Marrying Nature Study and Handicrafts for the Holidays

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First, a disclaimer: I am not “crafty.” Artistic, yes, but not crafty. I am absolutely positive there are more creative and capable moms out there who could take these crafts to a much higher level. Please feel free to post your ideas (with pictures!) in the comments! No competition here, just sharing the love!

Now that the disclaimer is taken care of…

There just aren’t enough hours in the day around the holidays. I’m all into killing a couple of proverbial birds with one stone, so here goes:

Nature study tends die off in our household about mid-November. Not that we don’t enjoy getting out of doors — we do — but honestly, there is just too much to do! Between the Christmas programs, extra music to learn, seasonal activities, and keeping up with Saxon math (ugh!), the shorter winter days are just not conducive to adding in that extra nature assignment.

In October, as our Adventurer group was collecting leaves for the tree award, it occurred to me that collecting natural materials from the out-of-doors wasn’t a tall assignment, and then we could make Christmas (or other holiday) crafts on colder, icky days in December.

Subjects you can cover with this assignment:

  • Nature Study/Natural Science: Identify those pine and birch trees as you collect needles and bark!
  • History: The Phoenicians were expert dye-makers. What dyes can you make from food or natural materials you have around? How is the process different from in ancient times? What items did the ancients use — or what items were used just a mere 200 years ago? How are paints or dyes for textiles made today?
  • Handicrafts: Charlotte Mason, an educator in the late 19th century, advocated for practical projects that children could make and use (or give away) as an essential part of education. (You might even be able to get some Adventurer awards taken care of with these crafts!)
  • Art: Art history might even be a subject to cover during this time. Perhaps one of your cards is inspired by an impressionist artist, or you are interested in artists who use a particular medium or style. These would be excellent, delight-directed unit study or extracurricular research projects.

Pinterest and internet searches are obvious places to look for ideas, but you might even try collecting items in your yard or along a nature path first, and then brainstorming for ways to use the items.

We concentrated on making Christmas cards using birch bark, pine needles, natural (homemade) dyes, and leaves. I purchased some blank cards with envelopes and a few pieces of scrapbook paper to add to our collected items. We also used ink pads, stamps, twine, and embossing powder to embellish the cards. This was really my first attempt at card-making, so my kids and I were experimenting together!

Starting list of items to collect:

  • Grasses, weeds, pine needles, bark, sticks from lilies, acorns
  • Pressed flowers from spring, summer, and fall
  • Pressed leaves
  • Bird nests
  • Feathers
  • Snake skins
  • Dried lavender and other herbs

Ideas for handicrafts using natural materials:

  • Candle holders (Arrange materials around a glass votive.)
  • Wreaths
  • Shadow boxes (Arrange items and then tack them in; label them if you wish.)
  • Hairpieces
  • Decorative baskets (Hot glue natural materials to the outside of a basket to “spruce” it up, literally.)
  • Art pieces (Include a special feather or grass in a painting for a 3D effect.)
  • Cards or gift tags

Enjoy your completed projects at home or give them away as handmade gifts! Happy holidays!

10 Fall-Themed Nature Study Ideas

Taking a fall nature walk!

Taking a fall nature walk!

Nature study can be as simple as opening a window to hear bird songs, or as complicated as…well, as complicated as you want to make it! Those following Charlotte Mason’s philosophy might wish to do a short nature study weekly (in addition to frolicking outdoors daily), while others might enjoy folding the study of nature into a unit study approach. There is no right or wrong to nature study!

My 10-year-old son just popped in to ask for another plastic container to catch a stink bug. I replied that I think we’ve used them all (for insects!)…and…didn’t he already have a stink bug? “Yes! But this is a different kind!” he answered. Insects are on our agenda for this month, and acquiring the Insect Honor for Pathfinders is providing impetus for our growing bug collection. (I have to admit that I’m really looking forward to studying birds soon! And no, there will not be a collection, other than abandoned feathers!)

Hopefully our bug collection and outside moth-hatching projects will pan out, but there are many other opportunities for fall nature study. I thought I’d share a few things we’ve done in the past during this season, as kind of a starter list. If you try any of these, or if you have other great ideas to share, please feel free to leave a comment.

  1. Begin a color wheel of seasons that will eventually (by the end of the year) document all four seasons with the predominant colors the children see outside. Credit for this idea goes to Clare Walker Leslie, whose book, The Nature Connection, has some great ideas!

