Preschool Nature Study: A Beginning in Wonder, by Briana Elizabeth

My very first memory is of sitting on my nana’s lawn in a sea of white and purple violets. I was mesmerized by how all of the purple splotches on the white faces were different on each and every violet. I would pick bouquets of them by the fistful, carefully layering the leaves around the outside. I still love violets and when I see them in my lawn, I dig them up and replant them, tucking them into places where they are a bright and happy face in dappled shade.

Sometimes I would find Red Efts crawling around the leaves where the woods joined her lawn, and I’d crawl after them on all fours, amazed that their tiny little fingers could carry them so far.

I turned over every rock in her flower garden looking for Eastern Red-backed Salamanders, and if I was particularly lucky, I would find a fat, shiny Yellow-Spotted Salamander. 

Nana had bird feeders all around the house, placed so we could watch the birds eat as we sat, and she knew the names of all of them and their songs. She knew who were mates and who was building a nest. I often would find bright blue robin’s eggs cracked on the ground, telling me another brood had been hatched.

I spent my days playing outside while she read or cooked, and she would answer my questions or name things for me when I brought them to her, from nuts to leaves.

 

Today I’m an avid organic gardener who loves her flower gardens, hatching mantis sacs, and watching the butterflies. We sat on my mother’s deck the other day and listened while the hummingbirds that frequent her yard had wars, dashing, darting, and chirping at each other through it all. My children sat too, amazed that those small little birds were so willing to be that close to us.

The wonder that I still carry with me, that I am cultivating in my children, is the gift of nature study.

Nature study doesn’t need a curriculum that must be accomplished by the end of the year. It needs time to wonder. It needs the space to look at a thing in awe.

I had the privilege as a child to play outside, but if that is not your housing arrangement, a houseplant can provide just as much wonder — think venus flytrap or Christmas cactus or spider plant. A leisurely walk in a park would, as well. My nana was able to teach me the names of all of the trees, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go on a walk to collect some leaves and bring them home to identify them from a field guide or on the internet. Doing a leaf rubbing and finding out why some leaves turn colors would round out the lesson (do you know why?). I had one friend who did a nature study on a cantaloupe seed that had sprouted in her sink disposal when her children found the plant growing up out of the drain!

Take them out on walks and tell them about the bees, how they make honey for your oatmeal and toast by gathering pollen from all of the flowers, and how the dandelions of spring are some of their first foods. Teach them to be gentle with the little bees, and wonder together at which flower he might choose next and why.

 

If you want, there are some amazing books you can add in for your nature studies. Field guides for mom or dad go without saying, but then there are books like The View from the Oak which is a great book to help us learn to wonder about nature. If your child has a fascination with owls, for instance, use your local library to read about them and perhaps visit a zoo for an end-of-the-year treat. Watch the moon and look for the stars with Glow in the Dark Constellations or bring Frogs, Toads, and Turtles to a lake with you.

But the most important thing of all is that you make time to do it and be present while you  do.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

June 2013 — Deep Winter

by Rose-Marie

Our old mate the swamp wallaby features again…

dscf1079    Age 6, grade Prep

Daughter kept mixing up moss and lichen, so we went a-wandering to try and fix that, and to see if it all looked healthier than last time we looked. It certainly did. Yay for rain!

dscf10801Age 6, grade Prep

This picture really doesn’t do the experience justice. Imagine standing on a hill just before dawn and seeing shooting stars, that fade as the sun rises and brightens the sky…

dscf1082Age 6, grade Prep

Look, it was worth going outside in the freezing cold to see feathery patterns on the windshield. I don’t know if Daughter was really impressed, but I convinced her to draw it in her journal, and she is pleased with the journal entry.

dscf1083Age 6, grade Prep

Remember that brightly coloured waterfall? This time it is blue. :)

dscf1084Age 6, grade Prep

Out of everything we saw on our trip up to Terrick Terrick National park and the Hattah Lakes, all she wanted to draw was the pelican we saw for all of two seconds as we drove past at 80km per hour. Personally, I was hoping she’d be impressed about the moss growing at Hattah Lakes. Who knew moss would even grow on sand? Maybe everybody, but I didn’t!

dscf1085Age 6, grade Prep

Rose-Marie was one of those enthusiastic planners who began researching when she was pregnant with her first. She wanted to homeschool because it sounded like an affordable adventure, then she met her kids personally…DD is 6 years old and has Echolalia and some processing issues so isn’t speaking fluently yet. DS is 4 years old, has retained primitive reflexes and while there may be a deity somewhere who knows what’s going to happen with this kid, he/she/it hasn’t chosen to inform us. They live on a hill in rural southern Australia without enough solar panels and like it there.

