Why Begin a Nature Study Routine?
From Currclick.com's weekly newsletter 10/11/10
“Nature Study,” the term evokes either ideas of excitement and amazement, or apprehension and quandary. I remember one time several years ago of trying to be hospitable to a new homeschooling family in our community. I invited them to come over one afternoon and told them that we’d go out and do a nature study for fun with all the kids. The mom looked horrified. The kids kept asking, “What will we do?” I explained an outing where we’d go to a field full of wildflowers on our property, identify some with a field guide, maybe sketch one for a notebook entry and pick a lovely bouquet to take home. Due to their trepidation they never came! Now granted, some personalities are more suited to outdoors than others, nevertheless, all students can benefit from nature study or even just being outside. I currently teach at an environmental charter school where I hold classes outdoors. Students who could never sit still or quiet inside a classroom can be taken into the woods for class and it has a sedative effect on them. They are transformed into attentive learners.
There is a stillness, a quietness, almost a selfless outcome that nature study has upon the human soul. When one is encouraged to unobtrusively observe plant life, animal life, or even rock formations and weather patterns, focus changes. Perhaps all day long you and your student have been fastened upon completing a specific task, mastering a certain skill, or finishing a chore. When that student begins to observe nature, maybe a vein in a changing leaf or a chipmunk scurrying to prepare for winter; no longer are the thoughts, “I’ve got to get this done, then math is next, …” The mind begins to consider thoughts such as, “What is going on with this leaf. What might that chipmunk be thinking, or how on earth does he fill his cheeks that f ull anyway?” Through this surveillance the student becomes cognizant of a world outside of his daily-required motions. Now interest sparks. The door is wide open for the positive characteristics that can be learned from creation.
Consider examples seen in nature of perseverance, faithfulness, sowing and reaping, cycles and seasons; a bulb that has repeatedly forces its way through the snow each spring, a weed that springs through no discernable crack in the hot, dry sidewalk to produce a lovely flower, a mother bird who with skill and patience weaves the perfect home for her family-to-be, a tree that is gorgeous in a unique way during every season. These feats are all encouraging. You’ll find that students young and old pick up on the qualities displayed and through this observation find a confirmation to establish these traits in their own lives.
Nature study is worthy of our time. It has been disheartening as an educator to see many more children who can name numerous Disney characters than can correctly name a single tree or bird in all of God’s creation! As teachers to our children, we must regularly incorporate observing and studying the natural world into our lessons. Teaching our students to look beyond themselves and beyond man’s created amusements is an honorable characteristic and a worthy goal of instructors because of the attributes it develops in our learners. Passing on the learned behavior of purposefully making time to admire nature promotes thought processes worthy of leaders. This is evident from the impact of avid nature observers such as George Washington Carver, Thomas Jefferson, and others.
So how does one begin to teach nature study? It is simple, decide to make time for it, and then start by stopping. What? Yes, start by setting a time to stop all the tasks that make up yo ur school day and simply get outside, look and listen for a set time period, say fifteen minutes one or two times a week. You’ll find nature to be extremely intriguing and entertaining. Ask your student to go outside and follow an ant, watch a bird, or observe and insect in a flower. Gradually you and your student will want to have record of observations, and want to know the proper names of what you see. Your nature study will grow into journaling and identifying species with field guides or other resources. Maybe you would like to make crafts from natural items you find outside (a favorite of this author). How this discipline develops is your choice. This isn’t math or English where you are expected to achieve certain grade-level expectations. You are free! What a great teacher therapy! You need this too!
Currclick offers many resources to help with your nature study. Nature study is really nature enjoyment and nature appreciation. You can make it as elaborate or simple as you wish. However, don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by what someone else’s idea of nature study is. You know your learner best, follow your teacher instincts and begin with baby steps.
Angie Markum holds a B.S. in Secondary Education Mathematics and has been an educator since 1985 in public, private, and home schools. She offers art, nature and math resources here on Currclick.
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