Category Archives: Nature Study

Object Lessons

Charlotte Mason tells us that the young child is “full of vivid interest. He has a thousand questions to ask, he wants to know about everything; he has, in fact, an inordinate appetite for knowledge.” Unfortunately, we soon cure him of all of that by “occupying him with books instead of things…and we succeed in bringing up the unobservant man (and more unobservant woman) who discerns no difference between an elm, a poplar and a lime tree, and misses very much of the joy of living.” (Parents and Children, p. 181-182)

If we are determined to follow Mason’s lead down a better path, we must remember that while books are an essential part of a Mason education, things can be very instructive as well, and the more we find a balance between the two, the more intelligent and observant our children will become.

Object lessons are a wonderful way to gently guide a child to carefully examine a given object (a thing) in order to find out all he can about it through the use of his five senses. In fact, when the child’s senses have been exercised and his interest aroused, he can most effectively retain what he is discovering. Continue reading

Podcasts on Living Science

Over at A Delectable Education we are in the middle of a series of podcasts on nature study and science. You know it’s my favorite subject, so I’m thrilled that we are exploring it on the podcast. So far we have talked about Nature Study, Nature Lore books and this coming Friday we will air an interview I did with Cheri Struble, an inspiring nature study enthusiast. Next week we will move onto elementary science, and then middle school and high school science rounds out the series. I hope it is really helpful to each of you. You can always ask question on the episode blog post, or on our ADE facebook page, or here.

On another note, what do you think of my new look? I hope it is working well for you. The only problem that I’ve run into so far, is that a few of the pages from my old site will not forward to my new site. If you had any of them bookmarked, you may want to update those. The following are likely the ones you’ll want:


Physical Geography for Elementary School Students

learning by-the-wayWe talked about geography recently over at A Delectable Education podcast, but as we try to limit each episode to a reasonable bite-sized morsel, there are times when we have to leave something out that one of us really wanted to focus on.  For me, and my ever-present science focus, it was the details Mason provided us regarding physical geography for elementary students.

It seems to me a sine quâ non of a living education that all school children of whatever grade should have one half-day in the week, throughout the year, in the fields. There are few towns where country of some sort is not accessible, and every child should have the opportunity of watching from week to week, the procession of the seasons.

Geography, geology, the course of the sun, the behaviour of the clouds, weather signs, all that the ‘open’ has to offer, are made use of in these walks; but all is incidental, easy, and things are noticed as they occur.” (vol 3 p. 237)

Mason points out that geography for the young child should mostly be taught by-the-way. Instead of treating geography solely as a book subject at this age, we should be outside looking at a little creek and then comparing it to the great rivers of the world, or looking at a hill and comparing it to the great mountain ranges. She called this pictorial geography, which was just a way to use something accessible to us to foster the child’s imagination about other things in the world which they couldn’t see. She even said that, “There are certain ideas which children must get from within a walking radius of their own home if ever they are to have a real understanding of maps and of geographical terms.” (vol 1 p. 73)

Mason outlines the order in which each concept should be covered, and interestingly, each idea builds on another until the abstract ideas of direction, weather, and distance come together in a very tangible way for children. The following list is in the order she suggests presenting these ideas to our children:

  • The position of the sun in the sky as the day goes by, and how it helps us know what time of day it is. They can even note, in their nature journals, the time and location of sunrise and sunset over the course of a year, to see how it changes. They can be made to notice that when the sun is high in the sky on a summer day, it’s much warmer than when the sun is low in the sky in the middle of a winter afternoon. They may also notice the difference these things make for their shadow.
  • They can even learn a little about the size of the sun and the earth and the fact that the earth moves around the sun. Mason explains that these concepts, while abstract, can be of interest to a child who has a great deal of imagination and faith in seemly impossible things. (I just love that.)
  • They can learn basic information about the weather as it is experienced, again noting it in their nature journal.
  • They can learn about distance, by measuring the steps it takes to walk a certain path near your home. By measuring how many feet are covered by one of their steps, they can calculate the distance of a certain walk just by counting their steps.
  • Once they understand the concept of distance they can learn the time it takes to cover a certain distance, and they can calculate the distance of a walk based on how long it took.
  • Once they understand the progress of the sun, and a little about distance, the concept of direction-north, south, east and west-can be introduced, by coaching the child to stand with his right arm out toward the east (where the sun rises,) his left to the west (where the sun sets,) and his face pointed toward the north. Of course, then south is behind him. Then he can determine things like which side of his house faces south.
  • After this, they will be ready to notice which direction the wind is blowing, by noticing which way the smoke from a chimney is going, or even which way a bit of dirt or grass falls when tossed in the air. You can tell them that the same way we are labeled by where we come from, (American’s come from America,) the wind is labeled by where it comes from. So for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the “North wind doth blow” from the north, bringing with it cold air, and the south wind brings warmer air.
  • Following this basic understanding about directions, they can be introduced to the compass, and learn to use it to find direction.
  • At this point they can use their understanding of direction to accurately describe boundaries. They can say, our property is bordered by a corn field on the north side and main street is the south boundary of our yard.
  • All the while they should be noticing what kinds of crops grow nearby, what animals are raised locally, and what kinds of rocks and trees can be found in the neighborhood.
  • This culminates in the child drawing maps of various areas studied. They don’t have to draw them on paper, at least not at first, but rather they can be drawn in the dirt with a stick. They can note the boundaries and various structures, or where there is tree cover or a meadow. They can also note where north, south, east and west is on their map. They may find it hard to draw their map to scale at first, but eventually they will learn about to pace off a boundary and allow an inch for 10 feet or some such.

