Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is nature study enough science in the younger years?

"Of the teaching of Natural Philosophy, I will only remind the reader of what was said in an earlier chapter––that there is no part of a child's education more important than that he should lay, by his own observation, a wide basis of facts towards scientific knowledge in the future. He must live hours daily in the open air, and, as far as possible, in the country; must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant. He must be accustomed to ask why––Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And do not hurry to answer his questions for him; let him think his difficulties out so far as his small experience will carry him. Above all, when you come to the rescue, let it not be in the 'cut and dried' formula of some miserable little text-book; let him have all the insight available and you will find that on many scientific questions the child may be brought at once to the level of modern thought." Charlotte Mason-vol 1 pg 265

Do you remember when you were in 4th grade?  Do you remember your fourth grade science textbook with fond memories because you gleaned so much knowledge from it?  Most likely you do not remember any of your textbooks fondly because they dryly dispensed facts the curriculum writers thought you should know at each grade level.  So when we ask, “Is nature study enough?’  what we are really asking is, “Is the real study of the biological world in its actual context enough science?”  We have been so conditioned to think that learning is what is done in a classroom at a desk with text books, that when we are faced with the simplicity of really doing science, it does not seem adequate or real.

Charlotte Mason encourages a paradigm shift from using the abstract dry form of dispensing filtered knowledge in a textbook and children dutifully memorizing this information to experiencing the real thing through the actual study of nature where children learn from their own observations.   Nature study IS the foundation of science.  It is what drives the child toward a curious investigation of the world God created and it gives children a passion for science in the later years.  A child that has never observed a frog first hand or studied fungus in its natural environment will never wonder why frogs are found in or near ponds or why fungus grows in our yards?  There will be no further passion to experiment to find out how things work or why they do.  They won’t be driven by their curiosity to seek out those answers.

Living books that bring the natural world alive by writers that are passionate about their subject, undergird the study of nature.  James Herriot's Treasury for Children by James Herriot, The Burgess Bird Book for Children or The Burgess Animal Book by Thornton Burgess, Secrets of the Woods by William J. Long, Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley are read in the younger years.   These writers draw their readers into the natural world in such a way that the reader connects with it on a personal level.  Later, the children read biographies of the people who have made a significant impact in the field of science such as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Alexander Graham Bell, and George Washington, Carver.

The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock is a necessity for the teacher.  This resource will help you in girding up your knowledge and it gives great nature study ideas.  Include some field guides to help identify what you find on your nature walks.

Nature Notebooks allow the child to hone his observation skills as he attempts to reproduce a subject from nature that has been studied, through drawing or painting.  As the child gets older he will include narrations of the study as well.  The nature notebook is not a field guide with dry facts about the subject.  It is a living expression of the nature study itself in which the child recounts what happened or what was seen on the nature walk.

To answer the question, “Is nature study enough in the younger years,” I would say no.  Round out your study with living books about nature, field guides, The Hand book of nature for the teacher, and sufficient time working in a nature notebook every week.  Get them outdoors often, every day if possible.  This is the solid foundation to build a science education on which will give your child the passion and tools for a lifelong love of science and learning!


  1. I was very inspired by this article! I know my kids love these lessons. I am not an outdoor person. I would much rather observe from inside, but I know they really love it. I need to reread this when I am letting it slide!

    I love your blog. It is beautiful and the font is wonderful. The cursive is so pleasing to my eyes!

    Blessings, Eva

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Eva. Nature study did not come easy for me either. I don't like bugs! Over the years I have learned to love it, even the bugs. I can't help but get excited about a pretty flower or frog caught by the pond. Persist and you and your family will reap the fruits of nature study.

    Grace and Peace,

  3. Rebecca - your blog is beautiful!!! Great post, too :)

  4. @windyhillhomeschool,
    Thank you! I hope it helps!


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