Art, Beauty, Curriculum, Habit Formation, Nature Study, Philosophy
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Nature Study: An Integration of Disciplines by Deborah and HollyAnne Dobbins

“A love of Nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them, will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humour.” (Charlotte Mason; Home Education, vol.1, 71.)
At our Beauty of Nature Workshop last June we asked, “What disciplines are involved in Nature Study?”  Many people think Nature Study is science while others may think that Nature Study is primarily art. We have discovered that Nature Study integrates much more. Here are a few of the topics that attendees mentioned during our brainstorming session:

Scripture verses offer the ancient history of certain specimens. “[Solomon] described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish.” (1Kings 4:33) More significantly, Scripture glorifies the Creator for His creation. It points directly to the primary purpose of Nature Study, God’s glory.

During observation we give students one minute to focus on their specimen. During this time they keep their eyes on the details of color, size, and shape. At the end of the minute they share with fellow classmates what they have observed. Classmates use the habit of attention by listening intently to one another.

Students have opportunities to narrate to parents and classmates by explaining procedures used during observation time, dry brush technique, and details of their specimens.

Math skills are used during observation as students count particular details such as the number of buds on each cluster of their specimens. Some students use geometry by looking at patterns. Students notice symmetry on leaves.

Students use their best handwriting in their sketchbooks as they record the common and scientific names of their specimens, the date, notes, and their initials. All information should be spelled correctly.

A child’s early foundation for science is established through Nature Study. Students are exposed to plant identification. Students discover through observation. Students appreciate God as Creator by each unique aspect of their specimens.

Students are exposed to Latin from a young age as they write the scientific name of each specimen in their nature study books. The English translation of the Latin name can also provide insights into the origin, qualities, or related species of the specimen.

Literature/ Poetry
Excerpts from literature and poetry widen a student’s knowledge and appreciation of a specimen. For example, folklore offers old time uses for various plants, elements, and animals. Dandelions were once used to make tea and are still frequently included in salads. Poetry personifies nature and offers insights to the moods and characteristics associated with specimens. William Wordsworth wrote a poem, “Daffodils,” that captures the joy and beauty of these bright flowers.

Students learn to be comfortable working with watercolors and using the dry brush technique. They learn to handle a paintbrush and take care of the bristles so that they hold a point and can be used to capture tiny details. An essential element is mixing colors that match the specimen. Just the right amount of water must be mixed with the paint so that it is neither runny nor sticky.

Hand-Eye Coordination
Nature Study requires great attention to detail from the beginning of observation through the last brushstroke of painting. Looking at the details, discussing them, and painting use multiple areas of the brain and cause the student to think and process information not only in words but also through several of the senses and through the use of fine motor skills.
The book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards has been recommended as an interesting study of teaching, psychology, and art. Pondering the hand-eye coordination made us wonder what implications Edwards’ insights could have for Nature Study. HollyAnne will be reading this book in the coming months and will “report” back later this fall with her findings!
While our time was limited to ponder the plethora of possibilities that exist when children are engaged in Nature Study, we would love to have your additional feedback. Please continue this dialogue with us by posting your comments to this article. We look forward to seeing you at one of our Nature Study workshops at the conference this June.

©2010 Deborah and HollyAnne Dobbins
Deborah and HollyAnne Dobbins teach 1st and 2nd grade Friday Enrichment Nature Study classes at Perimeter Christian School in Duluth, GA

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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.

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