    A color wheel of the seasons three-fourths completed.

    A color wheel of the seasons three-fourths completed.

  2. Go on a scavenger hunt. There are many scavenger hunt printables available online, or you can make your own. (Hint: If you make your own, you may want to pre-scout the area looking for unusual finds to include, such as special birds, trees, or animal tracks.)
  3. Participate in the National Bird Count or conduct a simple backyard bird count of your own. Watch for migrations of geese and other birds. In our area, there is a nature center which has a collection of stuffed birds, bird nests, and eggs, which makes a wonderful rainy day field trip. If you do find a feather or an eggshell, try looking at them under the microscope. I’ve purchased a CD of common bird songs for the kids to learn on our trips to and from music lessons, and am hoping that they will be able to recognize birds by sound soon.
  4. Prior to the big freeze, check out the insects in your own yard. If you have an aquarium or terrarium, praying mantises are around this time of year, and you might be able to find a female and watch her hundreds of praying mantis babies hatch out!
  5. This is a good time to search for pupae of moths and butterflies, too. By marking the spot and checking on it each day, you might just get lucky enough to see the adult emerge! There are wonderful online resources and books about butterfly migrations, and this can introduce a new geographical area to study, too. Follow the butterfly’s path from the ground, and learn about the bodies of water they fly over and the various countries/cities they pass through.
  6. A mid-day hike can refresh students’ minds during these cooler, but not yet cold, days. While you’re out note the fall leaves, and even nuts and seeds, on the trees. Collect a few leaf specimens and start on the Pathfinder Leaf/Tree Identification Honor! We love art projects around here, and painting fall leaves was a favorite when we were studying watercolor techniques.
  7. (Related to #6 . . .) We’ve been known to take drawing pencils and colored pencils along on our walks in a storage clipboard. This is great for documenting landscapes with fall color or drawing specimens you’d rather leave in the out-of-doors. Mushrooms, mosses, ferns, lichen, and tree fungi are wonderful items to capture at this time of year if you’re in the right climate! (Taking along watercolor pencils and then finishing the art project at home with a wet paintbrush is lots of fun, too!)

    Mushrooms: natural art pieces.

    Mushrooms: natural art pieces.

  8. A weather study is a fun project to begin in the fall. Search online for instructions for making your own weather-measuring instruments. If you’re traveling to another climate for the holidays, take along your weather kit for something to compare to home. We once compared weather in Kotzebue, Alaska — above the Arctic Circle — to weather in Arizona during the same time period. It was quite a study to compare such strikingly different biomes! Even a small contrast in weather and climate can elicit interesting results, though. Simply note which trees are out in full color, or which fruits and vegetables are ripening. (Samples are required, lol.)
  9. Fall can be a good time for planting trees, or starting a fall/winter garden. It’s also fun to initiate a seed collection, or plan for a spring garden, beginning with soil preparation and how to amend soil or plant fall cover crops.
  10. Fruit orchards and pumpkin patches naturally translate into wonderful field trips this time of year, and we like to follow up with pie-making and sauce-making, too!

A couple of final thoughts:

Local libraries usually showcase fall-themed books, and it’s nice to stock up for the occasional icky day. With the internet, it’s easy to take a book theme and explode it for indoor fun involving arts and crafts, science experiments, and even writing assignments. It’s a great unit study starter, or a fun “day off” from regular school work. The kids don’t even know they’re learning! LOL.

Check out the Adventurer awards and Pathfinder honors that correspond with this season. Here’s the link to the Pathfinder requirements: http://gcyouthministries.org/Ministries/Pathfinders/Honors/tabid/85/agentType/ViewType/HonorTypeID/5/Default.aspx. There are 95 honors under the Nature category! The Adventurer Awards search tool is here: http://gcyouthministries.org/Ministries/Adventurers/Awards/tabid/83/Default.aspx. (Search under “Nature” for the list of almost 30 awards available. If you are following the Adventurer grade-levels, you can search specifically for nature awards corresponding to your child’s grade, too.)

Happy Nature Studying!

My six-year old daughter took this picture with my camera. I love it! Photography can be used in lieu of drawing or collecting from nature.

My six-year old daughter took this picture with my camera. I love it! Photography can be used in lieu of drawing or collecting from nature.

