also greatly enjoy bird watching in our backyard. We have several feeders and a guide handy at our window for naming our feathered friends.

    Deborah in KY


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