Hi! My name is Sarah. My husband, Dan, is a professor at Lancaster Bible College. We have been married for 13 years and have four sons: Ezra 10, Boaz 8, Zimri 5 and Lemuel 3.
I never expected to homeschool, despite the 7 years of it I had growing up. When it came time to send Ezra off to school, we were uncomfortable with the whole idea, public or private. We decided to give homeschooling a try and haven’t regretted it.
CHARLOTTE MASON APPROACH
It took a couple of years to find the style of homeschool I was wanting for our family but unable to articulate at the time. I stumbled upon Charolotte Mason and soaked it up. That was what my homeschool heart had been desiring.
Anyone who has heard, “The Charlotte Mason Method,” can probably tell you it has something to do with living books, narration and nature study! In Part 1 of this interview, I shared about our experience with LIVING BOOKS AND NARRATION. Here are my thoughts on Nature Study.
How do you study nature with boys when all they want to do is run, climb, and build forts once they’re outside?
This was a tricky one, nature journaling didn’t work for us well. An activity that sounds so wonderful, outdoors, looking for some interesting insect/bird/plant, paper and some kind of medium – what kid wouldn’t love this school lesson? Mine. And perhaps yours, or at least some of yours.
Ms. Mason says,
“Every child has a natural interest in the living things which it is the business of his parents to
encourage.” Well said, Ms. Mason, well said.
It’s ok to set the nature journals aside for a time.
When I first started nature journaling it was just Ezra and the littles would just muck about and usually be successful in distracting Ezra or at least make him jealous of their free time.
Occasionally he would enjoy whatever he was journaling, but usually it was bare minim effort and it was difficult for me to help him keenly observe, while trying to keenly keep an eye out on the other kids. Frustrating!
Then Boaz officially enters school. I get a new burst of energy but when your pencil or paint brush doesn’t. communicate anything close to what your eye is observing, it’s horribly frustrating!
Nature journaling is not supposed to be a work of art but if you can’t even recognize what you’re trying to draw, it really sucks everything out of the process. I could barely draw a lady bug and know what it was! I was right there with them in their frustration. We set the journals aside – for now.
Set the Example
I shifted my focus. I thought of nature journaling as a written narration of observation, and decided they needed to know how to verbally narrate their observation first!
The point of nature journaling is to enjoy nature, find wonder in it, be curious, ask questions that you may or may not find the answer to, keenly observe and learn, be in awe of the Creator. I thought, I can do all that, without the kill-joy journals, and be an example of how to do that. I think for the most part, as mom’s, we probably all do this to a certain level, but my awareness and the long-term effect of what my example would give my boys was heightened.
Now, I simply take advantage of anytime outside with them while they’re building forts, climbing, digging or hiking. I have excitement, curiosity, wonder and ask questions.
How to Ask Questions
However, it’s important to ensure your questions aren’t directly pointed at your child. It should be more of a wondering question, not necessarily directed at anyone or even really needing an answer. “I notice…” “I wonder…” and “it reminds me of…” are great examples of how to observe as well as provoke a response from your child without them feeling like they’re being drilled and expected to come up with the right answer.
It might look something like this: “Hey! Boys! Look at this crazy bug!” They come running to look. “Woah” they might say and before they run away, I’m quick to draw in their curiosity, “I notice he has spikes on his back” they might say, “yea, and look at the horn on his head!” I’ll continue, “it reminds me of a Rino’s horn. I wonder if birds would eat him with all that armor?” They’ll observe, “I don’t think so because that orange spot on his back might be warning he’s poisonous.”
Notice nothing was directly asked of them except the initial call to come look. Many times, we won’t find an answer to our question right away and that’s perfectly ok. Sometimes we will stumble upon the answer a year later, perhaps in our reading, a show, or the knowledge that comes with being one year older of observing. How much more exciting will that answer be when it comes to them after all that time of not knowing. Not that they noticed they were waiting so long on the answer, but it will bring more joy and a sense of satisfaction when that learning comes to them on their own like that.
When to Help Them Find Answers
There are, however, times when they may be very interested and curious in a certain thing. Take advantage of that momentum and take the time to find the answer together in a nature study handbook or online if you need to.
If you know the answer, try to gently lead them to it by asking leading questions so they are continuing to observe and think critically but coming to the answer themselves. Sometimes I will know the answer, and if they still don’t come to it with my leading questions, I will leave it at that. They don’t always need to know right away. They have many more days, seasons and years to discover these things.
Take Advantage of Their Innate Interests
Use an activity they love and work with it to learn. We enjoy foraging in our own yard and during hikes for edible weeds and flowers that can also double as tinctures and balms we’ll make together, great nature study!
If they love climbing trees, take advantage of that to learn the names of the trees and narrate their observations of it while they’re climbing so that can talk about what tree their in and find the same tree other places too.
If they enjoying digging, notice the color, hardness, rocks, different layers of soils etc they come across while digging.
Work WITH them outside, not against them. And isn’t that just what we want to teach them? To be observant and have a heart of learning and discovering in all they do?
See Their Observation Skills Improve
I am very pleased with how observant all my boys are even in the midst of their business outside. They come tell me all sorts of things they have observed and learned from watching. They call me to see the beautiful moon, sunsets, a new squirrel’s nest, where a hawk likes to perch and watch for prey, new flowers popping up in spring, how one bird flies differently from another bird, details of insects, what the ants were doing outside with a dead bug ect.
