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She Who Opens Her Heart to Nature Study

“Out in this, God’s beautiful world, there is everything waiting to heal lacerated nerves, to strengthen tired muscles, to please and content the soul that is torn to shreds with duty and care….nature study is not a trouble; it is a sweet, fresh breath of air…She who opens her eyes and her heart nature-ward even once a week finds nature study….a delight and an abiding joy.”
Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Botsford-Comstock

I was having a terrible day. Nothing was going right and I was in a very foul mood. My teenage son noticed my frustrations and suggested we take a mid-day, middle of the week hike to the river. It was a hot September day and the sun was blazing down and the last thing I thought I wanted to do was to go outside. He reminded me that I always feel better after getting some fresh air so I jumped in the car with Mr. A and Kona dog, still quite grumpy.

We chatted a bit on the way to the river but I continued feeling the effects of working too much and having some looming deadlines. As we rounded the bend and pulled into the parking lot, I realized that I was actually starting to feel bit better. We hiked down the familiar trail to the river through oaks and pines, smelling the hot oak leaves in the baking noontime sun. I could hear the river now as it traveled over the rocks and past the gravel shore. Kona heard it too and she got very excited. Swimming in the river is one of her favorite things to do. It wasn’t long before she had found a stick for us to throw in the water for her to retrieve…her favorite game of all.

We found a spot to sit and dip our feet in, watch the water roll by, and soak in some sunshine and fresh air.

I was feeling much better by now.

Before long the boy and the dog were off exploring this and that as I enjoyed the view.

  • The color of the rocks in the sparkling water.
  • The fresh smell of the air as it comes over the river.
  • The freezing cold temperature of the river water.
  • Birds flying overhead, along the water, and between the trees. I glimpsed a woodpecker and heard a crow.
  • The lapping of the water on the rocks.
  • Slippery moss at the water’s edge.

I was glad for the reminder from my teen. Yes, even I need to be reminded of the healing and refreshing aspects of just getting outside and breathing the air. I took a photo to remind me of this day, spending time with Mr. A, knowing that he soon will not be around to remind me to get outside even when I don’t feel like it and the weather is hot or cold or wet or whatever.

Just get outside for a few minutes if you are having a bad day. You will find your smile again too.

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Poetry in Your Nature Journal – Autumn Trees and Weeds

“Come, little leaves,” said the wind one day,
“Come over the meadows with me, and play;
Put on your dresses of red and gold;
Summer is gone, and the days grow cold”
-from Songs of Autumn

I love Google Books…you can find so many wonderful books that are in the public domain to use in your homeschooling and nature study. I have had one ebook downloaded and on my desktop just waiting to use with our nature journals…and to share with you.

Nature in Verse by Mary Lovejoy is a whole year’s worth of poetry organized by seasons. Whether you read these aloud or use them as copy work in your nature journals, this downloadable ebook is a gem.

Another one you may like to download is Nature Study in Elementary Schools: Myths, Stories, and Poems.

Poetry is another way to use the words you find as you spend your time outdoors. Not everyone likes to take a stab at poetry but if it is your interest or you are a linguistic learner (or your child is a linguistic learner), it is fun to listen to poetry and to play with words. See last week’s challenge for more ideas on using poetry in your nature journal.

We attempted to write some poems for our nature journal but it just didn’t happen this week. We did have fun manipulating words and it was sort of a silly time for the two of us…I cherish those times with my son just as much as any poem we could have written.

Just the act of slowing down and gathering words, giving our children more words to describe their outdoor experiences, and then taking time to share word pictures is a gift they will carry with them into their adulthood.

“The habit of storing mental images can’t be overrated. It can comfort us and refresh us. Even in our busiest times, we can stop and take a mini-vacation in our own piece of nature to be refreshed and gladdened by ‘the silence and calm of things that can’t speak or feel.’…..anyone who tries hard to really see can have it, and parents can train their children to do this.”
Charlotte Mason, volume 1 page 50

Sometimes I just like to record words that come to mind and after they are written in my nature journal they end up sounding like poetry…free form style. Some people collect items for a nature table and some of us like to collect images and words to remember an experience.

This week we found some thistles during a walk with the Kona dog. They always look so pretty but I know that if I touch them they are rather dry, hard, and the thorns will give a good poke. We took some photos and then I drew some autumn thistles in my nature journal along with some words. My words record the experience of seeing some goldfinches hanging upside down to glean some seeds from the thistles. How do they do that without getting stuck by the thorns? They seemed very happy and content as they enjoyed the thistle seed meal.


