Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Tag: Nature Study

Half Way Around The World And Back Again


Growing up in Victoria, Australia, I had the opportunity to live among gum trees and wattles, admire the colorful rosellas, and laugh along with the kookaburras who had made their home in my back yard. In my early years, I went to school in the “bush.” The school was an hour from my suburban house, nestled in countryside thick with bushes and trees and lakes and wildlife. In later years, I moved school campuses to a farm boasting an equestrian program and land teeming with life. But I didn’t notice. Preferring to spend my time inside as much as possible, I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t see. I was surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation but spent my childhood with my eyes shut.

Fast forward to 2012. My husband, my then three small children (we now have four), and I moved halfway around the world to Florida, U.S.A. Everything was new and different. I had just discovered Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online and was beginning to learn about a philosophy that would change my life. I didn’t know then all of her principles, but I had learned enough to know that we should go outside and notice. And there was so much to notice in a new country. The colors were brighter, the flora and fauna were different. We delighted to see squirrels for the first time in our lives! We began to keep Nature Journals. They were not pretty. They were spiraled lined cheap notebooks whose pages would tear easily and get soggy with paint. But they were our first experience of going outside and really seeing. We didn’t know the names for most of what we saw but it didn’t matter. We were looking and we were really seeing. For the first time in my life, my eyes were open. Little did I know that I was building what Charlotte Mason termed a “habit of attention.”

When we went back to visit Australia in 2016, it was as though I was seeing it for the first time. It’s fields, it’s trees, it’s grasses, it’s flowers, it’s hills and cliffs and beaches were captivating. How had I not noticed before? I was struck by how different the color palate was to Florida. Gum trees have smooth grey bark! Who knew? I drew my children’s attention to the kookaburras and magpies, the variety of gum trees and the wattle. I didn’t have a name for everything, but I saw it. We saw it. Our eyes were open. And it was beautiful.

Nature Study Notebooking

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.

Paints

Moleskine Watercolor 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.

G-Age-6

G-Age-6

E-Age-7

E-Age-7

A-Age-9

A-Age-9

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.

E-Age-7

E-Age-7

Age-Age-9

A-Age-9

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.

2014-2015 Reflections (Part 2)

In my last post I mentioned how I have spent time reflecting on our school year. I discussed our successes, and overall, we did have a great year. However, there were a couple of areas that did not go as well as I’d hoped, and others that need a bit of improving.

Math: A Slave to the Worksheet

The biggest challenge for me this year was Kindergarten (Prep). My wonderfully creative and clever 5-year-old simply wasn’t ready for school. Letters wouldn’t stick, simple math concepts like writing numerals (0-20) wouldn’t stick. If I hadn’t keenly felt the social pressure to begin formal school at age 5, I wouldn’t have for this child. As I mentioned last post, I use Charlotte Mason’s method to teach reading. I am so glad that I did. Though it was painfully slow for me, learning to read was a fun, interactive game for her. And about half way through the year something clicked for this child. Letters that she would forget from one week to the next, began to stick. The pace picked up tremendously. I hadn’t done anything different. It was time. She had simply needed time.

This is how it could have been for math. Instead, enslaved to the worksheet, math became a painful learning experience for my dear daughter, and for me. We have used Math-U-See from the beginning, and, for the most part, I like it. So I began my new Kindergartener (Prep) with the Primer book, and did what I’ve always done. Sit down and watch the lessons on the DVD together, sometimes going over a few more examples of the concept taught with her myself, then have her open her workbook and do a couple of pages out of it (or whatever she could get done in 10-15 minutes). Job done. Easy, right? Umm. Not so much. I was so focussed on getting the worksheets done that I failed to see that she wasn’t understanding the concepts the worksheets were designed to reinforce. Correct answers were written but weren’t understood. As the year continued and she was presented with more new math concepts, frustration from both this student and me mounted. How many times did I have to go over the same thing? Why wasn’t she getting this? She was still needing my constant help to arrive at the correct answer. When I left her to do a question on her own, she said she didn’t know how. She began to believe she couldn’t do it. With one month to go of our school year she still didn’t know what “20” was. She could count to twenty but didn’t understand its value nor how to write it. Hadn’t we been writing numerals all year? Didn’t we learn place value in our first term? It dawned on me that in my fixation with completing worksheets, we had been plowing through the lessons without any regard to whether my student actually understood the problems she was completing. I realized that instead of allowing her time to interact with the concept and understand it for herself, I had pushed her helped her too much, essentially telling her the answers, hoping she’d pick it up as we went along. The whole year had gone by, but had meaningful learning actually taken place? Some. A little. Not as much as was possible. And not without a lot of pain and heartache. I had failed her. With three weeks to go I tossed the student workbook in favor of hands on math games that taught the concepts she so clearly didn’t understand. And you know what? The tears and the tantrums disappeared and she learned more in that three weeks than she had all year. She will still use the student workbook next year, but only as a guide, and to reinforce concepts that I will teach through play and games.

Spanish

Spanish will probably always be in the “need to improve” list. Primarily because I have never learned this language before so I am not confident about teaching it to my kids. I had read that the best way to learn a language is to hear it all the time and just start speaking it, but I still wasn’t sure how to put that into practice. The result was trying to do a little bit of everything to make sure that I had it all covered.

We did:

Doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that isn’t necessarily bad, but I felt that there was a lack of continuity to what we were learning. Chopping and changing often resulted in a lack of review. It also resulted in us not being able to finish the Petra Lingua course before our subscription ran out. I think it would have been better to have done the entire year with the Petra Lingua course to build up the children’s vocabulary. YouTube songs, duo lingo, and Salsa Spanish would still have worked great as a compliment to the course. We will continue with those activities next year.

Nature Study Notebooks

I mentioned last post that nature study went well this year. This is because we were consistent in doing it. But our nature study notebooks need some love and attention to become what Charlotte Mason had envisaged. It wasn’t until I read Laurie Bestvater’s book, “The Living Page” that I saw the vision for these notebooks. I saw the deficiencies in our half-hearted notebooking efforts, but saw what they could be, and how important and treasured they could become to my children. It is my goal to make the following adjustments to improve our nature study notebooking this year:

  • Replace cheap lined notebooks with quality watercolor Moleskine notebooks
  • Use quality watercolor paints and art supplies instead of cheap markers and pencils
  • Be more intentional in looking up facts about our discoveries and include them in our notebooks
  • Be intentional in looking out for and including poetry that relates to what we are painting
  • Cultivate and nurture a love and a care for our nature notebooking practice
  • Cultivate and nurture a love and a care for God’s creation as we make notes of our discoveries.

So that’s 2014-2015. Please pray for me as we embark on a new school year in a couple of weeks (this year will include Shakespeare, Plutarch, and even some Latin!).

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