Monday, May 31, 2010

A Charlotte Mason Nature Study Group

Have you thought about forming a Charlotte Mason Nature Study Group or Co-op?
It has been a wonderful blessing for our little group in so many ways. We highly recommend it.

Every group is different and will have a flavor all its own depending on its members.
Here are some of the things that have worked well in our group:

Nature Journaling
This is the one thing we do consistently on a weekly basis.
This is what we wish to do for children in teaching them to draw - to cause the eye to rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some object of beauty which will leave in their minds an image of delight for all their lives to come. ~Vol. 1 p. 313


We aim for the children to recite once a month. We let the children pick a poem of their choice from a selection of our choosing. Some children memorize it, others read it - we leave it up to the individual families to decide what is best for them.

An accepting and encouraging environment is obviously important being that it can be intimidating to speak in front of others, some personalities struggle with this more than others. Overcoming the fear at first is a good beginning goal. If they are working on memorizing it, it's good to give them ample time to do so because the goal of recitation is not to memorize, but to learn to speak well in public and "to find the just expression of thought for himself."

(Although, I will admit there were a couple of times we memorized the last stanza in the car on the way to Nature Study! I apologized to them profusely and helped them with any lines they may have forgotten during their recitation.)

Foreign Language

We did this through a short song or quick game like duck, duck goose in Spanish, rock paper scissors in Japanese, role-playing shopping in French, etc.

Art Lesson
We've had quick art lessons (thanks, Jen for all the great lessons you've put together for them!) like . . . sketching - use a sharpie or a soft graphite pencil (no erasing!) and use quick strokes to draw a thing, keep the hand moving.

Or, shading - take one color, add white for a lighter tint, brown or black for a darker shade; use all three colors because even though a bird is blue, there are shades. A leaf would be great for this also.

Bird beaks - See all the shapes of birds beaks? Look at the birds you see and only draw their heads, paying special attention to their beaks. Use hatching (fine, parallel lines drawn close together) to create shading or texture.

Field Trips
Every now and then we like to mix things up or attend something that sounds interesting or fun - the farm for colonial days, museums, the aquarium, a musical performance at the local university, Olvera St. and Chinatown in Los Angeles, the community mud park, the Japanese grocery/department store, kayaking, etc.

Another CM nature group recently had a bake sale and contributed all the funds to the wetlands conservatory - isn't that a great idea!? It's expected coming from a wonderful group like theirs. :)
For the most part, we just take them out in nature and let them be.

We give them free, unstructured time to explore, discover, create, and mainly 'be in touch' with nature.

In the beginning, it took a little time for all of us to learn 'Masterly Inactivity,' which works best when you invest time in teaching your children discipline and respect for others and their property. Now, we are able to enjoy our time discussing a book or talking with very little incident arising from the children.

The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children. ~Vol. 1, p. 136
Some of the books we've enjoyed as a group include topics like: parenting, theology, being a better mother and wife, homemaking, literature, etc.

The nature of a CM education is that we are learning along with our children, and we often find ourselves discussing the books, art, music, etc. that we learn along with our children.
Since our particular group uses the Ambleside curriculum, some of us may add some reading from a living book on the topic for the term (wildflowers, trees, insects, etc.) or play audios (free downloads available from http://www.librivox.org/ - john burroughs, arabella buckley, Fairy Book of Science, etc.) so that they learn about the subject through living books.
We may also choose a location where our children would more likely encounter those things we are to be learning about.

Mostly what we find though is that our Nature Study ends up revolving around whatever the children find and show an interest in. For example, fossils wasn't until YR4, but we found a creek that has fossils (I've hear this area may be overgrown now) so we're not going to prevent learning where it is naturally going to occur.
The Handbook of Nature Study and field guides to wildflowers, animals, lizards, bugs, plants, etc. are all great books for the Mothers to have so that when the children show interest, they will have answers to their questions. We all have our own favorites. :) UCI Natural History is a great online one for locals.

