Category Archives: Nature Study Notebooks

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

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.

Opening Their Eyes

Early on in my family’s Charlotte Mason education, nature study time just meant going outside to see what we could see. There was no plan. I’m not knocking that way of doing nature study. In fact, it was an improvement over the “we’ll just skip it today” mantra that I had very early on.

A most memorable day of “seeing what we could see”, came when we walked outside and found a wee mushroom.

It was like a little gift to us! We each did a nature drawing, 
Can you see the mushroom down front and center?

we struggled through some identifications,

we read a short book,

and we made some spore prints.

The kids’ surprised faces are priceless!
Some spore prints are light colored and some are dark, hence our use of black and white paper.

This was so fun that we decided we would try to find more mushrooms somewhere else. My sister has a large piece of property with a fun creek, where we spent several days a week playing. That seemed like the best place to start our mushroom search. Would we find any? We had been over there recently and hadn’t seen any.

As we walked around we noticed hundreds – no thousands – of mushrooms! They were everywhere!!

What happened? Had they all popped up overnight?  No, our eyes were just opened.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we had done a special study. We had spent a little time finding out about one particular thing, fungi, and our eyes were opened. What a joy!

We took it a little further after that, looking closer and making more detailed observations. (Because who could help themselves!?)

We made some spore prints on a glass microscope slide and took a closer look,

and there were many drawings made.

All because our eyes were opened one day when we went out to see what we could see. 😀


Natural History Rotation
Natural History: Implementing Special Studies (full explanation)
Implementing Special Studies – An Outline