Ahhh, nature study, my favorite part of homeschool. Nature study is something I like to incorporate daily into our lessons. This morning I thought I would share how we do our nature study here.
First of all, my favorite example of a nature journal is this:
It’s a beautiful and exquisitely detailed book with an amazing story behind it.
It began in 1906 as a diary kept by Edith Holden, documenting her nature observations in the English countryside. Ms. Holden kept the journal to encourage her students. Tragically, Edith Holden drowned in the Thames at the age of 49. For some years, her diary was passed down through her family and was finally published after a great-niece approached Webb & Bower in 1976. The book became an immediate success, a record-breaking best seller, but then went out of print for several years. It is currently back in print, (one can only guess at how long — hopefully for good) and it’s one of my favorite books ever. I’ve had my copy for about 10 years.
Our Nature Study
Ideally we go outside (our own backyard is a fine place for this) and spread out a b lanket.
It’s nice if the weather is warm, but if it’s chilly out, a big sweater works just fine. An added benefit of using your own backyard is that it’s easy to run inside and get a quick cup of hot tea every so often, especially if it is chilly.
As I settle onto the blanket, it’s my instinct to tell Princess of the Universe to sit down right away, but the wiser part of me gives her time to run around and get some energy out. Children love the outdoors and seem to know exactly what to do in it.
It’s a wild and crazy game. The only part of Earth left is the stack of two wooden blocks that Princess of the Universe must land on.
I can hardly bear to watch this. What if she misses the one spot of Earth left? Will she go into outer space? Will she disappear? Maybe she will come sit down quietly on the blanket.
Thank goodness, she came to the blanket. Sigh.
What are we doing?
I’ll tell you.
Princess of the Universe and I have discussed the style of Edith Holden’s diary. To me, it almost has the look of elegant doodling on some pages.
I have always been a doodler myself. I can fill up a 9 x 12 page with doodles taking a phone number and message down during a phone call. (Did you know that a recent study showed doodlers remember more from their phone conversations?) I digress.
The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady is also filled with an abundance of information about nature and history. In summary, the fun layout makes it interesting to read, the beautiful illustrations make it classic, and the seriousness of the information written makes it a real teaching tool. The bottom line is that I want our nature journals to favor Edith Holden’s.
How do we do that?
At this point, I simply require that Princess of the Universe follow my lead. She writes what I write, copywork-style. Our journal pages are kept in the same fashion in which Edith Holden kept hers. The difference is that we are using information pertinent to our location and our lives and we are using colored pencils to document what we see.
Oh my. Time for another pleasant distraction. My oldest, Daniel, who is off work for the day and has been fishing shows up.
Big Joe and Princess of the Universe must gather around and see the picture of the large fish he caught and released. I sip on hot tea. And wait.
Instead of coming straight back to the blanket, Princess of the Universe goes in the opposite direction, but there is a method to her madness. She needs to show me that she can jump all the way across the blanket.
“Wait!” I say. Let me move our journals. And set my camera to “action.”
I am happy to report that Princess of the Universe comes back to the blanket, but look!
Another distraction. It’s totally okay, however, because this IS the heart of nature study: observation.
I think the key to successful nature study is to just get yourself outside, relax, and enjoy what comes your way.
Princess of the Universe lets the granddaddy long legs crawl onto her hands. We look at the colors. Gray. Brown. She has a patch of darker brown on her back. We note that she’s missing a leg. We let her go.
Back to work. “Use the right colors to draw your dandelion,” I tell Princess of the Universe.
Her leaf is the right color but needs more definition, I think. I don’t say anything this time because overall she has done a fabulous job. She’s documented some valuable information and she’s done it with care and enthusiasm. (I think the Earth’s-almost-gone game helped tremendously.) Mental note to self: in a lesson soon, we will color together just a leaf, working on detail.
Patience is what wins the race.
Here are our two journals side by side. How did we decide on this information? A few questions did the trick.
- What is growing in our yard this month that we did not see last month? Dandelions. Let’s draw the dandelion.
- What do we know about the dandelion? It’s a food and a medicine. It has many names. Let’s write some of that down.
- What about its scientific name? This is a short and sweet lesson in classification. Over time these little lessons add up to a good working knowledge of how plants and animals get their names.
- What fun fact do we know about March? It’s mommy’s birthday.
- What do we hear as we sit here? Birds. On some days we may try identifying birds by their sounds and drawing a bird.
What do we use as a nature journal?
For now, Princess of the Universe works in a sketch book with nice heavy paper. I have several ideas for preserving her nature journal, but I have not decided yet how we’ll do it. In the past we have used a standard black and white composition book, cutting out our drawings and gluing them in and using the lined paper underneath to write our info on. These pages we are doing now, however, are larger and fuller. I want to keep them whole and intact. For now it’s fine to just keep it all in the sketch book. It keeps things simpler. She can just pick up her sketch book and go.
I’ll be sure and post what we decide to do to permanently store her nature journal for this school year. When it comes to nature study, the point is to just do it.