When to Do Nature Study

If you bring up the subject of “when to do nature study,” different moms have different ideas in mind. “Yes, how old should my child be to start nature study, and how long should we spend outside?” one mom asks. While another mom says, “This will be helpful; I’ve always wondered which seasons of the year Charlotte did nature study.”

So let’s address both sides of the subject. Here are Charlotte Mason’s comments on when to do nature study.

  1. Begin when your child is young. “There is no knowledge so appropriate to the early years of a child as that of the name and look and behaviour in situ of every natural object he can get at” (Vol. 1, p. 32).

  2. Younger children should have hours outdoors daily; while school-age children should have at least one half-day a week outside. “It is infinitely well worth the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects” (Vol. 1, p. 71). “It seems to me a sine quâ non of a living education that all school children of whatever grade should have one half-day in the week, throughout the year, in the fields” (Vol. 3, p. 237). Which leads us to number 3 . . .

  3. Do nature study all year round. Charlotte had some great ideas for year-round nature study.

    • Keep a nature calendar throughout the year. You can record the children’s observations of all the “firsts” — the first oak leaf, the first snowfall, the first robin, the first ripe blackberries. Then the next year they will know when and where to look for their favorites. (See Vol. 1, p. 54.)

    • Do month-by-month studies to discern how the same nature object or location changes as the seasons progress. (See Vol. 6, p. 219.)

    • In winter months, learn to identify birds and their songs. Charlotte explained, “Many birds come into view the more freely in the cold weather that they are driven forth in search of food” (Vol. 1, p. 86).

    • Select a few trees to follow throughout the year. “Children should be made early intimate with the trees, too; should pick out half a dozen trees, oak, elm, ash, beech, in their winter nakedness, and take these to be their year-long friends” (Vol. 1, p. 52).

Do you have any other ideas for year-round nature study or comments on involving all the children? We’d love to hear from you!

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14 Responses to “When to Do Nature Study”

  1. Sylvia Britton August 2, 2007 at 7:17 pm #

    In September we begin to see spider’s webs in the early morning dew. We often go out and study the webs, drawing pictures and making photographs. Another thing we do sometimes is to take samples of the webs to make collections. Here’s how:
    1) prepare a black poster board of any size, as long as it is large enough to hold the entire web you choose.
    2) Make sure the spider isn’t at home. Don’t worry too much about taking the web, spiders make new ones quickly.
    3) Lightly spray the web with white spray paint, be very gentle
    4) Quickly place the poster board against the web and allow the web to stick to the board. Gently break the strands if necessary that hold the web to the tree or grass.
    5) Start small, this method takes practice and patience. And really, the small intricate ones are the most interesting.

    One you have the web, you can bring it in and display it, make copies of it by hand, photograph it or make a display of it with other information about spiders.

  2. Heidi August 2, 2007 at 8:29 pm #

    I like to take my children 1,3,5 and 9 to the forest preserves in our area and walk on the trails.

    In the spring and fall in my area, near Rockford IL, the is a bird banding station. They catch migrating birds, band them or record band numbers, then release them. My old 2 children love to go and take part in the process.

    I do find it hard to do nature study each day.

  3. Christine August 2, 2007 at 10:35 pm #

    Hi. Love this subject! Among the ideas you have already mentioned, I love to bring nature, or produce, to the dining room table on a rainy or freezing cold day and invite the children to the table to draw or colour, or paint, the nature still life in front of them. Even if reluctant, they always produce (no pun intended) beautiful results.
    Also, after watching the new movie “Miss Potter” based on the true life story of Beatrix Potter, I would highly recommend. Nature study rings loud and clear. Nature videos that you can “pause” to draw scenes are fantastic too. And photographing nature.


  4. Laura Armani August 3, 2007 at 2:36 am #

    Hi. I live in the UK. We have found this website very helpful when doing Nature Study

    Many thanks for your wonderful website (I have just bought several Ebooks!).

    Love Laura

  5. Betty August 3, 2007 at 10:16 am #

    I am nature-challenged in Miami, FL. I live in the suburbs and it’s soo hot and humid that you can’t be outside unless you’re in the pool, the heat begins at 7am!. The area has lost soo many trees to the frequent hurricanes, they are becoming very sparse. We have a year round issue with mosquitoes. My toddler doesn’t care for our observations, so even when we do try to get out there, I’m usually chasing her. So, I really struggle to make nature study possible and something to look forward to.

    The Lord is good, though. For the past two weeks we have been hand feeding a baby dove that fell out of our TALL royal palm. We are raising 6 hens for eggs. We have a Mullberry bush that is fruitful. I need to make the most of our winters for outdoor time and nature observation.

    I’ve learned of some Journey classes (Journey North–tracks migration of different animals, signs of spring, and daylight hours). We are going to study astronomy this fall and that should be interesting! But it is challenging to track the season changes in nature here. The trees just don’t change much! I’m trying to bloom where I’ve been planted and make the most of our nature here. When we’re stuck inside we watch our Moody Sciene videos.

    Grace & Peace,

  6. Doug August 3, 2007 at 9:07 pm #

    @Heidi: We live in the same area. Where do they do the bird banding? That might be something we would like to check out some time. We can also add it to the CM Destinations page so others can find it.

    You might also enjoy White Pine Forest State Park, which isn’t too far away. They have some nice trails with shallow streams you get to cross on stepping stones. We’ve spent a lot of time there walking, observing flowers and trees, wading, chasing tadpoles and crayfish, and just enjoying being outside. It’s one of our favorite places for a picnic and an afternoon of fun.

