7 Ways to Make Nature Study More Meaningful
In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps the mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time– spent for the most part in the fresh air. – Charlotte Mason
Yes! But how do we make our outdoor experiences even more meaningful? I have some key tips to do just that. But first, let’s discuss why nature is vital for your children’s education.
WHY IS NATURE STUDY ESSENTIAL?
Science, research, and real-life experiences reveal the more time children spend in nature, the better they perform academically, socially, and emotionally. They are able to focus better on their work, exhibiting fewer symptoms of ADHD. They have better health, better problem-solving skills, and a happier disposition.
Schools in countries that score highest on international assessments include a great deal of unstructured and structured outdoor time. In Finland, one of the highest academic performing countries in the world, children spend fifteen minutes outdoors for every forty-five indoors.
Many schools across Europe have adopted outdoor classrooms because of how well the students do in such an environment. There, and in America, forest school is all the rage.
Is it any wonder children perform better with more time outdoors? We were made to live in a garden! That’s where we experience the greatest amount of inner peace. In today’s technology driven world, it’s essential we give our children the gift of connections with nature.
MAKE IT MEANINGFUL
Besides enjoyable, time outdoors should be meaningful. Below are seven ways to make nature study more meaningful for your children.
#1 CHOOSE SCIENCE CURRICULUM THAT IMMERSES YOUR CHILDREN IN NATURE
Outdoor time will be more meaningful if your science curriculum delves deeply into the study of the natural world. Don’t settle for short little books that tell only part of the story of a plant or animal. Go deep. Immerse in each field of science. Leave no stone unturned. That way, when your children are out in nature, they will not only be able identify even the smallest usually overlooked object, it will be a delight for them.
The world is opened up to the child who is given a great science education.
Choose living books, like my Apologia Young Explorer series, which has not only delighted thousands of homeschoolers—growing a love for science and a joy in learning—but has propelled many homeschoolers into science careers (including my own children).
#2 CREATE THE HABIT OF TIME OUTDOORS
Charlotte Mason tells us,
“The claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.”
Because of our tendency to fall back into old patterns of confining our lives indoors, we must prioritize outdoor time on our daily schedule. Make it a habit. In fact, Charlotte Mason tells us nature study is one of the essential habits we should be training. And as with all habits, we ourselves must develop this habit!
You can do this any number of ways. Some parents like to begin the day outdoors. After breakfast, the family takes a nature walk or completes a few subjects outside under a tree. Some families go outdoors for lunch, or after lunch. Others make their outdoor time part of the afternoon ritual.
In my Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, every week has a box for you to add your nature study goal. I recommend going to Pinterest and finding a seasonal activity you can add to your weekly nature time. This fall, you could create a colorful leaf garland, go on a mushroom hunt, look for spider webs of different structures, or measure the amount of lichen on the trees. The nature ideas are endless. My Pinterest Boards are a great place to start your search for adding nature activities to your planner.
#3 INVEST IN QUALITY SUPPLIES AND RESOURCES
Having a high quality, hard bound nature journal is essential. Charlotte Mason tells us,
“An exercise book with stiff covers serves for a nature diary, but care is necessary in choosing paper that answers both for writing and brush drawing.”
A beautiful journal will encourage your children to place more value on the activity and will result in better effort and a more beautiful outcome they can be proud of.
Nature journaling will be even more meaningful if you invest time each week to watch a drawing tutorial. There are hundreds of free tutorials for drawing plants and animals on YouTube. Some of my favorite beginner drawing tutorials are:
ART HUB FOR KIDS [link https://www.youtube.com/c/ArtforKidsHub]
HOW TO DRAW EASY SCENERY https://www.youtube.com/c/HowtoDrawEasyScenery
DRAW SO CUTE https://www.youtube.com/c/DrawSoCute
#4 ADD SIGHTING ACTIVITIES AND GOALS
Ensure your children have easy access to field guides so they can identify the kind of plant or animal they encounter in nature. iNaturalist is a free phone app that is easy to use. On our nature walks, we always took along field guidebooks that were specific to our state. This made identification of sightings much easier.
A meaningful sighting activity is to create a scavenger hunt list (think a list of the birds or butterflies in your state) that is kept in your children’s nature journal. Each time they spot a new bird, butterfly, beetle, rock, etc, from the list, they can check it off! This gives your children fun sighting goals and makes engaging with nature even more meaningful and enjoyable.
#5 PLAN OUT YOUR NATURE EXCURSIONS
In addition to regular time outdoors, it’s always great to add nature excursions to your schedule. I recommend going to the Alltrails.com website to discover some of the hidden nature gems within easy driving distance. Add them to a list and check them off throughout the year. Schedule them seasonally to observe the natural changes on the trail. Have your children illustrate the changes in their nature journal.
It would become even more meaningful if each child had a special layout in their journal dedicated to the year’s excursions. The pages could be divided into square blocks where something special is noted or illustrated from each location.
There’s a designated place in my Charlotte Mason Planner to plan out all your nature excursions for the year. The saying goes that if you write it down, and make it a goal, you are more likely to fulfill it. How fun would it be to sit down as a family and plan the year’s nature excursions together!
#6 GIVE THEM AUTONOMY
Always carry along your children’s journal and watercolors or pencils when on a nature excursion. A child should not be required to nature journal every single week but should have the option to do so. Remember, children will be much more motivated to do nature journaling and will enjoy it a great deal more if they have autonomy in the process.
As you know from my Developing Self Motivated Children article having freedom over their actions is an essential part of a child’s education. Allow them to accomplish their own will with their nature journaling. Charlotte Mason tells us,
“The children keep a dated record of what they see in their nature note-books, which are left to their management and not corrected.”
#7 MODEL NATURE JOURNALING FOR THEM
Additionally, model nature journaling for them by keeping your own nature journal. The benefits to YOU are immense. Not only will it give you a chance to practice mindful focus and develop new skills, you will find that the memories you create are part of a record that will bring you joy every time you open your journal.
Consider how special these days are and how one day, your children will be gone—living their own lives. How precious it will be to look back at your and their nature journals as a treasure trove of memories that will bless and encourage your empty nester days.
For nature study to happen, we must be convinced that time outdoors will improve our homeschool and our lives.
We must be intentional about how we approach our weekly schedule and how we teach science—intentional about making nature study a daily habit and about making time outdoors a lovely experience that builds life-long memories.