Friday, November 21, 2008

Autumn Nature Study 2008: Wonderful WEEDS

painted by my 6yr old, 13 yr old and 15 yr old.

Nature study has always been a very important part of our home education. It has enabled my children to fill their days with wonder and I have observed its power to draw them closer to their Creator. All those (sometimes inconvenient) hours spent outdoors with a purpose have done magic. Now I see my older children taking long walks alone among the fields and trees and filling journal pages with observations and poetry, prayers and drawings from nature.

This is one of those areas that often requires cultivation in order to reap the benefits- especially today, in a world where our children are surrounded by contrived entertainment and technology at their fingertips. It's so much easier to watch a movie or play a computer game rather than take a walk and actively engage the mind.

Charlotte Mason observed that children are drawn to the natural world 'naturally,' but they must be instructed how to observe carefully and appreciate the wonders about them. Their soil must be worked a little by a caring parent who will set aside time on a regular basis to grow children's curiosity with little questions and tasks that send them searching carefully for the treasures that would otherwise pass unnoticed.

"Every child has a natural interest in the living things about him which it is the business of his parents to encourage; but few children are equal to holding their own in the face of public opinion; and if they see that the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you (or others), their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter on the book of Nature is closed to them. It is likely that the Natural History of Selborne would never have been written had it not been that the naturalist's father used to take his boys on daily foraging expeditions, when not a moving or growing thing, not a pebble nor a boulder within miles of Selborne, escaped their eager examinations. " vol 1 Home Education

How We Are Studying Weeds
We chose to study WEEDS this autumn because our pasture has many interesting plants and flowers that beg for a name and we need to identify any plants harmful to our goats and cattle. This is what we have been doing:

Gathering up our nature journals and pencils with erasers, we go on a short walk, choosing a weed or two to draw outside in a comfortable spot. At first glance to the untrained eye, the weed is just a bothersome plant, but upon closer inspection (at my urging), my younger children discover that it is also food for hundreds of aphids and birds and shelter for a spider, nest of field mice or even a rabbit. I casually tell them that it's interesting to see how weed seeds find ways to make new plants in the spring. Some of the seeds are in the form are sticky burrs that attach to animals as they pass by enabling them to fall on new soil miles away. We discuss how others are light and fluffy so that they can be carried by the wind. Our cows disperse many seeds by eating them. The unspoiled ones grow out of cow patties. (Whenever my knowledge about an area of nature is sparse, I first look in The Handbook of Nature Study for help and then go online or peruse my Science and Nature bookshelf. I try to do this before I meet with my children.)

Next, we take a few samples inside and view images online until we find out the names of each weed and possibly an interesting tidbit or two.

Then, each person chooses a plant to draw and dry brush paint and label. We usually do this inside the house, but sometimes we like to paint outside. Here, you can find a tutorial for this type of painting that Miss Mason recommended. I like the dry brush technique because the colors are richer and more vibrant. Also, preparing the page with a wash is unnecessary. (I remind the children to put a thick piece of paper between the pages while they paint so the colors don't bleed on to another page.) We have used color pencils in the past. Dry brush is just our latest endeavor.

Lastly, my children who are ten years of age and older, write the rest of the newly-learned names of the weeds in the back of their nature journals along with the Latin name and the date spotted.

Weed List by my 10 yr old

That's all we do. It usually takes about an hour from start to finish. I keep things moving so that it doesn't take all day. In the spring, we occasionally have 'all day affairs.' On those days, we take a picnic lunch and play too. No fancy preparation, lessons or worksheets are necessary. I don't have the time and I know that I can kill my children's love of nature study very quickly if they smell a schoolish exercise in Mom's plans. At the end of six weeks, we will have painlessly learned the names and characteristics of about 10 to 15 weeds and made some happy memories.

I am working on a list of nature study activities that Miss Mason recommended and hope to share those with you soon. I would also like to write about 'Nature Study with older children' if there is an interest. That's all for now.

one step at a time...


  1. Nature study is a favorite in our house too. My children are only 9 and 2, but I would love to read your insights on this activity with older children.

    Thank you for your inspirations,
    Heather (homeschooling horticulturist who loves insects, weeds, and the like)

  2. My daughter is more interested now that she is older--she wants to know the names, too, not just "here's a pretty flower." I now want to try the "dry brush." method. We've used colored pencils and watercolor pencils before. Another great post that I'm sure I'll come back too. Your "narration" and "dictation" ones really, really helped me the last two weeks!

  3. Anonymous22.11.08

    Just wondering if you have any nature study suggestions for those who live in the city with not much of a yard and also any suggestions for nature study in the winter would be much appreciated.

    Thank you.

  4. Anonymous22.11.08

    Please do write about nature study with older children.
    I am interested!

  5. Love the weed focus! We live on a farm with wildflowers (which many would call weeds) growing all over the place. We spent much of the spring, summer and fall learning more about them, too, although more informally than you.

    I'm thinking my daughter may enjoy putting together a "wildflowers found on our farm" book starting this spring. If she isn't interested, I may start one myself!


  6. Anonymous23.11.08

    I would love to hear about nature study with older children. Mine are ages 11-16. I work from home and sometimes find time to be limited so I tend to drop those things which seem to be "optional" or less important. But my desire is always to do more of that stuff, nature walks, poetry, etc. I also wish to have more time for dictation but find it more difficult to work into our day. I enjoy your website very much and visit here often.

  7. Great post! Thanks for sharing how you do things. We study in a similar way, but not nearly often enough. Thanks for the encouragement.

  8. Don't want them to 'smell a schoolish exercise' are right about that!
    The drawings are beautiful!