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Nature Study Obstacles

Today, we’re going to talk about what to do when your child rushes through nature study or when your child compares and despairs. Sometimes we hear from moms who are having a little struggle with their children doing nature study and there are two questions we hear over and over. I want to discuss those with Karen Smith.

Sonya: Karen, we’d love to get your take on how we should respond in these two situations. The first one is “My child is rushing through nature study so he can just go play. I tell him to do a nature journal entry and he does it sloppy because he wants to go play when he’s done.” How would you handle that situation?

Karen: Well, that’s mostly a habit situation. You asked the child to do something and the child needs to do that. So you need to have that habit of doing what mom says to begin with and doing it in a right way. In this case, it would be taking the time to make a good entry to the best of his ability and not rush through it to go play. Now, as a mom, you need to be careful not to reward his rushing through and letting him go play. That is something that is very easy for moms to do, to want to avoid that struggle.

And that’s going to look different in your home than it went in mine. What do you do with that? Either you make the child come back and say, “No, you can’t go play until you’ve done this correctly.” Or you just take the nature notebook away and the child is not allowed to go play. Maybe he needs to go sit somewhere until everybody’s finished with that portion of their schoolwork so that he doesn’t get to go play at that time. So there needs to be something there, a consequence of some sort. Encouraging children to have that curiosity in nature so they want to do that is another part of it.

Sonya: We don’t want to make nature study a downer.

Karen: Right. Is there an underlying reason why he doesn’t want to do it and just wants to run off and play? Maybe you need to do some digging: “Do you not like what we’re drawing today? Is there something that you would find more interesting to draw?”

Sonya: What if the child doesn’t like to draw?

Karen: Then he can take notes and just note what he saw, even if that means that he dictates to mom to write in his notebook for him; that’s perfectly fine for a younger child to do. If it’s an older child, maybe he would prefer to take a picture and then describe what he saw with his notes.

Sonya: We do have to be careful that it’s not just “Take a picture. Okay, you’re done.”

Karen: Right. And sometimes children know that they are not very good at drawing and that’s part of the second question we’re going to talk about: when they compare and despair. For children who are perfectionists, especially, if the drawing is not what they visualize in their heads, then they might not want to do the drawing. So we need to be careful. Encourage your child to do the drawing, but don’t press him to do it and make this an activity that he’s going to hate because you’ve insisted on things being a certain way.

Encourage your child to do the drawing, but don’t press him to do it and make this an activity that he’s going to hate because you’ve insisted on things being a certain way.

Sonya: Charlotte talked about how we don’t critique the child’s nature notebook. So where’s that line between “You need to do a good job” versus “I’m critiquing what you put in your nature notebook”?

Karen: If you know your child’s ability, you’re going to know where that line is. If your child has done his best and it really doesn’t look like what he was supposed to be drawing, encourage him: “Oh, I can see, you drew the bird’s head. That looks really great. And you did your best. Next time, and as you practice, you’ll get better.” But if you know your child just rushed through it and did sloppy work, it’s like you would do for copywork.

Sonya: Okay, ding-ding, that makes sense.

Karen: If your child has done his best with the copywork, you let him know that.

Sonya: And lesson’s done.

Karen: And lesson’s done. But if he’s dragging his feet and is doing it sloppily, because he doesn’t want to do it, you need to deal with that issue.

Sonya: Usually with copywork, it’s “Do it again until you do it right.” So what I’m hearing is we can hold our children to the same standard in their nature study as we do any other lesson, that it is the habit of attention and best effort that we want. We’re not going to critique the product or the outcome. But we are going to, I’m not going to say critique, but we are going to assess the habit, the character issue in that lesson.

Karen: Yes, exactly.

Sonya: That makes total sense.

Karen: So yes, be careful that you know the difference with your child. And give him encouragement when you know he’s doing his best, but address the issue when you know he’s not.

Sonya: It seems like with this first question about wanting to rush through to get to play, there are other factors too. How long are you insisting on this nature study lesson taking? If we’re still sitting on the blanket after an hour, that might be too long.

Karen: That’s too long, especially if it’s a young child we’re talking about. Probably, you’re not going to spend very long looking at a flower or the bark on the tree or whatever you’ve chosen for that day. Don’t drag out the lesson unless the child is interested. Follow your child’s lead on that one.

Sonya: It seems like it would take mom, or let’s say an experienced nature journaler, longer to paint or to sketch or draw all the details that she’s noticing versus someone who’s just starting out.

