Jesus' Precious Little Lambs

A Charlotte Mason Christian Home School: Preschool – 5th Grade :)

Nature is for Kids!

on August 15, 2012

Ahhhhh nature, I love it. Remember my post Backyard Naturalists, and how I encouraged you to transform your backyard into a nature oriented play space? And the awesome “Parents guide to nature play” link in that post? Well, summer has proved to be a return to this all important subject of getting kids into nature, and what we as as a family can do to make sure our children are taking in the wild blue yonder and all the earth below. I just know you want the same for your kiddos!

I feel camping is one of the best ways to get children out into the various habitats of nature– the beach, the rivers, the mountains, the forest, the desert. No toys, no play structures, to entertain and distract, just days in the wilderness to become intimately acquainted with the splendor of creation. We went camping recently actually on Mount Diablo, and when we woke up to a chilly foggy morning, it was awe inspiring. The refrain from an old hymn rang out in my spirit, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice. O come to the Father through Jesus the Son, and give Him the glory, great things He has done.” It was wonderful to be sitting in the midst an uncommon and astounding moment as the fog rolled through the trees. We were moved to express our worship and met together for a morning family devotion. We read a few chapters from the book of Psalms that declare the splendor of creation while we experientially beheld the same all around us on the mountain.

You can see a few pictures of our camping trip and other nature experiences below……BUT this post is really dedicated to sharing what’s firing up our passion to seek out more nature experiences for our children. From breathtaking beaches to amazing mountains to sprawling arboretums–the reasons for these summer excursions have all stemmed from the inspiring words of Charlotte Mason. My post Meet Miss Mason will fill you in on the important background info on this amazing educator from the past.

Time in Nature is the Appropriate Education for Young Children

The first thing that really moved me towards a foundational understanding of the critical role of nature observation in a child’s education was when I read a sample of the book “The Early Years: A Charlotte Mason Preschool Handbook”, sold at I was dumbfounded by my lack of true understanding and conviction for keeping the preschool years mostly free of academics, and my still fairly non-committal stance towards the value of young children playing in nature. It wasn’t until I read some of the genius of Charlotte Mason’s words in “The Early Years” that I realized I am actually damaging my son’s future ability to be a good learner by treating academics as the focus, as opposed to treating time (out in nature) learning to be a keen observer as the focus. Before sampling the book, I was thinking, oh that will be a no brainer book I won’t need to buy–I know about the preschool years–and I wasn’t even going to take a peek until some future day when all kinds of time fell on my hands. After reading the large sample provided at, I now know its not a fluff book at all! I need to get the book so that I can break my addiction to “school” my preschooler. I need to get the book so that I can reassess the learning methods and environment at Jesus’ Precious Little Lambs. I would consider getting it for yourself as well in order to make the most out of your little one’s young years!

I pulled out some of the information from “The Early Years” book to share with you in hopes that you also may find your family driven to seek out more time in nature. This is what Charlotte Mason has to say about how young children learn in nature:

“My object is to show that the chief function of the child—his business in  the world during the first six or seven years of his life—is to find out all he can,  about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an  insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavour  of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with  Nature and natural objects” (Vol. 1, p. 96).
“A great deal has been said lately about the danger of overpressure, of requiring  too much mental work from a child of tender years. The danger exists; but lies, not in giving the child too much, but in giving him the wrong thing to do, the sort of  work for which the present state of his mental development does not fit him. Who expects a boy in petticoats to lift half a hundredweight? But give the child work  that Nature intended for him, and the quantity he can get through with ease is  practically unlimited. Whoever saw a child tired of seeing, of examining in his own  way, unfamiliar things? This is the sort of mental nourishment for which he has an  unbounded appetite, because it is that food of the mind on which, for the present,  he is meant to grow” (Vol. 1, pp. 66, 67).
“For the first five or six years of his life, everything, especially everything in  action, is an object of intelligent curiosity to the child—the street or the field is a  panorama of delight, the shepherd’s dog, the baker’s cart, the man with the barrow,  are full of vivid interest. He has a thousand questions to ask, he wants to know  about everything; he has, in fact, an inordinate appetite for knowledge. We soon  cure all that: we occupy him with books instead of things; we evoke other desires  in place of the desire to know; and we succeed in bringing up the unobservant  man (and more unobservant woman) who discerns no difference between an elm,  a poplar and a lime tree, and misses very much of the joy of living” (Vol. 2, pp.  181, 182).
“And this is the process the child should continue for the first few years of his  life. 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” (Vol. 1, p. 66).

Every natural object is part of a whole network of more objects and scientific concepts, so one discovery will lead to more.

 “Now take up a natural object, it does not matter what, and you are studying  one of a group, a member of a series; whatever knowledge you get about it is so  much towards the science which includes all of its kind. Break off an elder twig in  the spring; you notice a ring of wood round a centre of pith, and there you have  at a glance a distinguishing character of a great division of the vegetable world.  You pick up a pebble. Its edges are perfectly smooth and rounded: why? you ask.  It is water-worn, weather-worn. And that little pebble brings you face to face with  disintegration, the force to which, more than to any other, we owe the aspects of the  world which we call picturesque—glen, ravine, valley, hill. It is not necessary that  the child should be told anything about disintegration or dicotyledon, only that he  should observe the wood and pith in the hazel twig, the pleasant roundness of the  pebble; by-and-by he will learn the bearing of the facts with which he is already  familiar—a very different thing from learning the reason why of facts which have  never come under his notice” (Vol. 1, p. 70).

