Saturday, August 21, 2010

Our Plan for the Year: Science (Nature Study)

Except for nature study, science has long been a weak area for me because I fell into the trap described by Charlotte Mason, "Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value" (Page 224). In high school and college, I never had much luck with labs and hands-on work because something always seemed to go wrong. In fact, I teamed up with a football player in both of the mandatory electrical engineering classes we had to take in college. He did all the wiring and I wrote the reports and made the calculations. A perfect team! My lack of enthusiasm spilled over into homeschooling and, while we have done labs, we have done them in the spirit of getting the job done rather than exploring, discovering, and making connections. I looked at it as a chore, not a source of awe and wonder.

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.


Anonymous said...

I recently found your blog and have gotten so much useful information from it. Thank you so much for generously sharing what you have learned through much work. I am homeschooling my 5 year old son with autism (just starting and am learning through trial and error). The posts and also the videos in particular have been so helpful. Thanks again, Kim

walking said...

Kim, your son is at the perfect age for nature study. In his case, you would not need any notebooks at all unless he felt like drawing. Just get out doors and find some cool things to open your ears, eyes, and noses and tickle your fingers! Then talk about what you both notice, even all the talking is done through smiles and an exclamations!

Anonymous said...

I think that's a GREAT idea. I think being out in nature in so good for children. I'm trying to incorporate an "outdoor" scheduled time. Of course, we will spend more time outdoors than just the scheduled time, but at least then I know he will be outdoors some. I also think it's wise as you said to just notice and talk about all the beautiful and neat things out in nature at first (just explore), instead of bringing out notebooks and trying to make it more structured from the get go. I've done a lot of child led play with him. He does great with that, but now I'm trying to set up some activities where he follows my lead. It's a new concept for both of us! I have noticed when I try to incorporate some RDI concepts, these activities go more smoothly. Thanks again for the great blog!

Bonnie said...

You give me great encouragement.

Stephanie said...

My sister in law is a successful research biologist and scientific writer -- she'll be retiring in a few years. She said the same thing. Observing nature is what awakened her love for science. She immediately chose biology as a major, and she adapted in this age of recombinant DNA technology and pharmaceutical advances. She hasn't said much about whatever science she learned in all her years of Catholic schooling, but she has said a lot about her parents encouraging her to open her eyes to the natural wonders around her.

Barb said...

I think your plan sounds wonderful and your daughter is going to learn a lot and find much to be interested in this year. I look forward to reading more about your nature study, loved the pear dissections. :)

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your study with the Outdoor Hour Challenge.

walking said...

Kim, guiding from the side and focusing on shared experience as equal partners has allowed us to come a very long way!

Stephanie, thanks for the true-life testimonial. Something is wrong in how we teach math and science for we have lost our sense of awe and wonder.

Barb, I love your site and cannot wait to add a few more things. We are wrapping up butterflies and will link that. Next up, ladybugs!