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Why We Focus On Nature Study and Natural History

When I started homeschooling my son, he was only 4 years old. We were living in a place where kids started preschool at this age, or earlier, and it made sense for us to do this. I also wanted to wet my feet a little bit before I felt intimidated by the subjects he would be studying. I really wanted to learn what homeschooling could look like. I am glad that we did that because I learned what we didn’t really need through this approach. It set me on a quest to find something that worked for us, and it taught me patience in the process.

In the first big box curriculum that I purchased, we received a science experiment kit designed for my son’s age. We were really excited about the kit and my son wanted to open it right away. But after a few experiments, he lost interest because he didn’t understand the principles behind what was happening. I also lost interest because it was a lot of work for me to prepare the experiments for him every day. I was really discouraged about this because I didn’t want my son to feel so disconnected with what he was learning.

Growing up, there were years that I really enjoyed Science. My favorite was Chemistry because it made sense to me. From an early age, I knew the Scientific Method and later on, the Periodic Table was amazing to me. I understood the patterns taught in Science. However, I had a really hard time with Biology. What I was missing was the experiential side and I think that’s why Biology was so difficult for me. I didn’t really have any intimate knowledge of nature and all that fills it. When you try to start memorizing all of the definitions and concepts without having a foundational understanding, you can pass a test, but you won’t remember it and you certainly won’t be able to truly use the information you learned. Realizing this about my own education, I really wanted to be careful to lay a good foundation for Science.

And so Nature Study entered into our life. It was difficult to do the quintessential “out-in-nature” study when we were living in the desert because I kept having babies, we lived in a busy city, and the seasons limited our ability to get out. But we started with the basics- finding animals that we wanted to learn more about and reading about them, drawing them, and talking about them. At that time we could get out to the Dubai Aquarium easily and the Sharjah Desert Park, along with the Ripe Market- we loved seeing the animals even though they weren’t in their natural habitat.

He has always been a Reptile guy, Ripe Market, Dubai

When we moved back to the United States, we were in AWE of the wildlife around us- from insects to birds, reptiles to mammals- we were enthralled and excited about them all. That’s what happens when you go from desert to forest.

Little Animals Everywhere

Charlotte Mason wrote:

The real use of naturalists’ books is to give the child delightful glimpses into the world of wonders he lives in, reveal the sorts of things to be seen by curious eyes, and fill him with desire to make discoveries himself.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, page 64

Nature Study leads to the foundational experiences that branch off into a desire to make greater discoveries. I love what Anna Botsford Comstock wrote, as well:

Nature-study begins with the robin because the child sees it and is interested in it, and notes the things about the habits and appearance of the robin that may be perceived by intimate observation. In fact, he discovers for himself all that the most advanced book of ornithology would give concerning the ordinary habits of this one bird; the next bird studied may be the turkey in the barnyard, or the duck on the pond, or the screech owl in the spruces, if any of these happen to impinge upon his notice and interest. However, such nature-study makes for the best scientific ornithology, because by studying the individual birds thoroughly, the pupil finally studies a sufficient number of forms so that his knowledge, thus assembled, gives him a better comprehension of birds as a whole than could be obtained by the routine study of them. Nature-study does not start with the classification given in books, but in the end it builds up in the child’s mind a classification which is based on fundamental knowledge; it is a classification like that evolved by the first naturalists, because it is built on careful personal observations of both form and life.

Anna Botsford Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study, page 6

It doesn’t start with the classification but with personal observation. It’s an added bonus that I get to fill in the gaps of my own education and learn with my children, creating treasured memories in the midst of it all. This approach just feeds our desire to learn more.

If you are interested in starting with Nature Study, you don’t have to be watercolor enthusiast, you can just simply start! Here is one of our favorite Nature Study resources, which I always quote:

Another one of our favorite ways to find good Nature Study and Natural History resources is through our curriculum:

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“The Elixir of Youth”

When you see this title what you do you think of first? These days it could be a claim for any number of things… a way of eating, a juice cleanse, an essential oil blend, a hand salve ;), the right way to organize your home or closet. But would you think Nature Study?

In her book, Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Botsford Comstock speaks about Nature Study this way. Read what she says…

After all, what is the chief sign of growing old? Is it not the feeling that we know all there is to be known? It is not years which make people old; it is ruts, and a limitation of interests. When we no longer care about anything except our own interests, we are then old, it matters not whether our years be twenty or eighty. It is rejuvenation for the teacher, thus growing old, to stand ignorant as a child in the presence of one of the simplest of nature’s miracles – the formation of a crystal, the evolution of the butterfly from the caterpillar, the exquisite adjustment of the silken lines in the spider’s orb web. I know how to “make magic” for the teacher who is growing old. Let her go out with her youngest pupil and reverently watch with him the miracle of the blossoming violet and say: “Dear Nature, I know naught of the wondrous life of these, your smallest creature. Teach me!” and she will suddenly find herself young.

page 4, Handbook of Nature Study
A Monarch Caterpillar from last summer

This Spring I have realized one thing that I never understood about flowering trees: it is always better to walk under them than to drive past them. The view will always be better, you will be able to smell the fragrance of the blossoms, you will be able to see and even feel the petals falling from the flowers, and you will never miss the miracle of God’s creation. When you drive past them- it’s all to fast to take in, your senses aren’t awakened to their fullest extent. When we drive past everything in this life, we get in the ruts that Comstock writes about, no matter how old we are. Those ruts make look different for each one of us, but they are all similar in the way that keep us stagnant.

Check out our homeschool curriculum here: A Gentle Feast.

Drink in the Elixir of Youth today- go out, and experience some of Spring. <3 Kate