May 2013 — Early Winter

by Rose-Marie

Previous Post — April 2013: Early Winter

Only two entries this month. There were no nature study tours scheduled and it was cold. (Sook, sook.)

Daughter was convinced this wallaby, whom we had never seen before, was a baby but I think it was female.

I got a bee in my bonnet about Daughter not knowing what lichen was. I don’t know why I like lichen so much, but I find it a happy thing.

April 2013 — Early Winter

by Rose-Marie

Previous post: Late Summer – Early Winter

I was *terribly* impressed by this first picture here! I really think her drawing skills are improving, though we have quite some way to go before achieving brilliance in the style of the Edwardian Lady’s journal. (Which is not necessarily a goal, but is certainly something to sigh wistfully about.) While I did have to remind her to give it legs, anyone from our part of the world would recognise this as a crimson rosella. These rosellas are seasonal visitors to us and they are so gorgeous I can’t help but love them, even when they are making a mess in my veggie garden!

aged 6, grade Prep

This next picture was from our trip to Steavenson’s Falls, which we chose, for our nature study tours, as our ‘wet woodlands’ location. I’m not 100% thrilled with the site because there are a few too many invading blackberries and I’d rather there weren’t, but it is accessible and we don’t need to worry about coming back one day and finding it closed indefinitely for regeneration. I’m really not sure about the colours, but that is definitely her standing beside the waterfall.

aged 6, grade Prep

Another spot we visit on our nature study tours is St Clair. There is nothing particularly remarkable about the site. It appears to be the location of an old township but is pretty much a paddock up in the hills. One of the major terrain types in our state is the alpine area, and this is the closest we can get that is accessible all year around, since it is a through road. And, this is very important, it doesn’t cost us $50 to access like the ski resorts do in winter! Daughter was disappointed there wasn’t any snow *again* but we got to see some sedimentary rocks just like the ones David Attenborough was talking about on the documentary we’d watched recently. Almost as good as snow is seeing things she’s watched on documentaries. A very simple picture, but you’re seeing the sedimentariness of those rocks, aren’t you?

aged 6, grade Prep

This picture was drawn at home. We looked out the window and saw a couple of young kangaroos fighting, with the swamp wallaby on the opposite watching them too. It was such an amusing picture (to me, anyway) that I suggested she draw it into her journal. For some reason known only to herself, she drew a mother and a joey instead. *shrug*

aged 6, grade Prep

You remember those ants we saw at the Hattah-Kulkyne national park? Well guess what? They were still there this time!

aged 6, grade Prep

And this picture is from another site on our nature study tour, the estuary at Barwon Heads, where we go to look at mangroves. Mangroves are cool. I really like this picture book, Mangroves by Glenda Kane and Lisa Allen, which I think is out of print at the moment. Rhyming books that you can read more than once a month without wanting to dig your eyes out should never go out of print. Boo hiss.

aged 6, grade Prep

Next post: May 2013 — Early Winter

Rose-Marie was one of those enthusiastic planners who began researching when she was pregnant with her first. She wanted to homeschool because it sounded like an affordable adventure, then she met her kids personally…
DD is 6 years old and has Echolalia and some processing issues so isn’t speaking fluently yet. DS is 4 years old, has retained primitive reflexes and while there may be a deity somewhere who knows what’s going to happen with this kid, he/she/it hasn’t chosen to inform us. They live on a hill in rural southern Australia without enough solar panels and like it there.

March 2013: Late Summer – Early Winter

by Rose Marie

Previous post: Late Summer

No entries from the early winter part of March, it must have been a shock to the system.  All of these were from rambling at home.

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I think this is the big, grey frog.

That would be a swamp wallaby, otherwise known as a black wallaby, which is a better name since they don’t restrict themselves to swamps. Actually, this wallaby hangs around our house, half way up a hill, and eats the scraps I put out for the chooks (chickens) if he gets to them first. Who knew wallabies liked gnocchi?

Next post: Early Winter

Rose-Marie was one of those enthusiastic planners who began researching when she was pregnant with her first. She wanted to homeschool because it sounded like an affordable adventure, then she met her kids personally…
DD is 6 years old and has Echolalia and some processing issues so isn’t speaking fluently yet. DS is 4 years old, has retained primitive reflexes and while there may be a deity somewhere who knows what’s going to happen with this kid, he/she/it hasn’t chosen to inform us. They live on a hill in rural southern Australia without enough solar panels and like it there.

February 2013 — Late Summer

by Rose-Marie

Previous post: Introduction

I decided to start our nature study journalling with the beginning of Daughter’s first year of school, which began around the end of January here in Australia. Naturally, it took a month to get around to it. Since I can’t remember the truth, I’m going to pretend that was deliberate, as I had come up with a brilliant idea to visit each of the major terrain types in our state, once each season. We live in ‘dry woodlands.’

