Nature Study Ideas
Here are some nature study ideas to help you get started with this exciting and wondrous way of learning about nature. Charlotte Mason talks a lot about nature study.
Nature study allows your children to naturally learn the scientific principles of observation and recording. The parent provides the activities and the field trips which is the scaffolding for the nature study.
When you have little children it can be difficult to get out of the house. Therefore I’ve put a few nature study ideas here so you can see how nature study can be done from home or close to home.
1. Start A Nature Notebook
Nature notebooks are for children to do on their own but it is quite reasonable for you as the parent to guide and suggest various inclusions.
We started our nature journaling in a simple blank notebook. We aimed to make one entry in our nature journal per week. Each child had their own notebook.
Recently a friend of mine went to the UK and visited Armitt Library, a place where all of Charlotte Mason’s archives are now stored and she looked at some of the children’s nature journals. Have a look. You can see how simple they are. Charlotte Mason Students Nature Journals.
What is Nature Journaling?
“Nature journaling is simply keeping a journal about nature.
You may read many different terms such as; nature diary, nature calendar, nature study, nature notebook and logbook. All of the terms have the same common theme, though they may have specific definitions. A journal is a record of events, observations, and feelings. It is a place for writing and drawing over a period of time. The word journal comes from ‘diurnal’ meaning daily, a diary implies a daily event, so does log book. This is not our aim. Our idea of journaling is that it does not have to be done daily, though a regular pattern of observation will help to establish a habit, improve observation skills and an awareness of seasonal changes.
We want to encourage children to observe and record what they see for the pure pleasure of it and to enjoy their environment and try to capture the memory – how they feel; of what they are reminded; or an expression of poetry may come with time. What they need is practise and inspiration. This is a complex skill to develop and your children may or may not be ready for it. Start with simple observations of colours, textures, patterns, shapes and movement and watch their skills grow.
Well known journals, like A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady or Beatrix Potter’s notebooks are the works of adults. They are essentially a form of nature journaling. What they include are illustrations, observations, poems, reflections of mood and feelings. An example of an Australian nature diary that we are aware of is, Amy Mack’s A Bush Calendar.
The advantages of Nature Journaling come from the habit of observation:
Children will benefit from journaling by becoming attuned to their environment, the wonder of creation, and the refreshment that comes from outdoor activity.
They will be encouraged to make accurate observations, and exercise their written and artistic skills. Countless artistic works have been created in the hearts and minds of people inspired by the wonder of nature.
They will also acquire:
- a knowledge of scientific names;
- basic researching; first hand observation skills;
- improved concentration and inspiration;
- captured memories;
- shared family experiences, etc.
Only the simple observations need to be recorded and this should be a delightful natural experience of learning and precious sharing of the moment.
Many of the positive outcomes of journaling will not be fully realised until adulthood, like the serenity and satisfaction that comes when you remove yourself from the bustle of everyday life and reflect on the beauty of creation.
2. Backyard Scientists
A trip outside is all we could manage some weeks but there was still much to learn.
Our small suburban backyard was still a good place to make observations and put an entry in our journal. We had birds (and a nest), lizards, spiders and butterflies. We had flowers, leaves and trees. We could look at the sky, feel the wind and temperature. We could observe the change of seasons.
Since the kids have become more aware of their surroundings they also created opportunities. I remember there was great excitement when one of the kids discovered a praying mantis on the back porch, everyone was called and pictures were taken.
From all these observations we can make a nature notebook entry.
3. Nature Study Ideas For Walks
Whilst it can be very hard to get out on a nature walk when you have small children see if you can schedule some on the weekends or with friends when you can have some adult help.
On these outings if making an entry into your journal is too stressful I suggest you collect specimens that you may be able to use for a home lesson.
Make nature journaling a part of your homeschool!
Charlotte Mason wanted children to be given the skills of the scholars, starting simply yet with intention.
One activity she assigned great importance to was outdoor observation. However for those of us who feel illiterate in our nature identification this can seem daunting.
Here are some tools and ideas to help make your nature walks a success.
“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; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation…” Charlotte Mason Series Volume 1, p.71
Direct contact with nature and teaching a child to notice what is going on around them is a deliberate activity that can be worked into the fabric of your homeschool routine. Nature study, nature walks and backyard science observations are to be encouraged. Think of these activities as part of your science lesson not as optional extras.
“In science, or rather, nature study, we attach great importance to recognition, believing that the power to recognise and name a plant or stone or constellation involves classification and includes a good deal of knowledge…The teachers are careful not to make these nature walks an opportunity for scientific instruction, as we wish the children’s attention to be given to observation with very little direction. In this way they lay up that store of ‘common information’ which Huxley considered should precede science teaching; and, what is much more important, they learn to know and delight in natural objects as in the familiar faces of friends.” Charlotte Mason Series Volume 4, p.237
4. Nature Readers & Nature Stories
First-hand experience with nature is wonderful but we all know we can’t see it all. Trips to the zoo to see giraffes and monkeys are a special treat rather than a regular event, so we used living nature books for learning about the nature’s wonders in other lands and habitats that we cannot directly observe.
