How (and Why!) to Start a Nature Study Group!

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To wrap up our overview of what currently makes up our homeschool "curriculum", we're going to take a quick look at nature study, a vital part of a true Charlotte Mason education!  She believed children (and adults!) need regular time out of doors, both in free play time and more “formal” nature study.  I couldn’t agree more!  But for the longest time I just couldn’t seem to make it happen for our family.  Our kids played outside all the time, but we rarely got around to doing actual nature study.  I had it on my “mental schedule” to do every other Friday when we didn’t have our co-op, but other stuff always seemed to come up, we used Fridays to catch up on other school work, or I just plain forgot.

Enter Wild and Free groups.  I came across this organization via Sarah Mackenzie’s Read Aloud Revival podcast.  Then I listened to a podcast (unfortunately I can't remember which one now!) about how to start a nature study group.  And something clicked.  Start a group.  Maybe no one will show up, but when there is the possibility that somebody might be there waiting for ME, I gotta show up too!  

So that’s the real, honest-to-goodness reason we started a nature study group!  Purely so that WE would do it ourselves!  

One question you might be asking...Why not just join up with another existing nature study group if there is one in your area?  The short answer?  Control.  Yeah, I know.  But seriously, sometimes it really is easier to do something on your own time, your own schedule, and your own ideals.  You could join another group if you really didn’t want to organize something yourself, but for us it was actually SO much easier to just start our own.  I can design the schedule to fit our needs, and we can do the type of nature study that I want for our family!

Starting and running our group has turned out to be surprisingly simple to implement.  Here are the steps I took to start our group, and you can too!

  1. Decide what time and how often works for you.  For us it’s approximately twice a month on Friday mornings.  During the school year, we have co-op every other Friday, so we just schedule our nature study outings for the off Fridays.  For the summer, I just looked at our vacation schedule, holiday weekends, etc, and picked out about 2 Fridays per month for our group to meet.  The beauty of starting a group yourself is that you can do whatever works for you!

  2. Create a facebook group.  This is really simple, even if you have never done it before!  Once you create your group, “promote” it on facebook wherever you can.  Share on your own personal page, local homeschool group pages, etc.  Our homeschool co-op also has an email list, so I sent a link to our facebook group to that list as well.  We very quickly got about 8-10 families who were interested.

  3. Plan your first nature study outing.  I have found that we get better publicity and response if I actually create an “event” on the facebook group page.  This, also, is very simple!  I try to have that done about a week in advance of each nature study date.  Don’t worry, it’s not as much work as it sounds...it only takes  a couple minutes!  For location, you could use your own backyard, a local park, or nature preserve.  Just keep it simple for your first outing.

  4. Gather your nature study supplies and let the group know what they will need.  We have a nature journal and a pencil for each child.  That’s seriously all you need to get started.  Other things like colored pencils or watercolors, field guides, magnifying glasses, binoculars and such are fun and you might want to use these at some point, but it’s not necessary...there is SO much to observe and record with just your own 2 eyes and a pencil!

  5. Go out on your first nature study!  Don’t feel like you need to prepare some elaborate lesson, and don’t worry if you’re not an expert naturalist.  Your “lesson” could be as simple as letting the kids (and parents!) explore, find something interesting, and make a drawing of it in their notebook.

And look at that, you did it!  It’s really so simple!  Over time you may wish to do some more “planned” lessons as you and the kids involved get the hang of observing and recording.  Two books that I have found to be immensely helpful are The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botford Comstock and The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling.  With these two resources, you could literally have a lifetime’s worth of nature study!

Handbook of Nature Study
By Anna Botsford Comstock

So what are you waiting for?  Are you struggling to make nature study happen?  Grab a few friends, put some dates on your calendar, and make it happen!  

Do you already do nature study regularly?  How do you make sure it happens and what do your outings look like?  Leave a comment and let us know!