“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2 NIV).
Why is it that the majesty of creation can bring the hardest human heart to a point of surrender and worship before the Lord? Is there a reason, with all the wisdom of eternity, that the Lord chose to teach Adam and Eve while walking and talking with them in a garden of unfathomable loveliness? He could have mentored them in an infinite number of ways, but He chose physical activity in a natural setting. Romans 1:20 states that the natural things speak of the invisible qualities of God. If this is true, then we miss a bounty when we neglect the study nature of in our homeschools.
Nineteenth century English educator Charlotte Mason understood the value of an outdoor education. By using her simple methods of combining language arts, science, physical education, and art into a relaxed form of teaching and discipleship, we step into a form of education that is as old as mankind.
It is so natural that most children on a nature play date these days are completely unaware they are having a school day. It is possible that a few long lazy days catching lizards and toads, climbing trees, collecting bugs, and hiding in tall grasses may teach your child more about the creative, loving nature of our God than a whole month of digesting textbooks.
A great day of learning takes place, with ittle preparation from Mom, when a wide open afternoon or a whole day is available for a journey into nature. Call some friends, both yours and your child’s, and head out together to explore God’s classroom.
One group of Bay Area moms that meets regularly for outdoor learning has scavenger hunts for specific plants, animal tracks, and objects known to be found in the area of that day’s gathering. The moms find their “resting place” and send the kids off to hunt. This group often has adventures during which each child finds something of interest to share, brings it back to the group, and describes, in as much detail as possible, the sight, sound, feel, smell and, possibly, taste of a particular treasure.
Charlotte Mason called this narration. Sharpening observation, vocabulary, public speaking, and listening skills, polishing of manners, all while building a close group dynamic, are just a few benefits to this style of learning.
Another possibility, for you and your child, involves returning to a favorite site, such as an orchard, creek, or vernal pond, once each month for a year. This will give your child a great understanding and record of the changes in wildlife, water levels, leaves, birds and flowers that the change of each season brings. Even better, the memories you make together, walking, talking, and learning, result in these locations becoming unforgettable favorites of childhood.
Whether visiting desert, mountains, beaches, or farmland, sketchbooks are the main component for the art portion of the day. After a good, long time of free exploration, play, and show and tell, these books are unpacked and the drawing begins. The great thing about this type of art is that there is no particular skill or talent required. Anyone can do this.
Ask your child to simply draw what is seen, without your input, direction, or criticism. By giving this freedom, your child learns the simple pleasure of recording perceptions for personal enjoyment, and is free to see, in great detail, the object of attention.
For example, is the stem of a flower thin or fat? Are the leaves side by side on the stem or staggered? Are there any leaves at all on the stem? What about the petals? Is there a single row, double row or multiple layers of petals? How is this flower different from other types she has seen today? How are they similar? How many colors are in this flower?
At some point, you may suggest that the flower be pulled apart for a close examination of the individual parts. All of this, and so much more, can be discussed and recorded in a nature notebook, and then you may continue the learning at home with online or library resources.
Aside from sketchbooks, you don’t need much in the way of supplies. Even a young child can carry a small backpack containing notebook, pencils, snack or lunch, and water bottle. A field guide or trail guide can be a nice addition.
Some families enjoy watercolors in the field, a much easier proposition than you might expect. Pack watercolor paper along with the paints, brushes, water, and a cup for rinsing brushes in zip-top bags. You may be surprised at how productive kids will be when you give them the right equipment. It is even possible that you will find yourself enjoying this peaceful activity.
Often it is the sight of a mother busily drawing in her nature notebook, and the sound of her praises to God for what He has made that is the final inspiration for a reluctant, or, in some cases, exceptionally wiggly young artist.
Now is also the time for setting down thoughts in the notebook: where you are, what can be seen, general impressions, and detailed descriptions are all wonderful to have. Occasionally, your child’s thoughts might be captured with a handheld tape recorder, and written directly into nature notebooks or onto paper to be pasted into sketchbooks at home.
Typing or cursive practice may factor into these projects, and printed copies of narrations can be used for copywork. One of the finest results of this type of education is what you end up with when your child is grown: a sweet collection of thoughts, drawings, funny stories and memories of your homeschool years with your child.
Later, when the day is done, and you head back home for the evening, don’t be surprised if your child begins to talk. Descriptions of the setting, the trees, flowers, birds, rocks will be in exquisite detail.
Over dinner, there will be eager talk and Daddy will hear everything seen, heard, and felt that afternoon, opening up a wide window for discussing the wonders and creative majesty of our Heavenly Father. Bedtime is filled with scripture and song, heartfelt thanks to the Lord, and a deeper appreciation for the kindness of God to his people.
When my boys were young, we looked forward with eager hearts to our Thursday afternoon out in nature with another family. By Thursday, we were often tired, cranky, and ready for a romp outdoors.
The children climbed trees, flailed sticks, wallowed in mud puddles, and made a lot of noise, while we moms walked and talked, enjoying one another’s company. After awhile, with the tender fellowship of the day settling upon us, exploration, observation, narration, and the recording of thoughts and images flowing freely brought a sense of gratitude to each heart in our little group.
The study of the natural world draws the heart of the believer close to the Father, builds relationship with your child, and leaves a whimsical record of your homeschool years. If this is what you want, you can make it happen.
Put it on your calendar, partner with another family, commit to a three month, once-a-week trial, and see if it does not improve your relationships with God, and with the other members of your household. From Genesis to Psalms and onto Revelation, our Heavenly Father calls to His children to know His love for us through the beauty of what He has made.