They are using “I wonder” “I noticed” and “it reminds me of” on their own now. They’ve learned how to observe and ask questions in curiosity and wonder through my example, all while having free time building, climbing and digging, and no nature journals.
Ready for Nature Journaling
I do value nature journals though; it does provide another layer of observation and a host of other benefits. We did only a handful of nature journals last year and there was less frustration with their drawings than the previous 2 years. I think as boys, having a few extra years to develop their fine motor skills was helpful. I feel good about adding nature journals in in next year consistently for Ezra and Boaz now that they are proficient in verbally narrating their observations, doing it naturally and unprompted.
We did start drawing lessons this past semester to help us know where to even start with drawing and how to go about it more proficiently. Drawing is something I do enjoy, but it can get frustrating because we don’t know how to go about drawing angles, curves, layering, ect.
So again, while nature journaling isn’t meant to be a work of art, I think it can be helpful to understand some basics of drawing to help make the journaling process more enjoyable. A drawing class is not something I would have tried with them at a younger age, but at 8 and 10 I think it’s appropriate. They’re enjoying it, it’s bringing a spontaneity of drawing they didn’t have before, and I’m confident it will translate well into next year’s nature journaling.
This is one of my favorite quotes of Ms. Mason.
No Such Thing as Bad Weather
We have been going outside in all kinds of weather since Ezra was 6 and that’s all the younger kids know. We go outside when a storm is brewing to observe where the wind is coming from, the cloud movement, the birds chirping and flying around wildly. We’ve even packed up in the car and gone on a hike in a downpour (so long as it’s safe)!
I have made sure to bite my tongue to not complain about the weather, or refuse them going outside because “it’s too cold” or “too wet.” I, of course, have to set the example by going out with them from time to time in the more “unpleasant” weather, which usually turns out to be fun!
We have rainboots, raincoats and rain pants, and plenty of winter clothes. They don’t always wear them, but it ensures they don’t have an excuse to avoid going outside.
There is so much to observe in nature in all kinds of weather and times of day. Not just sunny spring and summer
afternoons. Let’s not deprive our children (especially adventurous, daring boys) of all the weather God brings and how nature responds and looks.
A hike at night after a snowstorm, so bright from the moon’s reflection on the snow! Animal foot prints in the snow. A dark, cold, still, silent winter’s night compared to a light night sky in summer with summer noises.
What direction is the rain coming from? How to the rain drops of this rain storm feel compared to the rain drops of the previous storm? The rain drops are cold, but the water running down the side of the road is warm? There is so much to observe all the time.
Often these “unusual” nature study times are some of the most memorable, not only for learning and observing, but memories for family connectedness.
A few springs ago we were on vacation at the beach. There was an incredible downpour with no lighting or thunder. I took all the boys out with me and we had a blast being pelted by the rain, splashing in the puddles, comparing depths of and size of puddles, seeing the marks the raindrops made in the sand and little splashes all over the ocean water, the look and sound of the rain and waves all mixed together, how the horizon line blended together in an ominous grey swirling of clouds and water. We came back to the house, soaked, shivering, and excited, welcomed in by their dad with towels, a fire going in the fire place, hot chocolate and narrating everything all at once as fast as they could to him. It is hands down a memory that stands out to all of us.
Be adventurous with your boys and nature. It will do so much for the both of you.
Outdoor Games to Strengthen the Skill of Observation
To help your boys observe nature and strengthen their skill of it there are many games that can be played they’ll enjoy, all the while learning, sharpening a skill and playing at the same time! I know my boys always like to take on a challenge and these 2 games do just that.
Picture Study Game
If you’re familiar with an artist picture study, it’s basically that. Take something in nature, a flower, a bug that’s relatively still, a section of your garden or the view of the neighbor’s yard etc. Tell your child he can observe it for one 1min, soak it all in, close his eyes and see how much he sees, open them again and add anything he might be missing.
When the minute is up or he feels like he’s got all the details held in his mind have him look at you and describe as much detail as he can remember. When he’s done have him look back at it and see how much he was able to remember. This is supposed to be fun, not like a test! Let him pick something out for you to study and tell him everything you remember about it!
Guess Which Tree Game
Another one my boys enjoy is “which tree did you hug?” You need a spot with a last a few trees. Partner up, one person is blind folded, and walks to a tree that their partner has chosen. The blindfolded person then feels all over the tree as much as they want. Up high, down around the base, hug it, maybe follow a branch out a little, even sniff it!
When they think they’re familiar enough with the tree their partner will walk them back to where they started. The blindfolded child removes the blindfold and has to find which tree they hugged. This also helps critical thinking and the power of deduction. “It can’t be that tree because the tree I felt had low branches, and that tree all the branches are too high for me to reach.” Switch places then. This is also a good opportunity to learn the name of the tree and what flowers it gets in spring or any fruit of nuts it produces.
One of the cornerstones to a Charolotte Mason philology of education comes from her idea that “children are born persons; ergo, they must have liberties.”
When we recognize our boys as full persons, with all their daring ideas and endless energy, that is when we can truly help them cultivate freedom with responsibility, even at a very young age.
The freedom to move with responsibility to listen and understand.
The freedom to be daring with responsibility to one’s self and others.
Provide your boys with rich and living examples of boys or men who have used their energy, athleticism, and daring ideas for good and for evil.
Who knows what God will be calling them to do?
Leave a Comment!
Did you enjoy this interview with Sarah? Leave a comment to let her know how her story has encouraged you!
You can also find the first part of this interview with Sarah: Living Books and Narration With All Boys: An Interview with Sarah Part 1.
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