One of the cornerstones to a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool is the practice of Nature Study. Access to the outdoors is emphasized from the earliest age, with it being recommended that young children spend 4-6 hours outside a day, weather permitting! Most of the child’s time out of doors is expected to be spent in free play and exploration, but there is also wide importance placed on gentle instruction by a parent/teacher; we mine the wonders of the earth with our children, and teach them about God, ourselves, and the planet/universe in which we live.
As the children reach school age, a more intentional approach is taken toward what we call “Nature Study.” In our home this looks like one morning, one afternoon, or one day a week spent in focused contact with nature. We explore outside, collect, draw in journals, look up in manuals, or take mental notes to research on the computer when we get home.
While intentional, the approach is by no means formal. It’s much more of a “talk of it on the way” kind of deal. We discuss as we go along, enjoying ourselves; what we don’t know we look up later, and we learn. Mostly, we have a lot of fun. Breaking with our routine and adventuring in the vast outdoors is definitely my favorite part of school.
Ambleside Online, the free online curriculum which I (mostly) follow has a scheduled nature rotation, which, if observed, will expose the child to 15 nature and natural history topics over the course of 5 years, after which the rotation begins again. The idea is to spend each semester emphasizing a particular topic, though the depth of study is left up to each parent/child. I have found this rotation to be a good jumping off point. The 15 topics covered are: Birds, Mammals, Wildflowers/Flowerless Plants, Trees/Shrubs/Vines, Stars/Sky, Amphibians, Cultivated Crops, Insects, Weather/Climate, Reptiles, Brooks/Rivers/Oceans, Garden Flowers/Weeds, Invertebrates, Rocks/Minerals/Soil, and Fish.
When intentionally approached, Nature Study replaces textbook science in the early years, laying a foundation for all the higher sciences to come. By the time the child reaches the higher sciences of Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy, Physics, he or she will have a working familiarity with the natural world. This familiarity will ideally connect in their minds the higher concepts they will be learning with the rocks, frogs, plants and weather that in their childhood they studied with all five senses.
Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education centers primarily on relationships: relationships with books, relationships with ideas, relationships with our world, relationships with the great minds that have gone before. A child taught this way is learning to relate one thing to another, and to relate themselves to that thing. Ultimately, the child is learning to relate all things, including their own selves, to God. Nature Study forms a cornerstone for such an education; a relationship with nature feeds the mind, and it also feeds the soul.