Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nature Study, My Way

I have a confession to make. I am no good at nature study. In case you're wondering why this is a Big Deal, nature study is a major component of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of homeschooling. Since I love the Charlotte Mason method, I should adore nature study. In fact, I am a nature study failure. Sort of.

Nature study aficionados have lovely nature study notebooks, into which they artistically render flowers, birds, and other flora and fauna they encounter on their weekly nature walks. I've seen lovely examples on blogs and websites. I tried this one time with the girls, and it was an unqualified disaster.

Full of high hopes for the experience, we packed everthing up for a nature walk at a nearby park. My backpack was laden with everyone's art supplies, as well as beach towels on which to sit, and water bottles. Oh, and a few snacks, for we were sure to become peckish on our lovely walk! My joy lasted about five minutes into the walk. The backpack was a tad heavy, and the colored pencils box banged into the small of my back. I soon insisted we choose a place right away to sit and sketch. Several negotiations ensued until we agreed on the perfect spot. By this time I was tetchy. And my sketches were awful. I have never been an artist, and it appears I shall never be.

Well, we all have different gifts. I decided to alter my approach and go with my natural interests and strengths.
For example, we have been backyard birders for years. Before Miss Priss was two, she could identify a tufted titmouse and Carolina chickadee, frequent diners at our feeders just outside the breakfast room window. We couldn't do without our copy of Stokes Beginner's Guide to Birds: Eastern Region. So I incorporated this hobby into our studies. Last year, we read the Burgess Bird Book, which is, fortunately, part of the Ambleside Online curriculum. This year, we participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count. We've been tracking preferences for different types of seed. Carolina chickadees, for example, prefer black oil sunflower seeds to sunflower meats.

For another project, I bought a butterfly garden and sent away for the caterpillars. They arrived in their plastic cup, complete with air holes and food for them to eat. A few days later, they crawled to the lid of the cup, hung there, and formed into chrysalids. We observed three caterpillars "perform" this really amazing feat. I'd never seen anything like it. Right now, all five chrysalids are hanging in the garden. We're kept journals of our observations, and we expect painted lady butterflies to emerge in four to seven more days.
Now, I know this is not classic nature study, as Charlotte Mason intended. But it works for us. And I no longer feel like a nature study loser!

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