Tag Archives: nature study

Home Education: Wonder and beauty before taxonomy and dissection

“if you go back to Greek, there is a word that does not exist in the English language, the word kalon, which means both “good” and “beautiful” at the same time, and it’s specified by another word, kaiagathon, or k’agathon, which is a contraction of to kalon kai to agathon, “the good and the beautiful”. Great marriage.” Peter Kreeft

P1020526The children love to go to the park or walk in the woods and one their favourite activities (especially for Heleyna) is to “look for nature” wherever they go. I want them to have a sense of wonder when they look at nature and to see it as beautiful and amazing. So far I think they do. I am not big on poetry and romance (in the old sense, well, and the new) but I do like the philosophical view of beauty as necessary for us to grow.

Charlotte Mason was very keen that children keep a nature journal in which they drew and stuck pressed flowers and such like. In this way they learn to see both the beauty and the “science” of nature. Part of this was based in her respect for the personhood of the child.

It’s the same with music and art. I think it’s very important that the children learn to listen to beautiful music and see lovely art works before I start explaining the methods involved. In learning to draw or play music it should be on a foundation of having had time to simply listen and look.

If the ancient philosophers are right and beauty is not so much in the eye of the beholder, but something inherent in itself, I want the children to have the time to see and hear and be, long enough to appreciate it. I think in giving them time to be with something beautiful they can acquire an appreciation of it, and can learn about it, taking it apart, later, if necessary, later. I think it’s a bit like the way a child learns language through first acquiring it in his relationship with those around him, especially his mother. A child can acquire a love of beauty through a relationship with a natural environment. Isn’t there some research out there about depression being linked to lack of greenery in housing estates?

With the Montessori approach to nature there’s a more scientific bent, which is good, but I want the children to appreciate creation as a whole, as well.

This is something that’s been floating about in what’s left of my foggy brain for some time. It began with an online conversation I saw between a home ed mother and a primary school teacher. She spoke of taking her children out to the woodlands and countryside so they could be outside and enjoy the place. She talked of stone walls and lichen and mosses. It all sounded lovely.

The teacher took exception to this. He said he took his group of children out and  by the time they trooped back to school they had identified and marked off various forms of lichen. I assume he armed them with worksheets, for this.

Perhaps he didn’t mean to come across the way he did, but I remember thinking how cold and meaningless his “lesson” seemed compared to hers. It also made me wonder (again) about the impact of closing children up inside institutional buildings with little exposure to the outside world. And then only exposing them in very restricted adult controlled ways.

One major advantage that home ed has over most other forms is time. We can take a summer day and let the children be out and about in it, without any time constraints  There are plenty of cold wet days to do workbook work; and the bright days are not so frequent we should squander them. Anyway, as a good science teacher should know, kids need sunlight to process vitamin D.

I can’t help thinking that many of the great Victorian and Edwardian naturalists that opened so much new scientific discovery to us, would never have been as observant or as in love with their subject of study had they only ever been exposed to the outside world in small time segments with a worksheet on a clipboard.

I think Charlotte Mason had it right. Children need time to be with nature before they need to analyse it. There is enjoyment and interest in learning the names of different mosses and lichens, but if a child is made to spend too much time peering at a stone in a wall and then writing on a worksheet, they are not getting the bigger picture they would have if they had time to stand and stare.

Nature Centre

It has been such a lovely day, and so not to waste it, we headed to the nature centre. It’s a great little resource and pretty cheap for us all to get in as they offered concessions to me for using a wheelchair and Iona in case she was shoving it (which at times she was).

There was plenty to see and do. Three families met up and the children had a great adventure.

It was a good follow on from our nature study on Tuesday. The children had the chance to look at leaves and a feather under Alex’s old Horrible Science microscope yesterday and then today there were trees and animals to see.

They have Tamerins there now and something odd that has replaced the red panda. I can’t remember what it was called. It looked like a kind of ring tailed ant eater.

I think Iona got a piccy of it. I’ll have to post it and see if any of you know what it is 🙂

A little bit of hippie tree hugging home education.

I have to admit that despite following the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education I don’t follow her advice on nature walks every day.  The children get out and about quite a bit, but I’ve been a bit stuck either because I’m just not well enough for long treks or because the bloomin’ crip scooter isn’t working. It’s pretty old now and is protesting at being used. Thank goodness Al knows enough to keep fixing it one way or the other.

Yesterday was a lovely day so off we all went to the park to do a bit of nature study. There’s plenty of nature to see there including Canada geese and ducks.  Armed with a little booklet for identifying trees we set the children on a tree hugging quest.