Most of the locations we go to are natural places where the children are free to touch nature without being scolded. We do teach them not to hurt creatures, plants, etc. unnecessarily. A good book to read on this topic is Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.

Some reasons why we think our group works so well:
We've kept it small - right now we have 8 moms and up to 24 kids. Not everyone shows up everytime so we typically end up with around 5 moms and around 15 kids.
We really like each other and get along well.
We passionately love CM education and continue to learn about her philosophy and methods.
We love homeschooling our children.
We are committed to attending to and disciplining where needed when incidents arise between the children).
We are willing to trek almost anywhere with kids and babies in tow for the sake of a good nature outing. Our kids, especially babies, have learned to be flexible, and we have too. (e.g., we can change a diaper anywhere!)
We've learned a good routine to get everything packed and ready for the day:
packed lunches
water for everyone in their own bottles
nature journals
art supplies
field guides
diaper and wipes
baby carrier
picnic blanket
and if you're on track, a cup of coffee to go
And of course, there will inevitably be those days when all goes wrong.

If you are looking to connect with other CMers or would like to possibly form a CM nature study group in your area, you can connect with others via www.charlottemasoneducation.org or on our facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/socalcm.


  1. I am so grateful for our nature study group. It's the highlight of each week. We never know what the kids will discover, but it never fails to be something interesting and worthy of our attention and careful observation and study.

    Just look at the joy on the kids' faces. The creativity abounds when we take them outdoors where they structure most of the time themselves. I couldn't come up with some of their own ideas.

    I hope this post will encourage others to initiate a nature group, maybe starting with just their own family. That's how we started before we all got together. Such rich memories.

  2. Well, I must confess I am inspired (and a little jealous) when I see what a fantastic CM homeschooling community you have in California.


    Michelle from Australia

  3. I have been considering organizing a Nature Study outing for our local homeschool group, though many of them aren't using CM right now. I'm curious how you started... Did you begin with that many people, or just a few families and then invited more once the structure was set... ? I love that you incorporated poetry and creative art and nature journaling into the day. Did that come about organically, or did you plan it that way from the beginnig?
    Thanks for this post! It is inspiring.

  4. There were 3 or 4 moms who were already meeting informally every week in a natural setting. They were all reading about CM already and attending a local CM meeting. I met one of them at a field trip hosted by a local non-CM homeschooling group when my oldest was 5 and she helped me figure out how to get started with AO's Yr0 and invited me to meet up with their group. From there we met for coffee one night and planned out ideas for the upcoming year. We made a schedule and continued to meet every 6 months or so to revisit our plans and decide where to meet and what to do. We are now finding more Moms who are interested in joining our group and trying to figure out how to help others form their own groups. I don't think you need to have a "CM" group to make it work, I would suggest you read a book like "For the Children's Sake" together, we usually do a chapter a week and discuss the ideas. You may end up with a group of CM enthusiasts once they understand what it all entails. Good luck! And feel free to connect with us on our community site at www.charlottemasoneducation.ning.com - I'd be happy to help where possible.

  5. Any hints on how to get the children to sit down to do their nature journals. Our club seems so excited to be outside and to be together that it is hard to help them want to stop and journal. Thanks!

    1. Amy, it depends on the ages of the kids. We have in the past had a set time when everyone did their nature journals. Some prefer to take their time and do them at home, others prefer to make the point with their kids that the purpose of the outing is to observe and record nature and as the parent, we're responsible for ensuring that happens while not making them hate it either, a tricky thing to do. I think it really helps when everyone in the group is on board and having their kids in the habit of observing and journaling too. The negative attitudes of some can definitely affect the whole so its good to be like-minded in curiosity, wonder, sense of adventure, etc and choose your group memebers wisely as well as revisit your group goals yearly.

    2. Another idea is to let them see a journal, a couple books that come to mind are "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" by Edith Holden and also "Keeping a Nature Journal" by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth are great books to browse through for inspiration.

  6. Hello,
    Would you know of one available that has openings? There is one in my area, but they are full. I live in the Pasadena area.
    Thank you.