My Ugly Neighborhood, or Nature Study 101

It’s funny that a mom in our group asked ME this week about nature studies! It’s my weakness, but  maybe because of that, I took action, and in just a month I’m enjoying a qualitative change because I listened to Pam (thank you friend!), she tells us to start SMALL. Truly small. So here I’m offering you just a few basics of how to approach this, difficult for many, but so rewarding aspect of a Charlotte Mason education.

First of all I hope you want to incorporate this because you understand its value. It’s not just a fade nor something enjoyed by a few ‘natural’ ones. For so long I thought it was a good excuse that we are not near an amazing natural park, or that we don’t live in a farm or exotic land, nor even by a decent forest area. To realize the importance of this, it’s recommended that you read, if not all the original work of Charlotte Mason where she writes about nature study, some highlights of why this is so key. Several bloggers like Pam have lots of her quotes in their nature posts, and they can help you understand the why of this, that will help you to gain conviction and it will inspire you to make a feasible plan. I was lucky enough to translate two lessons on this that had summaries of Charlotte Mason’s original writings on nature walks and studies, journals and nature tables, so this year I WAS COMPLETELY SOLD on the idea of getting better at this.

Before you think about HOW YOUR CHILDREN ARE GOING TO DO THIS, do it yourself. And when you think about inspiration, do not pair it with the word automatic. Their motivation or interest can be as slow as yours (though I doubt this, for children are born naturalists, we are the guilty part who don’t give them the space and opportunity to observe). But don’t get the whip out either, I’m sure you have turned a nice mom who wants her children to do better than her if it’s the case you are not that great nature connoisseur.

Short term goals:

Set realistic goals about time and place. I’m not going to make it more than once a week, and if it has to be that I need to get in the car to do the walk and study after, FORGET IT! So I said that Monday it will be our nature readings from Ambleside, and that we’ll go that day and JUST AROUND THE UGLY HOOD. If it doesn’t happen Monday, we have the rest of the week to decide on a night short walk, or a morning short walk… you get the picture.

On some occasions, maybe once a month, try to take pictures. Her husband and mine think we look funny, like tourists snapping pics at our walks. But when I’m interested on knowing what something is, it helps to have a picture of it, although it’s not absolutely necessary you come back with Natural Geographic pictures every time either.

I always thought our neighborhood was simply ugly. In the mornings, sometimes I walk alone and I’m thinking, can this be a nature walk? I’m wearing runners, a hand me down t-shirt, and sweat pants, I’m almost alone, I see mainly cars, and I’m for sure such a dumb ol’lady that can just tell a pine from a palm tree… But then I started to recall on some birds, listen to them, I spotted cotton tail rabbits in an opening behind the houses, I looked at some flowers and started identifying them.

Then last Tuesday the unexpected happened. We did not walk on Monday, so we went with my husband on Tuesday evening for our walk, I call it nature walk, ha! We saw and heard much more. I have the pics piled up waiting to delve more and find out the names of things we don’t know yet what they are. I was absorbed in my listening, watching, feeling… My youngest and I heard a noise, looked in the tree, and saw a cicada, beautifully still.

My neighborhood is not ugly after all. And you know what. It’s within a step’s reach, and we’ll be able to see the changes, mostly in the cars and houses 🙂 but in the little bit of surrounding nature too!

I’m also reading some chapters of Anna B. Comstock book, and I’m very proud of what I’m learning, so much I’m narrating it to my husband when he comes from work!

Anything, for small than it is, is a step into nature study. When your children spot a simple spider at home, or when in the car you see as we did yesterday two beautiful butterflies (I believe Tiger butterflies), flying together so close to us.

Long term goals:

You don’t have to spend to do nature walks and studies. But in time, it’s nice to have some books in your library. Think about library sales and used books stores to buy books on nature, field guides and anything that may help you. Do also think about beautiful books about flora and fauna of your region as presents for special occasions, not only for your children, but for you. Use the library too. Set up a small but consistent goal of reading Ann Comstock chapters on what interests you or if you follow AO the suggested chapters, or make some reading time for some short nature reading. It will surprise you how much more interesting you’ll become to everyone around!

As for equipment, the same. Binoculars, magnifying glass, insect boxes, nets, waterpaints and paper for the journals, all those are nice. But you already have, I’m quite sure, a camera, google, the Comstock book I mentioned, maybe color pencils, and the DESIRE TO OBSERVE, LEARN, and have regular natures studies at your home. With that, the rest starts coming to place at its right time.


8 thoughts on “My Ugly Neighborhood, or Nature Study 101”

  1. Just perfect. You really need to get a hold of “Nature in the Neighborhood” by Gordon Morrison, I think you would enjoy it.

    We have Mondays scheduled for Nature Journal and honestly through out the year what goes in the journal are things in our backyard and neighborhood, then we look them up in Comstock's book, field guides or we google.

    I do see that this constant attempt to train the kids in observation and attention gives them such a greater appreciation for the natural world. They love our trail hikes now, our neighborhood walks are just so different now then when we started a year ago and they have learned to be quiet grateful observers.

    Keep it up, there's so much to see 🙂


  2. Pam… that's a done deal, now, we may have to wait maaaany years for that with dentures, ha!

    Pam and Grace, I'm exhilarating to have you as my friends. The way you describe it, Pam, is so right and funny too: The day when Silvia's heart opened up toward nature study and found it not to be so bad.

    I'm glad I moved you Pam closer to Comstock, yes, it's not a simple guide, it's like chatting with a close friend that has soooo many stories and passion about soooo many things!

    Grace, you are very right. It's just a small thing. Just a walk every week, and it opens up the children to a whole world, and develops that IMMENSELY NEEDED trait of observation and the habit of attention. Priceless.


  3. Silvia, nature study is our Achilles heel. In our early years, I tried to incorporate it into our studies, but the girls were not interested in the sketchbooks and colored pencils I brought along; they just wanted to hike! With our backyard birding and other very minor things, I feel like they are learning, but it lacks the depth that CM would have preferred, indeed found essential. And that's where I need help. Excellent post!


  4. Just a small suggestion… don't buy too many books just yet. And don't worry about the names of everything. Just enjoy. Just breathe. Just appreciate. I've read several books about nature for kids, but it's really the time out there, outdoors, that matters. It isn't even the journaling, the naming or any other thing, just being outside and letting the kids observe and myself breathe.

    I love this post. In looking you found that your neighborhood isn't so ugly after all.:)


  5. Your experiences remind me of one of my favourite books “Pocketful of Pinecones”by Karen Andreola. Her fictional story tells of the new homeschool family's nature study in their “ugly” neighborhood. May you and your children enjoy your new-found liberty!


  6. I have times when we're great with nature studies and times when we slack. But even when we don't “officially” do nature study, we've incorporated it into our days enough that we snatch tidbits of nature study as we go. 🙂
    I found you from Barb's blog in the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival.


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