The benefits of nature study go well beyond simply laying a foundation for future scientific knowledge and research. There is little question that children (and adults) benefit greatly from spending more time in nature. However, putting the principles of nature study into practice as a homeschooler can be a bit daunting and, quite frankly, easy to put at the bottom of the to-do list in your homeschool curriculum.
In this post, I will share why you should consider making nature study an integral part of your homeschool and the benefits of nature study for you and your children.
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Benefits of Nature Study to Children
As your children gain more experience exploring nature, you will notice several benefits to their character.
The scope of how to do nature study is beyond this article’s topic, but even before you dive into organized nature studies, the early years of cultivating a love for the outdoors in your children will begin to reap numerous benefits.
Beyond the bonding that occurs between you and your children from spending time in the outdoors (which I consider to be one of the greatest benefits of being in nature with your kids), there are other character qualities that occur.
Nature Study Creates A Sense of Worship and Awe For Our Creator
As a Christian homeschooler, one of the major benefits of nature study is the sense of awe and wonder it creates in my children for their Creator.
As they become more and more acquainted with the details in nature that are required to keep the natural world in perfect order, the discussions about creation versus random evolutionary processes become more and more interesting.
Bobby Scott says in, When Children Love to Learn,
“Beautiful nature books are increasingly popular in the United States today, from the drawings of Marjean Baskin to Maryjo Koch. Part of the reason may be the increased effort of environmentalists to deify nature and preserve its beauty. As I see it, though our presuppositions and ultimate purpose for doing nature study may be different, contemporary nature books have been sources of inspiration and joy to my students in their research. It’s a shame that their delight in design is usually not transferred to the Designer, since most see the intricate features, beautiful colors, and interesting structures as only chance mutations or adaptations. Nevertheless, the increased interest in nature motivates us all the more to “consider the lilies” as worship of God the Creator.Bobby Scott, When Children Love To Learn
C.S. Lewis once said,
“Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one. I do not see how “fear” of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags. And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed.”C.S. Lewis
It is true that the resurged interest in nature study in the homeschool community isn’t always a motivation to worship God, but for our family, however, it is as Mr. Scott says, a motivation, “all the more to…worship“
Nature Study Cultivates A Love Of The Beautiful & Respect For Creation
Recently, I was struck by some things my children have said and done with regard to their observations of nature.
In the early days of homeschooling, I often felt I wasn’t doing enough when it came to nature study.
I didn’t teach them enough names of trees and birds.
I didn’t make them record in a nature notebook every day.
In fact, we didn’t even go outside every day, like Charlotte Mason said we should.
I surely must have been failing as a homeschool mom who wanted to cultivate the love of nature in my children.
But, I was wrong.
On a recent hike, my younger two childrens’ enthusiasm for the beauty of the flowers and birds was exuberant. They chattered on like a couple of chipmunks.
I remarked to them that I was thrilled that they were enjoying themselves so much more than they seemed to in the past, and my daughter remarked,
“Well, when I was younger I just didn’t understand what we were doing, but now I love to see so many beautiful things”
My oldest son often thanks me for taking them and often remarks at what a joy it is to observe the birds or fish or other curious creatures.
Nature Study Cultivates A Habit of Thoughtful Observation
If there is one habit that most people need to develop it is the habit of attention.
Charlotte Mason spends a great deal of time talking about cultivating the habit of attention in our children at an early age.
Nature study is certainly a tool that aids in this endeavor.
My husband and I are both trained in the medical field, and we own a small business.
We often talk to our oldest son about the importance of paying attention to details.
This is a quality sorely lacking in our culture today and something we always appreciate in our employees.
We want our children to be thoughtful and attentive to their work here in the home and when they leave the nest.
The careful study of the intricate details of a butterfly or the dissection of a flower to get a closer look at its parts encourages attention to details and strengthens those skills.
Recently, we marveled as our youngest son meticulously combed through every grain of dirt at a gem mine visit.
He took the same care later as he recorded the details of his gems in his nature notebook.
This skill is something all of my children are still developing, but as we continue to learn to slow down and carefully observe our surroundings, I am noticing dramatic improvements.
Nature Study Encourages Patience and Perseverance
Closely tied to learning to pay attention to detail are patience and perseverance.
