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.
Briana 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.