I fear the situation is even worse for students who live in the information age and spend so much time indoors at school work, home work, or on electronics. I have made the same mistakes as everyone else on that front and am pointing the finger at myself as well:
Scientific training is not the same thing as information about certain scientific subjects. No one in these days can escape random information about radium, wireless telegraphy, heredity, and much else; but windfalls of this sort do not train the mind in exact observation, impartial record, great and humble expectation, patience, reverence, and humility, the sense that any minute natural object enfolds immense secrets––laws after which we are still only feeling our way (Page 101).
It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things (Page 61).
Nature study is the first thing that awakened my senses to the joy of science. Throughout the years, we have sporadically observed nature. This year, I aim for more consistency in our efforts. Mason expected her students "to do a great deal of out-of-door work in which they are assisted by The Changing Year, admirable month by month studies of what is to be seen out-of-doors. They keep records and drawings in a Nature Note Book and make special studies of their own for the particular season with drawings and notes" (Page 219).
For nature study, we will do a combination of indoor and outdoor work, using Anna Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study and Barb Harmony's blog as guides. Indoor work will include studying our pets (to illuminate the study of similar creatures outdoors), plants and their fruit, and live kits like the butterfly study we did over the summmer. Outdoor work will include things in our backyard and places nearby: squirrels, birds, pecan and pear trees, pines and oaks, magnolias, lilies and all sorts of flowers in our beautiful rural community, etc.
This week we adapted the study on apples found on page 667 through page 670 of the Comstock book to what we have on hand: pears. Since the most exciting action doesn't happen until spring, we picked fruit from the pear tree in our backyard and studied the fruit. I created some sheets for Pamela to record her drawings and observations. We are in the middle of doing the two experiments suggested and will post those later. We headed outdoors on a blazing hot day, as all are this time of year in the Carolinas, where Pamela made an entry in her nature notebook. We will do a more formal pear tree study in the winter as we wait for blossoms from the pear, peach, and pecan trees to be observed in the coming year.
The highlight for both of us was enjoying the fruit of our labor after we finished dissecting it! Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat." We found those ten minutes last Wednesday!
One area of nature study that neglected in the past was keeping lists. "The study of natural history and botany with bird lists and plant lists continues throughout school life" (Page 220). In the back of her nature notebook, we will create pages to keep lists of the things we see during the year: insects, trees, flowers, mammals, reptiles, etc. Next week, we will get started by putting pears on a list of trees and painted lady butterflies on a list of insects.