Again, I relate this to the challenges my husband and I often face when seeking help in our business.
In our fast paced world of news headlines, talking points, and instant gratification, patience truly is a virtue.
If you want to study the way of the squirrel or notice worker bee collecting nectar for his queen, you must be patient.
You can not pounce. You must learn to sit quietly and observe for a time.
Of course, if you are a mom to toddlers, don’t fret. These skills take time. This life is a life of learning things by an by and practicing them over and over until they take hold. That is where the perseverance will come in.
Nature Study Produces a Keenness Of the Senses
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more” -John Burroughs
The training of the senses is necessary to be in nature any amount of time.
First, with regard to safety, we train the children to watch carefully where they place their feet on the trail.
We train them to watch carefully not to step in unseen holes or carelessly walk over craggy rock piles without first considering the existence of a rattler’s home in the crevices.
Secondly, when on the hunt for a particular bird song, you must practice silencing your speech and using your ears to discern the sounds.
A favorite exercise when my children were very young was to simply ask them to close their eyes (and mouths) and listen.
After a short time, I let them describe how many different things they heard that they otherwise would have missed if we didn’t take the time to slow down and listen.
Richard Louv says,
“Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity.”Richard Louv, The Last Child in the Woods
Nature Study Improves Initiative and Self Reliance
Along with improving the keenness of the senses, comes improved initiative and self reliance.
As a parent who battles the tendency to be a “helicopter parent”, nature study challenges me and offers a controlled opportunity for my children to become more aware of their surroundings.
It helps them develop the knowledge and skills necessary to meet any challenges they may encounter in nature.
I appreciate what Mr. Louv has to say about offering, “controlled risk” to your children.
He shares several ways in which he has devised outings that would allow his children the freedom to explore and encounter nature while still being close enough to encourage care while in the outdoors.
“As they grew, I tried to compensate for what was, at times, unfounded fear. I emphasized to them the importance of their experience in nature. I took them on hikes in the Cuyamaca mountain forests or the Anza-Borrego desert, and let them run ahead while I purposefully remained just at the edge of sight and sound. I put them deliberately in nature’s way.”Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods
Nature Study Stirs The Imagination
If you’ve ever read The Chronicles of Narnia, you know C.S. Lewis loved nature and surely spent a great deal of time in it as a child.
Anna Botsford Comstock says that nature study cultivates the child’s imagination because, “there are so many wonderful and true stories that he may read with his own eyes, which affect his imagination as much as does fairy lore.”
Spend an afternoon simply observing your children in play out of doors and you will not have any objection to the benefits of nature upon the imagination.
Nature Study Improves Mental and Physical Well Being
Numerous studies have revealed the tremendous health benefits of nature.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of Last Child in the Woods for a thorough treatment of this topic.
Mr. Louv goes to great lengths to share the tremendous amount of research that supports the development of more outdoor space in cities.
Charlotte Mason touched on the health benefits of the outdoors.
In the 19th century, the cities of England suffered from the same health ills common to inner cities in America today.
“Everyone knows that the breathing of air which has lost little of its due proportion of oxygen is the essential condition of vigorous life and of a fine physique;”Charlotte Mason, Home Education
Nature Study Encourages Neatness and Accuracy
The keeping of nature notebooks and lists encourages the habit of neatness and accuracy.
This benefit of nature study is always a work in progress for both teacher and children.
In the beginning, the notebooks may seem, to the parent, sloppy and unkempt.
However, as the years progress, the children often improve in their note keeping and records.
The eagerness to keep track of every bird year over year leads to an improvement in their neatness and in their desire to be accurate in their note taking.
Nature Study Helps Creates a Sense of Connection And Moral Responsibility
As you have seen by now, my desire for my children’s moral instruction stems from a Christian worldview.
While I do not desire for them to see nature as a deity or as something to be worshiped or placed above the value of human life, I do desire they understand that God has charged us with the duty of stewardship where nature is concerned.
Because nature study develops in the child a respect for the intricacies of life and a kinship with it’s creatures, it enables the children to be people who care for nature and who have sympathy for all living things.
What benefits of nature study do you hope to achieve for your family?
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