So whether you actually write a poem or just play with words in your journal, I encourage you to give it a try. Start with a simple sketch and then perhaps a word or two to express your feelings about the subject. Remember that a journal is a personal expression for you and your child….no need for perfection.

“As soon as a child is old enough, he should keep his own nature notebook for his enjoyment. Every day’s walk will give something interesting to add–three squirrels playing in a tree, a blue jay flying across a field, a caterpillar crawling up a bush, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider suddenly dropping from a thread to the ground, where he found ivy and how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, and how ivy manages to climb.” Charlotte Mason in Modern English, volume 1 page 54

Please visit and share with us at the CM blog carnival! We'd love to have you!
I am submitting this entry to the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival and if you have any entries you would like to submit, you can send them to this email address: charlottemasonblogs@gmail.com. The official blog carnival site is not working so you will need to send them directly to this email.

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Nature Study and Digital Photography: Would Anna Botsford Comstock Approve?

All three of my sons enjoy digital photography to capture our time outdoors.

A love of the natural world does not come automatically for all children and sometimes we need to find a way to hook them into getting outdoors. We live in a world of “wired” children….they have a lot of screen time each week as part of their normal routines. How do we get these children to move from their indoor screen to one that they can take outdoors?

Digital photography

  • It slows them down.
  • Helps them focus and really see an object.
  • Everyday things in their own backyard can now be captured and viewed.
  • They can see the beauty.
  • They make their own connections.
  • Perfect for our teens…they are comfortable with the technology and love to share with their friends.
My teens both had cameras on last year’s trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons. They took amazing images.

Would Anna Botsford Comstock and Charlotte Mason have approved of this use of technology in the natural world? I think they would have accepted that sometimes we need to help our children make connections in a way that is comfortable to them. If our 21st Century children are using technology on a regular basis, they are going to find it an easier transition to move from inside screen time to outside time with the aid of a digital camera.

Using this month’s Insect Grid (from the September newsletter) and a digital camera might be just the invitation your child needs to get started on their own outdoor experiences this month. There is also the Bug’s Eye View activity and notebook page from last week that could encourage a little outdoor time and allow some creativity. You don’t need to travel far to capture great images with your digital camera…your own backyard will reveal some interesting subjects for even the youngest photographer.

One of Mr. D’s calendar images.

I have encouraged my children to take digital photos for a long time now. This past summer, I challenged my oldest son to capture six images for next year’s family calendar. He blew me away with his nature photography! They are all stunning….I shared one of the photos above.

At some point we can hope that the technology is put away and our children just enjoy being outside but don’t overlook the power of digital photography to get your kids outside and exploring. 

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Looking Back At Our Summer – Outdoor Life

As I file away photos from the past few months, it is wonderful to think back on all the outdoor things we have done as a family. Even though the sons are all older (16, 18, and 24), we have been able to squeeze in things that are fun for them and have made such great memories for this nature loving mama.

Our summer started off with a dreamy camping trip to the Oregon Coast. The weather was perfect for most of the week and we were able to fit in hiking, bike riding, kite flying, beachcombing, tide pooling, exploring, and lots of good food.

Now that the boys are older we can pack up a dinner picnic on a weeknight and enjoy an empty picnic ground and some smooth water on the lake. We can sit and watch the geese and ducks as they paddle near the shore and then head out onto the lake to see the awesome clouds and sunset. My middle son is the wake boarder in the family and we all get a kick out of his skill at jumping and flipping. I am content to ride in the boat and watch the mountains and trees zip by.

For me personally, the summer has been full of quiet time with my hubby as well. We have explored new areas of California and also spent time at our favorite spots too. We counted bees in the garden for the Great Sunflower Project and our Kona dog has been my constant companion. As a family we decided that kayaking is a great sport to do together since we can all have our own boats and go at our own speed. I like to take it easy and notice the sky and clouds as we paddle along the shore of Lake Tahoe. (Kona loves to eat dandelions and this particular day she came up on the deck with one hanging out of the side of her mouth…made me laugh out loud!)

On most of our outdoor adventures I bring along my nature journal. Even just a quick sketch to be finished at home makes a great entry in the journal. We have used the Study Grids from the Outdoor Hour Challenge newsletters to stimulate a bit of nature study this summer as well. We all participated in the Beach Grid and I recorded our findings in my nature journal.

I will finish up this entry with a collage of our Summer Photo Challenge images. We really enjoyed having a photo assignment and I am hoping to put one together for next summer as well. You can see all the images from all the participants on the Summer Photo Challenge Pinterest Board.