Each of these things, the sun, weather, distance, direction and boundaries, is covered by-the-way. There is no specific curriculum to follow, but you can see that by taking them generally in the order outlined above, one idea will lay the groundwork for the understanding of another idea. The only requirement is that you do need to spend ample time outside with your children, and that you are deliberate about noticing all there is to notice about the geography of where you are at. Each day you and your children will find something new to notice. One day the wind is blowing, but from which direction? And then the next day it’s snowing. The western boundary of trees blocks some of the snow, but the meadow is covered evenly. The sun comes out the next day, making the snow sparkle, but it is low in the sky, and therefore does not produce enough heat to melt the snow. And on and on it goes. All of this lays the foundation for learning the geography of other places later on by the use of maps.

Physical Geography Books:

Form I (grades 1-3,) has 10 minutes, twice a week allocated on the morning schedule to book work for geography, and form II (grades 4-6,) has 20 minutes, twice a week. I would use one of those two time slots for a physical geography book. You could certainly use Mason’s first geography book (online), or you could use several short books on various topics. You might even want to see if your library has them available. Some of my favorites are below:

What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Bulla (LRFO 1)
What Makes Day and Night by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 1)
Sun Up, Sun Down by Gail Gibbons
Energy from the Sun by Melvin Berger (LRFO)
Follow the Sunset by Herman and Nina Schneider
The Moon Seems to Change by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
North, South, East, and West by Franklyn Mansfield Branley (LRFO)

The Planets in Our Solar System by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
What the Moon is Like by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
The Sky Is Full of Stars by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
The Sun: Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)

On the Same Day in March: A Tour of the World’s Weather by Marilyn Singer
Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here by Jean Craighead George
Sunshine Makes the Seasons by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
What Will the Weather Be? by Lynda DeWitt (LRFO 2)

Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale by Peter Malone
Feel the Wind by Arthur Dorros (LRFO 2)

Clouds by Anne Rockwell (LRFO 1)
Not only for ducks: The story of rain by Glenn Orlando Blough
Rain and Hail by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO)
Flash, Crash, Rumble, and Roll by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
Down Comes the Rain by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
A Drop Of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
AND Snowflakes in Photographs by W. A. Bentley (a book of Bentley’s photographs)
The Big Storm by Bruce Hiscock
Snow by Thelma Harrington Bell
Snow Is Falling by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 1)

How Mountains Are Made by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld (LRFO 2)
Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean by Arthur Dorros (LRFO 2)
How a Rock Came to be in a Fence on a Road Near a Town by Hy Ruchlis


For Reference or further reading on this subject, read Mason’s own words in Home Education (vol 1), part 2, ch 9: Out-Of-Door Geography, pp. 71-78

Hatching Baby Chicks

chick 1Several years ago I decided I wanted chickens. Live ones, living in the backyard. I had been moving my family to a more traditional lifestyle, and growing my own food and raising chickens were part of the deal. Maybe I should tell you right up front, though, that at the time we lived in a neighborhood. Have you ever thought about having pet chickens in the yard? Neither had my neighbor. Or my husband actually. I checked the statutes of my area and found that it was legal. As for approval from my hubby, he was tolerant of the idea…sort of.

chick 2There is a lot to know about raising chicks, so I did much reading and preparing before they ever arrived. Two of my favorite resources were the website Back Yard Chickens, and the book Chicken Tractors by Andy Lee.

Our first batch of chicks were delivered through the United Postal Service. (Really!) We had a temporary home prepared for them in the laundry room, and we snuggled them in directly.

chick 3In these early days, baby chicks require much care, (mostly because they are messy and have to be cleaned up after very regularly,) but more importantly, they are so CUTE that you have to watch them for hours! And what is nature study beside observation? Anyway, it was February, and indoor nature study seemed much more inviting.

Shortly after these cuties got moved outside, my sister decided she would like some ducks for her pond. She bought an inexpensive incubator and ordered some eggs through the mail, but we did the incubating at my house. By this time I had figured out that this was a pretty neat school activity.