Over the years I have collected a number of books that are good for nature study. I also have a number of drawing books that teach my children how to draw different animals.
After reading about some of these places or animals we would also add an entry into our nature book. Other times I asked the kids to narrate from a nature book and gave them pictures to sketch or cut out, to help them create their nature pages.
Nature books can also help develop a desire for more nature study. However don’t read too long. You may need to skip over some bits if they seem a bit boring.
Some Nature Study Real Life Examples
Our nature journals are really nature calendar examples of events we did over the years. We did nature journaling regularly as a homeschool family and I can see the benefits. All of my children have become aware of their surroundings and this brings delight to them and me. Nature appreciation can also be counted as a science and a geography lesson. Recording what they see is a scientific skill.
We began our nature journaling drawing pictures, making observations and reading. It’s another type of notebook.
August Nature Calendar
“ACCORDING to the official calendar it is still winter, but out in the bush all the world knows it is spring.” Amy Mack
I love reading Amy Mack’s observations. We were inspired to get out and see what we could find.
Amy’s quote from A Bush Calendar August is so true. We have just had a run of lovely warm weather this month. The bush knows its spring. Here is what we found on our bush hunt.
My lovely daughter found some wattle – Acacia Buxfolia, there is lots of this around at the moment.
Pink and Red Callistemon (Bottle Brush)
Egg and Bacon Pea Flower
More wattle – Acacia floribunda this time. A cutting of that made it home to a vase.
September Nature Calendar
“Nature’s book will find no better season for opening the cover than sweet September.” Amy Mack A Bush Calendar September
Spring Is For the Birds
Springtime bush walking is full of little surprises and we found a few today.
Eastern Rosella and a Crimson Rosella.
However the best was yet to come on our walk for September.
We found a well looked after bower belonging to a Satin Bower Bird. He was peering down on us as we took some photos.
And here is his collection.
My lovely walking companion made the comment, “What did they collect before plastic?”.
Nature Calendar For October
This was my daughter’s nature calendar entry for October when she was 12. We didn’t go on a nature walk for this one she just popped outside and looked in our garden. We also stayed up for an exciting lunar eclipse.
My daughter is enjoying nature photography and this is a feature of lots of her nature journal entries at the moment. We use a log book as a guide to direct some of her studies. She also makes her own entries.
Our Backyard Astronomy October 8
We were very excited to be able to see the lunar eclipse last night.
Here are our blood moon shots.
Nature Calendar October -Blood Moon[/caption]This one was taken with them slowly moving the camera.
Natural learning! I love it.
Nature Calendar November
For the different ages of our family nature appreciation looks different. Our oldest boy (Master 13) just likes to listen to the reading.
Miss 12 prefers to write her observation. Here is her entry from yesterday.
“The warm soft days of spring have past early this year. November, has exchanged its gentleness for a scorching heat not fitting to its normal soft warmth. Even in the morning hours the heat starts to build. The wind, usually refreshing brings no comfort today as it blows hot air on my face. The pavement burns my feet. If this is spring—what will summer be like?
The house is cool, the blinds and curtains are shut, keeping out the heat. Under the big tree in our yard it’s cooler. Leaves shade the ferns and other plants that prefer the cooler weather. The plants are all green thanks to all the October rains.
The gum tree sways in the wind, our rose, once without bloom is the queen of the garden, and its soft pink flowers climb the side fence.”
Here’s another Miss 12 Australian history narration written a year before.
Here’s another Miss 12 Picture Study narration.
Master 9 still prefers to draw what he sees.
I think nature observation is often not thought of as “real science”; I do not agree.
My other daughter at age 12 prefers to take photos and make her Nature Calendar Notebook.
December Nature Calendar
I wrote this after a nature walk in December 2010. We visited Blackbutt Reserve, an old coal mine turned into a nature park. It was only a short drive from our home but I nearly gave up and went home in disgust.
A Real Life Drama – The Nature Walk to the Lily Pond
‘Hey kids, after lunch we’re going on a nature walk.’ I announce with enthusiasm.
The kids reply in monotone, ‘Great!’
Not the response I was hoping for.
After lunch I bark out orders. ‘Get hats, get water, get sketch books, get pencils, not those shoes. No! you can’t take Beary. No! you can’t take your scooter. Ok! Beary can come but he has to stay in the car.’ Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
We are finally on our way. As we drive, I hear all the different reasons why my kids think a nature walk is a bad idea.
We park the car, lather ourselves with ‘mossi-stuff’ and off we go.
We walk, talk and absorb our surroundings.
One child has a headache and is complaining about the heat, another hates big ants.
I dash to rescue a tree that is having all its fruits pulled off, I then give a short lecture on preserving the native flora.
We plod on until we turn a corner and our spirits soar. The kids run madly towards the pond.
I feel like we have found Monet’s garden. The Giant Water Lilys are in full bloom, bees sip their nectar and dragonflies hover about. The willows dangle lazily into the water. Willy wagtails hop nearby. The kids are exhilarated.
We set up our watercolour pencils and sketch books and begin to draw in this peaceful place.
After an hour, we climb back into the car, happy and refreshed, wanting to bring some friends next time.
Nature Journal watercolour Miss 9’s made that day.