Raising kids. Keeping House. Choosing joy, every day.

Summer: The Perfect Time to Begin Nature Study

If you are at all familiar with Charlotte Mason’s methods, you know that she encouraged teachers to expose their students to nature. And summertime is the perfect time to start nature study with your kids, because they have so much free time out doors.

A page from my nature journal

If  starting nature study sounds overwhelming to your already busy schedule, let me clear up a few misconceptions.

Nature study is not:

  • a thing to be feared because you don’t know a dandelion from a daffodil or a woodpecker from a warbler.
  • just another subject to add to your already busy school day.
  • a subject to be graded.
  • a subject that should be taught if it does not encourage fondness of the out doors and the appreciation of nature. 

Nature study is:

  • Simply the study of nature meant to cultivate a child’s ability to accurately observe the world around him.
  • A tool that should increase a child’s love for all things beautiful.
  • something that with minimal prep work can be enjoyed by your whole family. 
  • A break from the routine of school work.
  • As simple as a brisk walk to observe the foliage of a particular wood, or as detailed as drawing out the different types of markings and types of bird feathers.
  • something can be started at the earliest of ages by simply pointing out things in nature in a conversational way. “Oh, look at how the robin has a red belly.” “See how the cat likes to be in the sunshine.”

Let me give you a few easy ways to start nature study with your young ones:

1. Observe the birds in your area. Start with the birds you come into contact to on a regular basis. Here in the northeast, we see robins, sparrows, orioles, bluejays, cardinals, turkeys, mallards, etc.

2. Learn the proper name!  Don’t just call them “bird”,” tree”,” flower”- consult a field guide and learn the names of the things in your own yard first. (Don’t laugh- I did this when Rebekah was two. When she asked me the name of “that birdie” and I realized that I had a lot to learn.) I found the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock to be a very helpful reference. Also, I liked the National Audobon Society Field Guide Series. Also, eNature is an online resource where you can search by types of birds and hear their songs.

3. Ask questions that make the child observe.

  • Where do you see this bird the most?
  • When did you see it first this season?
  • What color is his beak? Eye?
  • What color is his head? The back? The throat? The breast?It’s tail?
  • Does he hop, run or walk?
  • How does he get his food? Drink?
  • How does he react around other animals?
  • What song does he sing?

When appropriate, encourage the child to record his observations in a small unlined notebook. More detail on this later, but it should be small enough to carry around with thick enough paper to handle marker and watercolor.

Tell your child to record what they observe. You should set the example by also sketching in a field notebook. Also, the child’s observations should not be “graded.” The field notebook should be for pleasure and for the child’s own benefit. Grading, criticizing or marking up the child’s notebook is off limits. :) You might ask gently”Which bird was it that you observed  to be bright purple with pink polka dots?” to get the  point across that this should be realistic.

Also, take advantage of the easy summer schedule to start your nature study on the beach. Your child can observe shells, crabs and  starfish by the water, and grasses, dunes, sandpipers and other birds by the marsh. Most kids love finding treasures on the beach and with a little creative conversation, you can get them “thinking” without them really knowing they are learning. :)

What other ways have you found to  teach your child to appreciate nature?