Nature study has been one of the most enjoyable things we’ve done as a family. It has offered multiple benefits including fostering quality family time, honing observation skills, studying nature in the real world, allowing social time for myself and the kids, giving us opportunities to make connections with science. We believe that getting out in nature and letting our children experience firsthand the beauty of God’s creation is essential to a Charlotte Mason education.
If you are interested in creating a nature group, here are the details for getting started.
Group Size: We recommend keeping the group small (5 or so families, or 20ish children) because it is easier to get to know the people in your group. You can always multiply a very large group.
Cost: Most communities do not want to pay to join a nature group. In groups like these, each family is responsible for their own materials.
Materials: You can do nature study without materials, just a walk to enjoy the things around you. Recording things you see is a great way to look back on the things you’ve seen and the adventures you’ve experienced. This can be done with a camera, a journal, a sketchbook, pens, pencils, watercolors, pastels, etc. The artistic options are numerous. Make sure to always bring water bottles for every member of your family. Sunscreen and bug spray are often helpful.
Time Frame: We completed our nature studies from Sept to Nov and from Mar to Jun, meeting once every two weeks in local parks, arboretums, teaching gardens, nature centers, or hiking trails. A nature group can be as simple as meeting once a month for a 30-minute nature walk or as elaborate as a small co-op that meets weekly where parents use each other’s resources to teach lessons in addition to nature study.
How To: Each small group runs separately. The parents in each group decide how they want the group to be set up and how often they will meet. Here are a few suggestions for a simple nature group schedule:
For the Leader: Research local areas that would be good locations for nature study. Choose enough for a semester and schedule it. Don’t be afraid of the rain (unless it comes with a lightning storm). Some suggestions include city parks, state parks, national parks, zoos, aquariums, arboretums, nature centers, teaching gardens, botanical gardens, neighbors’ gardens, ponds, lakes, oceans, streams and rivers, different terrains such as hills and mountains, plains or plateaus, etc.
- Introduce yourself and anyone new to the group.
- Layout your expectations for the walk – boundaries help others stay safe. Some suggestions are, stay on the trail, watch out for poison ivy, stay within view of adults, leave things as you found them, don’t kill the living things, even if they scare you, run from rattlesnakes, keep others safe, don’t fall in the water, whatever works for your group.
- Let everyone know what to expect after the walk. Some groups bring picnic blankets to spread out after a long hike, eat together and journal in their nature notebooks. They also have opportunities to narrate what they saw and even present what they draw/write in their notebooks.
- Make sure everyone has water and has used the restroom, if available.
- Set out for your walk, taking time to really study things around you. Some sit and draw what they observe on the walk; others like to explore or even pretend they are having a fantastic adventure. Enjoy what the different families like to do on their walk.
- Have fun!!