Walking outdoors dovetails very nicely with nature study. Every year, I have had good intentions but only managed to hit it sporadically. Our schooling must be going well this year because we have managed to do a nature walk, complete with watercolor painting four weeks in a row--how many weeks does it take to build a habit? Pamela does not paint complicated, detailed pictures. She probably spends less than five minutes on her subject.
Before I head out, I pack the following supplies in a hip-pack:
- a well-sealed container of water, bagged in a ziploc,
- a few paper towels
- different sized paintbrushes
- watercolor paints
- the camera
- crayons (if we do a bark rubbing of last week's tree)
You can do nature study almost anywhere, even the backyard. Since I am trying to combine exercise with nature study every Friday, we walk to a little park next to City Hall and walk around until Pamela finds something interesting. The first two weeks she painted leaves from trees. Actually, I am not sure they were true trees because they have multiple trunks and that usually means glorified shrubbery. Instead of getting wrapped around the axle because I could not figure out what they were, I used the opportunity to work on classification skills. I took pictures of key features of the tree and brought a leaf home. During the week, we spent about five minutes a day analyzing and recording characteristics like the kind of bark; leaf margin, shape, and veins; fall leaf color; leaf arrangement (simple versus composite or alternate versus simple); buds; etc.
Thankfully, last week I recognized the tree trunk full of holes that caught Pamela's attention! The clusters of bright, red berries, leaf color and shape, and alligator-skin bark told me it was a flowering dogwood tree. I resisted the temptation to steal an opportunity for Pamela to discover the identity of the tree. Pamela painted a small detail of the holey trunk in her nature journal, and we spent all week studying the characteristics of the mystery tree. Today, we entered data in an interactive tree identification program for Piedmont Carolina and only required three characteristics to zero-in on the dogwood.
During today's walk, Pamela painted some lichen from another dogwood tree and I plan to let her investigate lichen next week. Last year, I wrote two lengthy posts about the value of nature study and how-to-do nature study. For more details than you can ever imagine, try Harmony Art Mom's awesome blog and her Green Hour Challenge series on how to apply Anna Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study is simply inspiring. I gleaned the following ideas from the first eight pages, which Harmony Art Mom assigned for the first challenge:
The Benefits of Nature Study
- Cultivates the habits of accurate observation, discernment, curiosity, and declarative communication.
- Provides understanding of things close to home, opportunities for exploration of the land of the undiscovered, practical and helpful knowledge, wise respect for what happens when some break natural law, and new interests.
- Develops an appreciation for nature, beauty, color, form, music, and how creatures live.
- Nourishes the soul, mind, and body.
- Releases children from too much instruction and repetitive lessons that dull the mind.
- Permits the teacher to feel young again by not knowing, to let students pursue their interests, and to take a break when nerves are raw.
Prescription for Teachers:
Spend Saturday morning either outdoors or napping in bed . . . z z z z . . . you can guess where I will be . . .