Implementing Special Studies – An Outline

Nature study is the foundation of formal science, and it shouldn’t stop in the upper grades. To facilitate much learning in the areas of botany, biology and earth science during our nature time, while still providing a relaxed, child-led atmosphere, we should incorporate special studies to open our children’s eyes.

I encourage you to read my entire post entitled Natural History: Implementing Special Studies, which is on the Charlotte Mason Institute blog, but I thought having a short outline of the process might be worthwhile for you to refer back to while you are getting the hang of it.

How Does it Work?

  1. Pick two or three areas of focus each term.
    • Pick things that are seasonally relevant.
    • In almost every case, you should pick something that you can observe regularly.
    • Despite varying ages, everyone can pursue the same special study.
    • I’ve been working on a Natural History Rotation that I’m happy to share with you. I hope it will help you plan your year.
  2. Gather living books that will teach something about the special study topic and also inspire and guide observation.
    • If your whole family will be studying the same topic, then gather books from various reading levels.
    • Try to pull in a variety of book styles and lengths. (e.g. fiction, non-fiction, picture books.)
  3. Prepare yourself by reading the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock (HoNS).
    • Teachers need to read the sections of the Handbook of Nature Study which tell about the special study topics chosen, in order to gain a bit of background knowledge.
    • This is not for the student to read, or be read to, but rather just for teacher education.
    • You cannot inspire your students if you do not at least appreciate the subject yourself.
    • It’s ok if you learn along with them, but you should aspire to stay a little bit ahead of them.
  4. With the above done, you will not have to say hardly anything when you go outside for nature study.
    • The kids’ interest will be piqued and their eyes will be opened.
    • Instead of just seeing the “bling”, they will notice the secret treasures.
    • They come to know what to watch for instead of simply reacting.
  5. Despite their new open eyes, you should still plan 2-6 object lessons each term.
    • The living books you read are likely to inspire some object lessons naturally.
    • Limit the amount of time spent on objects lessons to 5-15 minutes.
    • Don’t lecture – we are not to be the “fountain-head of all knowledge”.
  6. Draw or otherwise record what is seen in a nature study notebook.
    • Student should record observations in whatever way they are most inspired to do so.
    • There should be no right or wrong way.

Natural History: Implementing Special Studies (the whole explanation)
Natural History Rotation

16 thoughts on “Implementing Special Studies – An Outline

  1. Sarah

    Hi Nicole! Do you pick 2-3 areas of focus each term like it states above or 2-3 areas each year like your natural history rotation suggests? I'm working on my schedule now so just wanted you to clarify. Thanks!

  2. Nicole Williams

    The rotation suggests 2 areas per term. It shows 2 years worth of ideas, and each year includes 2 areas for each: fall, winter and spring. For instance this term you can choose from 1) rocks, minerals or soil, AND 2) fish, amphibians or reptiles. Maybe you pick rocks and reptiles – then you have 2 areas of focus, and that is for one term. I hope that clears up your question.

  3. Sarah

    Great. Thanks! So using your example of rocks and reptiles, would you focus 6 weeks on each topic or study them simultaneously during the 12 week term?

  4. Tina Paul

    I love how you have put together this special studies rotation. It is so helpful! I am also wondering if you focus on the topics together? Are you reading about both topics and then looking at both of your special studies during nature times outside? Or would you just focus on 1 topic at a time to read about and look at outside?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Nicole

      This is where you have to be a little bit flexible. You might have 2 going at a time, but one is not something you can observe every day. You might do one and then switch to another midway through a term. You might have two topics and you just focus on the one that strikes your interest that day. Consider mushrooms, my favorite topic. When they appear, they appear, and you have to go for it. Then they are gone and you have to move back to your other topic. There is no cut and dry answer for this questions. I’m sorry.

      1. Tina Paul

        Oh yes, flexibility…something I need to grow in! Thank you for your time in addressing my question. This does make sense and helps me understand the flexibility necessary when implementing special studies! Thank you for all your work in putting this together!

  5. Elizabeth Reaves

    I have a question about point #1, “In almost every case, you should pick something that you can observe regularly.” For instance, we were on a bike ride/nature walk today and my son spotted a granddaddy long legs. He read about it in “Among the Meadow People” just a few weeks ago. I looked in The Handbook of Nature Study and feel this would be a good object lesson. But yet we are not able to observe it on a regular basis. (After saying this I’ll see 10 tomorrow!).

    So am I working in the right direction for an object lesson?

    1. Nicole

      Maybe think bigger by choosing spiders as the special study, rather than only daddy long legs. Then hopefully you can observe various kinds more regularly. (Even though daddy long legs are not actually spiders, but make up their own order.)

      1. Elizabeth Reaves

        Yes, I see now. So spiders is my special study and several types of spiders would be my object lessons.

        I’m looking forward to starting the Weather Study Guide for Elementary soon! Keep them coming!

  6. Jennifer

    I’m wondering how to find the children’s literature related to special studies. We live in Hawaii so we have some really different species of trees and flowers but not really any stories related to them. Is there a list somewhere of topics and books that correspond?

    Mahalo, Jennifer

    1. Nicole

      Don’t try to narrow your search to a specific kind of plant or animal. A lot can be learned by reading about the species in general. For instance, learning about a house cat can teach you about lions and tigers and bobcats. (If you could see the mini-housecat snuggling with me at this moment, you might question that logic!) Reading about trees in general will pique your children’s interest and help them question the specific types of trees in your neighborhood. Outside of that, you might see if there is a naturalist local to you that would tell you about some of the plants.

  7. Sarah

    Our family just watched “The Wild Brothers — Jewels of the Jungle” from Answers in Genesis here:
    I thought it would be a great inspiration to anyone doing special studies. Especially insects.

    Our family loves the Wild Brothers series and encourage homeschooling christian families to check it out. It’s fascinating to peek into the life of a missionary family in the jungle.

  8. Nicolette

    Thank you for all of these resources Nicole! Are the special studies books to be read during on of the weekly natural history slots? So for form 1 one slot for one nature lore book, one for the other, and one for special studies?

    1. Nicole

      Nicolette, that is exactly right for form one. Two nature lore books on two different days, and then one special study reading on a third day.


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