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First Hike of Spring – Mount Diablo Adventure

Mt. Diablo View from Summit
Spring Splendor Walk Challenge from More Nature Study Book #3

Friday came and we were planning a snowshoeing day, but recent rains had washed all the snow away. It isn’t much fun to snowshoe in one inch of snow. We regrouped and the boys decided that hiking was definitely their choice for the day so we packed up our lunches, camera, binoculars, and map to head to somewhere new for some springtime exploring.

Mt. Diablo is not the highest or most spectacular mountain in California but it is a landmark that many of us have grown up seeing even from a distance. On a clear day it is visible to many who live in Northern California and most definitely those that live in the San Francisco Bay Area. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge and perhaps see all the way back up to Sacramento as well. We were not disappointed.

Mt. Diablo view with Poppies
What a treat to see so many early spring wildflowers as we climbed the winding mountain road up to the summit. We shared the road with bicyclists of all shapes and sizes. We visited the information center and observation spots at the summit before heading out to do our hiking.

Mt. Diablo Summer Trail

We chose to hike the short interpretive trail first that circles the summit. This was a wonderful way to view the different habitats, geology, and plants of this interesting place. Hiking is such a great activity with teenage boys. They enjoyed spotting different landmarks from the trail and with the binoculars they viewed quite a few birds too.

Mt. Diablo Rocks Chert
Nature study takes the blinders off and makes you see so much more about the wonder we have right in our own part of the world. We enjoyed seeing the different rocks along the trail…this one especially was interesting. We read in the trail guide that it is called chert which was a new rock to us.

Mt. Diablo Wallflower
The spring wildflowers were so colorful. Mr. A captured this Western Wallflower along the summit trail on the sunny side of the mountain. Glorious.

Mt. Diablo Rock City Sandstone caves
The next trail we took was in the Rock City area of the state park. This is a place we are going to enjoy exploring in the future because we didn’t have nearly enough time to do all the hikes and climbs we would have liked to on this one afternoon.

Mt. Diablo Rock City
There are caves and rocks to climb on….my boys loved it! What is it with boys and rocks? I am guessing the challenge and the adventure have something to do with the attraction. I was content to see them from the bottom and take some photos.

Mt. Diablo - Rock City Sentinel Rock
The boys also climbed Sentinel Rock while I took a rest on a warm sunny corner of the trail. There are steps and a chain rail to assist the climb and the boys spent some time at the top just enjoying the view. While I rested, I was treated to bird song and soft breezes.

We took one last hike out the Fossil Ridge Trail. We didn’t have a good enough idea of where we were going and what to expect when we got there so we ended up hiking to the top of the ridge and then turning around. Next time we will be better prepared and actually see the fossils.

Baby Blue Eyes - Mt. Diable
We did observe some beautiful wildflowers and a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay Area from the trail which made it worth the effort. The flower above is Baby Blue Eyes.

Mt. Diablo Rocks and Landscape
So ends our hiking trip this first week of Spring 2012. What a great way to get ourselves going with the new series of Outdoor Hour Challenges. I feel like making things new and fresh for teens is worth the effort and I want to keep it going in our family. This is the time of their life when they can find interests that will extend into their adult years.

So back to our part of the world… about a three hour drive across the Sacramento River Delta, across the San Joaquin Valley, and up into the Sierra Foothills.

You can still join the More Nature Study Book #3 challenges. We just got started with the very first one this week: Spring Splendor Walk.  You can take your walk in your very own backyard if you would like or perhaps at a near-by park. I encourage everyone to get outside this week for just a few minutes with your children to start this season of nature study with some fun outdoor time.


I am linking up to a new to me monthly meme at The Homeschool Scientist. Click over and join in.

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Nature Study – 3 Steps to a Better Experience

Madrone Tree

“The Field Lesson. When planning a field lesson, three points should be kept in mind:
First. The aim, to bring the children into sympathy or in touch with nature, through the study of that part of nature in which they have been interested.
Second. The conditions out of doors, where the children are at home, where they must have greater freedom than in the schoolroom, and where it is more difficult to keep them at definite work, and to hold their attention.
Third. The necessity of giving each child something definite to find out for himself, and of interesting the children so that each will try to find out the most and have the greatest number of discoveries to tell.”  Nature Study and The Child, Charles B. Scott, 1900.

I am finding that for my high school aged son there needs to be a different sort of follow-up to our observations…more than just a nature journal. He is using his past experiences with nature study and making some connections. This has led me to going back to the internet to research more closely how nature study develops into upper level science. I am finding it fascinating. I am excited to share my findings and show how I am implementing the ideas learned with my son as we go along (see the printable below).

“But true science work does not stop with mere seeing, hearing, or feeling: it not only furnishes a mental picture as a basis for reasoning, but it includes an interpretation of what has been received through the senses.”
Nature Study for the Common Schools, Wilbur Samuel Jackman, 1891

This is the part of nature study I find most meaningful for my son. When he can take something he already knows and build on it with new information, he develops an interest. If I am merely telling him a fact, no matter how interesting the fact is, he is not as impressed. He needs to find the answers to his questions.

Madrone Tree branches
Pacific Madrone 

“Adults should realize that the most valuable thing children can learn is what they discover themselves about the world they live in.” Charlotte Mason, volume 1 page 61

My research found that this pattern – observation, reasoning, expression – is nothing new or unique to nature study. This pattern is the process that all science is built upon. Watching my son work through the More Nature Study ebook challenges has brought this into focus for me. I wrote the challenges to include advanced study and just happened to present it in this three step pattern.

Nature Study - Three Steps to a Better Experience

If you haven’t yet downloaded and read my Nature Study-Three Steps To A Better Experience, I invite you to now. It outlines in simple form how to build a lifetime habit of meaningful nature study.

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Winter Wonder Follow-Up Nature Study

Winter Wonder Collage

Remember back to when we started the Winter Wonder series of challenges? Your child filled out the questionnaire and came up with some things they were interested in learning about during this season of nature study. Pull that notebook page out and see if you have been able to find answers to your child’s questions. (Note: notebook page is in the ebook.)

Also, see if you were able to complete the three winter activities yet. If not, make some plans or add it to your Winter 2013 list. Nature study is something you can build on from year to year or maybe you can complete the activity in an up-coming season.

How did we do as a family?
We were able to find answers to all three questions and completed two of the three activities Mr. B asked to do during the winter season. One of the things he wanted to do was to hike to the river and we did that five times since we had such wonderfully mild weather during our winter. The best part of it was that we actually discovered two new hiking trails within ten minutes of our house so we are going to have a whole year of exploring as we watch the seasons change along these unfamiliar pathways. Just the thing to spark new discoveries and new subjects for nature study!

I encourage you to follow up on any interest and keep asking questions. There will be an opportunity to do this same exercise in with the Spring Splendor series of Outdoor Hour Challenges.

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Magnets, Compass, and Moon Nature Study in our Neighborhood

I am going to combine two of the Outdoor Hour Challenge nature studies from the More Nature Study Book 2 series since we have been working on them over the last few weeks a little at a time. The topics have provided plenty to talk about during our walks and rambles around the neighborhood.

Moon Names and  Magnets and Compass

The compass directions were easy to determine in our yard after years of observation of sunrises and sunsets. We decided to test our sense of direction as we walked our regular trails and found a map of our local area to use as a starting point.

I will readily admit that I have a terrible sense of direction and live in a family of men who seem to never lose their way. This was a good exercise for me in particular. We would walk to a certain point and then try to determine north and south. We had the small map of the area in our pocket and we would check the actual direction after we made our guesses. I am happy to report that I have gained some skill in determining direction. 🙂

Hiking with the Moon
The moon has also been a subject of discussion and observation since it has been visible in the afternoons as well as in the evenings. Tonight it is HUGE in the twilight sky and we even saw Jupiter and Venus while we out there looking (opposite parts of the sky). You can read about them here: This Week’s Sky at a Glance.

Mr. B and I decided on our choice of names for the March full moon (instead of the official Full Worm Moon).

  • Radiant Moon (Mr. B’s choice)
  • Manzanita Moon (my choice)

Manzanita Flowers
The manzanita trees are bursting out in bloom over the last week so I picked that as the full moon name. The blossoms are so delicate and pick and almost look like ornaments that someone has strung on the branches.

3 1 10 Manzanita blooms

Here is a photo from a previous year with a close-up of the delicate pink blossoms.

Do you want to know something? Even though it pains me sometimes to have a challenge to complete each week….keeping myself accountable on the blog…..I realize that if we didn’t have a focus of some sort we would miss out on some really wonderful and insightful discussions and time outdoors together. Even when we just complete the preparation and then the outdoor time with no real follow-up we are gaining something extra from our Outdoor Hour. If nothing else, it gives me an activity to enjoy alongside my teenage son.

