Inside: You don't have to be a fan of the Great Outdoors to add Nature Study to your home.
“It is infinitely well worth the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation..."
I have a love/hate relationship with Nature Study.
In theory, I believe all children should spend time outside in nature exploring the world in which we live.
In reality, I'm not a fan of bugs, or heat, or cold, or poop, or humidity, or snakes, or most reptiles, and a significant portion of amphibians.
In a perfect world, it's always 75 degrees Fahrenheit with a slight breeze. The wind wafts through the trees, and the birds tweet happily in the branches (without pooping on my head - yes, it's happened, and no, I didn't feel lucky). In my Nature Study Utopia, rabbits frolic in the grass and the breeze is full of the sweet smells of blossoming flowers. There are no bugs. There is no sunburn. And, everything I choose to sketch stays still until my artwork is complete (and since we're in a utopia of my making, I will also be able to draw anything without it looking like a lopsided stick figure).
Sadly my Nature Study Utopia doesn't exist. The closest I can get to it is in the spring. Tennessee heats up quickly in the summer and becomes a giant, boiling, steaming cloud of mosquitoes (and gnats, let's not forget the gnats). After the middle of May, I start becoming antsy about going outside between the hours of 10 and 7. By mid-June, I'm refusing to leave the air-conditioning for more than a few moments at a time. And don't even get me started about July and August. You need a fan and gallons of ice water just to survive.
So, it may seem a bit odd that I started a Nature Study group in our local homeschool community. But, you see, I want to love nature and I need some accountability. I need someone to expect me to go outside and be anticipating my arrival... or at least send me Facebook messages when I don't show.
Why do Nature Study when you don't particularly like nature?
...because Charlotte Mason wrote the book.
"We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things."
Home Education, Vol. 1
Charlotte Mason is the go-to-gal for Nature Study in the world of homeschooling. She, quite literally, wrote the book on it. Her philosophies on Nature Study include the student exploring outside for hours each day and observing science around them. With these observations, they "will form an excellent groundwork for a scientific education." I must agree that my children learn far more effectively by experiencing science than just reading about it.
But, the truth is, I feel guilty when I read quotes like the one above. I DO want my kids to be naturalists. I DO think it's inexcusable to not care about plant and animal life. And, I DO want my kids to marvel at the world around them. So, as much as I want to stay in the air conditioning, I know I need to set an example and head out into the wilderness (okay, maybe just the backyard) to observe the life around me.
Though I agree with most of Miss Mason's philosophies, I don't follow all of them (like Habits and Handiwork - I just can't. Sorry, Charlotte). I've found that I have to be a bit more relaxed in our homeschool than the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education allows. That's why we follow the Brave Writer Lifestyle. Brave Writer is founded by Julie Bogart who is also a fan of Charlotte Mason, and many of her principles can be found in the Lifestyle like Nature Journaling.
...because it creates a pleasant homeschool atmosphere.
In those months when it is hotter than Hades or colder than a well digger's bottom (why yes, I am pulling out all the Southern idioms today), our homeschool is not the most pleasant place to be. The sibling squabbles are relentless. I long for the days when it might be mild enough to go outside and then I send them out anyway. Because here's what I've discovered:
- kids don't mind rain... or snow... or heat (as long as there is a water source nearby)... or bugs;
- kids like dirt... and mud... and sticks... and small creatures that creep me out;
- kids are happier when they have wide open spaces to roam;
- kids don't smack their siblings nearly as often when they are distracted by animal trails;
- kids use their energy on running, jumping, swimming, and playing when they get to go outside instead of whining and video games;
- moms are nicer when kids are happier.
So even when it IS hotter than Hades, we still go outside. Because, as I feel the sweat dripping down my back and my face melting, I am also enjoying watching my kids smile.
How to do Nature Study when you don't particularly like nature?
The nature enthusiasts are going to list all these amazing books that you MUST get in order to do Nature Study correctly. They are going to tell you to go outside every day and make observations, rubbings, and sketches. They are going to ask you to follow the example of an Edwardian lady. They are even going to tell you that you should identify every plant and animal you encounter and keep samples of your findings.
And, then you are going to feel bad because you have no idea how to do that much less fit it all into your day especially when it's 5,000 degrees outside. How do I know this? Because this is me every. single. year. So here's what I do to keep the guilt at bay while still trying to incorporate Nature Study into our homeschool.
Keep a backpack
I do not have time to look for all the stuff I need for Nature Study each time we go. So, I pack a Nature Study backpack for each of us that is always ready for when we need it. This means I have sunscreen, bug spray, journals, water bottles and more available when I need it.
Don't try to do it all
There is no way we can go outside on a nature walk every day. That's simply never going to work. Try to go once in a while. If you miss a week, don't worry about it. Nature isn't going anywhere.
Don't try to do all. the. things. Some days we sketch. Some days we catch minnows. Some days we take pictures with our macro lens. Don't try to do everything in your nature study. Choose what your kids enjoy and do that. One of my kids would prefer to sit and sketch every nature walk. My other kid prefers to look up all the plants she sees. So, I go with the flow. Everyone should enjoy Nature Study, or you've kind of missed the point.
Start a Nature Study group
If you're like me and you have a hard time committing to consistent Nature Study, then start a Nature Study with a group of friends. You can all hold each other accountable, and the kids will love hanging out together.
Find a way to enjoy Nature Study
Don't go outside and be miserable. If you know you can't stand the extreme cold or extreme heat, then find ways to bring nature inside.
- Grow butterflies from caterpillars.
- Grow tadpoles.
- Bring an herb garden inside.
- Spend time drawing or researching the things you have found outside/
Find places you all enjoy visiting like a park or riverfront. But, most of all, just try to have fun. If that means your nature walk is 15 minutes, then that's great. If you only make it to the backyard, then that's ok, too. Do what works for you.
Use Nature Study Resources that have been created to help you
Here are some resources that can help you out from around the web:
And here are some online nature book clubs that can help lead the way:
Don't let nature keep you from nature study. Make nature study work for you. And, don't compare yourself to Charlotte Mason (she didn't have air conditioning, after all).
How do you make nature study work for your homeschool?