Everything you need to know to understand nature study and get started with homeschool is right here!
Last week we looked at the reasons why you should include nature study in your homeschool. This week we will look everything you need to know to understand nature study and get started. We’re going to get back to basics and look at what nature studies is and how it fits in to your homeschool.
In this post
- you will find out what nature study actually is
- discover if nature study is really for your kids
- take a short look at the history of nature study
- look at what to include in your homeschool nature study
- understand how nature study fits in with a variety of homeschool styles
- make a plan to get started with nature study in your homeschool
If you’ve spent any time in homeschool circles on social media you are bound to have come across the pretty pictures of children wandering through fields and forests, and making lovely pictures of plants and critters in their little notebooks. While it all looks enchanting, and leaves you wanting this magic in your homeschool, you may still be wondering-
What is nature study?
And I’m here to tell you today that nature study isn’t complicated. It isn’t hard to understand or to introduce into your home learning. And it isn’t just for kids who love to draw 😉
Nature study is simply a practical study of the natural world as part of your child’s learning.
Well, that sounds simple, doesn’t it!
But what does that actually mean?
It means we give our children the opportunity to learn about and understand the natural world through experiencing it and looking at it closely. We let them get their hands dirty. We encourage them to ask why and what and how about the things they see around them. And then we guide them through answering those questions and encourage them to ask more.
We lead our children along a path of discovery.
More about that in a minute…
First you need to decide if nature study is for you and you kids. Should nature study be for all children in all homeschools?
And the short answer is, YES!
Nature study is for everyone.
I think there is a misconception that nature study is only for artistically inclined children who enjoy creating detailed nature journals. And while journalling can certainly be a part of nature studies, it isn’t the purpose. It’s not even a necessity.
Remember that nature study just means we are learning about nature from nature.
There are lots of ways we can do this and I go over many of them in my workshop, Introducing Children to The Wonderful World of Nature Studies, in this year’s Start Homeschooling Summit. Most people would agree though that ideally nature study should involve going outside and directly observing nature and then expressing their acquired knowledge through talking, writing and art of some kind.
A second common misconception is that nature study is only for children who already have a deep interest in the natural sciences. But nature study is actually a perfect way to encourage children to begin noticing the world around them and to start asking not just what but also why. Nature study is a way to get children interested in science as well as a way of developing basic scientific skills, acquiring knowledge and developing a sympathy for nature.
And aren’t these things we want for all of our children? Not just for our little artists and budding scientists.
You may be surprised to learn that nature study isn’t an invention by homeschoolers!
It’s not even an invention of Charlotte Mason. This one is probably shocking to a lot of homeschool mamas, I know.
Nature study actually grew out of the New Education movement in the late 19th century. It quickly became popular and spread across Europe, America and Australia. By the first decade of the 20th century it had been implemented in schools across Australia.
It remained a part of the syllabus in New South Wales right into the 1950s when it morphed into Natural Science before finally being replaced by more modern ideas on investigative science teaching in the 1980s. You can read more about the fascinating history of nature study in Australian schools here. The story was similar in the other states.
Many of the familiar names in education were influenced by these New Education ideas: Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner and Charlotte Mason all had their own take on nature study. Thanks to the current popularity of Charlotte Mason’s methods within the larger homeschool community, nature study is now enjoying a huge resurgence. This can only be a good thing for our kids!
But remember, Charlotte Mason wasn’t the only educator who saw the value in nature study, and her methods aren’t the only way to ‘do’ nature study in your homeschool. Find what works for you and do that! Because you really don’t want to miss out on making this a meaningful part of your children’s education at home .
Now that we you have a better understanding of how and why nature study came about, and you’ve decided it is something you want for your children, we can start to look at how to ‘do’ nature study. The way you do this is completely up to you but it will probably be influenced by the age of your children, the area you live in and the homeschool philosophy you follow (if you follow one at all!).