“Now, consider what a culpable waste of intellectual energy it is to shut up a child,blessed with this inordinate capacity for seeing and knowing,within the four walls of a house.” –Charlotte Mason

Nature Study is the Foundation of Science

Its scary to feel like the “dull” person she is describing could be me or you, unobservant to the differences between a poplar, an elm, an oak; worse yet, uninterested in the differences. Do you hear me gulping? What did school do to us? And even more sobering, is this the kind of unobservant child we want to parent through our book focused homes and preschools??

Nature study, i.e. first hand experiences, is the foundation of observation skills upon which all other “book studies”, i.e. second hand experiences, must be built upon. Its ludicrous to study the Rainforest, or anything learned second hand from a book, when a child has no awareness of what is even in his own backyard (firsthand knowledge). It is first hand knowledge that even makes second hand knowledge accessible to a child in the first place. Children who have no sensory experience on which to “hang” concepts will struggle to understand higher level science.

We also have to be so careful that God’s creation is not reduced to something commonplace due to our general ignorance. Another reason Nature Study is so important–worship out of a knowing heart and mind is so much deeper! Charlotte Mason said that science should increase and feed our wonder and delight in the world around us. It should spark our admiration, both at the wonder of creation and the skill and wisdom of the Creator. It should put us on a first name basis, so to speak, with the natural world, which means we must know the names of the inhabitants and their surroundings, and it should introduce us to the laws that order our universe as well as the methods used to make scientific discoveries.

Charlotte Mason wanted students to have a broad base in topics such as botany, astronomy, and physiology, although her curriculum for the younger grades used mostly books on animals and other natural science, in addition to their own observations and collections. Most importantly, science was to be taught as something wonderful in itself, beginning with a sense of reverence for God’s world, rather than starting by tearing things apart. Science should lead to a knowledge of the properties of substances and of the forces in the world around us. This must be first-hand knowledge of the things and forces; not simply knowing about them. It must be obtained by personal experience. Collecting tadpoles, watching butterflies, skipping stones, seeing plants sprout from seeds are sensory experience on which to “hang” higher level science concepts. Charlotte Mason thought that a child’s foundation of first-hand experience should naturally lead to scientific methods of thinking, accurate observation, careful comparison of results, and the formulation of general principles. It should introduce children to a world of absorbing interests that will enlist their sympathy or arouse their enthusiasm, a world of mystery that fascinates with promise of discovery and fuller knowledge, a world of wonder and beauty that we cannot explain, but in which we walk reverently with uncovered head.

Charlotte Mason said science as typically taught “causes history to expire, poetry to die unborn, and religion to faint.”

Many people know little of the natural world because they never take time to observe it. Once our senses are on the alert, though, nature yields treasure after treasure. Every child has an innate interest in nature, but it is the parents’ responsibility to encourage it. Otherwise it will be lost as the child matures into adulthood. According to Charlotte Mason, both mother and child should be able to identify crops growing in their area, common plants, wildflowers, trees (from bark and leaves), insects, and other animals. To that, we will undoubtedly need to study and have reference books on hand.

If you feel serious about educating your child to be an observant person, as I do, consider a homeschool education course developed by Charlotte Mason. Read on to find out how you would actually do Nature Study with your children.

Delving Deeper: How to Do Nature Study

Developing a Nature Study with your kids, pointers for contemplation (

Nature Walks

exploring nature with your children

How do you conduct a nature walk? What are you supposed to do during the time outdoors?

What do the children do?

The children are to be “let alone, left to themselves a great deal to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens.” Give them time and space to wonder, grow, watch, see, hear, and touch. During the nature walk, they may sketch and record their observations. In addition they may want to collect small natural treasures in a bag to take home for further study.

If they would like it, the children may take along magnifying glasses, binoculars, nets, and containers for viewing up close and catching small creatures. But don’t encumber them with too many things. Let them be free to explore with open hands most of the time.

What does the parent do?
Miss Mason warned mothers of talking too much during the nature walk. She said that the less spoken the better. Although talk between mother and child is a precious thing, the goal of the nature study is to allow the child to converse directly with Mother Nature. So don’t get in the way with too much active teaching. What is the mother to say during a nature walk? She can direct attention with a “Look at that!” She can name what is being viewed, “That’s a poplar tree.” She can make very brief descriptive comments to direct the children’s attention, “It’s just starting to bud. I see many small, bright green shoots.” And probably most importantly, she should simply voice her admiration in a verbal prayer of praise directly to God, “Father, thank You for this lovely tree bursting forth with new life!”

Charlotte Mason’s Thoughts on Children and the Outdoors

I strongly suggest that you read Charlotte Mason’s original words regarding daily walks outdoors, nature walks, and nature journals. The best place to start is with Home Education. The sections linked below are from Volume 1, Part II titled Out-Of-Door Life For The Children. The effort is worth it!

