Monday, March 8, 2010

Using Nature Study to Explore Science

This come from's weekly email.

Do you like the idea of nature study and bringing your kids outdoors and exploring science in a natural way? But how do you turn that into something where you know your kids have learned some of those formal scientific concepts you want to teach?

You also like the idea of getting outside in the fresh air and experiencing science and nature first hand. But, you worry about making sure your covering enough science and facts to just leave it at that without turning it into some kind of lesson on a concept.

One way to do this is by keeping a nature journal of what you observe in nature. Through the use of observation and reading field guides, children can narrate onto journal notebook pages what they have observed in nature, what they read in field guides, any other information about their nature walk, and maybe a drawing.

If you want to put this narration and drawing in a bound book, you can find these in book stores or school supply catalogs with lined or blank pieces of paper.

That is an effective way of teaching about what you see directly in nature. But, how do you teach areas within biology, physics, and chemistry from there? Well, that's where you build a bridge or connection between what your child experiences first hand in nature and his personal connection with a concept of science and extend there from the child's first hand knowledge.

Let's say you are studying weather when it is common to experience thunderstorms and lightning during a month. After you observe this weather, make charts of what the weather has been or make predictions, and research what causes thunderstorms and lightning, you want to extend your study into other areas of science. From thunderstorms, you begin to read and do science experiments with sound waves and vibrations or examine the water cycle. Or, you look at acid rain and focus on some chemistry experiments looking at the effects of acid rain, which can extend into a study of acids and bases and ph.

Maybe you want to move from there and look at lightning and its causes and conduct experiments with static electricity and electrical circuits and conductors and insulators. Or, after rain, sometimes you can see a rainbow. After looking at the causes of a rainbow, you look at the color spectrum and perform experiments with white light and prisms and color absorption.

As you can see, one study in weather, can naturally lead you into more detailed studies encompassing areas of physical sciences and chemistry. Any studies with different classes of animals and plants can build into anatomy and physiology, and botany studies.

So, don't be afraid to let go of that textbook, at least for a little while. After exploring where your nature studies lead you, you may find you are enjoying and learning so much more science than you imagined that you will forget to return to that textbook.

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