Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nature Study: When Art and Science Collide

I speak often of "nature study" on this blog.
But if you are not a student of Charlotte Mason, you may not know what nature study is.
Nature study is simply time spent out of doors, studying nature.
Mason advocates for a young child to spend 4-6 hours a day outdoors.
And that outdoor time should not be on the ball field or in the pool.
She meant time spent laying in the grass, climbing a tree, searching out snakes and fungi, or wading in creeks looking for crawdads.
She meant children should explore nature.
It's a good idea, don't you think, in this age of computers, video games and afternoon "educational" cartoons?
"Never be within doors when you can rightly be without." (Charlotte Mason)

So, nature study takes place outside, in nature, not reading a text book about the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
It is allowing your child, and yourself, time to know the natural world that surrounds us.
It is becoming intimate with the sky, the leaf that blows down the sidewalk, the birds that sing from the trees, the particular kind of lizard that lives in your back yard and the wildflowers that grow in the wilderness parks you visit.
It is seeing, and then learning, and most of all caring about the things of nature.

Nature study forms the foundation for scientific study.
It builds in the child an interest in the natural world.
Why does this rock have stripes?
How did this plant get here?
What kind of bird builds a nest like that?
Nature study will serve him well his whole life.
"Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun--the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing his growth, what will they not fit him for?" (Charlotte Mason vol 1. pg 61)

For Charlotte Mason, and most of us teaching our children using her methods, nature study goes hand and hand with art.
Part of careful observation is the recording of what one has observed.
So the bird we see day after day in our backyard is identified.
We know it's telltale markings, its habits, its call.
We look at pictures and read about him.
We then draw and paint pictures of this bird.
And he becomes ours.
We know him.
He matters to us.
And now we'll notice his brothers and sisters every time we're out.
Suddenly, we see his family everywhere.
Oh yes, they were always there.
We just hadn't noticed them before.

With nature study, and art to accompany it, the world becomes a much more beautiful place.
Outside, we appreciate the beauty so much more because we know it.
We bring that beauty inside through our art.
It's a pretty wonderful combination, this thing called nature study.

This week for our nature study, I wanted the kids to start identifying the trees and shrubs in our yard.
I wanted to see how many they knew already and how many they would not be able to identify.
We've done this before in our neighborhood, but never in our own yard.
I sent all 3 of them outside with bags to gather as many different leaves as they could find.
The were off in a hurry, and I could hear them running around the yard, yelling to one another, "did you get this one yet?  Wow, look at how big this one is!  Be careful, this one has thorns!"
Collecting anything is fun.

For the art part of our study, I opted to take a break from drawing and painting, and do rubbings instead.
I always loved rubbings when I was a kid.
I still do.
It's a bit like magic to see those shapes come through the paper when you rub the crayon across it.
So I gathered our crayons together and some big pieces of paper.

I have the crayons, with labels removed, separated into like colors.
Don't they look pretty that way?
I think next time I will make them work in a single hue.
It will be a fun way to create a different look and experiment with color.

They brought in their leaves and laid them out on the table.
We examined them.
We noted differences and identified ones we knew.
We talked about the way bugs can harm trees. (see that black leaf?  Chinese aphids at work)
And felt the different textures of each leaf.

Then we got out our handy field guides and set to work categorizing each leaf and identifying the mystery ones.
We learned we have a fig tree growing in our yard!
It's tiny right now because it gets almost no sun and keeps getting cut down.
Not anymore.
The kids all have a vested interest in that tree now.
They know their fig tree, let me tell you.

We use field guides often in our school day
The trees and shrubs book I got at a used book sale for $1.
It is such a great book.  We find it very helpful.

And the illustrations are beautiful too.
We have blackberry bushes, see?

After all the identifying,  the kids chose their favorite leaves, arranged them back side up on the table, and we laid the paper over them.
I taped the paper down so it wouldn't slip around when they were rubbing.
And they got to work.

I love the way the tiny details on a leaf will come through when you do a rubbing of it.
Like the rose's rough edges.
James used a multitude of colors for his rubbings.

William did the rubbings, and then took some artistic license with some of his leaves.
And because he's 5 and because I am not going to be too uptight, I didn't mind a bit when he added polka dots to his leaves.

What I do care about is that we were able to identify the mysterious tree that sprouted in our yard.
That they hypothesized about how it got there.
And that the next day each boy saw more of them as we drove past the park.
That tree matters to us now.
We know her name.
We know how she dresses in the fall and spring.
Because we took the time to get outdoors, to study, to observe and to take notice, my kids care a lot more about the trees that inhabit our yard.
They matter.
And they'll be remembered.
And that's what this is all about.

I found this quote that so beautifully explains why I teach my children this way.
This is my hope for them:

“The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? (Charlotte Mason Vol. 3 p. 171)

Wishing you lots of wonderful discoveries this weekend!
Love from,


Summers Family said...

that sounds really wonderful Greta. Your children are so lucky to have you as their teacher.

hannah singer said...

we undress our crayons, too. favorite.
also, will you homeschool me?


jenni bailey said...

I can't even tell you how unbelievably happy I am to have wandered onto your blog today!

I am about to begin home schooling my daughter next year and am leaning strongly toward a Charlotte Mason method. I have seriously been searching for blogs exactly like this one to help ease my mind about the transition. Love, love, love it. I'm going to be digging around here for hours today, I think. :)