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Nature Study – Living Science Beyond the Books

Every parent hopes their child receives a solid education in science. This is the case whether our children are homeschooled or attending a more traditional school. Many parents, including myself, know we received very little “real” science education growing up and when it comes time to teaching or supporting science learning in our children, we feel inadequate. This doesn’t need to be the case.

Jeannie Fulbright wrote on the Apologia Blog, Overcoming the Fear of Science, which I read with interest. It got me thinking about how I have seen my own children gain a real, living science education using books and experiences.

Frog and Eggs in a Pond

For our family, providing the opportunities for science as part of our every day life has been as easy as opening our back door and doing some exploring together.  Books are a wonderful window to the world but true heartfelt science learning takes place when you learn about things you can see, touch, smell, and hear.

Suspected Spotted Towhee Feathers

Birds in a book are great but birds in your very own feeder are a living and breathing example to learn from. We have found what works best is observation first and then facts. For example, we learned more by trying to identify these feathers…using a feather identification key for the first time, reasoning on which birds we see in our backyard, and then narrowing it down to a few bird choices.We had to learn the different kinds of bird feathers and make careful observations about color and pattern. So much to build on from just this simple feather find from our backyard.

Pollen on the California Lilac

Learning about pollen in a book is interesting but seeing it on a flower, watching a bee covered in it, and then perhaps looking at the flower pollen with a hand lens take it to a whole new dimension. Suddenly you care about the pollen…it means something. My son noticed the little yellow specks on these California Lilacs and we brought them inside for closer inspection…pollen! No wonder the bees are swarming around this plant in our yard!

Garden Spider on a Flower

Mr. A found this spider on a flower blossom and we spent some time watching it together. Direct observation of a spider takes the fear away and allows the awe to settle in for such an amazing living creature. Live and up close is the best kind of learning for science….books are there to support or to generate interest.

“Nature study, as far as it goes, is just as large as is science for “grown-ups”. It may deal with the same subject matter and should be characterized by the same accuracy. It simply does not go so far.”
Anna Botsford Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study

She supports the idea that beginning with nature study and observation we can build on those ideas and experiences and go farther with more formal science. For a complete picture of how she outlines nature study for families, read the introductory pages of the Handbook of Nature Study (pages 1-24).

“Adults should realize that the most valuable thing children can learn is what they discover themselves about the world they live in. Once they experience first-hand the wonder of nature, they will want to make nature observation a life-long habit. All people are supposed to be observers of nature and there’s no excuse for living in a world so full of amazing plants and animals and not be interested in them.”
Charlotte Mason, Volume 1

So, I think we are in good company. Thanks Jeannie for the insightful and informative post that got me thinking about this very important topic. We can provide or support science education in our homes if we remember to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Open eyes, open hearts, and then open minds…living science.

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If you would like some help getting started with nature study using the Handbook of Nature Study, I invite you to read more about the Outdoor Hour Challenges that I offer each Friday here on my blog. The first ten challenges which will help you to become a better nature study guide are all gathered into one convenient ebook along with follow-up nature notebooking pages for you to print. I would love to help you get started on a more meaningful path of science learning.

6 thoughts on “Nature Study – Living Science Beyond the Books

  1. This is a wonderful post, Barb. Don’t get me started on all the science learning you might not even find in a book.

    Case in point: Last week we spotted a spider devouring a bee inside of a flower. We wondered whether our eyes were deceiving us, then researched & discovered that indeed spiders will eat bees if given the opportunity.

  2. Thanks Debi…means a lot coming from you. 🙂

    Nature Rock On.

  3. I love the idea of this kind of science exploration. But in honesty, it scares me even more than book-science. I’m afraid of teaching my children the wrong things, and I’m not confident enough in my own ability to search out the right identity of what we see. Flowers in my backyard look so much different from what I see in a field guide.

  4. The Handbook of Nature Study helps you get over the fear of doing it wrong. Anna Botsford Comstock stresses that you don’t need to know everything and you can tell your children that as you come across things you don’t know what they are. I have found learning alongside my children has been the best model for them and we just take it one plant, animal, and tree at a time. It is a life journey that is sweet, sweet, sweet.

    If you read the intro pages to the Handbook of Nature Study you will gain some confidence. I referred to the online version in the original post. 🙂

  5. Thanks, Barb, for this excellent statement about the value of nature study. Two things that are so important to science are observation and curiosity. You can’t teach either from a workbook but you can give yourself and your child a chance to develop these skills by going outdoors and watching the world. Thank you for putting that into words (and pictures!) so eloquently. I am sure this post will be linked to many times as proof that nature study is, indeed, sound science education.

  6. HONS is such a great resource! and like you said, when nature study (which doesn’t have to be much more than ‘nature watching’ ie., close observation, attention to detail and occasional attempts at a sketch and/or narration of the object) is made part of life, science studies come more naturally and seem much less fearful 🙂

    thanks! as always your post is an encouragement.
    amy in peru

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