Nature study builds into our children something wonderful. Something that cannot be attained through any other means. It instills a spirit of freedom and a sense of awe. A depth of understanding of God’s beautiful creation. And a curiosity that stays with our children their entire lives. The more time they spend outdoors exploring nature—freely and without structure—the happier their childhood memories will be. What a precious and invaluable gift to give our children!
My son recently told me he feels sorry for the kids in his college classes who spent their entire childhood sitting in a school classroom. He reflected that they didn’t have the same homeschooling lifestyle he had. They weren’t afforded mounds of unstructured time outside climbing trees and building forts. Digging holes and chasing lizards. Limitlessly exploring wherever their curiosity led them. As I listened to my son recount these memories I was so thankful for the decision we made to make nature study an integral part of our homeschool education.
As homeschool moms, it’s easy to be consumed with worry about our children’s academic studies. We fill our days with structured curriculum and outside classes, neglecting to build into our homeschool day unstructured time in nature. We blindly think that more time in formal lessons means better academic achievement…
but nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, numerous studies show that nature study benefits our children in powerful ways. A 2005 study found that spending time outdoors supports a child’s creativity and problem solving. In contrast to games and toys in the house, nature provides avenues for free form creative play and inspires a sense of global creativity. This develops a higher-level thinking that children take with them to college. Further, creative nature play enhances a child’s ability to focus and reason, which contributes to his overall intellectual development.
You may be thinking, “We can’t afford to spend two hours of our homeschool day outside.” But let me assert you can’t afford not to spend these hours outdoors. Studies reveal that time in nature equals improved academic performance in social studies, science, language arts, and math. A particular science study showed an increase in the students’ score by 27%—just by doing science outside while making it real and bringing it to life.
It’s a fact: Your children’s nature study outdoors will enhance their academics studies indoors.
One study I read that was conducted in California observed three groups of school children to see how being in nature benefited them: The first group stayed inside all day with no outdoor play. The second group spent time outside on the playground. The third group enjoyed a more natural outdoor experience spending time in a forest with paths and trails to explore. At the end of the study they found a statistically significant increase in the academic performance of the kids who were outdoors in the natural environment. They also noted that this group’s ADHD symptoms were reduced.
Simply providing time outside in nature helped these children improve in numerous ways.
Other studies have revealed that unstructured time outdoors improves a child’s social relations. When children play outside they get along better and experience more cooperation. There’s less fighting and children exhibit more self-discipline in their thoughts and behavior. It’s been discovered that nature reduces children’s stress level which contributes to peace in their interpersonal relationships.
However, your children aren’t the only ones benefitting from time in nature. It’s good for us moms too! Being outside provides us our own free time to slow down and be refreshed. It gives us the opportunity to breathe and focus on the now.
To be present with our children.
So how can we as homeschoolers make nature study more meaningful and effective? How do we make it a more structured part of our days? Let me share with you two ways to make nature study awesome!
First, teach your children to be more observant. Charlotte Mason advocated for this. She called it observation training. If we can teach our children this skill, they will take it into every area of their lives. This is a powerful thing! The skill of observation will greatly benefit them socially, spiritually, and intellectually. How can we help our children become more observant when they are outdoors? Charlotte Mason suggested a simple strategy: Have your children go to something in nature, like a tree, and ask them to look at it closely, making a note in their mind of everything they see. Have them come back and tell you all that they observed. Then encourage them to remember even more by asking detailed questions about the things they saw like, “What color was the flower” or “What was the shape of the leaves?” You are teaching them to be more observant and are helping them become more detail oriented. You are igniting something in them—the curiosity to look, notice, and observe. To truly be in awe of what they are seeing.
Second, have your children keep a nature journal. Nature journaling helps make their time in nature their own. The sky’s the limit for what they can include! Have your children go outside and encourage them to draw what they observe. They can use watercolors or colored pencils to enhance their work. They can sketch outside then paint when they get home. Their entries don’t have to all be artistic. Your children can include a variety of diagrams, technical illustrations, lists, descriptions, poetry selections, Scriptures, or their own reflections. It should be personal and unique. Make sure they put the date on each journal entry in order to keep track of what they are noticing. They might find the same bird showing up in the same month each year! My boys liked to collect things, like leaves and sticks, and glue them into their nature journal. This made their nature hunts more exciting and added a lot of interest to their journal. Other ideas include incorporating your art studies with nature study, focusing on how art and nature work together to design God’s beautiful creation. You can also design a cross curriculum experience with science study. Purchase books on drawing nature or nature craft books that encourage your children to go outside and find their own nature supplies. You can do a nature literature study or science experiments in nature. You can even create a nature scavenger hunt at the area botanical garden. Make nature journaling a creative and fun educational experience!
It’s wonderful when our children can actually identify what they are seeing in nature. In order for them to get to this place you have to educate them deeply about things in nature. I recommend my best-selling Young Explorer Science Books because they go in depth about each topic. In my Botany book, for example, children are taught about plant life in detail and can go right outside to see what they are learning. They will understand the field of botany more deeply and know exactly what they are observing in nature. This is also true of my Zoology 1: Flying Creatures book. Your children will be able to identify insects by their wing shapes, the birds in the yard by their shape and coloring, and truly begin to feel like experts in the field of ornithology and entomology. As they study Zoology 3: Land Animals, they’ll recognize the difference between venomous snakes and harmless snakes. They’ll be able to identify the creatures in their yard and on walks through forests, knowing whether they are herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. There is so much they can gain from an in-depth study. All of this makes being in nature more fun!
Having this depth of knowledge builds confidence in your children’s ability to know and understand things. Not only are they observing and learning about nature, they are enjoying it as they experience the world God made.
If you will incorporate nature study into your children’s days, I think you’ll find that every area of their life will improve. And if you allow it to stay a part of your curriculum throughout their entire homeschool education, your children will stay curious for their entire lives. Everyone will have so much more fun learning and each will build precious family memories.
So put the books aside and get out in nature! Let your children dig in the yard, observe an insect, or follow a forest trail. Give them lots of freedom to explore and truly fall in love with the beautiful world God made for them.