Monday, September 16, 2013

A Simple Way to Start doing Nature Study, Part 1

Over and over again in the online Charlotte Mason community I’ve seen people say “I have no idea where to start with nature study!!  I need someone to tell me what to do!!  I need a book!  And a schedule!”    And I totally get that, because I’ve been there too.  I grew up in the city and hated playing outside.  Although my family camped, I didn’t grow up with an affinity with nature.  So I felt like I needed some hand-holding in the beginning too.   For a while I stumbled around trying out different ideas and suggestions and resources.  I was hunting for the perfect “curriculum” for nature study.   What I finally realized is that following a book or trying to devise a schedule of topics really wasn’t bringing us the results I wanted to see.
Delighting in beauty

Let’s back up a little bit.   What is the goal of nature study anyway? 
In our family it is to:
  • Cultivate a sense of wonder and delight in God’s creation
  • Develop a keen sense of observation
  • Have a direct experience with the natural world, as described in this quote taken from the CiRCE website: “The “grammar level” student should poetically encounter the world he lives in. That is, he should experience it whole and alive through his senses. Later he will dissect dead things and engage in other analytical studies. But when he is young he should experience natural things naturally, not, as we might say today, “scientifically.” He should have a garden plot, climb trees, splash in rivers and creeks, catch frogs, etc. Reading about science should be limited and should be controlled by students’ experiences, not the marketing designs of textbook publishers.”
  • Develop a life-long love and appreciation of the natural world
Delighting in the rain

Rather than trying to find a book or curriculum to tell me what to do, I found the best thing to do was to open my eyes and take the time to see.  To notice the amazing things…and the ordinary things…all around us.   It started with me.   As I started to notice things, I’d point them out to my kids: look at that flower!  Look at that bird!  Look at that bug!   Before long, they started to notice things too: “Mama, what is that?”   More often than not, I didn’t know, so we’d look it up together using a field guide or the internet.   Now I find my kids notice things all the time: “Look at that blue bird on the fence, mama!   Look at this rock I found…isn’t it beautiful?  Mama, I just saw a butterfly  just like ‘Beautiful Butterfly’!”   I am beginning to see on a daily basis that sense of wonder and delight that I sought to cultivate.  Almost every day during our prayer time someone will mention that they are thankful for the birds on the wire or the cool morning weather or flowers they picked yesterday.  Our “formal” nature study has flowed out of our wonder and interest and delight rather than a set of lesson plans.
Delighting in the ordinary... (OK, the kids delighted in this mouse caught in our trash can.  Mama did not delight quite so much!)

Next time,  I’ll share a little bit more about what formal nature study is looking like in our home these days.

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