What’s the Point?
There is no part of a child’s education more important than that he should lay, by his own observation, a wide basis of facts towards scientific knowledge in the future. 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.
Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg. 264-265
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: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.
Innumerable matters to record occur to the intelligent child. While he is quite young (five or six), he should begin to illustrate his notes freely with brush drawings; he should have a little help at first in mixing colours, in the way of principles, not directions. He should not be told to use now this and now that, but, ‘we get purple by mixing so and so,’ and then he should be left to himself to get the right tint. As for drawing, instruction has no doubt its time and place; but his nature diary should be left to his own initiative. A child of six will produce a dandelion, poppy, daisy, iris, with its leaves, impelled by the desire to represent what he sees, with surprising vigour and correctness.
Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg. 54-55
New and Improved
One of my goals for this new school year was to improve how we did nature study. We had always used regular composition books to draw our object of interest in with pencils or markers. But the ruled lines intersecting all their drawings was not cultivating the delight in notebooking that I had envisaged for my children. So this year I bit the bullet and bought my children quality water color paints and Moleskine notebooks.
I was apprehensive about giving the children what I consider to be expensive materials. So I impressed upon them how special these materials were and how these nature notebooks could be something that they treasured. They were to be looked after and respected. A few weeks in and I have been pleasantly surprised at the care with which the children have used these new materials.
They have made two entries in these notebooks so far. There have been a few tears and frustrations because they couldn’t get a tint exactly right, or they couldn’t get the shape exactly right, or they had used too much paint in creating the desired tint thereby “wasting” their precious paint. While these issues were traumatic for my children at the time (you can see some evidence of their frustration in their paintings) I was pleased that they cared enough to be bothered by these issues.
We took our first nature walks of the school year at a friend’s property. We were there to do some school work together (they homeschool too) and to play. These friends have a chicken coop and a number of chickens. My children had such a wonderful time holding and playing with these chickens that they decided they wanted to paint them in their nature books.
None of our family are naturally artistic, so I’m quite pleased with how their paintings turned out.
After another play date, the two older ones drew a different variety of chicken.
Nature notebooking had always been a struggle for us, no one (including me) took delight in the activity. Although we have a long way to go, now that we have more appropriate materials, we are enjoying it a great deal more, and it is quickly becoming a favorite time of school.