Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Nature Study for Curious Preschoolers

Welcome back to 5 Days of Charlotte Mason Preschool.  Be sure to check out yesterday's introduction, Beginning a Charlotte Mason Preschool, if you missed it!

Today's topic is NATURE STUDY!

I never thought this would be one of my favorite activities, but we really look forward to our outdoor time and nature study.  Charlotte Mason emphatically stressed the importance of outdoor time for young children.  Outdoor time is a precursor to Nature Study at this age, which is the foundation for formal science studies later.  For preschoolers, Outdoor Time/Nature Study is about exploring and discovering the natural world around them, at their own pace, on their own terms.

"They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of the earth and heavens." ~ Charlotte Mason

To me, this means taking your child outside and allowing them ample free time to roam, run, smell flowers, splash in puddles, observe ants, watch the clouds, roll down hills, wade in the creek, catch fireflies, climb trees, or whatever their little heart desires.  You can answer questions (or teach them how to find the answer through observations), but try to let them explore on their own, and see just how much they take in!

Charlotte Mason believed in several hours of outdoor time every day.  I had to start slowly, but on a good day, we can spend a couple hours outside in the late morning/early afternoon, and on a great day we even get back outside in the evening.  Children are naturally curious, observant and interested in the world around them, and can easily fill their time with exciting adventures and wonderful discoveries!  If you present them with the opportunity, they will learn quite a bit on their own terms.  You do not need to design a science curriculum for them.  When their interest is piqued, go from there.

When my boys were playing in this "puddle" they discovered frogs!  We spent an hour listening to the frogs and watching them move through the water.  Over the next several weeks we observed the life cycle of frogs as tadpoles were born, and then we were able to discuss the water cycle as the water evaporated.

Ideas for Nature Study with Preschoolers

Start a Nature Journal:  Keep a simple nature notebook for leaf rubbings, bark rubbings, pressed flowers and drawings of anything that interests your preschooler.  Let it be a special place for your child.

Go Bird Watching:  Put up a few bird feeders, get a local field guide and learn to identify native birds.

Life Cycles:  Raise butterflies, tadpoles or ladybugs, or even keep an ant farm.  These are all interesting for preschoolers, and they love to observe natural changes.

Grow a Plant:  Let your preschooler help in the garden or allow them to grow a few special plants of their own. Watching something go from seed to plant is very rewarding.  My boys planted basil for me recently!  The Venus Fly Trap was another favorite!

Nature Walks:  Take a weekly walk through your favorite woods or by a stream or pond, and look for regular changes.  Take notice of the first flower bud in the spring, or when the leaves change in the fall.  Watch for animal tracks near the water.

Seasonal Walks:  Look for "Signs of . . . " each season, in a nature scavenger hunt style!

Sensory Walk:  Each walk, focus on one of your senses.  Just remember to have a safety talk about touching and tasting unfamiliar plants without an adult's approval.

Start a Nature Table:  Collect rocks, twigs, (empty) wasp nests, pine cones or other interesting finds.  Let your child arrange and sort them.  Draw them in your nature journal.  This is always an ongoing project!

Use Nature/Science Tools:  Tools and experiments shouldn't be the focus at this age, but they certainly add a sense of fun and adventure at this age.  Keep in mind that Charlotte Mason didn't want children ripping up flowers and plants needlessly, as it diminishes their respect for living things.  Occasionally pressing flowers or making spore prints can be fun though, so keep a few simple, but useful tools accessible for enhancing nature study.

For You! Don't be afraid to let your children just play and explore outside.  There is no need to force any learning; just encourage observations and they will start asking questions and making connections on their own.  If you need a resource for yourself, The Handbook of Nature Study is fantastic.  It will have a permanent place on my homeschool bookshelf.

Day 1 - Beginning a Charlotte Mason Preschool
Day 2 - Nature Study for Curious Preschoolers
Day 3 - Introducing Handicrafts to your Preschooler
Day 4 - Fine Arts for Preschoolers
Day 5 - Living Books for Preschoolers

Remember, there are so many other awesome series going on right now...so hop back on over and check out some more!

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  1. I really like your suggestions for the nature study. I like the idea of a nature journal with tree bark and leaf rubbings. I also like the idea of using one of your senses.

    1. I just try to offer activities I think will encourage my preschooler to make observations, but I am always willing to change gears when his interests change! The nature journals are a hit in our house.

  2. Great post! We love doing nature studies, though I've been slacking in that department since becoming pregnant. I hope to get back into it this fall after baby arrives. You have some great tips!

    1. I completely understand. I had a winter baby, so we didn't really get any nature study done for a few months, but now that she's older and it's comfortable outside we're back to exploring!