January 17, 2018

5 Reasons to Add Nature Study to Your Homeschool (Nature Study Series~ Part 1)

One of the most important subjects that I am teaching this year is Nature Study. I have found that by including Nature Study in my day or week, I can guarantee that things will go more smoothly. Nature Study is an "old fashioned" subject that used to be included in the classic "one-room schoolhouse" course list, but is missing from most classrooms today. There are many benefits of including it in your studies, so today I'm going to share my Five Reasons to Add Nature Study to Your Homeschool

1. Nature Study Takes the Focus Away From You

       Let's not kid ourselves. 90% (or more!) of our day is focused on US. What will we wear? What will we eat? What will we do? We get busy in our lives and it's very easy to create BUSYNESS for our children. Know that phrase: Stop and smell the roses? Well there is definitely something to that. Taking time to stop and smell the roses--to stop and explore the world around us--can help reset our focus in life. As soon as you really stop and look at
nature, you learn that there is more to this world than us--human beings. Studying nature also reveals how frail and delicate our world is. Studying ecosystems reveals the balance there is in nature, and how if one thing changes--the balance can tip. A few changes to the world around us and creation--nature--comes crashing down. Studying nature allows discussions about this with your students. Discussions about the purpose for each living thing--whether plant, animal, or mineral. The importance and responsibility we have to care for the world around us. Our worldview becomes larger when we let the study of nature in--and we as individual people become smaller. For the study of nature reveals how minute and tiny we as people are in the grand scheme of things. And if we are honest, it's good for us all to remember that now and then. Thus it's good for our children to learn this as well. It will help them long term if you teach this now!

     Spending time studying nature refocuses my children. It gets them beyond whatever is bothering them. It doesn't matter whether they are studying birds, digging for worms, or exploring the creek--studying nature lets them focus on things OUTSIDE of themselves. And when they may be dealing with bad attitudes, studying nature actually helps the "get over" themselves. LOL.

2. Nature Study Allows Us to See Science and Math in Action

Let them experience the plant growth cycle with a garden
     We can teach children about insects, biology, astronomy, physics, physical science, penguins, photosynthesis, metamorphosis, moss, gravity, and all the other science themes. We can use books, and do some assignments. And they will learn it. BUT--if you get them outside where they can explore the world with their eyes, ears, hands, nose, and tongue (taste a snowflake!), they will absorb it! Experience is the best teacher--we know that is the truth and it applies to this. Seeing science IN ACTION will do far more than any lecture. When they can watch caterpillars go through metamorphosis and end in a butterfly release, it will mean so much more to them!

     When they take different objects from nature and drop them from a bridge into water, how more more real a study of gravity becomes! Learning about root systems? Go pull up grass, flowers, moss, vegetables, trees---and SEE AND TOUCH the differences. If you can't get outside, bring nature in! Do ant farms, butterfly gardens, windowsill vegetable gardens, rock collections, leaf rubbings. Don't have access to nature? Hit up Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube! BBC has thousands of quality nature documentaries that will get your children more involved. I highly recommend the Blue Planet and Planet Earth as documentaries to add to your nature studies. Nothing will take the place of being out IN nature, but you can still make it come alive for them!
Seed pod collection can provide great counting and pattern exploration
     And let's not forget math in nature! Patterns, shapes, weights, sizes, dimension, sequences, fractions, counting, Fibonacci sequences...there are so many math lessons that can be found in nature! Especially for the early elementary years!

3. Nature Study Encourages Creativity and Exploration

     Rarely do I see my children study any subject as eagerly or with as much excitement, as they do nature study. When I say "time for Nature Study", they are running for the door and grabbing their coats. Children LOVE to explore. It's in their DNA to be curious--and the world we live in offers endless ways to satisfy and fuel that curiosity. My boys LOVE bringing back nature treasures to explore more fully. Usually they come back already with questions they want answered about the things they found. Why is this rock soft? Why does this bug have hairy legs? What is this dust on the leaf? What kind of flower is this? They LOVE learning about their treasures, especially if it provides cool facts or fun "rabbit trails". Rabbit trails are our favorite. When we get sidetracked and start exploring some other part of our initial exploration. And THOSE studies usually provide the most excitement and interest.
Nature Study
Exploring the creatures and rocks in the creek
Finding a snail let to some GREAT rabbit trails 
Finding tiny crabs led to full exploration of a tidepool ecosystem
     Nature study encourages cross discipline exploration. What do I mean by that? Well, say you want to learn more about ants. So you start a basic study on ants and their characteristics. This leads you go geography where you learn about where they can be found around the world. This may lead you to a cultural study of a tribe in the jungle that uses the ants for some purpose. Which then leads you to a study of the people in the area. Which then may lead you to literature and folk tales relating to the culture. Which may teach lessons on characteristics of ants. Which leads you back to ants. In any one exploration on a part of nature--you could dive into biology, math, literature, geography, history, and art! We've experienced this in our own family and there are actually curriculums out there which do this on purpose! (My Father's World, Unit Studies) and you can see where we took our exploration of a rainforest to many different areas in my post on a Rainforest Unit Study...and that all got started because of a frog one of my boys found!

     And creativity--nowhere do we see art in more abundance than within the natural world. Think of the perfect symmetry of snowflakes. The art patterns on butterfly wings. The color variations in the bird and plant life. The songs of the creatures of the sea. The mother of pearl luster on the inside of seashells. And let's not forget the visual masterpieces of the sunrise and sunsets. Nature fuels the imagination and the creative genius within!

4. Nature Study Teaches About God


     As a Christian, I find it impossible to NOT think about God when I am out in nature. Everything about nature declares God's glory and majesty. Every part of creation was designed so intricately, so perfectly---it SCREAMS an Intelligent Designer, not a random explosion which magically made every piece in the universe come together in perfect harmony and unity. Think about the intricacies of a butterfly wing. The uniqueness of each snowflake. The complicated reproductive system of a male humpback whale (seriously. How this works is mind boggling and impossible for evolutionary theory to occur to make it happen). The construction of a sea urchin. The more you explore nature the more mysteries arise. So much that science just cannot explain!

     Nature also shows how much God loves uniqueness and variance in design. Also how much He clearly loves color. And yes, that He must have a sense of humor--just watch videos on the deep sea creatures or watch the mating routines of many tropical wildlife. The things that bring us pleasure and happiness and laughter from creation CLEARLY bring God happiness and pleasure and laughter. We were made in God's image!

     Nature also helps explain the relationship between God and man. Scripture uses nature as analogies soooo many times! The visualization of the words help us understand more what God has planned for us.

So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? ~Matthew 6:28-30

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"  ~Matthew 23:37

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps. ~ Psalm 40:2

And don't forget entire chapters of Job talk about creation and the mysteries within it! Do a search one day about how many animals and plants are in the Bible! It's a staggering number!

Creation reveals attributes of God to us. Helping us to learn more about Him. It is only right that we spend time in creation with our children.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse... ~ Romans 1:20

5. Nature Study is just enjoyable.


When it comes down to it, nature study is just an enjoyable thing to do. I love the time just as much as my children do. I LOVE exploring the flora and fauna wherever I am and learning more about it. My boys and I have nature journals to record our findings. This allows us to note the things that caught our attention, or to write down the facts we learned.

When our school day is going rough, I always try to work in nature study before our day can get out of hand. It's amazing how much of a reset nature study is. It doesn't matter the season--winter, spring, summer, or fall--there is always nature study to be done. Of course I obviously PREFER the ones that happen NOT in winter. LOL. But one winter I remember we discovered a toad frozen in our creek which was pretty cool. And of course, there is a lot of fun exploring snow and ice! And don't forget paw prints. And birds for the bird feeder. So many things.

In summary, Nature Study helps us see beyond ourselves, provides us examples of science and math in real life, encourages creativity and exploration, gives us a chance to learn more about God, and brings joy to our lives. These are only a few benefits of nature study, but I hope that they are enough to encourage you to consider adding nature study to your classroom course work.

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This concludes the first of my posts in my Nature Study series. I hope you will join me next time when I share some of my most favorite Nature Study resource books I have in my library (and get entered to win my upcoming GIVEAWAY! :) )
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