Some of the kids built an egg candler, which is used to shine a bright light through the egg to see what is happening on the inside. (Later, we found that the flash light setting on my smart phone works just as well.) This was a great nature study activity because we could track the development of the embryo. You cannot hold the light to the egg for long, because it’s important that you don’t change the temperature of the egg. Therefore, each child had to take a quick hard look, then put the egg back, before going to the table to draw what they had seen.  We did weekly drawings like this in our nature study notebooks, and I think they came out wonderful. (Click on the picture below to look more closely.)


We did find that hatching ducks is harder than hatching chickens, and really requires a better quality incubator. I ended up having to help some of the duck get out of their shells at the end, which is a pretty precarious thing to do.

duck 3

Over the years we have hatched several batches of chickens and ducks. I also got a batch of meat chicken by mail once, but that’s a whole other story! And most recently we hatched some Sebastopol geese. Geese are harder to incubate than ducks even, but my sister got a really nice incubator which we used for them. We also used eggs which her own geese had laid, and 5 out of 7 of them lived, which apparently is really good.

This goose just hatched and is still in the incubator.

This goose just hatched and is still in the incubator.


Whether you incubate some eggs, or just want to learn more about their development with your kids, I would suggest the following books:

For young children and early readers
Egg to Chick by Millicent Selsam (63 p.) This has excellent drawings which show embryonic development. There is an in-print version, but I haven’t been able to compare it with the original. Sometimes books are “revised” when they are reprinted, but you never want a revised version of a Selsam book.
Where do Chicks Come From by Amy Sklansky (LRFO1, IP)
Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones by Ruth Heller (PB, IP) Shows other animals that also lay eggs.
All About Eggs: and how they change into animals by Millicent Selsam. Another one that considers other animals that lay eggs.

Middle to upper elementary readers
A Chick Hatches by Joanna Cole and Jerome Wexler (47 p. with a medium amount of text on each page) This book includes photographs of embryonic development.
Science Projects With Eggs by David Webster

Middle School and up
Window Into an Egg: Seeing Life Begin by Geraldine Lux Flanagan

Thank you Kim B. for inspiring this post! I hope you and your family enjoy incubating your eggs.

Nature Study and Science Lingo

Does the science “lingo” used in Mason’s volumes and around the CM community confuse you at times? I thought I would take a few minutes to clarify some of the nature study and science terms that get tossed around.

Natural History was the blanket covering for all things science on the PNEU programs. Under this heading, we find a variety of activities and books, including nature lore, special studies, nature study notebooks, and resources for these topics. We also see typical science topics listed, such as chemistry, physics, the earth sciences, and botany.

Sometimes we also see the heading “Natural Science” or “General Science“, but the topics covered under these titles were listed under the general heading of “Natural History” at other times.

Nature Lore is essentially the use of naturalists’ books to open the students’ eyes and pique their interest regarding what is to be seen outside. This is seen on the PUS schedules at least once a week through form 2 (grade 6), but I feel like it should still be included for older children if they have not been homeschooled using the Charlotte Mason method for several years.

Some examples for form 1 students are:
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children by James Herriot
Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers by John Burroughs
Wild Life in Woods and Fields by Arabella Buckley

Some examples for form 2 students are:
The Storybook of Science by Jean Henri Fabre
The Secret of Everyday Things by Jean Henri Fabre (381 pp.)
Insect Adventures by Jean Henri Fabre (298 pp.)
The Lay of the Land by Dallas Lore Sharp, 214 pages

Some examples for form 3+ students are:
The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell
Anatomy Of A Rose: Exploring The Secret Life Of Flowers by Sharman Apt Russell
A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

You can find many examples of these kinds of books on my Nature Lore page.

Special Studies are an opportunity to focus on an individual topic in the area of botany, biology or earth science. They are usually seasonally based, and although they can be done as a family, older students can pursue particular interests of their own. Typically time is scheduled during the morning hours to read books pertaining to the topic, and then during afternoon nature study the topic can be looked at more closely by way of observation or an object lesson. Read more about implementing special studies.

Object Lessons are usually done during nature study time, as a compliment to your special study topic. The Handbook of Nature Study is a great resource for this as it contains many short lessons divided by topic. The idea is that you take about 10 minutes to look much closer at something specific, even directing a few “casual” questions to the children to help them notice something they may not see without prompting. This activity should only take about 10 minutes. Read more about the use of object lessons in my article on implementing special studies.

Nature Study is done every afternoon when the child is young, but even as they get older they should have a minimum of one full afternoon spent outside each week. Frequently a nature walk is done during this time, but it is not necessary. The goal is to spend time outside observing what there is to see, however, this is not a time for the teacher to teach, but rather should be child-led. Read more about what afternoon time looks like when you have young children.

Brush Drawing is a form of water color painting that requires very little water. It is a way for students to record their observations, even when they are still too young to write in their nature notebooks. Learn more about it in my article keeping a nature journal.

I hope this helps! Let me know if I missed one that you would like to know more about.