Growing up in the south with the humidity, the heat, and the snakes, I have never been quite sure about nature study. It wasn’t until I met my good friend and nature study expert, Cindy West, that I saw just how beneficial it could be for me and my kids. She has joined me today to discuss how to make nature study the heart of your science curriculum, especially for elementary students. (She has some tips for older students as well!)
Cindy West is a homeschool mom of three, who has a passion for teaching, and she has more than 20 years of experience under her belt. She writes about creative homeschooling on her blog, Our Journey Westward, and she is the author of a few books, including her Nature Explorer series. She teaches nature based science classes in the No Sweat Nature Study membership. She is also the host of the new, No Sweat Nature Study Podcast.
Nature Study In Your Homeschool
Let’s start with answering the question, “What is nature study and how is it different than a formal science curriculum?”
Nature as a setting is science. When you think of a formal nature study curriculum, you tend to think of a textbook, maybe something along the lines of a thematic study of the human body, chemistry or physical science. Nature study covers biology, which includes plants, animals, earth and space science. Water, rocks, the stars, the moon – it’s all nature and it’s all science.
Nature is your science lab. It’s a hands on way to learn life, earth and space sciences. It can be used as your formal science. It can also used it as a supplement to formal sciences. Depending on your homeschool style, nature study can be a fabulous way to get out of the house, breathe some fresh air and have the bonus of learning science. Conversely, it can be what you exclusively use as science curriculum.
Why Nature Study Is Perfect For Elementary Homeschool Science (and older learners too!)
We use many skills, inherent in nature study, that are also essential to learning science overall.
The Scientific Method
Observation and comparison are important components of the scientific method. In fact, your child can learn the entire scientific method in the course of nature study. A benefit is that in the practice of nature study, you really don’t have to work on them specifically or explain them in detail. It’s just part of what nature study is.
One of the things I love so much about using nature study as science, especially for elementary kids, is they can see, touch and feel so much of it.
So often, our approach to science is theoretical. We talk about these things that you can’t really touch and feel. Nature study works especially well for elementary because you can really touch and feel it.
Listen to the Podcast
Nature Study For Older Learners
Nature study can extend far beyond the elementary years.
For example, we are currently doing a botany study. We’re in a textbook and we are also out in the field experiencing what we’re reading in the textbook. Just like with any high school lab, we are experimenting and having the opportunity to touch, feel and know something.
It’s what a lab inherently is. This is what nature study offers, even in traditional high schools.
Let’s think about, on a practical level, what we’re studying in botany. We’re beginning to learn about cankers on trees. Cankers are a way the tree reacts to either a fungus, a bacteria, a different type of virus or even an injury.
We are definitely going to go and see what those are in real life. We’re going to observe closely. We’re going to compare and we’re going to see if we can figure out how did this happen? Do we see signs of other injury or other disease somewhere on this particular tree?
It’s amazing and let me add this – Our family did so much nature study through elementary and through middle school. I have found that my kids do not struggle with the upper level science (even things like chemistry), because we have experienced so much of science in real life on nature walks. It all transfers.
There’ve been many times that I’ve been able to say that we don’t have to do the experiment that the textbook is asking us to do because we’ve actually already done that multiple times over on nature walks. It’s interconnected in ways that are almost hard to imagine.
Watch on YouTube:
Resources For Nature Study In Your Homeschool
Cindy has a new podcast, dedicated to helping you make nature study part of your homeschool science.
Based on the premise of the Handbook of Nature Study, Cindy uses the text to teach you and your children a little bite-sized bits of information. Then, she issues a nature study challenge. Turn on the podcast on your way to a nature walk and bring along a nature notebook, and maybe some colored pencils,
You will have what you need to get started in nature study and in your homeschool science!