Planning a Charlotte Mason Curriculum

One thing that drew me to the Charlotte Mason method of teaching was it’s simplicity and beauty! I can easily get overwhelmed with all the curriculum choices and pressure to do it all. I crave a restful but enriching teaching experience, and my children thrive in this type of environment. This school year I took a simplified approach to my lesson planning and have enjoyed it so much more. Plus, it has taken less time and energy to plan.

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So, how am I applying Charlotte Mason’s method of education to our curriculum this year? One thing I did was to plan out a basic overview of the curriculum topics I wanted to cover. I combined as many of the subjects as I could, and spaced them out over 36 weeks. These I divided into three terms. What is great about homeschooling is that you can tailor it to your individual family needs. Our family is a part of a Parent Partnered Program two days a week. My students take history, science, and writing through that program. This year, though, my eighth-grader has opted to do science at home, using Ambleside Online plan for Year 8. Then, using this basic overview, I record what we have completed each week. This allows me to be more flexible in our schedule and take breaks when needed.

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I really wanted to make sure we got in those enriching subjects that seem to get pushed to the wayside in favor of core work. So, halfway through last year we started implementing Morning Time. I stumbled on this beautiful concept through Pam Barnhill’s Podcast, “Your Morning Basket.” This is the first thing we do each day and lasts only about 30 minutes or so. During this time we cover Bible, memory verses, poetry, hymn, nature, artist, and composer studies. That sounds like a lot, but really it’s not. I read a short devotional, then we recite our memory verse and have prayer. I then loop the hymn, composer, artist, and nature studies for the month. Each month I choose to cover one hymn, composer, artist, and topic of nature study. The first two weeks of the month, we learn about the hymn and composer chosen. The last two weeks of the month, we learn about the artist and topic of nature. I do this so that we don’t become overwhelmed and try to cram too much into a week. This worked beautifully last year, and I am excited to include it this year also.

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Charlotte Mason’s method of short enriching lessons have blessed our family and given us the ability to learn at a more effective pace. This also has given our children time to dive into what they are passionate about.

Below are links to the curriculum we are using for our Morning Time, and a blank version of my planning spreadsheet:

Charlotte Mason Homeschool Planning Spreadsheet

“Your Morning Basket” Podcast by Pam Barnhill

Hymn Study – Ambleside Online – Hymns

Composer Study – Ambleside Online – Composers

Artist Study – “Discovering Great Artists” by MaryAnn F. Kohl

Nature Study – “Exploring Nature With Children” by Lynn Seddon

Charlotte Mason Education, Part 1

When I first began homeschooling my children just over a decade ago, one of my favorite things to do with them was to read aloud. I loved sitting in a cozy space with my children all snuggled around me while I read great adventures and heartwarming stories of old. I was drawn to vintage curriculum used in the late 1800s to early 1900s, and I stumbled across Old Fashioned Education online. Little did I know this would be my introduction to Charlotte Mason education. I taught my children to read through McGuffey Readers and spent hours reading stories aloud to them after lunch. We used a grammar curriculum from the early 1900s, along with Dick and Jane books. Plus, we spent a lot of time reading aloud. I loved this time in our education.

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But, somewhere along the way I got burned out, life got hectic, the kids were getting older, and a new little one was on the way. I tried a bunch of different types of educational methods and just couldn’t find what worked. So, I resorted to worksheets. While it was easy, it was lacking in depth and passion. The kids weren’t enjoying it and neither was I. I craved something meaningful, enriching, and beautiful. I longed for that simpler time when the kids were younger and all we needed was a good book and time outside! And, then it happened! I was perusing Pinterest and stumbled across Charlotte Mason. I don’t remember exactly what blog post, quote, or picture drew me in, but it was like a fire was lit! All of a sudden I was excited again! I spent hours researching and reading everything I could get my hands on. The Charlotte Mason method of education was exactly what I had been craving.

So, who is Charlotte Mason and what was her method of teaching? Charlotte Mason was a British educator who believed there is more to education then just learning to take tests. She believed that each child is their own individual person, capable of dealing with a multitude of enriching ideas. She believed they are not just a blank slate ready to be molded. She said that education is a discipline, an atmosphere, and a life. True education is about finding out who we are within this world that God created and how we fit into it.