Karen: Yes, because what you see in detail, and your abilities to draw that, are going to be different with your different levels. Obviously, the person who’s experienced has had practice drawing what she sees, where somebody who is beginning does not have that practice. Even the observation skills are different. Someone who’s experienced is going to see more detail than somebody who is not. Again, you allow for those differences. When your child has finished—we talked about critiquing, part of that is not telling him he needs to have certain parts or he needed to make certain notes about what he saw. It’s like narration. We could read the same book, but our narrations of that book are going to be different because we are different people. We will take different things from that. Same thing with nature study, a child is going to see something different than what you might as an adult.

Sonya: Yes. Good points. There are some bells going off in my head here. This is really helpful. Okay, let’s address the second question that we often get: “My child does a nature journal entry, usually it’s a drawing, and then they look at what I did or they look at what a sibling does and they just want to give up. It’s like, ‘Mine is not as good as yours.’ They just get all discouraged and despair.” How would you handle that situation?

Karen: I would find something that I know my child is good at and point that out to him, especially if it’s something that child’s siblings are not as good at. Not to brag on him or to puff him up, but to encourage him that we all have differences. Remind him that comparing his work as a six-year-old to his 10-year-old sister’s work, there’s a difference. If you have samples, let’s say your 10-year-old started at six and you were doing the Charlotte Mason method with her, you could, if you saved them, bring out some of her work so the six-year-old can see that there’s some progression.

Sonya: That’s a great idea.

Karen: So again, we have to know the child’s ability. Encourage that and encourage the child that “As you do this more and more, you will get better at it.”

Sonya: Just as with anything, like piano lessons. You’re not going to play like somebody who’s been taking lessons and practicing for four more years than you. The practice has a lot to do with it.

Another thing that comes to mind is that you had mentioned comparing this nature study lesson to a copywork lesson. In this respect, as far as skill in making an entry goes, that’s almost comparable to the math lesson, where we don’t want the mechanical effort of paper and pencil to overshadow the idea in the math lesson.

Karen: We don’t want the obstacle of being able to draw or not being able to draw well to hinder the child from observing nature. Drawing is just a part of nature study. For some people, they don’t even draw, they just take notes. So there’s always that going back to asking the child, “What do you see? Tell me about it, and I’ll jot down what you saw.” If the child wants to make a drawing, great.

But again, you don’t want to force something that the child does not feel that he is capable of doing or that the child is resistant to, in this case, because you want him to have a love of nature, not a hate of it because of an exercise you tried to force him to do.

Sonya: So they feel like “I’m no good at this” and they dread doing nature study, and it’s all because of this mechanical skill that we’ve been trying to force. What is the purpose of drawing? Let’s go to that for just a moment. Why do we draw?

Karen: There are a couple of reasons. One is it helps us to slow down and actually observe and notice because we’re taking the time to notice the details as we’re drawing. Another reason is that it’s like narration. It helps us to cement those observations in our brains. Note taking can do that too, where we’re writing out, and I’ve even read that if you say it out loud, what you have observed, it will help you to remember what you have seen. Those different techniques help us see the details and help us remember them.

If you say out loud what you have observed, it will help you to remember what you have seen.

Sonya: Which as you said, there are other ways to go about that. Your young child might be seeing some real details there. If he can just say it out loud to you, that will help him cement it. We need to not get hung up on drawing as the epitome of nature study. Especially with younger children who are still trying to get their fine motor skills and their eye-hand coordination figured out, drawing could be very discouraging to some of them. Others of them enjoy it, love it. “Who cares what it looks like compared to somebody else’s, that’s my creation and that’s great.” So it’s all about our attitude is what I’m hearing.

Karen: Our attitude. And another thing moms can do to encourage their children to do their nature notebooks or their nature journals is to keep one herself. And you know, some moms do not draw very well either. (raises hand)

Sonya: I saw that hand. Mine’s with you.

Karen: So if your child can see you, you’re modeling for your child. You’re not comparing yours with your child’s, because that would not be fair. But if your child sees you doing it, your child’s going to be more likely to be willing to try it also.

Sonya: And if we encourage the effort more than the end product, that’s going to help in both cases, both questions: rushing versus taking the time and what the actual picture is. “No, we’re not going to focus on that, we’re going to focus on the effort you put in and encourage you that with more practice, you’re going to get better. It’s going to be fine. But the main thing is what did you learn about God’s creation?” That’s the main thing.

Karen: Yes.

Sonya: Great. Thanks.

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