Episode 20: Nature Study


This podcast episode explores the reasons Charlotte Mason gave for the necessity of a child's education to include a vast familiarity with the outside world. Beyond discussing why nature study is critical to knowledge of God, the benefits to personal growth, and its fundamental effects on future academic success, many practical suggestions for accomplishing this essential study are discussed to encourage your family's implementation of and regular involvement in nature study.

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"We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things." (Vol. 1, p. 61)

"When children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred, and demands some sacrifice, all the common information they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form an excellent ground work for a scientific education. In the meantime let them consider the lilies of the field and fowls of the air." (Vol. 1, p. 63)

"Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun––the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for? Besides, life is so interesting to him, that he has no time for the faults of temper which generally have their source in ennui; there is no reason why he should be peevish or sulky or obstinate when he is always kept well amused." (Vol. 1, pp. 61-62)

"Never be within doors when you can rightly be without." (Vol. 1, p. 42)

"The first buttercup in a child's nature note book is shockingly crude, the sort of thing to scandalize a teacher of brush-drawing, but by and by another buttercup will appear with the delicate poise, uplift and radiance of the growing flower." (Vol. 6, p. 217)



If you would like to study along with us, here are some passages from The Home Education Series and other Parent's Review articles that would be helpful for this episode's topic. You may also read the series online here, or get the free Kindle version from Fisher Academy.

Home Education (Volume 1), Part II

School Education (Volume 3), pp. 236-238

"The Charm of Nature Study" by G. Dowton, an article from the Parent's Review



The Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Comstock

The Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv

(Contains affiliate links)



Charlotte Mason Digital Collection

Nature Journal Examples {Here}, {Here}, and {Here}

John Muir Laws' Nature Journaling site

Examples of Bird and Flower Lists

PR Article on the benefits to language from Nature Study

25 comments:

  1. Another excellent episode. Emily, I love that you mentioned not to pick the flowers! I often see blog posts or hear of well meaning CM moms picking unidentified flowers for indoor drawing. It makes me so sad. Some plants can't replace the picked blossom in time to reproduce. Even here, with reverence for all life, Charlotte Mason was ahead of her time!

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    1. I know what you mean, Brittney! I think that is perpetuated by the belief that CM Nature Study=finding a specimen and bringing it indoors to dry brush. How much more are our observations honed and our knowledge increased by watching closely, day after day!

      Emily

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  2. Wow! What an eye opening podcast! I hesitated to listen to this one because I thought, "Oh great! This is going to make me feel guilty for not making room for this "extra" in our packed schedule." Boy, was I wrong! Why is it that nature study has been so misrepresented? I had no idea it was so foundational to a CM education and to learning itself. Thank you for bringing this out in such a clear, passionate way. I will probably need to listen to this multiple times to get this into my head, because I have viewed Nature Study as an extra for so long.

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    1. RuthAnn,

      I do not know why nature study has been "misrepresented" or relegated to the backseat, so to speak, other than that as Americans in a technological culture, we have become disconnected. Even with all the popular concerns for the environment, research shows most people remain uninvolved. The fact that Mason devoted perhaps a third (or maybe more, I haven't actually measured) of her foundational volume, Home Education, to the outdoor studies makes it even more puzzling. Still, we are thankful this has inspired you and not made you feel guilty.

      - Liz

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  3. I do have a question. Since I have approached this from the wrong perspective and with the wrong purpose in the past, my older children (especially my 16 year old son) do not want anything to do with nature study. If I insist that we start doing nature study, can I start with small chunks just like we do when we are starting narration? Unfortunately, I know they will revolt if I say we are going to spend an entire afternoon doing nature study.

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    1. Starting with small chunks isn't a bad idea, but you really need to be out there long enough to have something of an immersion. It's like their brains need to be there long enough to start noticing things. You might take a hike or take a walk near a lake, leaving the "NS" word out of it. Then remember that your attitude and example will make all the difference, so if you find interesting things while you are out, it will be contagious. And think about using some nature lore books, even though your children are older. It may really help to "open their eyes" and get them excited about what they might find. (That is the next podcast, so stay tuned.) Try not to push, but rather to lead. Their is hope. I've seen kids who had no interest in nature become very interested over time. Enjoy!

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  4. Thank you for the nature journal samples. We CAN do this! I had made nature study/journaling into this big complicated project that overwhelmed me, but your descriptions of the whole process and these nature notebooking samples paint a much different picture. Nature study is natural, personal, and pleasurable.

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  5. So I'm still listening right now...free play outdoors would NOT count towards that 4-5 hour outdoors each day? So that much would be more of a focused hike???? Or just part of EACH time outdoors would be focused the rest might be more free time??? I'll keep listening maybe you answered this... :)

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    1. Amy,

      Four to five hours total--including free play, but purposeful nature study is part of that afternoon outdoor time.

      -Liz

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  6. Aha. I think you answered my question! :) This was absolutely wonderful and I confess I learned so much. I needed to hear how important this area is again!!! THANK YOU.

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  7. What a wonderful episode! I have not yet started nature study per se with my AOyr1 DD, but I really want to. The idea of not needing to have one perfect dry brush painting per week, but more of a journal of what we see is encouraging to me.

