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Monday, April 7, 2014

Nature Study Q&A: Newbies {NSM!} April LinkUp

We are new to CM. How do you go about doing a nature study without mommy having to research so much. Between the internet and books there is so much info out there! Is there a self contained book that we could get?

Way back when I started doing nature study, this was my secret (though I didn't realize the genius of it back then) AND actually, it's what I still do...

1) Get Out. 
2) Look at Stuff. 
3) Love it.
It's that simple... and get this... it's contagious.

At first glance this answer may seem to sidestep the question. You might say, the question was about research.... Yet, regardless, I still hold it's the best response. Further down, I'll tell you why. After that, I'll tell you about which book I recommend. But wait, no skipping ahead. ;)

'Kay. I'm about to share some really great news you can relax about... Are you ready? Set. Go.

Nature study is not just about finding names for things. It's not all about making lists or drawing pictures of those things either (though those things are great extensions!). To do nature study, we actually don't need to have very much book knowledge or other materials to get started OR even to keep at it.

You see, nature study is not really an *academic* pursuit. 
It's more than that. WAY more.

Nature study is about seeing. It is building acquaintances over time with the things we see. It's about getting to know something good. Through regular nature walks we build intimacies with divinely crafted wonders, great and small. By doing this we are actually doing so. much. more. for our kids, for ourselves, than we can even imagine.

Many amazing artists, brilliant scientists and regular joes (like me and those smarter than me) have touted the influence that spending time outdoors as a child has had on the inspiration for their field of work. Somehow, I doubt that many would be referring to time spent as a child researching nature study. I suspect, that the majority are referring to time spent being in nature and having loved it for its own sake.

There have been many studies on the life-giving effects of time spent outdoors both for children and adults, which I will leave you to research for yourself if you are interested. My point here being, the benefits of nature study are going to be gained not ONLY by looking stuff up in books or on the internet, doing drawings or making lists. These benefits will be experienced with time. Because of this, I think it is highly important that we try to relax on the research, especially at first, and really just revel.

Now. Obviously, part of what makes nature study feel rewarding (instead of humiliating) is knowing the names for things. Many of us feel ripped off having grown up with no. nature. knowledge. whatsoever. But don't stress and don't rush. Believe me, over time, if you make those 3 easy steps above a priority, you will come to know about things, if you stick with it. What is more, you'll learn a whole lot of things you never expected! You see, books can't tell you how you'll feel about the first hopefully tenacious shoot of the daffodil in the spring or how even though it was your first love of spring, when it shrivels, it's okay because over there are the tulips, and across the way are the bushes and trees with their sweet tiny green buds and the sun and the dew and everything is starting to wake up and there's new life everywhere... The book knowledge, yes, eventually, because it's nice to be able to talk about our new found friends with mutual acquaintances. But first, the intimacies, these are what we really want to nurture. :)

In summary, when just beginning one should spend lots of time (months?!) simply getting outside, with the priority of opening eyes and hearts to nature. After some time (err on the side of too much rather than too little), you and your kids will begin to recognize some birds and plants and whatever other by sight. Next, you'll probably notice those same things in other areas (roadside, friends' houses, etc), and THEN is the time you might look for the names of those new acquaintances in a book or by asking Someone Who Knows.

Of course, there may be no harm done in using books sooner if you really understand the purpose of them! But, I really think it's THAT important to instill a love of nature in you and your kids BEFORE instituting any activity that might give off scent of *schoolwork*.


Still, the question remains. Once one has all their priorities straight as regards nature study, where should one begin when using books and other resources? Is there one go-to resource?

I continue to suggest Handbook of Nature Study by Ann Comstock as the best all-in-one resource. Yes, it's huge. Yes, it's intimidating. Still, it is by far the most comprehensive and helpful resource for parents and teachers that I've seen yet. There are a lot of resources that may be newer and flashier (and smaller), but I will venture to say this is the absolute best go-to reference for beginning to teach (and continuing to teach) nature study. Use it as a teacher reference. Read the Intro and you'll see what I mean. It's rich!

Other sources for nature study inspiration may be found reading biographies of naturalists, people who have LOVED studying nature, such as Rachel Carson or John Audubon. There are many others but these are pretty widely accessible.

Also, I highly suggest that everyone visit their local nature centers and talk to real-live nature enthusiasts. They'll most likely be by far the best resource for identifying birds, plants, animals, geology, geography and more for specific regions. They'll also be able to steer one toward the field guides that will serve best in one's specific area.

And yes, as you go along pick up a few field guides relevant to your area. By the time you've done all the above, I doubt you'll have to ask anyone which books are the best ones!

You can do it!!  ;)

Snag a button if you wanna! :)
Come back and share your nature studies with us this month!

The {Nature Study Monday} link up is for ANY nature study-ish blog post written at any time during the current month. Which means, when you submit your link, it will show up in every. single. {NSM} post. during the whole month! Oh, and be not confused, feel free to link up on any day, be it Monday or not! 


Probhita Shew said...

I wholeheartedly second the motion! Beautifully said! Letting our senses do their thing in the great outdoors is the best Nature Study route!

Tammy Glaser said...

Then end of my post sounds like the beginning of yours! :D God is good all the time!

Tammy Glaser said...

Exactly! We are lucky to have some parents who love nature, too, and are quite knowledgeable about specific things. Headmaster's mom loved birds and passed that love onto her and her children. One teacher's boys loved creepy animals and they had pet lizards, snakes, etc. Some parents are really good at plants and flowers, others at trees. We have a friend of a friend who is a working naturalist but too busy to hit with little things. When we are completely stumped, we ask him. God put a retired biology professor from a Christian college in our path and he is teaching homeschoolers at our school.

I have a feeling that people who appreciate nature gravitate toward our school.

On the flip side, we have one student who wrote in her exam question about what she has learned in nature study, "I learned about X, Y, and Z and now I can even stand the sight of them." So, students who are not attracted to dung beetles by nature are now catching the bug.

Mama Squirrel said...

Hi Amy! Can I include this in this week's Carnival of homeschooling?

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