Why Nature Study?
At a recent seminar, one of our attendees asked, “Why Nature Study?” I’ve received many “how-to” questions, but this was the first time I was asked “Why?” While “how” questions are important, “why” is fundamental for all of us. Therefore, I’m dedicating this article to his question and hope that you will contribute your thoughts as well.
In Home Education, Charlotte Mason gives many reasons that Nature Study is important to young minds. In “Out-of-door Life For The Children” she recalls Audubon, the American ornithologist, as an instance of the effect of this early training. “When I had hardly learned to walk,” Audubon says, “and to articulate those first words always so endearing to parents, the productions of Nature that lay spread all around were constantly pointed out to me… My father generally accompanied my steps, procured birds and flowers for me, and pointed out the elegant movements of the former, the beauty and softness of their plumage, the manifestations of their pleasure, or their sense of danger, and the always-perfect forms and splendid attire of the latter. He would speak of the departure and return of the birds with the season, describe their haunts, and, more wonderful than all, their change of livery, thus exciting me to study them, and to raise my mind towards their great Creator.” In every Nature Study class we look at the beauty of each specimen uniquely created by God. “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24).
Charlotte Mason shares, “ a love of nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them, will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humor.” I love the sense of wonder in my students during our class time. In Some Wonders of Matter, the Right Rev. J.E. Mercer states, “The more we learn about nature the greater is the wonder.” As students share their observations with one another about their specimen this sense of wonder grows as new discoveries are made. According to Charlotte Mason, “habits of observation form a capital groundwork for scientific education.” The habit of attention is developed as students observe their specimen and listen as classmates share from their observations.
Nature walks allow necessary time outdoors listening for sounds of nature and searching for birds, insects, flowers and trees. Charlotte Mason recommends, “If children are to have what is quite the best for them, they should be two or three hours every day in the open air all through the winter, say an hour and a half in the morning and as long in the afternoon.”
At Perimeter School, we use a technique called dry brush that allows students to paint their specimen using watercolors in journals that are kept from grades 1-8. Charlotte Mason reflects, “What we wish to do for children in teaching them to draw – to cause the eye to rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some object of beauty which will leave in their minds an image of delight for all their lives to come. Children of six and seven draw budding twigs of oak and ash, beech and larch, with such tender fidelity to color, tone, and gesture, that the crude little drawings are in themselves things of beauty.”
A child-naturalist develops by spending time with God’s creation. Charlotte Mason expresses, “We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”
“Why Nature Study?” Nature reveals the Creator. Our lives are enriched. It is a foundation for science through observation. Habits of attention are formed. A sense wonder grows. Outdoor nature walks are enjoyed. The beauty of art begins to flourish. Caring for our environment becomes a way of life. Dear enthusiast, with endless possibilities, what thought would you like to add to this discussion?
©2015 Deborah Dobbins, M.Ed.
Deborah teaches 1st and 2nd grade Nature Study classes at Perimeter School in Duluth, GA. She has presented Nature Study seminars at the Charlotte Mason Institute. On Christmas Day, Deborah was promoted to the delightful position of grandmother and enjoys every opportunity to hold her grandson!