Out-Of-Door Life For The Children 1st portion
Out-Of-Door Life For The Children 2nd Portion

Last Child In the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

My friend Emily recommended this title by Richard Louv here on the blog, and apparently after doing a little research, I found out it is a must-read incredible book for anyone contemplating nature study.

Handbook of Nature Study

Charlotte Mason said of field guides, “The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observations.”

The Handbook of Nature Study is the classic book Charlotte Mason recommended as a nature study resource. Because this book is in the public domain, it is also available as a free online text. This is “the” CM homeschoolers book from which all Nature Study can rely upon.

The Handbook of Nature Study Blog

If you need inspiration and support in beginning your nature study, be sure to visit The Handbook of Nature Study Blog by an experienced homeschool mom. This blog is specifically designed to help homeschoolers implement Charlotte Mason’s nature study ideas and The Handbook of Nature Study into their regular practice. Each week she posts an Outdoor Hour Challenge for families to complete as they have time. She suggest pages to read in the Handbook of Nature Study and then some simple suggestions for you to complete in a few minutes outdoors with your children. (This is great if you are challenged for time. However, Charlotte actually recommended children spend 4-6 hours outdoors everyday in fair weather! I know–a challenge for any modern family.)

Nature Journals

Charlotte Mason encouraged all students to document their nature studies in a nature notebook. The nature notebook, or diary or journal if you like, should be taken outdoors with you on the nature walk so that you can make field sketches on the spot. Also write descriptions of what you see, hear, and feel to supplement the drawings. Of course, you’ll want to document basic information such as date, time, weather conditions, and location. CM suggested using calendars to mark the “firsts:” the first tadpole, the first ripe blackberries, etc. This calendar could be part of the nature journal. Other ideas for nature journals include poetry (either self-composed or copied), leaf or bark rubbings, photographs, hand drawn maps, and even pamphlets found at botanical gardens or museums. This is so personal to you and your style–there is no wrong way to do it.

Mom, you can have your own nature journal too! What a great way to model for your children what you are expecting of them.

This is what a Notebook teaching moment looks like. A sneaky homeschool mom will take advantage of her children’s nature “finds” by occasionally turning them into a lesson of sorts. Working alongside your children and filling out your own Notebook will provide your children with an inspiring example. Allow them to tell about their “finds.” Then see how well you, and they, can draw a picture that resembles the real thing. When the drawing is complete, encourage the children to record their descriptions or “tellings” on the opposite page of the Notebook. During the busy drawing time, I usually keep a nature handbook and field guide open on my lap under the table. I glance down at information that I put into my own words, casually sharing with the children as if I am an uncommonly knowledgeable mother! (Karen Andreola, Practical Homeschooling)

We are trying to help our children develop a spirit of joy and praise, admiring God’s work in creation. Try to avoid criticism unless it is to give helpful suggestions. These Notebooks, in the words of 19th century naturalist Anna Botsford Comstock, “of whatever quality, are precious beyond price to their owners. And why not? For they represent what cannot be bought or sold–personal experience in the happy word of out-of-doors.”

The nature journal’s depth should reflect the age of the child. (The following are general guidelines; You know your child best; tailor your requirements accordingly.)
Young children (5-7) draw what they see; you can write what they narrate orally for descriptions
Middle children (8-10) draw what they see, label their drawings and write their own descriptions.
Older children (11 and up) the above tasks are done in more detail and with more skill; in addition, they look up and document scientific information about the plant or creature and write the Latin name.

A beautiful example of a nature diary: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

Purchasing this book could serve as a source of inspiration if you like her style of nature notebooking.

“All the information your children are gathering in their nature study lessons, and the habits of observation they are acquiring, will form an excellent foundation for their future scientific education. In the meantime let your children consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.” –Karen Andreola

Exploring Habitats in Nature

Making Our Backyard Into a Nature Play Space

Our Camping Trip on Mount Diablo

 Nature Play While Camping Can Be Very Dirty : D

Noah Had SO Much Fun at the Beach (Half Moon Bay)

Standing In the Hole We Dug


2 responses to “Nature is for Kids!

  1. Mary says:

    What a timely post! Yesterday as I was looking over the scm curriculum, and what a typical day of homeschooling may look like, I was starting to feel a sense of….this is too much like school still! So today we decided to go explore a nearby park. I thought we would just see some trees, bugs, new rocks, leaves etc….but to my surprise there was a beautiful flowing creek, huge butterflies, spider webs, tall trees that made a canopy over the creek. At first the boys were being cautious explorers but then they kicked off their hiking boots, waded into the creek and then the learning and exploring began. They built a damn using smooth flat stones, caught tad poles, tried to catch butterflies. felt the wind come rushing through the trees, heard wild life all around them. They also found small little shells…in a creek, who would have known, something for us to look up! So now that we are home I am going to have them start the nature journal! What a great idea!

    • Miss Lynn says:

      Ah, you have captured the essence of a nature study experience beautifully in your anecdote. And finding an unexpected nature spot close to home is like finding treasure! Thank you Lord for those everyday miracles!

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