Category Archives: Nature Study Walk

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

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. 😀

Related:

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

Winter Nature Study Inspiration

red bellied woodpecker

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” -Thoreau’s journal, dated August 23, 1853
Charlotte Mason says “There is no reason why the child’s winter walk should not be as fertile in observations as the poet’s; indeed, in one way, it is possible to see the more in winter, because the things to be seen do not crowd each other out.” (Home Education, pg 86)

But still we resist. After all, it’s cold out there! So I had an idea.

In Home Education Mason says “The real use of naturalists’ books at this stage is to give the child delightful glimpses into the world of wonders he lives in, to reveal the sorts of things to be seen by curious eyes, and fill him with desire to make discoveries for himself.” (Home Education, pg 64)

Maybe what we need, in order to improve our motivation toward winter nature study, is to read some of what was written by the great naturalists who have gone [into the snow and cold elements] before us.

He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter. It is true the pomp and the pageantry are swept away, but the essential elements remain, – the day and the night, the mountain and the valley, the elemental play and succession and the perpetual presence of the infinite sky. In winter the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of a more exalted simplicity. Summer is more wooing and seductive, more versatile and human, appeals to the affections and the sentiments, and fosters inquiry and the art impulse. Winter is of a more heroic cast, and addresses the intellect.”
The Snow Walkers” Winter Sunshine by John Burroughs

The country is more of a wilderness, more of a wild solitude, in the winter than in the summer. The wild comes out. The urban, the cultivated, is hidden or negatived. You shall hardly know a good field from a poor, a meadow from a pasture, a park from a forest. Lines and boundaries are disregarded; gates and bar-ways are unclosed; man lets go his hold upon the earth; title-deeds are deep buried beneath the snow; the best-kept grounds relapse to a state of nature; under the pressure of the cold all the wild creatures become outlaws, and roam abroad beyond their usual haunts. The partridge comes to the orchard for buds; the rabbit comes to the garden and lawn; the crows and jays come to the ash-heap and corn-crib, the snow-buntings to the stack and to the barn-yard; the sparrows pilfer from the domestic fowls; the pine grosbeak comes down from the north and shears your maples of their buds; the fox prowls about your premises at night, and the red squirrels find your grain in the barn or steal the butternuts from your attic. In fact, winter, like some great calamity, changes the status of most creatures and sets them adrift. Winter, like poverty, makes us acquainted with strange bedfellows.”
Winter Neighbors” Signs and Seasons by John Burroughs

frozen dogwood“Each year after the midwinter blizzards, there comes a night of thaw when the tinkle of dripping water is heard in the land. It brings strange stirrings, not only to creatures abed for the night, but to some who have been asleep for the winter. The hibernating skunk, curled up in his deep den, uncurls himself and ventures forth to prowl the wet world, dragging his belly in the snow. His track marks one of the earliest datable events in that cycle of beginnings and ceasing which we call a year. The track is likely to display and indifference to mundane affairs uncommon at other seasons; it leads straight across-country, as if its maker had hitched his wagon to a star and dropped the reins. I follow, curious to deduce his state of mind and appetite, and destination if any.”
“January” A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

“If one could take the cover off the ground in the fields and woods in winter, or have some magic ointment put upon his eyes that would enable him to see through opaque substances, how many curious and interesting forms of life he would behold in the ground beneath his feet as he took his winter walk — life with the fires banked, so to speak, and just keeping till spring.”
Wild Life in Winter by John Burroughs

iciclesThe wonderful purity of nature at this season is a most pleasing fact. Every decayed stump and moss-grown stone and rail, and the dead leaves of autumn, are concealed by a clean napkin of snow. In the bare fields and tinkling woods, see what virtue survives.”
“A Winter Walk” The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau

“Why do you flee so soon, sir, to the theaters, lecture-rooms, and museums of the city? If you will stay here awhile I will promise you strange sights. You shall walk on water; all these brooks and rivers and ponds shall be your highway. You shall see the whole earth covered a foot or more deep with purest white crystals . . . and all the trees and stubble glittering in icy armor.” -Thoreau’s journal, dated October 18, 1859

iceThe Cold by Wendell Berry
How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,
my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go
separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you
perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping
–to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.
And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.

Ah yes, “having known fully the goodness of that, it will be good also to melt.” Isn’t it true that our Lord gave us each season, and therefore we shouldn’t close our eyes to hide from any of them. As Thoreau says, lets resign ourselves to the influences of each.

Below are a few essays that you might enjoy reading with your kids:

And a couple of books you might enjoy also:

Lastly, and in closing, while I’ve been in here writing to all of you, my ten year old daughter was writing a poem in the other room. She had no idea what I had on my mind, and yet here is what she had on her mind:

The wind blows and it snows
On a dark winter night.
The birds are sleeping in their nests
Waiting for summer at last.
Finally summer comes
And the birds are playing in the grass.

by Allison

May you all enjoy a bit of winter before it’s gone!

snowman

Anticipation of Nature


Last week I wrote about our recent attempt at daily nature study. I mentioned that it would be easy to direct their study a bit.  My soon to be beautiful peony flowers were the first thing that came to mind.

I received the root of this peony plant from a friend a few years back and since then I have waited with anticipation each spring for it to bloom.  I check its progress every day as it grows out of the ground and then later begins to bud.  Even though the buds do not look like anything special, I know what will come of it. It will be spectacular!

Unfortunately, I noticed that the kids nature study narrations, when self directed, were always focused on what was currently flashy – the beautiful purple iris or the stately robin – but the nondescript bud of the peony was going unnoticed. So, I assigned a quick look at the peony bush each day.

That’s all it took! They are also in love with the peony now, and maybe they have learned something about the joy of anticipation.

“All is incidental, easy, and things are noticed as they occur.” Mason Vol. 3, page 237

Daily Nature Study


I decided to try a new method of doing nature study with the kids this week.  I got the idea from my sweet friends at the Living Books Library, and it was an instant hit!

First, I must confess that I know that the kids should be doing nature study daily, but we have never managed much more than once a week.  

“…there is no part of a child’s education more important than that he should lay, by his own observation, a wide basis of facts towards scientific knowledge in the future. He must live hours daily in the open air and, as far as possible, in the country; must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant.” Mason Vol 1, page 264

My children play outside for hours daily, and because of the nature study we have done, they do notice a lot of things. However, I forgot how important it is for them to daily ask themselves the why questions – to daily organize their thoughts on what they noticed – to daily narrate.  If I’ve learned nothing else about a CM education, I have at least learned this: what is not narrated, may be a waste of everyone’s time. 
So, this week, we tried something new. They were directed to go outside for a nature walk around our yard, and when they were done, I typed up their narration to paste into their nature study notebook. 
They were so excited!  They had found something great, “the Tennessee flower” as they identified it, and even though they had verbally narrated on it, they just couldn’t be done with it! They wanted to draw it. Unfortunately, it had begun to rain outside, so I suggested they go take a picture of it.  I loaded it to the computer and they drew it based on the picture they had taken.
It was a great experience, and they begged to do it again the next day. As they get older, I foresee them narrating in their own nature study notebook on a daily basis without my needing to type it for them, but for now I’m trying to establish a habit while it is still hard for them to  print large quantities.
I can see so many ways I will be able to use this technique “to direct [their] observations” as Mason suggests.
  • Having them notice the same thing each day – like the weather, a certain flowing shrub (before, during and after the bloom), 
  • Having them walk the same route once a week
  • Focusing on certain things on each different day of the week (garden plants on Monday, trees on Tuesday, etc.)

I’ll keep you updated as we continue, but I can already tell you that I recommend you implement this idea!