NATURE STUDY

NATURE + SCIENCE

WHY

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Nature study starts in infancy and is as simple as going outside for a few hours a day whenever the weather allows it. Encourage your child to use their five senses to explore and learn about the world around them. Nature study is the foundation for all sciences -- biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering.
Pick a seasonal nature topic (a local wildflower, tree, or animal) to study for a few weeks. Prepare a weekly object lesson for the children to observe and journal about the subject. You should procure a live specimen, when possible.
Nature journaling is one of the best ways to apply scientific knowledge. It is a place to record observations and knowledge gained. It is a scientific form of narration. The only requirement is the child records once per week, usually after the object lesson.
Once children have had 3-4 years of nature study they have a solid foundation for more advanced science topics. Nature study and object lessons are still used, but less often while science lessons and experiments take two lessons per week. Science topics become more advanced with each form.

HOW TO TEACH

Choose a special study topic based on your  native and seasonal flora and fauna. Alternatively, ask your children what they would like to learn more about. Read about the topic in Handbook of Nature Study. This will give you ideas of where to find it, how to conduct an object lesson, and which questions to ask. Next, collect the animal or plant for an object lesson. Alternatively, look for it on your nature walk. Buy or borrow books on the subject for further reading. 

Read Nature Books. Ask your child to recap the previous reading/lesson before you begin the lesson. Read a book about a biome, species, or special study topic for the scheduled time, leaving a few minutes for your child to narrate orally or record in their nature journal.

Nature Walk. Nature walk lessons are very simple!  Schedule a weekly nature walk in various terrains around your area. Don’t bother with nature journals, scavenger hunts, or worksheets; just allow your children space to explore with their five senses and wonder about the world around them. Children can collect ‘treasures’ to bring home for observation and object lessons.

Object lesson. Once or twice a month, conduct an object lesson. Use whatever objects you come across in your nature walks and time spent outside. Examples of objects would be anything you collect on your nature walk: a variety of seeds from plants and trees, tadpoles, caterpillars (wild or mail-order), wildflowers, worms, ants, bird nests, shells, insects, leaves, tree buds, and blossoms. Some object lessons will be better outside in the natural habitat, others may be better at a table indoors. 


Present the specimen and allow your children to explore with their five senses, generate questions, and find answers through discovery. Write down their unanswered questions and use them to direct future study. Be prepared with your own questions to direct their attention and observation, in case they need a curiosity boost. At this age, the lesson lasts as long as the children are interested. When the lesson is finished, children record their observations and questions in their nature journals.  For the first few years, you will need to write down his narration as he dictates it (description, label parts, date, location) until his handwriting is strong enough to record it himself.  If your child needs ideas of what to record in their journal,  here are three questions to get them started: I notice… I wonder…It reminds me of… Another option for more tactile children is to recreate the object using clay. 

Questions

Your child’s questions should replace the learning objectives usually outlined at the beginning of a textbook lesson. Curiosity and a desire to learn is manifested in the form of questions, so your job as a teacher is to nurture a child’s natural curiosity, encourage inquiry, and utilize their questions to guide your lessons. The most effective way I’ve found to do this is by using the Question Formulation Technique (from the Right Question Institute). If you have not read my Question article, I encourage reading it before continuing on.

I prefer to begin a lesson or unit of study with a question focus to assess what my children already know, what they don’t know, and what they have a desire to know about the topic, but you can do it anytime during the course of your study. For nature study, the best question focus is the real thing. You can use one of the “Captain Ideas” instead of the real thing, but it simply won’t induce the same amount of genuine curiosity as the real thing. Once your child has brainstormed and decided on a few questions to focus on for their study, record them in their nature journal. During the object lesson, you can write down your child’s questions, or, if your child is having a difficult time producing questions, you can ask open-ended questions outlined in the “object lesson” portion of the lesson.

Make sure the questions are visible and/or reviewed at the beginning of each lesson, and that the child is encouraged to add questions to their list as they learn more. One way you can do this is by assigning one question to a nature journal page, and as the child discovers knowledge relevant to their question, they can add it to their page as their entry for the day.

Books + Things

Now that your child has a clear focus of what they want to learn, it’s time to look for answers. Living books and real things are the best lesson material (see Books + Things article). As discussed above, use the real animal, plant, or creature to ignite curiosity and questions. Children are encouraged and taught how to find answers to their questions by observing the natural thing and recording in their nature notebook. When answers are not (or cannot) be answered by direct observation and experimentation, go to books written by people with first-hand knowledge of the subject.

Narration + Discussion

One of the foundational tenets of a Charlotte Mason education is narrating after each reading. There are many benefits to this practice and most children thrive with this tool. However, oral narration may not work for all children. If your child freezes up, or simply dreads narrating, try asking your child to simply record something in their nature journal. Here are some sample statements that work well for nature journaling:

  1. I wonder…
  2. I notice…
  3. This reminds me of…

Application

Constructing terrariums for the biome and special study topics you study that year is a fun way to apply knowledge learned. Object lessons and nature journaling are projects that naturally flow from nature study lessons. Children may choose to use different mediums to record their knowledge of the natural world, such as photography, videography, poetry, drawing, painting, and sculpting.

RESOURCES