Nature Study
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Nature Study: Developing the Habit of Observation by Deborah and HollyAnne Dobbins

Welcome to our first Blog! This is an exciting opportunity to apply thoughts from the writings of Charlotte Mason to our technology today. In this article we will focus on the aspect of observation in nature study. My daughter, HollyAnne, and I teach nature study classes to the first and second grade classes at Perimeter School. After devotion, we begin each class with a nature walk if the specimen is on campus, then a time of observation and sharing. A first grade teacher commented that she has noticed her class observes nature more and more carefully. Recently one of our Enrichment Day dads made this comment, “I can’t draw anything, but by studying nature I found I could paint flowers that actually look real!” HollyAnne says that the most important minute of the hour is observation.

My assignment is to find what Charlotte Mason says about observation in her writings. I began by reading in Home Education, Volume 1 from the chapter titled “Out-of-Door life for the Children.” Charlotte Mason says that she trains the powers of observation and expression by sending children on an exploring expedition. Children are sent out to see who can see and tell the most about yonder hillock or brook, hedge or copse which is an exercise that delights children. By degrees the children will learn discriminatingly every feature of the landscapes with which they are familiar. She says that scenes must be fully seen to be remembered. In our classes children and parents spend a full minute observing the specimen then share their observations with the class. For that minute, they are not allowed to let their eyes wander but must see “fully and in detail.” When students share from their observations, it is important that all classmates and adults engage in the art of listening. Charlotte Mason says that “all this is stale knowledge to older people, but one of the secrets of the educator is to present nothing as stale knowledge, but to put himself in the position of the child, and wonder and admire with him; for every common miracle which the child sees with his own eyes makes of him for the moment another Newton.”

In our classes, the Enrichment Day parents participate in observation and sharing along with the students. For every nature study specimen, HollyAnne and I have shared our own observations with one another prior to class. We are all nature study learners in every aspect. An Enrichment Day mom said, “Attending nature study is a great experience for parents because it gives us an opportunity to slow down and look closely at the details of God’s creation.” We believe that a true nature study begins with keen observation skills then follows with the opportunity to paint with watercolors in the sketchbook.

Greetings! HollyAnne here! I want to share some examples of things that our nature study students and their parents have shared with us this year.

Parents (ponderings on observation):

“As a result of his nature studies at PCS, my son has become much more observant of God’s creation outside the classroom. Many PCS parents agree that their children tend to notice nature and appreciate it more than they used to.” ~Mrs.Crawford

“As a busy parent of four children, I seldom have time to sit quietly for anything, much less to paint the details of nature. This is a very relaxing, enjoyable experience and makes me wish I had time to take up painting. I love it!” ~Mrs. Dimock

“Today was my first ever nature study. I was so impressed with the detail and thought the children put into attempting to reproduce part of God’s creation. It really requires them to pause and observe the beautiful art of our Father!” ~ Mrs. Thornton

Students (observations from class):

“It’s like the sky was crying brown on it.” ~Trace, on brown spots on a Red Maple leaf

“It’s got a bud that’s almost opening, and if you look close you can see a stamen that’s almost out.” ~Rebecca, on Okame Cherry Blossoms

“It smells like cherries!” ~Jared, on Okame Cherry Blossoms

“I noticed on these things [stamen] that all of them are green except for one.” ~Henry, on Okame Cherry Blossoms

“I was looking at the little petal, and I noticed there are some dark pink lines on it.” ~Gracie, on Okame Cherry Blossoms

“The petals fall off easily!” ~Hailey, on Okame Cherry Blossoms

“I noticed on the tips where the pollen is there are a lot of brown spots.” ~Megan, on Okame Cherry Blossoms

“The bud looks like there’s skin on it.” ~Lauren, on Camellias

“Right here it sort of looks like a bud, and this leaf is curled up. There are three small holes in it.” ~Charlie, on Camellias

“On my flower bud it looks like there’s a little bit of silver. And on the leaves there is a little yellow strip.” ~Anna, on Camellias

There are zig-zags on the ends of my leaf.” ~Amanda, on Camellias

“When I was trying to smell this, it smells bad; but when I was touching the bottom, it feels good.” ~Kristine, on Camellias

“It’s soft, like a pillow and a blanket.” ~Kristine, on Dandelions

“I was looking at my flowers, and I noticed that every one is different.” ~Kaitlin, on Dandelions

“It has some fuzzy stuff on it. Wanna see it?” ~Caroline, on Dandelions

“In the middle it’s got little dots where the pollen is.” ~Alexa, on Dandelions

“The edges aren’t flat.” ~Andrew, on Lilies

“These [the stamen] are very pollen-y.” ~Henry, on Lilies

“These [the stamen] look like cattails.” ~Gracie, on Lilies

“Part of the pollen has gone on the stigma.” ~Caleb, on Lilies

“There are lots of colors. Green, white, brown, yellow, and pink. That’s five!” ~Trace, on Lilies

“This one looks like it’s about to bud, and this one looks like it’s still working on it.” ~Rachel, on Lilies

As I am sure you have noticed, Mom and I are very passionate about nature study. We believe it to be an incredibly valuable tool in teaching children to see, study, learn, and appreciate. I love watching the eyes of our students twinkle with delight with each new discovery in class. I am constantly amazed at the details they notice and the comparisons they make. Their comparisons tend to be very accurate, might I add.
Something I have learned from them is that everyone sees things differently. When we study flowers, some of the children are enamored with the soft petals; others are fascinated with the details of the stigma and stamen. Each specimen and each student is unique, as is the way each student observes the specimens. This uniqueness adds to the joy of discovery, the joy of nature study, and the joy of learning.
Have fun with your next nature study. Remember, even if you do not have time to sit down and do a full painting, just taking the time to observe a specimen, even the common dandelion, offers a wealth of learning, joy, and experience!

This entry was posted in: Nature Study


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. Deborah and Holly Anne, I enjoyed meeting you both at the Charlotte Mason Conference. Thank you for taking the time to demonstrate the nature study at the Greenway. Due to presiding duties, I could not make your break-out sessions so I am so thankful you were there Friday night.

    Blessings to you both as you enjoy more time in God’s beautiful creation over the summer!

  2. Deborah and HollyAnne,
    Thanks so much for your breakout session at the Childlight USA CM conference. This was the workshop I’d been excited about since I registered online months ago, and it was all I’d hoped for.
    After a 2 day drive home to Canada and an attempt to catch up on sleep on Sunday night, one of the first things I did with my children on Monday was to do a Nature Study lesson with the pansies we have in our front yard – this was a phenomenal experience for us.
    I’m so proud of my children’s first dry-brush efforts, and they are very pleased that I came home with such a wonderful gift to share with them!
    Thank you also for sharing your liturgical dance and telling us about the challenge your family is facing right now. Your vulnerability adds to your trustworthiness.
    Blessings to you and your family,

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