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Exploring Nature with Children: A Complete, Year-Long Curriculum Review by Brittney RutherfordLynn Seddon
Raising Little Shoots
Nature study has been one of those subjects that’s always easy to do informally, simply because children are naturally curious, and mine are always exploring, observing and questioning when we are outside. However, I find nature study hard to implement naturally in a more structured way, because I’m not so good at coming up with topics and nature journal ideas in a sequential manner. For a long time, I was wishing for a simple nature study program to guide me in the right direction.
Exploring Nature with Children: A Complete, Year-Long Curriculum is that program! It was written to help the homeschool parent incorporate nature study into their routine as easily and stress-free as possible. Lynn Seddon has written a seasonal nature study program full of information, activities and enrichment lessons for a complete Charlotte Mason inspired nature study program. For $15.00 you get a 240 page PDF download with 48 weeks of lessons.
This study is written to the parent. Like most programs, it starts with basic information about what is included and how to use the program, but it goes on with information on how to engage children on nature walks, how to keep a nature journal, keeping a calendar of firsts, choosing a special spot for nature study and keeping a family nature table. The lessons are laid out in a monthly format, but follow a traditional school calendar, so it starts in autumn and ends in summer. Each season has a page with an overview of the topics covered in the next few months and the required and optional supplies needed. At first I thought I might like to see the supply list broken down by month rather than season, but I see how this could be beneficial for ensuring you have ample time to acquire any necessary supplies in advance. Most of the supplies needed fall under the extension activities, though some are needed for the nature walk suggestions.
Within each season, each month has four weeks of lessons, with the suggestion that the occasional fifth week be used to revisit a favorite topic of study. The weekly layout is very simple, but thorough. The topic is introduced to the reader, and the author stresses that no outside resources are needed, but frequent references to the Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Bostford Comstock, are made, should you wish to look up the topics in further detail. Ideas and suggestions for your weekly nature walk are given, but the guide is not scripted. The lesson also includes a book list, poem, and an art print to study. The artwork is given by title and artist, but a print is not included; you will need to find a copy of it to do the art appreciation component. Lastly, each lesson includes a variety of extension activities to continue exploring the topic. These activities vary depending on the topic of study, but include crafts, art, music, and additional ideas for your nature journal. You can pick and choose from the extras based on your child’s interest level and learning style.
To give you an idea as to what is included, during one of the autumn weeks we focused on an Autumn Tree Study. This was a great time for my kids to choose their own tree to study for the next year. They drew the tree in their nature journals, we examined leaves and bark, and looked for other signs of life. We also did leaf rubbings and bark rubbings. Each season, Exploring Nature with Children will have us doing another seasonal tree study on our chosen tree, with different prompts and activities to expand our knowledge. Other weekly topics include seeds, fungus, lichen, winter sky, nesting birds, earthworms, wild flowers, caterpillars, and honeybees, to name just a few. Such a variety is included in the 48 weeks, that you get a good general overview throughout the year, but a few year-long studies on specific topics allows you to notice minor details and how things change from one season to the next.
This is a great beginner’s guide for nature study. It is simple to follow and easy to understand. It is designed so that you can follow it week by week, or skip around as you please. The program is seemingly written for parents with younger elementary children, but it can be used with older children too, and it can be used year after year. As children age, you can always choose new birds, new flowers, or a new tree each year. Nature journals will evolve as the children age and mature, new connections will be made from year to year, and knowledge will deepen.
Even though Exploring Nature with Children was written from a Charlotte Mason perspective, nature study should be enjoyed by all families regardless of educational choices, and this curriculum guide is suitable for anyone. Other than gathering your nature study supplies, it doesn’t require much effort. As someone who wants to implement nature study with children of different ages and skill level, I’ve found this guide helpful and refreshing, and I would certainly recommend it to families who need a little guidance with nature study.
-Product Review by Brittney Rutherford, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February, 2016