We have one more challenge to go in the More Nature Study Book 2 series – Pansies! I am really looking forward to this last study of the season and I am planning on a watercolor project for me and hopefully Mr. B will join me.

I almost forgot to mention that we acquired some rare earth magnets for a project my husband is working on in the shop. We highly recommend these for advanced magnet work and for some awesome fun too. The men are trying to make a magnetic motor…a motor that runs continuously on magnetic power. It keeps them out of trouble. 🙂

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Silent Nature Walk – Winter Nature Study with the OHC

Winter Wonder Collage

  • Take a Winter Weather Walk and observe as many things in your neighborhood as possible that are special about the winter season.
  • Advanced study: Challenge yourself to take a walk keeping completely silent. Go as a family or all alone.

After checking our weather for the next few weeks, we realized that a winter weather nature walk was not going to happen any time soon. Our Winter Wonder Walk became our Silent Nature Walk instead. This was part of the advanced study suggested for the first challenge from the More Nature Study Book 2 ebook plans.

Winter Wonder walk - Silent Activity
We loaded up the Kona dog and headed to our favorite local trail. Mr. B started off ahead of me so we wouldn’t be tempted to talk. This was a good plan since it also separated us a little as we walked and it seemed that we were all alone which allowed the sounds of the woods to be easily heard.

Ferns along the trail
A few of the things I observed on our Silent Nature Walk:
1. Greenness of the ferns growing alongside the trail on the hillside.
2. Dry trail with acorns..crunching leaves.
3. Birds singing in the woods. The only one I recognized is the Northern Flicker. I also heard some wing flutters coming from the bushes lining the path.
4. The buzz of an insect which I couldn’t see.
5. I noticed a pile of feathers where some forest animal had made a meal.

Winter Wonder walk Advanced Notebook Page
Mr. B wrote his observations on a notebook page when we got home and I was impressed with the different things he noted that I missed as noted below:
1. He heard five birds.
2. He noticed the river’s rushing sound and how it changed as we walked down the canyon.
3. Scrunch of the needles and the pat of the dirt.

He brought home an acorn to sketch into his journal and I brought home a few samples of ferns, an acorn, a weed, and a feather.
Wood fern - back
I was fascinated by the spores on the back of the ferns. I won’t detail here all I learned from the Handbook of Nature Study on ferns but we will in the future have a challenge featuring ferns. I found a wealth of information in Lesson 195 on the fruiting of the fern. There is always something new and interesting to learn.

Western Sword Fern - back
I identified my ferns as the Wood Fern, the Western Sword Fern, and California Maidenhair Fern.

Winter Wonder Walk Journal
Silence. It is a great way to glean a little more from a walk if you can give it a try. I have to admit that several times on the walk when I couldn’t see Mr. B or the Kona dog that I was a little uneasy. It can be too quiet sometimes. I think we become accustomed to having background noise in our life from the computers, the clocks, music, traffic, and each other. Seeking out the quiet is something I think we should do on a regular basis and I will be adding this to future challenges, at least for the advanced study option. I encourage you to grow your children into the habit of spending a least a few minutes of every outdoor nature study time being silent and really listening.

More Nature Study #2 button

It is not too late to join us for this new series of nature study challenges using the Handbook of Nature Study. All of the challenges for this series are gathered into an ebook format along with custom made notebook pages. Click over and see the details and join us this week for a new posted challenge on Friday.

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The Play of Light – Changing Landscapes

Leaves and Rocks
Leaves Bathed in Light

Autumn is a time for colors and textures…and this year autumn is featuring its light side. The sun has ushered us through the season, bathing us in warmth and cheerfulness. The usual seasonal sadness did not arrive and I am grateful.

“Call attention to the changing beauty of the landscape. Let the children tell what they enjoy in it. Point out more, if they are old enough to appreciate it. Show them the play of light and shade, the harmony of the colors, the subdued hues, the neutral tints of forest and meadow, of mountain and fading perspectives.”
Nature and Children

Colorful Fall Leaves
Piles and piles of colors to behold.
Leaf Raking in December 2
Early December yard chores

“Hey mom, look how many leaves came down in the wind! Why do you think only one tree still has its leaves? Now it seems like winter.”

What a wonderful way to teach about the cycles of life: the growing and dying, the green and the brown, the fullness and the bareness. One just leads to the next, round and round. He notices. We notice.

Autumn Trees with sun
More light to capture

Today I am reminded of how my season in life is changing, grateful for sons who remind me to stop and notice things that I might have otherwise missed, filling up on the light they bring to the day.