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“An Atmosphere, A Discipline, A Life”

Charlotte Mason had three main principles that her method was built around. “Atmosphere” refers to the surroundings in which a child grows up. A child absorbs so much from their surroundings. In fact she believed that the rules that govern us as parents make up one third of a child’s education. “Discipline” is also referred to as “Habits,” specifically good character habits. This is another third of a child’s education. The last third of a child’s education is “Life.” This portion applies to academics. Charlotte Mason believed that we should give children and education that is full of living books, thoughts, and ideas, rather than dry textbooks, worksheets, and facts. The application of her educational method is based on this idea.

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Charlotte Mason believed in teaching subjects through living books. She encouraged including topics that were lovely, like poetry, composer and artist study, and nature studies. She was a huge proponent of children spending lots of time in nature, and believed formal education should wait until the child is 8-10 years old.

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I am still in the learning phase of this method of education, but I found that I could immediately apply her method while still learning. There are so many wonderful resources out there that have helped me.

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Further Links for Reading:

Next month I will cover Part 2 on how we are applying the Charlotte Mason Method with our children from toddler to middle schoolers.

 

Nature Studies With Young Children

There was a child went forth every day,

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The Early lilacs became part of the child,

And grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover,

And the song of the phoebe-bird,

And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter,

And the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf…

 -Walt Whitman

 

Young children are naturally curious about their world around them. They love to get their hands dirty and experiment with objects, and they thrive developmentally in a natural environment. Children need to be outdoors in order to be healthy, make meaningful connections, and to heal. This is perfectly stated in one of my favorite books by Richard Louv, The Last Child in the Woods:

…whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it. Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighborhood. It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture’s fantasies. Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion.” 

There are so many fun and creative ideas to do with children outside. It can be a simple as playing in the grass or digging in the dirt in your own back yard, taking a walk in the woods, and observing birds in the trees or insects on the ground.  Make time to immerse your children in nature! I know with my own toddler, whenever we get outside she sleeps better and has a better attitude…and so does mommy!

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Below I have gathered a few resources to help you in your nature studies with your little ones.

Videos:

  • MicroCosmos– It follows the insect world through up-close and time lapse photography throughout a day and night. Some of the caterpillar shots are so cool! There are also some great ladybug segments plus lots of other insects and a few frogs. There are a couple of shots that might disturb sensitive younger ones such as a spider wrapping a cricket in her web.
  • The Magic School Bus Bugs, Bugs, Bugs

Books:

  • Usborne Big Bug Search (goes along with almost all the titles; look for whatever insect you are studying)
  • Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method, by Sally Kneidel
  • Animals, Animals, by Eric Carle (a book of poetry) (This is mentioned in many of the units with corresponding page numbers. Maybe at the end of the unit, after your student has been exposed to lots of poetry about insects, he would like to write some of his own.)

 Websites:

Activity Ideas:

IMG_2105Oatmeal Box Bug House ~ http://candacetodd.blogspot.com/2008/07/bug-home.html

Creating Your Own Nature Journal

 A nature journal is a creative, fun way for children to connect to nature in a way that is meaningful and insightful. Children who use nature journals also learn to pay attention to details, be patient, and study changes in the world around them.

Creating a nature journal is very simple to do. Kids can use a basic notebook or sketchbook to record their notes and images in. Some prefer books that have lined pages, or books that allow additional pages to be added and removed as needed. The best way to decide what type of book to use is to decide what the nature journal will be used for.

Getting children started in using a nature diary is a great way to get them outside and into nature. The more time spent outdoors, the happier and healthier they may be. Find a book that matches the child’s needs and purposes, then customize it to give it a unique look. Having a nature journal that they have added their creative touches to gives them pride in what they are learning.

What to include in a nature journal:

  • Leaf and tree rubbings
  • Sketches
  • Water color paintings — We also love to use water color crayons.
  • Poetry
  • Quotes
  • Statistics
  • Pressed flowers
  • Nature stamp art — Collect rocks, acorns, and other hard objects, dip in paint and use as stamps.
  • Lists of birds, flowers and insects you have observed
  • Recording the seasons of a tree — Photograph or draw a tree once each season to observe how it changes.
  • Photographs
  • Recording animal tracks seen in your yard or on a nature walk — Try to identify them.
  • Seeds to plant — When planting your yard, tape a seed to the page and draw or glue a picture of the plant next to it once it has grown.

More websites with ideas for nature journaling: