Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nature Study for City Kids

 This post from The Scientific Homeschooler had me thinking about our science program again. I'd been put off by a difficulty in finding a secular science curriculum and it's been pretty non-existent this year as far as formal study goes, although we're starting to get back into it, with Lucy beginning biology  and Arwen expressing an interest in learning about astronomy. 

As far as informal study goes,  something that's worked well for us since our Charlotte Mason years ( yes! there are secular CM'ers, though you have to do some quite nimble mental jumps to get over the religious content ), is the habit of nature study. When I first began reading about the importance of nature study in CM ideas, it had me panicked. We're a suburban family - no woods or ponds or commons nearby - and we don't even have a huge garden, like the one I grew up with in the outer suburbs, because we're in the tightly packed inner suburbs... a lot of houses, little green space.

Charlotte suggests a 20 minute bus trip into the countryside. That  just about gets us half way to the nearest large park. Out of necessity, we started looking closer to home.

It's incidental, the way we look. There's no set time - it might be at the park, on a walk to the shops, playing in the yard or looking out the window at night. Yesterday we were out in the garden and Lucy pointed out a St Andrews Cross spider to Snowy.  We watch the way our crepe myrtle tree breaks into leaf and then into purple bloom; we watch it becoming bare when the weather cools. On a walk to the cafe, we see ant swarms everywhere and notice the ants are all swarming around a particular kind of moth. For several weeks we listen to a pair of bats who become raucous as soon as evening settles. Coming home from the shops, past the tennis courts, we see a bird we don't know the name of, come home and look it up.  One night we opened the curtains wide and instead of going to sleep, watched an electrical storm crack and break across the sky. We keep an eye on the moon and the stars. We see the eucalypts flower, hear the drone of bees and take care to wear shoes in the yard.

When the girls were younger and I was more diligent - or perhaps we were home more and had the time - the girls recorded what they saw in a nature journal. We also did some easy nature study activities, like these:

  Your child might like to search outside for interesting leaves or pods, then bring them back inside to sketch.  Encourage your child to observe and include as much detail as possible.  Unopened pods can be taken home and put in a paper bag to open.

Younger children might like to make a leaf or bark rubbing.  Place leaf or bark under a sheet of paper and rub across with a crayon until the imprint appears.  You can make bark rubbings ‘in the field’ by placing a sheet of paper on a tree trunk.  It’s interesting to compare  the patterns made by different trees and leaves.

Your child might like to settle down outside to sketch a tree or plant or insect she has noticed.  Again, encourage detail, as this will make her sketch more interesting to look at later.

If your child doesn’t want to draw, he can be a nature explorer by using the cardboard frames.  Hold them up to the sky, down on the ground, over a leaf, and encourage your child to really look at and describe what he sees.  Framing an area in this way helps develop close observation skills. 

Perhaps you have a child who loves to collect!  She could make a nature collection at the park to take home and display.  Any interesting leaves she collects can be put between 2 sheets of waxed paper (waxed sides facing in) and the paper ironed together – leaves can then be taped to the window for an attractive nature display.

I don't do that so much with Snowy, but his observations of the natural world become either topics for further questions and investigations or a context in which other information - books, museums, science shows - become linked to real life as he has experienced it. I hope the years the girls spent observing and keeping their nature journals gives them a context for their new studies too. It may not be exploring the wonder of God's creation for us but it's still a wondrous exploration of another kind.

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