Monday, December 22, 2014

The Nature Notebook, A Treasury of Memories

"As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day's walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.  Innumerable matters to record occur to the intelligent child."

The plants and trees have gone to sleep for the winter, but there was still such beauty to see on our nature walk.  A Hawthorn tree devoid of leaves revealed its long sharp thorns and bright red berries hanging from every branch.  It brought our minds to the crown of thorns our Savior wore as he hung on the cross and the berries a reminder of the blood shed for the sins of the world.  We were enchanted by the Spanish moss hanging from the leafless branches on a Live Oak tree.  On closer inspection we found Oakmoss lichen with its stringy hairs and blue green flakes covering many of the branches.  It was delightful sharing this nature study with friends as we explored the river under the bridge. We brought home a specimen, a piece of a branch from the Live Oak tree and plenty of memories of all we did and saw together.

On another day we pulled out our nature notebooks from the bookcase with all of our paints and brushes to record our nature walk.  Our jeweler's loupe allows us to see our specimen magnified 5x's.  I referred to my Handbook of Nature Study (HONS) by Anna Comstock to see what I could find about Spanish Moss, Lichen, and Hawthorn trees. It is a wonderful source of information, but on occasion our Texas flora and fauna are not found within its pages, so I go to the internet where I am able to identify our specimens. Did you know that Spanish moss is not a moss or a lichen? It gets all of its nutrients from sun and rainwater. On occasion a poem can be found in HONS relating to what we are studying and if we feel so inclined, add it to our nature notebook entry, but mostly it is a treasure of our memories and observations in nature.

I have chosen high quality spiral bound nature notebooks for us with heavy watercolor paper as most of our entries are painted with our paints.  Watercolor color paper seems to take the color very well allowing the colors to stand out without bleeding through to the other side of the page.  You are creating a keepsake to last a lifetime so quality is important.  We have used colored pencils, sketching pencils, watercolor crayons, and markers, but we continue to come back to the watercolor paints.  Why?  Because it allows you to take the time to really see your specimen.  You touch it with your eyes and mind in order to see every nuance of shape and hue.  You begin to know what you are painting in a way that is unique to any other observation.

The classic eight color Prang semi-moist watercolor set in the white box has been a perennial favorite and has produced beautiful colors in the paintings.  This year my sister gave me the Sakura Koi assorted water colors field sketch set for my birthday, which I have really enjoyed.  The variation in colors has allowed me a wider range to better capture the colors in nature.  It is important to have a variety of brush sizes, especially very fine tipped brushes, in order to paint fine detail.  Lately, we have experimented with aqua brushes that have the water in the handle. My boy used one in the picture above, but it was harder for him to control the amount of water.  What often results from excess water is a very washed out picture with little detail.  Below, I used conventional brushes, blending the colors in the pallet, and was able to paint a much more detailed picture.

Each year marches on with rapidly increasing speed, but these precious moments shared in the exploration and observation of God's beautiful creation with each other, will remain in your nature notebooks, captured and preserved.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Privilege of Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way

As a homeschool educator I have the privilege to witness things that most parents miss with their children at school and I am very grateful for the opportunity.  This week was our first week back after summer break and I would like to share some observations from our week.

When we listened to Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, Firebird, and he listened to the story, I saw my son’s imagination take flight as he played out parts of the story and then he created a new story.

Dull textbooks, busy work, or worksheets have no part in my child’s education.  Instead he is presented with a wide variety of living books with vital ideas written by authors who are passionate about their subjects. His science book is Fabre’s Storybook of Science. This week’s readings sparked an intense interest in pearls and the ocean.  He was fascinated by mollusks, the slimy creature in its shell that would form a protective crystalline coating, nacre, around an irritant and the pearl divers that risked their lives in the days of old, to get them.  We watched a video I found on YouTube about the unique and rare Sea of Cortez pearls and were mesmerized by the beautiful array of colors in pink, blue, purple, green, silver and black.  I pulled out my big bag of shells and we looked at the different shades of mother of pearl and sorted them by their attributes.  It created a desire in him to see the ocean and feel the sand under his feet as he searches out shells.  Yes, there will be a trip to the shore in the near future.

Then nature study happened quite by surprise, while walking home from the neighbor’s house, he found a toad and captured it.   What a joy to observe his desire to care for the toad properly so that he may observe it.  He got out his book, Pets in a Jar, by Seymour Simon to learn about what it ate and how to care for it.  We found his toad on the internet and learned his Latin and common name.  Each day he searched out morsels for his toad, Robert, to eat such as worms and even a baby gecko.  I did cringe a bit at the gecko, but Robert ate it.  Everything was meticulously recorded in his nature notebook, first by carefully painting a picture, working to match the color properly with watercolor paints.  Then, he recorded everything that happened, being sure to include the Latin name, Bufo speciousus, and common name, Texas Toad as well.  I was there to watch his pleasure and satisfaction in a job well done.

While reading in his history books, This Country of Ours by H.E. Marshall, George Washington’s World by Genevieve Foster, and Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie Bober, I witnessed his growing understanding of the cost of war in lives, property, and civilization.  He is learning that our freedom was bought with a high price and what happens on our shores or in foreign lands, has a global impact.  He is coming to know that what happened in the past affects the present.

Through his citizenship book, Plutarch’s Lives, he can see that the character of a man can have an impact on others for good and evil. Through our grand conversations I see how he is taking in these ideas and it is growing his character.  We have the opportunity live out our faith by applying what we are reading in the Bible to our lives all day, every day.

We study artists, geography, Latin, grammar, foreign language; we read poetry from the best poets, literature with rich vocabulary and has stood the test of time, Shakespeare, and sing songs.    Every day I see him drink from the feast of knowledge that I present to him and it has created an even greater hunger to know.  I am a witness to how the ideas presented by the best artists, authors, creation, and Creator are shaping his character and equipping him to think for himself, to take in what he needs or what is right and reject the rest.  It is truly a privilege and an honor that I wish every parent could have.

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