    In a practical sense, if you are doing more writing with some paintings throughout, have you ladies found that you prefer to use a normal book rather than a watercolour book?

    I see in the example you gave from 1934 (looking specifically at this one http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/Box08/cmc60/cmc60-p049cmc60.pdf) that there are some lined pages and some blank pages.

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    1. My family uses hard cover sketchbooks. Dry brush painting does not require watercolor paper, because you use so little water. I have it on good authority that Riverbend Press is working on some science and nature notebooks that include both lined and blank pages, but I wouldn't wait for that. Your little one is young, and she just need to practice this habit. It's a way of life - not a finished product. In fact, when my kids were little, I frequently wrote their journal notes for them as they narrated, or typed them up so they could paste them into their journal next to a drawing. Mason said, “The first buttercup in a child's nature note book is shockingly crude, the sort of thing to scandalise a teacher of brush-drawing, but by and by another buttercup will appear with the delicate poise, uplift and radiance of the growing flower.” vol 6 p. 217 Remember that you can't get to the by and by if you don't get started.

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  8. I can't remember which episode you talked about noticing the flowers but your kids did not. The other day we had small purple flowers emerging and I thought of this. My four year old yesterday walked by them and because very excited pointing them out to me. "Oh cute, almost huggable" he said. We have an orchard and spend a lot of time outside, but I had to smile that he noticed these before his dad who was shocked they were out already as we are still below freezing at night.

    Thank you so much for your podcasts. They have been great.

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    1. Laurie,

      Yes, we all learn to be more observant when little ones are discovering the world. Enjoy spring.

      Liz

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  9. While this is not the same as getting out, you don't often have a chance to watch baby bald eagles. There are two new born eagles here and the cameras will allow you to watch them throughout the summer. I thought you might want to share. We are loving it. http://www.eagles.org/dceaglecam/

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  10. I have a few questions about the practical side of daily nature study. We have a large yard (2 acres with some woods & 2 ponds) with much to see. How would a daily nature study look? How much time would be devoted to a daily walk? 30 min, an hour, longer?

    I skimmed CM's out of doors section linked above but it seems her suggestions (and Cheri Struble's) are more focused on those full days going out & not on the day to day. We frequently take a walk around the property & I note new blooms or such (more for my own self bc I delight in that).

    And also-for the daily nature journal entries (if we are going on short walks daily) should child carry nature journal & make entry while out or do you wait until you are back home?

    I am trying to get a picture of how CM would have gone about the daily study...

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    1. Morgan,

      I want to encourage you not to get too hung up about details and bogged down in the how-to. If you go out every day, you will discover what is pleasurable and what works--and that may not look the same every day. Remember this is about wonder and delight, not accomplishment or a task. Sometimes my kids carry their own books and pencils, sometimes I haul them around till they are wanted. On occasion, just spend time once you are home to recount your explorations and discoveries. I have read--possibly Wendell Berry?--and one of my sons in particular enjoyed this, marking out a
      set route to travel every day and see what new can be discovered each time. Sometimes you can just sit near your pond and be silent, looking and listening...

      - Liz

      Morgan, I agree with Liz fully. I think your short 30 minute daily walk could look the same every day or completely different each and every day. Don't worry about "doing it right". Just do it. I recently noticed that on the P. U. S. Programmes under drawing it sometimes says to draw things they've seen on their walk from memory.

      -Nicole

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    2. Thank you ladies for your wisdom!

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  11. Hi ladies, I know you did this episode some time ago, but I am returning to it with a question... I've heard you all talk about "object lessons" within nature study, but I'm still not sure what this is -- could you explain what this is and what it looks like? Thank you so much :) -- Jenny

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    1. I had a blog post written and ready to post on this subject, Jenny! You gave me the motivation to proofread it and get it posted. You'll find it at SabbathMoodHomeschool.com.

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    2. I smiled when I opened my inbox and saw the email subject line, "New Post: Object Lessons" :). What wonderful timing! Thank you, Nicole!

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  12. My girls were so excited about nature notebooks after listening to this episode. They are on summer break from private school so we are doing summer school. Reading and narrating. And now we have added nature notebooks! Bought supplies at the dollar tree because that's all I could justify. But they couldn't wait to start! I wish I could share their pictures with you!

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    1. Danielle,

      Thank you for sharing your story and we're glad that the podcast inspires your girls, too. What a great summer activity.

      -Liz

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  13. I have a quick question I need clarified. I listened to the podcast & you lovely ladies say that under no circumstance do you correct the nature journal....but example 3 looks like it has quite a bit of corrective notes. Curious about that.

    Thank you!

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    1. Karyn,

      The examples from the CMDC are from the students in Mason's training college. (That is, 18+ years old.) We can only suppose that these "corrections" were part of the review process for the teachers in training. Furthermore, I feel like the way these items are listed is not typical for what we see in a nature notebook, again causing me to think it might have been part of their training as teachers. Mason is quite clear that we do not correct our children's notebooks. That they are to be their own possession.

      ~Nicole

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