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    Sort-of New This Year: Nature Journals

    August 3, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I‘m calling this “new” because I neglected faithfulness in this area during the last school year. My excuse is that I had a newborn. The reality might be that I was overthinking it and therefore paralyzed myself. I tend to do that.

    This year, I am switching things up a bit. I overkilled composer studies last year, so that is where I intend to tone it down. We will simply listen to the assigned composer most mornings during chore times, and I will make sure that everyone {myself included} knows the name of the composer and the various songs. My one simple goal is that, by the end of each term this year, we will be familiar enough with the composer and his songs that we will be able to recognize his work in other contexts.

    In place of our time spent reading composer biographies, we will be journaling in our crisp new natural journals. My two-year-old and I snuck out and went school shopping at Michael’s. I was armed and dangerous with my sale ads and coupons. The hardback watercolor journals were 50% off, and so I purchased one for E., who will be learning watercolor technique through his journaling. I also picked up a simple sketchbook for A. And then the two-year-old began to look sad that she wasn’t participating in school, so I allowed her to select a prettily-bound notepad for herself in the dollar section.

    When E. was four, I began teaching him a bare-bones nature journaling process. Now it is A.’s turn. We will do this during nap time, when the littles are sleeping. In preparation, I have planted a fall garden, and plan to also plant a winter garden. Between the garden, the ducks, and the orchard, plus my talented flower-gardening neighbor, I hope to have much for us to observe without leaving home. The second I add “leaving” to the list of requirements for doing this subject, it falls by the wayside, especially when I decide we just shouldn’t be spending money on gas.

    Nature journaling is really the foundation for science. In general, science, as a liberal art, cannot be understood by young children. However, a foundation can and should be paved for them, otherwise they are not prepared for doing real science in the upper grades. All scientific discoveries have begun through simple observation. Good scientists can sit and watch with understanding whatever it is that is unfolding before their eyes. But it is quite difficult to get small children to sit and watch anything in nature for any length of time. The process of nature journaling naturally hones their observation skills. As they learn to spend time drawing, and therefore duplicating, what they see, they are perfecting the art of observation without realizing it.

    This is similar to why we do Art Narration, something I’ll talk about someday soon.

    If you want to feel more confidant in nature study, I would highly suggest the blog Handbook of Nature Study. Even though I own Anna Comstock’s wonderful book, seeing how another family puts it all into action has helped me visualize our success this coming year. This particular post had many entry examples that I found useful.

    My goal is to journal once per week. For A. {four-years-old}, I will draw and she will color until she decides she wants to draw it herself. Objectives with her include beginning observational skills, communication skills by verbalizing her observations to me, basic journaling know-how, and increasing her interest in nature study in general.

    For E. {seven-years-old, Ambleside Year Two student}, I include the ideas behind my objectives for A., plus ability to complete entries on his own (including correctly dating each one), and watercolor technique. We will do dry watercolors, meaning he will be able to draw and color his entry outside, and then paint over it with water at his desk later on inside. In the beginning, I will be helping him learn to properly blend the colors, clean brushes, etcetera, but our aim is always to get the student to not need their teacher, no?

    The journals have around 25 pages, so I am assuming we will occasionally miss a week. During DecemberTerm we will be engaging in more indoor projects, like cooking skills, so I think it’ll work out fine.

    This will be part of our “archive” for the 2009-2010 school year. As many of you know, we had a rocky end to the 2008-2009 year due to my husband’s health issues. To some extent, it felt like it had no end. We just slowly finished up the last two weeks over a period of a month and a half, and then the very next day I jumped into planning because there was no time to waste.

    This year, I want to really feel the triumph of finishing. So, we will keep their best work and we will have an “open house” where family can come over and view their work on a table. We will serve dessert, or perhaps a meal, and we will celebrate a job well done, and the end of a year lived well.

    I plan to “archive” their artwork and journals, math worksheets, and so on, and then also stack up their schoolbooks so that family can see what they read during the year. I have already told E. that he will also need to recite one of his poems {he must memorize one per term this year} to the group, and then he and A. can also sing a hymn or folk song of their choosing.

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  • Reply Brandy August 4, 2009 at 4:29 pm


    Your club sounds wonderful! What a good idea. I think something like that would have been especially helpful to me last year, when a bit of accountability coupled with brainstorming would have been good for us and the rut we seemed to be stuck in.

    How nice to have a friend with a degree in music! I was a music major in college for a short while, and can you believe I never thought of going back through my textbooks until you just commented? I guess I have some digging to do…


    I think that I was VERY similar to you when I was starting out, which is to say when our oldest was four. I was NOT a gardener, and really NOT interested in sitting and looking at a flower. To this day, I consider this a discipline for me. What really got me started was playing some games with E. based on CM’s work. He responded so well to them; his desire to explore the world just came alive. When I saw that, I knew what I wanted for the children.

    For me, the interest grew as we did it more often. Even now, I have to “make” myself get started. But if it is something you decide you want for your children, I think the blog I mentioned in the post, as well as Anna Comstock’s book, are by far the best resources one could utilize.

  • Reply Mystie August 4, 2009 at 2:21 am

    Thanks, Brandy!

    Nature study is one area I am very weak in. I can’t draw, I am not observant, and I am not innately curious. I can’t identify birds or trees beyond the obvious ones (crows, quails; sycamores & birch), and that never even occurred to me as a lapse in my education until I read CM material; but even so it’s not one I “feel” or care about, even when I try. 🙂

    But you’ve encouraged me again and reminded me of Cindy’s posts in the past about this. In two weeks we’ll be moving to a house with many established plants and less than 1/2 mile to the city library, which has the Master Gardeners’ display garden. Making it over there even once a term this year to observe and draw would be a good goal for us.

  • Reply Kansas Mom August 4, 2009 at 1:09 am

    Thanks for sharing this post! We’re planning to join a nature study club this year, which will meet for one morning a month. I’m hoping we can be more consistent about outdoor time in general each day, but I want First Son to be encouraged in his journalling by someone else, so I’m glad for the club. (There will be other activities for the little ones, and I’m afraid I may have volunteered myself to help lead those.)

    We’re doing something similar with composers this year. I’ve chosen one for each month with the help of a friend who actually has a degree in music. We’re just going to listen as we play (or work, but nothing like math that takes too much concentration). My goal (I think) is just to be able to identify one or two pieces by each composer. I don’t intend to read any biographies or even point out what the pieces are called unless the kids ask (though I will mention the composer’s name). This is just kindergarten for us, so I wanted some exposure without any work!

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