Still no “weather” to report from our house. The windows and doors are still wide open and the sky is clear. We have forecasts of some rain maybe this week so we are going to wait until then to take a weather study.
In the meantime, the boys and their father decided today was the day to climb a tree. We have one really big tree in our yard that is fairly easy to climb because the limbs are close together and there are so many of them. They took a ladder to get started but then climbed up from there.
This was the first time that I have noticed cones on the ground under this tree.
I grabbed the tree identification book and here is what we came up with.
Here is what we used to identify the tree….leaflet and cone.
It looks as if we have a Giant Sequoia in our backyard, right next to our deck.
This is my best attempt to take a complete photo of the tree showing our deck at the bottom. It is a really tall tree.
“The seed cones are 4-7 cm long and mature in 18-20 months, though they typically remain green and closed for up to 20 years; each cone has 30-50 spirally arranged scales, with several seeds on each scale giving an average of 230 seeds per cone.” and “Young trees start to bear cones at the age of 12 years.” Wikipedia on the Sequoia
So what started out as tree climbing ended up with identifying our very own Giant Sequoia in our backyard. It was growing here when we moved in 21 years ago and I assume it was planted by the previous owner. It does provide great shade on our deck during the hot summer afternoons and the birds and our backyard squirrel like to use it for protection.
This tree has been hit by lightning once a long time ago in a really big storm. It sounded like something exploded in our backyard during the thunder storm and we went outside to see what it was and we saw a long black line on the trunk of the tree and it was smoking at the base. It was very memorable.
“If nature study is made a drill, its pedagogic value is lost. When it is properly taught, the child is unconscious of mental effort or that he is suffering the act of teaching. As soon as nature study becomes a task, it should be dropped; but how could it ever be a task to see that the sky is blue, or the dandelion golden, or to listen to the oriole in the elm!” Handbook of Nature Study page 6
I know our family would never keep up our interest in learning about the world around us if it wasn’t something we enjoyed. I do think that it takes just one person to get excited about something and then everyone seems to catch the excitement.
I am sometimes that person but more and more it is the boys who are finding and exploring and drawing my attention to things that they see as they are outside. I have learned to follow their lead.
It is a little uncomfortable to just allow things to happen in nature study. There is always the risk that what interests your children will not be something you are interested in or that you know anything about. I can’t tell you how many times that happens in our family. Gradually I have learned the value in allowing some leeway in the topics we learn more about because I can see the growth in my sons’ love for and connection to the world they live in. I hear their appreciation for the complex system of life that was created for us to enjoy and benefit from.
Here is a real life example:
Most of you know we went to Oregon last month as a family vacation and as a way to learn more about marine biology. I had prepared these wonderful notebooks all about invertebrates that inhabit the tidepools of the Oregon coast. Great plan…or so I thought.
As the trip progressed I realized that the children were more interested in marine mammals than in invertebrates. Had I brought a book on marine mammals? Nope. I started to feel a rise of panic as we hit the third day and I was still fascinated by the sea stars and anemones in the tidepools and they were busy finding sea lion bones, watching sea otters play in the water, and sea lions on the rocks.
We decided to stop and go down into the sea cave along the Oregon coast where the Stellar sea lions winter over. The boys were excited to take the elevator down to this cave that is said to be one of the largest sea caves in the world, twelve stories high.
There were no sea lions in the cave at this time of year but pretty soon they will all be back inside after having time out at sea to bulk up for the winter. It was still a fascinating place and the boys were grateful we were willing to stop and pay the price of admission.
I could have made them go along with the original plan but it became clear that this was their experience on this trip. They had seen sea stars before and anemones were cool but they didn’t do too much to really observe. What they wanted was to watch the playful antics of the sea otters and sea lions and harbor seals.
Switching gears happened and by the time we reached Newport and the Oregon Coast Aquarium, they were primed to actually stop and read the signs and information on the displays for the marine mammals. We had printed out the aquarium guide ahead of time and this helped them to go on their own through the aquarium. This was a first for our family. The boys went on their own and my husband and I enjoyed the aquarium by ourselves.
We met three times during the day and each time they were full of things they wanted to talk about and to actually take us to see. The last hour was spent with the boys being the tour guide through the aquarium showing us their favorite things.
Number one on their list were the sea otters. They could have filled a whole research report with the observations they had made watching the sea otters play and be fed and then groom themselves. It was a big lesson for me. They obviously had spent quite a bit of time at the sea otter tank just watching and joyfully getting to know this wonderful creature.
I hope that you will learn from my experience. Nature study can become totally driven by the teacher and become a chore and a drill or it can be a source of excitement and joy as you explore and learn together.
“Some children are born naturalists, but even those who aren’t were born with natural curiosity about the world and should be encouraged to observe nature.”
Charlotte Mason, vol 2 page 58
“They get so used to reading about marvels of nature and never seeing it for themselves that nothing interests them. The way to cure this is to let them alone for awhile and then start something totally different. It’s not the children’s fault that nature bores them; they are naturally curious and eager to explore the world and everything in it. There’s a poem that says that the person who can best appreciate God is the one who is familiar with the natural world He made.”
Charlotte Mason, vol 2 page 6
Sometimes, despite all my efforts, my boys just are not as interested in nature study as I am. I can take them to the most fascinating places to explore and they just want to sit and talk or take a walk by themselves. The setting is perfect and the subjects abound but they are more interested in throwing rocks or digging a hole.
I can’t force them to be interested when this happens.
How have we learned to handle this? I allow them the space and time to experience nature on their own terms.
It may look like they are not taking much interest but later on when we are driving in the car or talking at the dinner table, they relate things that they noticed as they had a little freedom.
They learned a lot about the properties of bullwhip seaweed as they tried to use it to tie the driftwood together for this beach structure.
They experienced the redwood forest on their own terms as they searched out Big Foot beyond every bend in the trail.
On every beach they made circles in the sand. It became a tradition.
Nature study does not always go according to my plan. I have learned to keep my options open and let things happen as the day unfolds. Honestly, I learn more as well because they most likely will find something that I wouldn’t because they have their own eyes. My eyes see one thing and they see something completely different if I allow them the space and time to find what interests them in our nature study.
Just a word about nature study with older students.
Honestly, as my children are getting older, they are having to dig deeper to find something they are interested in learning about but the desire is still there. I am feeling the need to spend even more time with them outdoors as they reach their teen and teen+ years, stepping up the observations and learning.
They are becoming more confident in skills like using binoculars, using a field guide, knowing what plants grow in what environments, knowing what berries are edible, identifying birds by their flight patterns, making connections.
Last week we took our regular trip to the pond. Normally they get right to the business of scooping up water and critters and talking in excited voices about what they are finding. But this time I noticed a different atmosphere, a feeling of “we’ve been here and done that” sort of attitude. I had to quickly remind myself that this is their normal reaction anymore to just about everything. I think they are not interested in something because they don’t appear to be too excited on the outside. But later on in the day when they are talking to their dad, they relate a the whole experience in a different light. Apparently the outside of a teenager doesn’t accurately reflect the inside at all times.
So if you have older children and they appear to not be interested at first, don’t give up. It may be that they just aren’t showing it outwardly but inside the experiences are deeply affecting them. Don’t give up. I am not going to stop offering time outdoors with my boys.
Not all of our time will be nature study but just time to spend exploring together and sharing experiences. Our two favorite outdoor activities right now are bike riding and hiking. It sort of evens out the field in my opinion. They can lead me along and find things to show me and I can follow along and see what their eyes see. It is a great way to get to know your teens better.
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