Sunday, November 4, 2012

Nature Knowledge Gained Without Lessons

We recently headed back to a local creek for nature study. There's so much here that we've discovered over the years.

Giant water bugs are smaller this time of year. Early last year we wondered what they ate in this creek since there didn't seem to be anything else of significant size.

Then we found *very* camouflaged dragonfly nymphs. This video shows one scooting around. I don't know why there are long thin dragonfly nymphs (the ones you typically think of) and then there are these short stout types. There were three of the stout types I noticed that day - one was black and had a white stripe on the back of its lower abdomen and was smallest in size, another was tan/light brownish, and lastly a reddish hued one which I suspect ends up something like a red skimmer.

This spider is still something of a mystery. My youngest daughter noticed it before (maybe it was a different type) carrying its egg sac on the end of its abdomen, which is a characteristic of wolf spiders. She called it a diaper :-) It also hops and is able to skim over water. I think it's some type of thin-legged wolf spider. Notice it's cephalothorax (I had to look that up) is larger than its abdomen. I wonder why it's a 'cephalo' thorax instead of just a thorax like with insects? The more you know the more questions you have and the more you don't know!

Once a month the kids have recitation at nature study. I'm using my old phone here while the one I dropped in the tidepool is sitting in a bag of rice so it's not the best quality audio/video :(  My son is reciting Bed in Summer and my daughter is reciting The Camel's Hump.

After finding and looking at all the bugs and recitation the boys built enemy traps - the spider ended up being thrown in there as the monster at the bottom of the pit. It did finally escape to safety if that kind of thing worries you :) They used acorns as men and after a few battles they sent them down the perilous river on bark rafts.

What is so amazing about nature is how it can fulfill each and every one - mother, boy, girl, toddler... all are fully engaged in completely different activities; each sensing, learning, creating, and interacting in their own unique way. At the same time, we are learning about this place, what lives here, how they survive, how it all changes at different times of the year. We draw them to draw our eyes closer and longer to see beyond the initial glance.

Here are the girls chit chatting on the way back from the creek through a canopy of Oak trees with a dash of poison oak adding some fall color along the edge of the trail.

Our kids can point out the plants along the way, the hazards, what is edible and what isn't, what it tastes like, what it smells like, what it feels like, what loses its leaves, what changes color, what grows where, what lives in an acorn, what lives under the leaves, what comes out after the rains, what changes occur with the seasons, what bird call belongs to which bird, what birds are found where, what they eat and how they store their food, which bugs bite or don't bite, where they plant their eggs and how their larvae feed, where the honeycombs are... They know direction and how to find their way and what lays at what point along the trail. They know what kinds of tracks and scat they might find and what animals might live in the little burrows they find.

They also see the effect of man on nature and are bothered by the bad things that happen to these places they love. Thoughts of conservation occur naturally to them out of a respect for life and a love of nature.

This knowledge has been gained without lessons, without textbooks and the connections they have to these places run deep in their soul. Just tonight as we looked out over the low lying hills by our home my daughter commented how much she loves when the hills look hazy with fog and how she loves all the creases in the hills and how there are big creases and smaller creases. They have a connection with this place that is theirs.

Will they never delve in to learn more about these places beyond what is knowable on their own? Of course they will through living books and field guides and talking with rangers and researching online. The difference is they will care to know it; they are seeking answer in their questions already. They are curious, they wonder, they want to know. 

Here we have the right order. That which was born of the spirit, the idea, came first and demanded to confirm and illustrate. ~Vol. 6

It is the children who are right, and we who are wrong; the world is more wonderful and more beautiful than even children think, and yet we would for ever correct them and inform them as to what we believe really is. We substitute facts for that wonder which is the seed of knowledge, and then we are amazed that eager, sweet-faced children grow into dull and indifferent little boys and girls. ~Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6


  1. What a wonderful variety of learning experiences this creek has provided your children. It looks like the perfect destination for a nature day, can you please tell us where this is located? If it's local, I'd love to add it to our schedule. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. DB, it's a creek that runs across Trabuco Creek Road in several places in Las Flores. The trail isn't always obvious since they were damaged by heavy rains, but can be found. There is also always poison oak here, particularly abundant in the spring.