The Benefits of Nature Study
I was introduced to the idea of formal nature study when I first discovered Charlotte Mason Education about four years ago. I have had a bond with nature my entire life but had never heard about nature journaling or even nature study as a subject. What I began as a subject in our homeschooling, as prescribed by Miss Charlotte Mason, has become a lifestyle that has so thoroughly impacted our life, our learning, and our relationship with our surroundings.
The benefits of nature journaling and nature study are multifarious, the first being that it makes going out into nature a routine part of our life. Many of us love nature and naturally make it a priority to take our children out on hikes or to the woods, but for many people, months go by and they spend very little time in nature. In our current times, numerous children spend very little time outdoors at all, so nature study, as a subject, most importantly gets children outside, moving around, exercising, and breathing fresh air. Time spent in nature has proven to have ample health benefits, such as lowering anxiety, raising endorphins, and creating a general sense of calm within, all of which are extremely beneficial for children and especially preteens and teens.
Nature study naturally develops and strengthens focus and attention as children are innately fascinated with the world around them. As they grow more aware of how many habitats within habitats there are, and as they learn to follow their curiosity and are given the time and space to do so, they discover their own ability to focus in on tiny details and ask questions that turn into more questions and even more questions. This process, without them even knowing, strengthens their ability to focus and their attention span. In an age when so many children are being diagnosed with ADD, this is a valuable resource.
I have watched our time in nature stimulate my children’s love of learning to no end. Each and every time we are out, inevitably my children will discover something, witness something, or observe something that unleashes a deluge of questions, which I welcome. I must say that I don’t always have the answer, but I began doing something a little while ago that has proven to be so enriching. We are a very low media family, but one thing I always take with me out in nature is…….my iPhone. Why? Because my children ask me so many questions, many of which I don’t have answers to, and if we wait until we get home to look them up, most likely they will be forgotten. The last nature walk we went on was after the first big rain, which was this week. We went to go see all the newts we knew would be taking over the creeks and banks. While my kids were observing them, they noticed many of them were tangled in bundles and others were mating, which confused them because it is winter, and the deluge of questions began. By the end of our time outdoors, we had learned that newts do, in fact, mate in winter. We learned that they come back to the very pool of water that they hatched in to mate and lay eggs, that they lay their eggs on or in between the creek rocks, and we even learned what the eggs look like. We discovered what newts eat, when the eggs will hatch, how to tell a male from a female, as well as the scientific name for the specific species we were “playing with,” as my children would say. All of that was learned in our rain boots, while we were standing in the water, observing newts, and chatting endlessly. I can also guarantee that my children will remember every word, except possibly the scientific name.
Something I have noticed that has developed in my children, that is a direct result of our time doing nature study, is a deep respect and gentleness for living things. My daughter is a tremendously gentle soul, and my son, by the age of three if not before, could very gently hold creatures of all types. He is even so gentle with insects, making sure to move them and never squash them. Both of my children have learned that our entire world is supported by pollinators and they have, from that knowledge, learned that the tiniest creatures deserve great respect. I remember a day in spring when we were learning about pollination, my children and I were on a walk and we saw a honey bee on a flower. We had learned about how bees mostly only visit one kind of flower per trip, so to pollinate the species as they collect nectar. We were so fascinated by that fact, by how a tiny bee could have such a brilliant knowledge or instinct, that we decided to follow that bee for as long as we could. For about half of an hour we followed the bee, and, sure enough, it only visited one species of flower the entire time, passing over many other species as it went along. This kind of experience creates a respect in children that no amount of discussion nor lecturing can do. This is true experience. When children experience the wonders and miracles in nature, they naturally become respectful and gentle with it.
One magical aspect about nature study is that it offers the very special experience of all of us being students together. Now the truth is that during this entire journey of homeschooling, I have definitely felt like a student alongside my children, but they don’t necessarily know that. My daughter actually asked me if I know everything. She doesn’t see me reading and prepping the night before our lessons. But when we are in nature together, I make a point of saying, “I don’t know, let’s looks it up.” Or I bring them closer to look at something deeply and prompt them to make guesses based on their observations and what they already know before we look things up. Sometimes, rather than guiding them to that, I model doing it myself as they watch and listen. This process teaches them very important skills and they feel that we are in that together, which I believe brings a special quality and bond to the experience. I always try to make the point that we can learn about nature our entire lives and never unlock all of its secrets, and therefore, that I am learning alongside with them. To them, and honestly, to myself as well, our time in nature, exploring, discovering, and participating in nature study, feels like an adventure we are all on….together.