    @Betty: It’s funny, we were down in FL last year and found ourselves somewhat envious of the nature resources you have with the ocean nearby. We had a great time learning about tides, watching the birds diving for fish, collecting shells, and digging up and observing the little crabs that burrow into the sand. Oh, and we had never seen armadillos before that trip, either. 🙂

  7. Melissa L. August 5, 2007 at 7:28 pm #

    Being outdoors in nature is so therapeutic for everyone! I have seen first hand with my children, especially my son, the awesome benefits of giving them as much time as possible outside. I would, however, love to learn more things to do in the winter time, and how to make it more feasible to spend more time outside even though it’s cold!

    Christine, I loved your idea of drawing nature still life! If you don’t mind me asking, what are Nature study rings? God’s blessings, Melissa

  8. Myrna August 6, 2007 at 6:48 pm #

    I am a new homeschooler- 4 weeks now! My 11 year old daughter suggested that we take pictures of a few locations at a part nearby at each season and compare/observe how the same location looks. The nature walks have been so relaxing…all 3 of my girls have enjoyed them! We live in North Carolina so we get the 4 seasons.

  9. nancy griffith August 6, 2007 at 11:01 pm #

    I’d welcome ANY ideas that might make it enjoyable for a “new” outdoor mom and 5-year old to be in 90 degree heat, 90 percent humidity and being swarmed by insects constantly! Is there a limit to what CM thought would help a child savor nature versus want to run back into the house? (I also thought the air conditioning sounded pretty great, I have to admit!) Thanks!
    PS Similar comfort issues arise for us in sub-zero winter weather, so I’m also open to ideas there.

    • Sonya August 9, 2007 at 9:51 pm #

      Nancy, I can relate! It’s been over 100 degrees F here in Georgia lately with sweltering humidity. Two thoughts come to mind:

      • Adjust what time of day you are outside to take advantage of the best conditions. For example, this time of year we’re trying to get outside in the early morning before the sun gets high enough to beat down on us. Then in the winter months, we switch to mid- or late-afternoon to give the sun plenty of time to warm things up out there.

      • Ease into it enough that you can enjoy it. The purpose of nature study is not to count how many mosquito bites you can get in an hour 😉 The purpose of nature study is to cultivate a love for nature and an interest in it. If conditions outside are making it an unpleasant and unenjoyable experience, don’t force it. Maybe during the hot months you and your child can ease into things by tending a container garden or potted flower that requires only a few minutes outside (thus decreasing your sweat and insect factors!) but still cultivates a love for nature and how things grow. As your child’s (and your) interest and love for nature is nurtured, you’ll probably find yourself spending more time outside because you want to, not because you have to.

      Bottom line: Relax and make adjustments as desired so nature study will be a pleasant experience, something both you and your child can enjoy.

  10. Betty August 10, 2007 at 6:59 am #

    GREAT advice, Sonya! I think when I look at the big picture and see how God has provided some unique nature experiences for our family (raising hens, raising a baby dove, we are planting flowers now as most flowers don’t make it through the summer heat), we are learning and enjoying nature, just in a different way for this season. I need to remember that and enjoy what we study.


  11. Christine August 11, 2007 at 10:57 pm #

    Dear Melissa L.

    Sorry for my incomplete sentence re: “Nature study rings loud and clear…” (comment 9 messages above). I meant that in the new film about Beatrix Potter there is an atmosphere of rich, pleasant surroundings mixed with Beatrix’s love of capturing it.
    However, speaking of rings, this week we have discovered a new little nature study. That is counting the rings on thinly cut pieces of logs. You can do that inside or outside, and the number of rings indicates the age of the tree.

  12. Lacey August 14, 2007 at 2:08 pm #

    I am a new CMer and have fallen in love with the idea of Nature Study. We often go for walks and just soak in our surroundings, but the idea of taking notice of things has really helped me with my little ones. I have a 5 and 3 year old. A few weeks ago we walked all through our neighborhood and collected leaves from different trees. We talked about how each tree looks different and even blooms differerent “flowers”. Which brought us to the fact that even pine trees have flowers.

    We had a lot of fun bringing the leaves home and finding the names of the trees that they matched.
    I love all of your ideas. I have never thought about the clouds, and watching the bugs. I know my girls will enjoy that.

  13. Barbara August 19, 2007 at 8:49 pm #

    I can relate as we live in AL where the temperatures have been over 100 degrees for 2 weeks in a row now with no rain for months. We are in a terrible drought here and no one wants to go outside (especially me!) at all. But there are still ways to experience nature…

    We have a hummingbird feeder in front of our living room window and love watching the little birds chasing each other around to protect “their” feeder. Our little one calls them “hungry birds” as she can’t quite say “hummingbirds”.

    We also have a bird bath and bird feeder outside this same window and we enjoy watching the birds come to feed and bathe. We have enjoyed watching the smaller birds as they seem to “feed” the other birds by throwing seed on the ground for the ground feeders. We don’t have a great variety of birds but we all get excited and have to look up any new bird that comes along.

    Doug had some great ideas for exploring the beach. I’m not sure how far away you are from it but one place we enjoyed while down there was John Lloyd State Park on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale. No condos and the most beautiful Austrailian Pines with their wonderful sound when the wind blows through them and their unusual “needles” that are jointed which affects their sound. I have a friend in the keys who is taking her children out to explore the beach as often as possible while studying Jeannie Fulbright’s Exploring Creation with Zoology, Swimiming Creatures of the Fifth day.

    We will be using Jeannie’s Exploring Creation with Botany and one of our first projects is to make a light box out of a cardboard box to grow plants in. With the project on dissecting flowers you can use lilies from the grocery store.

    There are many ways to enjoy nature. Hope some of these ideas help!

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