Nature Study the Charlotte Mason Way ~ Part One

Never be within doors when you can rightly be without. ~Charlotte Mason~

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There are many reasons why Charlotte Mason advocated the use of nature study for children, the development of the habit of observation and attention to detail being one of many. I have seen the results of this first hand in my own children who have taken part in active nature study since they were old enough to toddle out to the garden or ride in a backpack on a hike through the woods. It has been a joy to see them grow in knowledge and appreciation of God’s creation as they have grown physically. Their habit of observation has grown and far surpassed my own underdeveloped abilities. It is a pleasure for me to learn alongside them each time we venture forth together.


Why the study of nature?

These passages from Volume 1 of Miss Mason’s work give us a few of the reasons in answer to the why of nature study.

Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun – the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for? ~Volume 1, page 61~

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 humour. ~Volume 1, page 71~

Now is the storing time which should be spent in laying up images of things familiar. By-and-by he will have to conceive of things he has never seen: how can he do it except by comparison with things he has seen and knows? By-and-by he will be called upon to reflect, understand, reason; what material will he have, unless he has a magazine of facts to go upon? The child who has been made to observe how high in the heavens the sun is at noon on a summer’s day, how low at noon on a day in mid-winter, is able to conceive of the great heat of the tropics under a vertical sun, and to understand that the climate of a place depends greatly upon the mean height the sun reaches above the horizon. ~Volume 1, page 66~

Nature study will lay the foundation for future studies of the sciences, will train the student in habits of observation, attention, and patience.

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Nature study will instill a sense of things beautiful and raise the child’s mind to the Creator.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. ~Psalm 19~

“The aesthetic sense of the beautiful,” says Dr. Carpenter, “of the sublime, of the harmonious, seems in its most elementary form to connect itself immediately with the Perceptions which arise out of the contact of our minds with external nature” ~Volume 1, page 68~

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How do we begin the study of Nature?

The most important thing a mother can do to foster a love of nature in her child is to spend time with them outside. Allow your sense of wonder to travel back to the days of childhood. Try to see the world through the eyes of a child. Experience nature along with your children, not as one who has seen it all before, but as if you are viewing things for the first time. Share your own love for the outdoors with your children.

In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October. ~Volume 1, page 44~

He must live hours daily in the open air, and, as far as possible, in the country; must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant. He must be accustomed to ask why – Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And do not hurry to answer his questions for him; let him think his difficulties out so far as his small experience will carry him. Above all, when you come to the rescue, let it not be in the ‘cut and dried’ formula of some miserable little text-book; let him have all the insight available, and you will find that on many scientific questions the child may be brought at once to the level of modern thought. ~Volume 1, page 264~

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Miss Mason suggests six hours per day be spent out-of-doors for children under six. This may seem impossible but it is a great goal to aim for. One of my favorite ways to achieve this is with beach days. We head out mid-morning with a picnic lunch and stay most of the day. The beach is a never ending source of new and exciting nature finds. You never know what the tide will reveal or wash up. We have had many exciting discoveries.

Other benefits I have noticed is that days spent entirely out doors leave little house work that needs doing and wonderfully sleepy kids at bedtime.

Nature Journals

As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter. ~Volume 1, page 54~

My big boys have kept nature journals since they were very small and love to look back at them now. Drawing or painting the things they find in nature hones their power of observation and attention to detail. If the child isn’t old enough to write he can dictate and you can write for him. My little ones have spent this year beginning their own nature journals.

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 A good field guide is very helpful. We carry an Audubon guide for our area with us in our back pack on walks. This covers the most commonly seen types of plant, animal, and bird life. We have quite a few other guides at home but have found the Audubon guide to our area the most helpful to have with us on our hikes. In the past I have tried to carry more specific guides when we had an assigned focus for our walks but it seemed we were always surprised by discoveries other than what we were looking for. You never know what Mother Nature might reveal. The general guide works well for this and is light about tossing into our pack.
There is much more to be said about Charlotte Mason style nature study and I hope to post more on the subject. Our family has been doing this for 12 years and we still have so much to learn about nature itself and Charlotte Mason’s method of its study.

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