Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nature Study: Bird's Nest

For as much as we love nature, and spend as much time as possible enjoying it, I've struggled with exactly how to "teach" nature study. But I've finally figured some things out, and thought I'd share them with other home-teaching mamas, in case you're looking for a few bits of wisdom.

First, get a great nature study/ nature journaling book. My favorite for kids is Nature Connection by Claire Walker Leslie. It's got a month-by-month guide of things to look for, a great how-to for different types of drawing, and so many beautiful drawings from Ms. Leslie's own nature journals that one can't help but find it inspirational. I also have Keeping A Nature Journal, which I use for my own, more grown-up nature journaling.

We split our nature studies in half - some of them are just time spent exploring nature around us, with no structure. I'm fairly convinced my children learn just as much from just playing outdoors as they do from trying to see details and make notes. But the other half of the time, I encourage a bit of structure, point out interesting details in nature they may have overlooked, and we hypothesize together about the hows and whys of the things we find. During those studies, we do our journaling and drawing.

For the past two years, I've encourage my oldest to draw something she finds, and write about it. Granted she's been little, but the results haven't been what I was looking for. I'd make suggestions, "Look for the little details, try to draw those," or "Write a little bit about what you see." But the final result was usually a 2-minute scrawl with a one-word description, and I knew she was capable of more than that. (Some children might not be at seven and eight years old. But this is the kid who would draw detailed pictures of horses and dragons that would take an hour or more to complete. I knew she could do more than a circle with lines sticking out of it for a beetle. What she needed was better guidance.)

Then I started nature journaling on my own. Not because I'm a homeschooling mother, but because I realized I really, truly enjoy it. There's a calmness and peace that comes from focusing on one little bit of something in the world around me and trying to draw it... even if my drawings are rather pathetic. I write what I'm thinking about - sometimes just facts, sometimes the thoughts running through my mind. And one day, I left my own nature journal out where the girls found it... and read through it... and suddenly, their own journals are filled with more detail, more notes, more detailed pictures. It's all in leading by example, I suppose. And not pushing or correcting - just showing them, indirectly (even accidentally), what I'd love to see them do as well.

They found this nest out in the front yard yesterday, beneath a tree:

I saw it as a great opportunity for a structured study, looking in detail at what all the nest was made of, the size and shape of it, what kind of bird might have made it.

Here's Littlest One's page:

Notice she's already "journaling". That string of letters - made up mostly of c's, o's, r's and a's - says "I saw a nest under our tree."

Here's The Oldest's:

And here's my own entry into my nature journal:

Admittedly, I'm not much of an artist, especially when it comes to drawing. But no matter - the girls learn that their drawings need not be perfect if they see that mine aren't.

As often as we feel like - often times once a week or more - we can flip back through our books. There are drawings and entries from some of our camping trips and hikes, and it makes for a fun way to remember our adventures together as a family. It also works well as a science lesson, reiterating the things we've learned. The Oldest and I love to exchange notebooks to look through one another's: often there are details that one of us noticed that the other didn't.

So I guess that's the best advice I can give: show your own interest. If your kids see that you're interested in something, they'll likely pick up on it and develop an interest as well. When kiddos are this young, they think Mom is the coolest person in the whole world, and they want to be just like you. So give them a gentle example, encourage their efforts, and you might be amazed at what they'll end up producing!

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