Nature study can include anything that gets your children outside and observing nature
Nature walks, playing in the forest, visiting the beach, exploring their own backyard. Bug catchers, ant farms, vegetable gardens and magnifying glasses.
Literally any way you can get your kids to notice the natural world around them and begin asking why is absolutely a great way to ‘do’ nature study. From there juicy conversations, journalling (as detailed or relaxed as you and your kids like) and nature inspired art are all wonderful ways to document their newfound knowledge.
Start small and informal and develop your methods as your children grow in skill and in confidence. And as you do too!
You already know that nature study is for everyone. It can be as relaxed or formal as you like. You can start whenever you are ready. But if you are following a particular homeschool methodology you may prefer to keep your approach in line with your guiding philosophy.
In the homeschool world many people associate nature study with Charlotte Mason. She talks about it in all of her books and gives a lot of encouragement and direction. In book one she describes how a mother can teach her children to observe and describe what they see by sending them off to play and then report back.
Miss Mason encourages mamas to start nature study with your children when they are young by taking them outside daily. You can find many of her suggestions compiled by Sonya Shaffer at Simply Charlotte Mason. Miss Mason’s method is also where we find the quintessential nature journal many of us are familiar with from social media.
If this is the method you are homeschooling with you will want to be getting your children outside regularly, having them describe what they see to you. Begin journalling your findings with your children, encouraging them to draw what they see carefully and faithfully (but be careful you don’t set them up for failure with unrealistic expectations of how a child’s drawings come out. Been there, done that. I don’t recommend it).
For example, children should be drawing the exact flower they see in front of them rather than what they think a flower looks like, but only to the best of their ability. Offer your child information in small pieces as they become ready for it but be careful not to turn this into a structured science lesson or to bombard them with information. We want them to be asking why and noticing details of their own accord.
Nature study is also a large part of a Waldorf education but it typically looks rather different here. In the early years children are encouraged to spend many hours outside in a natural surroundings, simply playing and exploring. As the parent you scaffold this experience by telling nature stories which offer small lessons on the nature of plants and animals. Thinks informal and imaginative here. Festivals help bring seasonal changes into focus for small children.
As children grow and mature, so does the way nature study is approached. Lessons in farming and gardening come in third grade which prompts children to look more closely and carefully at the world of nature around them. This is their first formal introduction to nature study.
From fourth grade onwards children are directed in their study of plants, minerals and animals. The approach here is to combine hands on exploration by children with guided study facilitated by the parent. This short overview may be helpful if this is the path you follow in your home.
But sticking faithfully to either of these methods isn’t the only way to do nature study with your children. No matter which homeschool method you use, nature study is a valuable addition to your week. Just do what works for you and remember these 3 things:
- observe nature directly, not just through books or documentaries. Go out there and get grubby!
- encourage your child’s interest in the natural world. Point things out, show interest when they share what they have found with you, provide them with guide books and a place to display their treasures
- help them to share what they learn through conversation, keeping records of some kind or making artistic representations. Better still, with a fluid combination of all of these! Journal with them, write nature themed poetry together, make a calendar to record their findings across seasons. Let your imagination run wild.
Now for the big question…
How do you start?
The best way to start is always to just start. Don’t worry about having everything perfect. Simply pack a picnic and a bag of art supplies, head out the door and into the world.
Find a spot near your home, maybe invite some friends, and look around. When you get tired of looking just sit down for your picnic and pull out some paper and pencils. Let your kids see you drawing and they will too. Or fill your pockets with leaves and other treasures and take them home to display.
“Every child has a natural interest in the living things around him which it is the business of his parents to encourage” Charlotte Mason
That’s all you need to do really. Give your children opportunity to be a part of and to observe the natural world around them. Do what you can to encourage their curiosity. Make recording and sharing their newfound knowledge a fun and meaningful experience.
You can find plenty more suggestions and guidance in the Nature Study workshop included in this year’s Start Homeschooling Summit.
Now, is there anything left holding you back?