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Nature Portfolio Throughout the Year: Nature Notebooking for Ages 6-10 Review by Heidi Shaw

Barbara Shukin
Home School Journey

Wow! That was my first reaction upon receiving this curriculum. Whether you are a follower of Charlotte Mason's principles or not, this nature journal will blow you away. Barb has taken the ideas of her wonderful history portfolio and timeline books, combined with a CM-style love of notebooking, and ramped it up and improved upon the ideas to create a wonderful book that will be a joy to complete and a keepsake forever.

Each page is printed on heavy bright card-weight paper. The detail is perfect for little fingers and little imaginations while still leaving plenty of room for individual creativity. There are pictures to color, vocabulary words, puzzles, room for sketching, and room for copywork, all divided up by the months of the year and subdivided into common habitats of North America. No matter where you live, you will be invited to build your knowledge in a fun, creative, gentle way as you study nature with your children. The only thing I disagree with is the suggested ages of 6-10. My daughter is over 10, and she loves her portfolio! I think I would love one of my own too!

Here is what's inside, but you really have to see it and feel it to appreciate it truly. From the heavy-duty three-ring long binder (12" across, 9" tall) to the heavy cardstock pages, to the great illustrations, this book is of value beyond just a "science" book. There are 48 student notebooking pages. If you plan to complete 1-2 pages a week, it will comfortably fit it in a school year whether you school year-round or traditionally. Each chapter is divided into three months of the year, beginning in September, so it is perfect for the typical school year. Though if you want to change the order, you easily can since it is ring bound.

In each chapter, you and your children will investigate aspects of nature as seen in various habitats. For instance, in September you will learn about grasshoppers, crickets, mice, and apples as you explore Yards and Gardens. You will meet geese, ducks, wasps, and nut trees as you investigate Woods and Fields. There are also divisions for Desert Lands, Ponds and Streams, and the Seashore. You won't just be getting a blank notebook to fill in though; that's the really cool part. The back of the binder is full of teacher helps pages. These include suggested books for you to read ahead, take-along guide suggestions, and various picture books and readers, all organized according to the chapter and topic you are studying. You will also find lovely copywork printouts for the younger ones, shaded just enough so they can copy over it. Poems by Browning, Longfellow, Frost and others will enliven your child's imagination and their vocabulary.

The parents guide and pages give you page-by-page suggestions for copywork, narration, and observations to note with your child should you need them. Barbara does recommend the Handbook of Nature Study by Comstock and references the pages in the handbook you should read aloud before each adventure. Two other resources she is very enthusiastic about and refers to regularly are Fun with Nature: Take Along Guide (and its sequel) and The Wonders of Nature Sketchbook by Colleen Monroe. This book gives simple step-by-step instructions for drawing a number of common animals.

There are crosswords and puzzles sprinkled throughout the book as well as great diagrams and cross-sections pertaining to different topics of study. The children can color sketches showing the life cycle of a frog, learn the anatomy of a flower, study the parts of a salmon, and so much more. If I have anything to criticize about this great resource, it would be only that I wished it had been written years ago when my older kids were small! You will not regret this purchase, and you and your children will have an amazing time getting to know nature together as you progress through your year!

The binder is packed very full, and Barbara does suggest taking the parent pages out and putting them in your own binder as you proceed, which will reduce the risk of tearing student pages as they fill them in. I don't mind the fullness, since I can't imagine leaving anything out. Have fun!

Product review by Heidi Shaw, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2010