They managed to hug copper beech, oak, silver birch and horse chestnut. They climbed about in a rhododendron and spotted willow and hazel. I think Charlotte would have approved 🙂

I’ve laminated some of the leaves we collected and a couple of buttercups and daisies and it’s turned out well. I do remember when I worked in a school that the laminater cooked the flowers we collected but my little lam doesn’t seem to get quite so hot so the results are good.

Hopefully today we’ll get chance to look at a couple of leaves and a feather under Alex’s microscope.

Children need nature

lens1494032_1227172850charlotte_mason_nature_studyCharlotte Mason built a great deal of her philosophy of education on the idea that children needed to be outdoors with nature. One of the most important box loads of curriculum resources a home educating family can have must be the one full of wellies. Some of the best lessons we have had are the ones that involve puddle jumping, snail hunting and tree searching.

There’s time to play running around the garden with a football, or with the girls hurtling around with dolls prams like some kind of pink miniature Ben Hur event. Rarely does rain stop play, which is a good job because we are getting a lot of rain!

Charlotte understood children needed time outdoors to help them not only appreciate the world around them, the beauty of creation and to have a good time, but because it helped them learn. She encouraged parents to let their children explore, to spend time peering at the beetle in the grass or chasing the butterflies. She wanted children to know and understand the nature in their immediate vicinity.

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Nature Study; Charlotte Mason style.

DSCF5715Charlotte Mason was a great believer in getting children outside and exploring their surroundings.  I have to admit Nature Study is something I find a bit challenging. I walked it down to the park with the children yesterday and they had a great time; but ye gods I am paying for it now. Taking the wheelchair is so awkward though.

Anyway the park has plenty to look at; beech, copper beech, oak, sycamore, rhododendron and loads of othr stuff. There is a pond at one end of the park which needs some serious tlc but even so we saw some lavae of some sort and water boatmen.

DSCF5716Then there was time for hide and seek and a whole lot of rolling down a bank.

And to think so many people think home ed kids don’t do PE 🙂

The RSPB website is great for looking at local birds and listening to how they sound. Then the children can try and listen out for birdsong in the area even when the birds aren’t in sight.

We are using an old copy of The observer’s Book of Birds and The Mitchell Beazley pocket guide to Trees by Keith Rushford, as well as Nature Detective Handbook with Ray Meers.

Essentially what I am aiming at with these walks and play times outside is for the children to get to know the things that live and grow in the neighbourhood. We are lucky to live somewhere that despite being ‘city’ has a lot of green spaces.

Sparklebox has a good few resources for minibeast study.

Spring home education


Ronan is starting to get to grips with my little camera. He wants to take photos for a Spring diary he is going to keep. In fact we have decided to keep a whole year diary and he is going to take photos throughout the year to see how trees and flowers change through the seasons.

This is his photo of snowdrops growing in a neighbours garden.

With the lovely bright weather we have been doing more outside stuff; planting and looing after the seedlings as well as things in the local park.

After a math u see session with Avila and M we set off with all the children to the park. Everyone was out spotting circles and triangles.  The children’s play area has a table and stools set as well as a lovely Once Upon A Time chair. After playing on the equipment Avila and M came to the table to complete their maths sheets and Avila read to me. Then it was off to the pond to feed the ducks and for Ronan to take more photos. There was a short opportunity for a couple of us mums to get some mother’s day cards done!

There were handfuls of slightly squished daisies for the mums before it was time to go home.

Charlotte Mason wrote:

There is no kind of knowledge to be had in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in….We are all meant to be naturalists, each to his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.

Charlotte having the huge beauty of Ambulside and the Lake District on her doorstep believed nature study was very important to children’s education. She saw that children automatically showed great interest in trees, flowers and animal life around them. She makes it clear that parents and teachers don’t have to force children to see, hear, smell, touch or even taste what is around them; they just do it. (sometimes a parent may have to discourage tasting!!)

But what about Iona you might ask? Surely a 15 year old spending time in the park with a bunch of babies, toddlers and children is missing out on her education??

Well she doesn’t think so. She is helping grow the veg; she is learning more about what grows around here and to appreciate its beauty.

Her time with the children is teaching her a great deal about child development and how children learn. She isn’t doing so much of this from books and online articles-although she uses that too; she is doing it through hands on experience.

Watching so much of this kind of learning going on with the children from Heleyna’s age to Iona’s reinforces in me the view that learning has very little to do with what happens in a classroom, or even what happens on a computer website. So much learning actually goes on in everyday life. There is so much that every day life teaches so that a person grows and matures, not just in what he or she knows, but in who they are.