Friday, September 19, 2008

Nature Studies

It seems rather lame for me to talk of our nature studies over the years when I am looking out the window at high winds and driving rain and looking on the internet at the devastation of a natural disaster. At times like these I wonder why every Christian isn't a Calvinist. Truly nature is an act of God.

The way we have approached nature study has been highly influenced by my original reading of Charlotte Mason's Original Home Education Series some 15
years ago. I have never satisfactorily achieved what Charlotte describes which is why you may benefit from hearing what we have actually achieved.

My older boys all had nature notebooks that I bought from Greenleaf Press. When they finished one I would buy another. Timothy, Nicholas, James and Nathaniel had at times varying degrees a attractive nature drawings. Nicholas and Nathaniel are both talented artists. Because we were never successfully able to draw from specimens and we never got the hang of watercolors, per Charlotte's suggestion, we would work from nature guidebooks.

During our morning time, when we reached the point that I was reading our "fun" book, the children would get out their nature notebooks and Berol pencils and draw. Our notebooks never reached the level of beauty that I have seen accomplished by some "girls" I know but some of the drawings were very nicely done. The real key, I believe, to a nice nature notebook, is time. I have found lately when I set aside "time" for nature drawing we feel rushed and our drawings look rushed but when the children draw while I read there is a sense of leisure about it. I am not sure why.

I am not entirely happy with our new nature notebooks which I bought from a Waldorf school. They seem more temporary and my younger children do not seem to have mature drawing skills. They are still constantly trying to draw houses against my instructions to draw nature. They will draw a garden and put a house by it instead of say an Audubon-type drawing. Speaking of which, Nicholas once drew this turkey to perfection. We frequently used Audobon's Bird's of America for model pictures. Our schooling has become too rushed for me to really help them correct this. This week I will be revamping our schedule to a more relaxed lifestyle in order to facilitate better drawings, perhaps adding in more read aloud time. Stephen Meader has a wonderful book that takes place in the NJ pine barrens, with Audubon's Bird's of America as part of the plot. Can you tell I have forgotten the name of the book ?

As I mentioned, we do take nature walks to point out flowers/wildflowers/herbs which I used to be quite an expert at, while my dh is an true expert on birds. Having been greatly influenced by British authors I truly regret that we have not yet got a handle on identifying trees. For some reason my brain cannot remember from one day to the next what certain trees are called. I personally feel knowing the names of trees is far more valuable information than many scientific facts we try to cram into children. While we do collect wildflowers for vases and some specimens that present themselves, our nature walks are generally informal ways to get the children to become aware of their surroundings. Then even their play time is filled with awareness. I believe firmly in letting children spend many hours out-of-doors, as Charlotte would say.

Finally, we have found joy in reading many books that enhance our knowledge of nature. This morning we just finished reading aloud Sam Campbell's How's Inky. While I didn't enjoy the book from the beginning, it did grow on me and I think it was a great little nature volume. Perhaps in the next few days I can assemble a list of nature titles we have used.


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