Monday, August 6, 2012

Our CM Kindergarten: Nature Study

Throughout the early years, nature study forms the bulk of science education in a Charlotte Mason education.  She advocates many hours outdoors for young children, mostly spent in free play but with a break now and then for short teacher-led moments of observation and discovery.  I hesitate to use the term "teacher-led" as Charlotte Mason is very specific about having the child make his own connections and ask his own questions, but she does mention some activities that might lead the child to hone his habits of close observation and attention.  Through much time outdoors, the child will naturally notice changes in seasons and the accompanying changes in plants, animals, weather patterns, and more.  His interest in the natural world will also expand as he forms a relationship with it.  Time outdoors excites in the child wonder and delight through his natural desire to organize, classify, and learn.

I have certainly found all this to be true with my young ones.  In our kindergarten year, my goals were simple: 

:: As much time outdoors as possible, which for us has meant 2-4 hours a day, depending on the weather.  Charlotte Mason suggests six hours or more, but I haven't found that to be feasible with my schedule or circumstances, so we do what we can.  I have little ones who still nap and babies to care for, so most of that outdoor time takes place in our backyard.  Thankfully, we have found a lot to observe in our own little suburban space.  However, we do get to the park or take a nature walk once a week.  The children spend the vast majority of this time in an unstructured way, just playing and observing on their own.

:: Some basic nature study reading through picture books.  Two sources in particular delighted us this year: the Smithsonian's Backyard series of picture books (engaging text and fantastic pictures) and The Big Book of Animals Every Child Should Know.  That latter book is a gem!  A living non-fiction book with wonderful illustrations.

:: Getting to know our yard.  We moved to a new home at the beginning of their kindergarten year, so I wanted to spend the following months trying to identify the trees and plants in our yard (and our nearest park) and our most frequent bird visitors.  This mostly consisted of bringing in leaves and making note of bird calls and sightings, then using our field guides to try and identify what we could.  From there, we would pull up more information online or in our nature books, sometimes logging that information in our nature journals.  If you haven't done this in your own yard yet, I highly recommend it as a great activity for children of all ages--we combined it with a little map-making for a great project that is still in progress as we continue that work this year.

:: The start of nature journaling.  I bought small blank journals and encouraged the children to make a weekly entry, just a simple picture of something they had seen or read about that week--their choice.  I then would write whatever information they wanted to include for them onto the page, or they would write it on their own--again, their choice.  Very simple.  We did experiment with dry brush and watercolors, but they prefer colored pencil and illustration marker for journaling--so much easier to control at this age.  I also started my own nature journal and tried to draw and write alongside the children.  This has been key in developing this habit, as well as being very satisfying for all of us.

:: Field trips.  We had the opportunity to take a few little vacations to the coast at the end of the school year, which were wonderful chances to observe new wildlife and add our discoveries to our journals.  We hit the natural history museum and the aquarium as well as spending some days at the beach.  The kids enjoyed collecting shells, observing marine life, and just playing on the shore, and we spent some time when we got home working in our journals to catalog some of our favorite finds.  We also were able to hit some nature-related events around town during the school year.  Lots of great memories, with a little casual learning mixed in. ;)

I want to add here that I am a complete novice when it comes to the outdoors.  I grew up firmly in the suburbs with a camping-adverse family, so I find myself learning alongside the children and stretching my level of comfort and my knowledge base.  The children know that I am coming to this subject without any prior knowledge.  But they don't seem to mind, and I think my lack of knowledge actually enables me to model how to look up a leaf in a field guide, or what to do when I can't figure out what kind of sparrow we have found.  They see me learning, and they are very content to learn alongside me.  And it takes from me the tendency I might otherwise have to go into "teacher mode." ;)  The new discoveries and habits we have formed through these early days in nature study have already developed in all of us a fondness for God's creation and a desire to know and study more--which is really the heart of Charlotte Mason's method.  And we're creating a kind of family culture through our shared experience with nature--one of the very best parts of schooling at home.


  1. You are doing such a delightful job with nature study, and so much of it right at home. This gives me great confidence that I can do it too:)
    And yay, the Big Book of Animals can be downloaded to my ipad for free!

  2. Thank you for posting your nature study. May I ask where you found your journal's for your children?

    1. The half-lined journals are made by Bare books. They have lots and lots of different options available (lined, unlined, partly lined, different sizes and formats), and the books are hardcover and have thick paper.

      Here are the ones pictured above at Rainbow Resource:

      And here they are at Amazon: (slighly more expensive but free shipping)

      Now I use their completely blank ones for my kindergartener's and preschoolers' nature journals because they mostly draw and I do the writing for them. And Gianna uses Bare Books to make picture books for her younger siblings. They are pretty neat!