I need to get another pet hate out of my system, if you’ll bear with me.  I think it is silly the way Australians whinge about the seasons not conforming to an inverted Northern Hemisphere system, when the Indigenous people have perfectly good and, unsurprisingly, more accurate calendars of their own. I am on a one-woman crusade to try and make people notice this and will post this link featuring our local indigenous calendar (which seems true to the Melbourne area and a fair chunk of central Victoria) whenever it comes up in online conversations. Which it just has. Heh.

Just so you all know, I have great plans for my daughter’s handwriting to end up better than mine. I do my best to encourage her to narrate the captions for her pictures, but as I said in the previous post, her learning challenges (Echolalia) get in the way a bit. So, for the foreseeable future, any writing in the journal will be a team effort.

dscf1064

This is the one hand-drawn picture she did about our first round of nature study tours. We went to the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park (would link if I could find a site with decent photos) to see the Mallee and Inland waterways terrain types. Lovely scenery, nearly went insane with the flies trying to climb into our eyes, ears, and noses. What you see below is an ant hill.

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Her contribution to the notation was “the sand was orange and the ants were black.”

Next post: Early Summer to Late Winter

Rose-Marie was one of those enthusiastic planners who began researching when she was pregnant with her first. She wanted to homeschool because it sounded like an affordable adventure, then she met her kids personally…
DD is 6 years old and has Echolalia and some processing issues so isn’t speaking fluently yet. DS is 4 years old, has retained primitive reflexes and while there may be a deity somewhere who knows what’s going to happen with this kid, he/she/it hasn’t chosen to inform us. They live on a hill in rural southern Australia without enough solar panels and like it there.

Introduction to My Nature Studies Series

by Rose Marie

Virtually everyone thinks nature study is a good and healthful thing to do. Most people think nature journalling is a good thing to do as well, but many find it hard to get enthusiastic enough about it to actually go out and *do* it.

One problem people have is knowing where to start. They want some kind of method to follow to feel like they are doing it properly. Looking out the window, I expect all of us would agree that there is some kind of “method to the madness” but it may not be humanly possible to sort it all out so we’d better not allow that to stop us! I must admit though, I felt a need for guidance when I was dithering aboutwallaby-feeding beginning nature journalling with my daughter. For several reasons, personality and language disorder among them, “draw something” was not something she’d respond to. I wasn’t even sure “draw this” would work, so I purchased some journal pages to get us started. Being in Australia, I purchased mine from Downunder Lit but I have it from a reliable source that North Americans get excited over The Handbook of Nature Study. Apologies to the rest of you, you’ll have to look on Pinterest!

The other problem people have with beginning nature journalling with small kids is, well, it looks like it was made by a small kid! There is something about nature journalling that can make a person feel like everyone else’s kids were born proficient water colourists while your kids’ drawing looks like a dog’s breakfast. What I hope to do in this series is show the evolution of my daughter’s nature journal, right from her first entry. Obviously *my child’s* nature journal could never look like a dog’s breakfast, not even to the unenlightened out there, but I must confess, it does look like the work of a small child. I would like to invite you to keep us company as we journal on…

But first, let me get my pet hate out of the way. I know it’ll come out sooner or later, so better to get it over with.

*There is no such thing as “fake nature” unless it really is made of plastic, ok? Weeds growing through cracks in the footpath are not very interesting in the scheme of things, but they are are as real as anyone else’s farm, mountain or coral reef. If you live in a concrete jungle and all the nature you have to look at is weeds and the neighbours’ hanging baskets, look at them. Seasons affect them. Bugs munch them. They are real! If you don’t even have that, look at the clouds. Everyone has weather and weather is real enough that people spend careers studying it.

*I quite agree that grass isn’t all that thrilling, but learning how to find the grass in your front yard interesting is a valuable lesson. A more valuable lesson than seeing a bear or a swamp wallaby, cool as they are. If nature study was only about the cool factor, we could go to the zoo once a year and call it good.
Ok. I’ve got that out of my system. Moving along…

DSCF1063

What a grand beginning…
I think I said she could cut out the picture or stick the whole page in. I guess she wanted to do both.

Next post: February 2013 — Late Summer

Rose-Marie was one of those enthusiastic planners who began researching when she was pregnant with her first. She wanted to homeschool because it sounded like an affordable adventure, then she met her kids personally…
DD is 6 years old and has Echolalia and some processing issues so isn’t speaking fluently yet. DS is 4 years old, has retained primitive reflexes and while there may be a deity somewhere who knows what’s going to happen with this kid, he/she/it hasn’t chosen to inform us. They live on a hill in rural southern Australia without enough solar panels and like it there.