Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: Creative Nature Study

Nature study took a bit of a back seat in our last term. We went on a few nature walks, spent time outside, and identified a few new birds at our feeder, but that was as far as it went. Nothing new was recorded into our nature journals, and we collected no autumn leaves. I know it's time to be more intentional about it again, and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to review Creative Nature Study, a book published by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

The subtitle promises "Ideas to Jump-Start or Invigorate Nature Study in Your Homeschool," and that is what it delivers. It has chapters on how to begin with nature study, ideas for nature walks, projects, nature notebooks, and scavenger hunts. Each chapter is compiled of short articles by several Christian homeschooling moms. In many ways, reading this book was like sitting down with a group of experienced homeschoolers and sharing practical ideas, solutions to challenges, and inspiration from their successes. At the end of the book there is an appendix listing all the resources mentioned, and another appendix with notebooking pages for nature scavenger hunts.

I have to be honest, when I opened the book, I expected more of a Charlotte Mason style nature study focus (this is what I'm most familiar with, after all!). But I appreciated the broadness of perspective offered by moms with a wide variety of educational styles. In the end, there were plenty of ideas for me, the CM homeschooler, as well as for homeschoolers with a more eclectic approach. I especially appreciated Danielle Dobrosky-Tolar's words in the introduction:
“We wanted our kids to have something  different, something better, something more. We wanted them to look outside the window and lose their train of thought by watching a hummingbird darting at the feeder. We put down our textbooks and prayed they would be beside themselves with awe while watching a bunch of slippery tadpoles turn into leaping frogs right before their eyes. We dared to turn off the TV, go “unplugged,” and heartily hoped they would see the miracle, the poetry, in a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.” (p. 5)
I think this is what we all want, regardless of homeschooling style. We want our children to care.

And so I happily gleaned several ideas that will work for me, and cheerfully passed by the ones that don't fit in with my homeschooling style. Cindy West had a wonderful list of items to include in a "nature bag," a bag kept ready to go whenever you go on a nature walk. Candace Crabtree had some great suggestions for a "bird watching center" that I fully plan on implementing as we are forced to spend more time indoors this winter with our new baby on the way. Andrea Hahn had a very helpful article on keeping a special nature journal called a "perpetual calendar" that will allow us to compare weather, wildlife, and other "firsts" from year to year.

Even though I understand that this book's idea sharing format is not meant to be exhaustive, I was a little disappointed that some of my favourite resources were not mentioned. There were several articles about birds and birdwatching, yet no one referred to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's wonderful bird identification website or even their Great Backyard Bird Count. Indeed, as far as I could see, there were no allusions to any citizen science projects. Also, the Handbook of Nature Study website and its Outdoor Hour Challenge were not mentioned, though it is a go-to resource for many homeschoolers (Comstock's classic Handbook of Nature Study itself was included, though.). I would also have liked to see the resources in the appendix arranged topically rather than alphabetically for easier browsing.

Over all, though, I really enjoyed Creative Nature Study. It is an encouraging, inspiring book of ideas, and you will be sure to find something to implement in your own nature studies, no matter what your homeschooling style. I fully intend to read this again in half a year. A different season will be sure to make different ideas jump out at me and inspire me all over again. Thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew for the opportunity to review this book.