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Fine Arts Friday: Rethinking Nature Studies

I have a confession: nature studies intimidate me. I am not a naturalist. I have no idea what the names of trees or plants are beyond the most generic “Hey acorns! That must be an oak tree.” Moreover, I’m not an artist. I’m not particularly creative, and my drawing skills are basic at best.

But I do like nature, and I want to teach my children to appreciate and know about nature. So I must embrace my ignorance to overcome it. (The story of self-education in a nutshell.)

I’m reading Keeping a Nature Journal (af), and it’s changing my approach to both nature journals and nature studies. I put off reading this book for a long time because the beautiful drawings and detailed illustrations are more than a little intimidating. But what I’ve read so far has revolutionized my thinking about nature studies and I think has set us all on the path to better appreciate and learn about nature.

The revolutionary idea is simply this: Nature studies are simply about observing nature. A nature journal is simply a tool to record these observations.

Why is this revolutionary? Because I was focused on the nature journal as the end result. I was focused on nature studies — our walks, our time at the nature preserve, all of it — as a sort of walking quiz and primarily as fodder for the natural journal. I was not focused on observing and recording my observations. There is a world of difference between “What is that tree/bird/bug?” and “What do you see?”  The tool was the master, and it prevented me from truly observing and learning from nature.
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Realizing my nature journal is just a tool to record my observations has been freeing. Isn’t my weed . . . something? Take confidence in my pathetic attempts to start your own nature journal to record your observations!

My goal has  been to get everyone outside for ten minutes with instructions to simply observe. They are encouraged to jot down their observations in their nature journals as a record of their observations. In addition to what we see, we record sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, the phase of the moon, and temperature, which we get from The Farmer’s Almanac website. So far, this approach has had much better results, especially with my boys.

Over the next couple of months I’ll be writing more about this nature studies revolution in our home, but right now I just want to encourage you to go observe nature.

Do you keep a nature journal? Have you, like me, tried and stopped? If so, why?

One response to “Fine Arts Friday: Rethinking Nature Studies”

  1. […] written previously that nature studies intimidates me. It’s not that nature intimidates me; I enjoy being in nature–even when nature is a […]

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