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Questions and Answers: How to use them in Nature Study

“Nature study does not start out with the classification given in books, but in the end it builds up in the child’s mind a classification which is based on fundamental knowledge; it is a classification like that evolved by the first naturalists, because it is built on careful personal observations of both form and life.
Handbook of Nature Study, page 6

Nature study is more about asking questions than it is about finding answers. I always enjoy a good question because it means that my children are taking something they see or hear and are internalizing it and then coming up with a good question. Many times just asking the question helps solidify what they already know.

For instance, if they see a little creeping creature and wonder what it is, they will need to look a little closer. On examining the creature, they see that it has six legs. Six legs equals an insect and not a spider.

So already before asking me what it is, they have decided it must be some sort of insect and we can then pull out the proper field guide to see if we can identify it by habitat, color, shape, and size.

If we never positively identify a particular insect, we still have taken some time to investigate it further both in the field with our eyes and afterwards in the house with the field guide. The important work was done. We could be finished there if we felt satisfied or we could dig further, checking on the internet or at the library if we were inspired to know more.

This is our science reference shelf with our collection of field guides. Other than the Handbook of Nature Study, these are our best tools for research. The process of going through identifying a subject leads you through a series of questions…good questions.

Some families are making the next step and trying to keep a record of their time in nature with a nature journal. Our family finds this activity very rewarding but we don’t always draw in our journals after every outdoor time.

Honestly, when we do take the time to try to draw what we see during our nature time, we get a lot more out of it. There is something about the process of taking your experiences and putting them down on paper that creates a special bond between you and the subject whether it is a leaf, a spider, a flower, or anything else you choose to draw.

We did end up identifying this caterpillar and we will not forget his name ever….isn’t he great? Many times I find that if we take the time to go outside, explore the outdoors, find something that interests us, ask a question, come inside and research, and then make a nature journal…..we don’t easily forget the information because we “own” it.

Here is a collection of items from a picnic nature study that we had last summer….the process of collecting the items was more fun than spending time identifying them. We just enjoyed them and then left them there at the beach. Maybe next time we will have some questions ready to ask and the proper field guide on hand and we will get down to the business of knowing the particular rock and tree.

So don’t be afraid of questions….questions are a great tool. You don’t need to know all the answers to the questions that your children have about nature study. Consider it a good thing when you find something you need to research because you will learn right alongside your child.


3 thoughts on “Questions and Answers: How to use them in Nature Study

  1. I love what you have to say about nature study. (BTW, it seems like your post got cut off mid-sentence)

  2. I like how you have all the field guides on a shelf together. I think I may try that in our next house instead of keeping them with their general subject.

  3. so what was that caterpillar’s name? I think he’s the same kind that we find today and I can’t find him anywhere.

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