Nothing strikes more anxiety into my heart as a homeschooler than the words “Nature Study.” That might be a bit hyperbolic, but seriously, hearing those words makes me feel like a big failure as a homeschooler.
You see, real homeschoolers do Nature Study. Real homeschoolers go on nature walks, keep elaborate nature journals with gorgeous drawings and water color paintings of leaves and trees and flowers. And what’s more, you have a Christian duty to do Nature Study. I’m not kidding. Read it. She makes a really compelling point.
So as I plan another homeschool year, I think of all of the ways I’m going to fail at doing Nature Study. Because I know I will. I know I will want to plan beautiful, Charlotte Mason inspired nature lessons, and I know I won’t make time for it, and I know I’ll feel like an utter failure.
Apparently, I don’t really want to sit and draw flowers with my children. I want to want to. But I don’t actually want to. You know how I know? Because I never do it. And not wanting to do it makes me feel like a loser.
My poor mother tried so hard to teach me to love birds and flowers and bugs the way she does. But I just don’t. I mean I don’t hate them. I really do want to love them. I’ve tried learning the names of wild flowers and trees, but it never sticks. My mom can rattle off the scientific name of every plant in her garden. A garden she planted herself. Because her friends the birds and the bees come to play there. I like to sit on her front porch and look at it when I’m there. But I’m more likely to pick up my laptop and start surfing than to pick up a sketchbook and start drawing.
So as I’ve been doing my planning for next year and thinking about how to do nature study so I don’t totally fail at it, I decided to start by setting a really low bar. Like, if I do Nature Study once a season, I’m going to call it a win. Yes, 4 times a year. That’s my goal.
In one of my great attempts to inspire myself toward nature study I schlepped Anna Comstock’s book, The Nature Study Handbook, up to the mountains on a family camping trip. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years now doing nothing but making me feel guilty for never opening. This time I did manage to read about 5 pages of it. And one of the sections I read was was on what to do with a kid who isn’t interested in Nature Study. This is what Ms. Comstock had to say:
“Usually the reason for this lack of interest is the limited range of subjects used for nature-study lessons. Often the teacher insists upon flowers as the lesson subject, when toads or snakes would prove the key to the door of the child’s interest.” (emphasis mine)
Huh. You mean you don’t have to start by sketching a leaf? I like watching things that move. Squirrels positively delight me. Actually, maybe I do like Nature Study. Or at least I like studying nature. I’m just maybe a little intimidated by the nature journal process. I always just feel like I’m doing it wrong, and I have zero confidence in my drawing ability. But maybe just because I don’t want to sketch flowers doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy studying nature.
Upon further reflection, I realize that we do in fact do Nature Study around here. It just looks a little different than all the pictures on the Charlotte Mason blogs. After just a few minutes I was able to come up with a pretty decent list of nature study-ish things we do around here just because we enjoy doing them.
Here are 11 things we do for fun that could be considered Nature Study.
1) Going to the Zoo
I love the zoo. Every time I walk past the strange and wonderful diversity of creatures, I am struck by the astounding imagination of our Creator. When I was nursing my first baby, there were quite a few animal nurslings at the zoo and I would sit forever and watch them nurse and watch the interaction between mom and baby. I took pictures and put them in an album for my own little nursling. Oh hey! I could put those pictures in a nature journal! Lazy mom’s Nature Study.
2) Helping Dad in the Garden
I am so glad I married someone who likes to grow things. Because I like it when things grow around me even though I’m really terrible at growing things. I’ve killed lots of house plants. I can keep kids alive because they tell you when they’re hungry. Loudly. Plants just quietly whither and die. But my husband keeps them alive and then my kids get to eat carrots and tomatoes and zucchini and peas straight out of the garden. Nutritious Nature Study.
3) Walking by the Creek
We are blessed to live just two blocks from a bike path that runs along a creek. We often (ok, not super often, but often enough I can remember the last time it happened) pop over and just stroll along the creek. We look for critters – we’ve seen crawdads, bugs, birds, leeches. . . We notice how high or low the water is. We visit the waterfall and either stand back in fear or climb over the rocks, depending on the water level. We pretend we’re on a jungle adventure or that we’re pioneers. We have picnics on the sandy shores. Low key Nature Study disguised as fun
4) Watching a Thunderstorm
A couple of nights after watching 4th of July fireworks my 4-year-old was scared by the noise and the flashing lights of a huge thunderstorm. When I climbed into bed with him I realized he had a great view of the storm through the skylight in the bathroom across the hall. As we sat and watched the storm together, I told him it was like God’s fireworks – a beautiful light show with powerful sound effects. We watched together and talked about thunderstorms and God. Cozy, late-night Nature Study.
5) Watching the Dog in the Backyard
We have this crazy little corgi named Penny that is an absolute riot to watch run around in the yard. She runs manic circles around the chickens. She’s a herder by nature and because her chickens never escape (because they’re in a pen) she thinks she’s really good at her job. She also trees squirrels, chases bunnies, and will spend hours every day hunting mice in the wood pile. I never thought of watching all of this as more than a source of amusement until I was flipping through The Handbook of Nature Study and saw the section on observing dogs. House pet Nature Study.
6) Watching the Chickens in the Backyard
Ok, I’ll be honest. I’m not one of those people who can spend hours watching “chicken TV.” But they’re there, and people in my family can watch them. So Nature Study.
7) Watching the Baby
One of my favorite creatures to observe is the human child. Babies especially fascinate me. I could watch my baby for hours. And I do. Nature Study – with a bonus hit of oxytocin.
8) Collecting Roly Polies
I’m not one to complain about the absence of insects in our dry Rocky Mountain climate, but one of the great sadnesses of my life is that my kids can’t chase fireflies on a warm summer night. Mother nature has, however, proviced an abundance of roly polies and a fair number of lady bugs that they do collect and observe. Creepy crawly Nature Study.
9) Going on a Farm Field Trip
Every year we go on a produce harvesting farm field trip with our bffs. It’s a pretty rugged experience where we go out on an actual farm and harvest actual crops from actual fields and haul them back to our cars in an actual farm tractor. We get covered in dirt, bit by mosquitos, and burned by the sun. It is a lot of work and a lot of fun and the tractor driver always teaches us so much about farming and growing things. Plus they have chickens and goats and things to pet. Super fun, super exhausting Nature Study.
10) Fishing with Dad
My husband loves to take the kids fishing and the kids love to go with him. They drive up to a mountain lake and spend the day catching fish with worms. Then they come home and gut the fish and feed the worms to the chickens. So much Nature Study.
11) Cross Country Skiing
This is a favorite of the whole family. We once saw a couple of moose from the deck outside of the ski lodge. They’re amazingly huge, beautiful creatures. It was a real treat. Then I went out on the trail by myself, turned a corner, and came face to butt with a giant moose. It scared the moose out of me. Nature Study.
So see, we do study nature. It just doesn’t look like Nature Study.
And that’s ok. Remember all the crazy animals at the zoo? God created so much beautiful diversity. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be a diversity of approaches in studying it.