(Yes, this is the same post I posted a couple days ago, with the formatting cleaned up. Sorry for any confusion!)
Welcome back for another coffee chat, friends. It's feeling good to be back in this space after a pretty hectic time away. (Check out what all we've been up to over the last month or so here.) I don't know about you, but spring has sprung in our neck of the woods. Let's take our coffee outside today and talk about nature study, shall we?
Nature study is another one of those oh-so-important but oh-so-often overlooked aspects of a Charlotte Mason education. I didn't understand the importance of nature study early on, and I also made it far too complicated. I would love to help you avoid making the same mistakes.
So, what's the big deal about nature study anyway? Why did Charlotte Mason encourage us to spend so much time in the out-of-doors? Do I really have to do it if I'm not an outdoors person or I live in a big city? I hear you, friends. I was raised in the city and did not much appreciate the outdoors when I we started this Charlotte Mason thing either. I didn't know what anything was beyond the most basic and obvious unmistakable things (remind me to tell you the story of how excited I was when I figured out that that bird I was looking at was a robin! It's pretty funny, actually). I've lived overseas in fourth-story apartment in France and a big, urban-as-you-can-get African city which made nature study hugely challenging. But the effort has been worth it.
I'm not so much going to talk to you about the why of nature study today - I have written about that before here and here. Today what I would like to do is give you a few tips that may help you get over the hump if you don't feel like nature study or outdoor time is your 'thing'.
1. Start really, really simple. Go outside in your yard or take a little walk in your neighborhood and see what you see, or find a nearby park or nature center than you can revisit regularly. Start a little garden if you can and watch it grow - even if it's just some herbs or flowers in a pot on your apartment patio. Put out a bird feeder. You don't need curriculum or pre-planned projects to do this. Just decide that you are going to get outside and keep your senses alert while you're out there.
2. Once you've gotten into the habit of getting out and noticing things, learn to identify the common birds, plants and insects that you see in your area. Maybe even just choose one category to start with - maybe the birds or the trees you see in your neighborhood or local park. Get a few field guides for your area. We've had the best mileage with really simple ones - I like the Golden Guides and the Reader's Digest North American Wildlife book for general North American wildlife and these pocket guides (just laminated brochures) for our state (I presume you can get something similar for other states?) These simple ones aren't overwhelming to leaf through in the beginning, and when we've not been able to find exactly what we are looking for we usually find something similar enough that we can narrow it down to a pretty focused Google search. Do you know someone in your local area that loves birds or gardening? Don't be afraid to draw on their expertise either. And don't get too hung up on it if you can't identify something exactly. We've often been content with "I think that might be some kind of fir tree" and left it at that. Just last night we had an argument around our dinner table as to whether or not that bird we saw out the dining room window was a mockingbird or not. We didn't resolve it, but we were all noticing and wondering about what we saw...and really, that's the point.
3. Start nature journaling. This can be as simple as a sketch (it doesn't even have to be a very good one!) of something you saw with the date, location, and name if you know it. The point is not as much to produce beautiful artwork but to really observe what you've seen. If you are taking the time to make a drawing, you will notice more details than you would in passing. We've generally gathered specimens to bring home, when that is appropriate, or taken photos when it's not and drawn from those at home. Sometimes with things like birds or butterflies that move too fast to draw from life or get good photos, we've drawn from field guides. The best way to get your kids nature journaling is to model it yourself. When you are buying supplies, grab a sketchbook for yourself as well and sit down and draw alongside your children. I am not an artist and was not an enthusiast of nature before Charlotte Mason came into our lives, but I have come to enjoy nature journaling immensely over the years. Charlotte's students used the dry-brush watercolor technique in their journals, but we've always found colored pencils or watercolor pencils simpler (and the best nature journal is the one that actually gets done!)
Really, it doesn't have to be any more complicated than that. You can get more detailed and take on 'special studies' later, but start simple now and build the habit, especially while your children are young and you don't have as much academic work to do.
Not yet convinced that you should and can do this? Click on over and listen to this fantastic Mason Jar podcast on nature study with Naomi Goegan.
Want more to read?
How do I get started?
Keep it SIMPLE: Get Out. Look at Stuff. Love it. That's all it takes in the beginning. More detailed studies can grow from there.
What about Nature Journaling?
Just Do It. (And do it WITH them. Yes, that means you Mama!)
Need any more inspiration?
Check out some of our nature study adventures. Sometimes I feel like we don't do as well as we should at nature study…looking back at my archives encouraged me that a little bit here and there really goes a long way!
Check out the nature study posts over at Joyous Lessons. Celeste has LOTS of little ones, but has committed herself to making nature study a habit in her family. Her nature-related posts always inspire me to get back outside!
So here's your challenge for this week, ladies: get out there and see what you see. And then come back and share it with us in the comments. I'd love to see what you find!