It Isn’t All Sunshine and Roses (At Least Not on Paper)

February 19, 2007 @ 2:12 pm | Filed under: Charlotte Mason, Nature Study

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the aspects of the Charlotte Mason method that work so very well for us here in the Lilting House. Today I thought I would balance that by talking about the pieces that aren’t exactly clicking perfectly here at the moment.

You know what isn’t happening? Nature notebooks. One of my new California friends, upon hearing that I’m this huge CM enthusiast, said she can’t wait to see our nature journals. I had to laugh. There isn’t much to see. Jane and I started off great guns when she was, oh, maybe four years old. Her first journal contains charming if barely decipherable drawings of garden flowers, beach treasures, and neighborhood leaves. We glued in some pressed pansies, which are now crumbling out of the book.

It was a fine beginning, and a beginning is all it was. Fully half of the pages are blank.

A year or two later, we started afresh, this time in the manner described in Karen Andreola’s Pocketful of Pinecones. We got one of those composition books with the black-and-white covers, and Jane began carrying a clipboard with drawing paper on our walks. Her drawings were cut to size and pasted into the book, labeled, and then (if I made her) she might copy a short poem on the facing page. Again, charming pages—all six of them.

Oh, we have started afresh a time or two since then. I am a great one for fresh starts. And of course Beanie and Rose acquired their own journals along the way. I found the latest batch yesterday, the ones we were working on in Virginia, before we moved. Way before. The most recent drawings were labeled "April 2005."

Hmm.

Despite this inconsistent and unimpressive record, I have spent some six years now blithely thinking of "nature journals" as one of the defining factors of our family experience. Living books, narrations, deep discussions, and nature journals: I am sure I have rattled this list off a thousand times when people ask questions about how we homeschool. I didn’t mean to be deceptive. Mainly I was fooling myself: that comfy knowledge that we have done it sometimes translated into an airy conception of this is something we do.

(We really DO do the rest of the list, I am relieved to be able to say!)

What was happening was the muddling-together in my mind of nature study and nature journaling. Nature study is a regular daily occurrence around here. Hardly a day passes in which we are not observing and discussing and looking up various flora and fauna. We are passionately interested in birds; we get giddy about growing things; we run for the magnifying glass when a strange six-legged beastie shows up in the backyard, the butterfly net, or (in a shuddersome stretch of days some time ago, which I do not ever care to revisit) on someone’s head.

But here we are, in a new environment, making the freshest of fresh starts; and this time, we’re going to get serious about our nature journals. We are all agreed upon this. Yesterday we hunted up all our supplies and arranged them neatly in the patio room where they can be snatched up on a daily basis. Daily! All right, every-other-day-ly! Or weekly! I’ll settle for "often"!

We are all excited, the girls and I. But enthusiasm does not equal perseverance, so I shall rely upon my gentle readers for some accountability-assistance. Ask me in a month or two how our nature notebooks are coming along, and if I don’t answer, you may interpret that as a blush.

To aid us in our new endeavor, we shall keep in mind the guidelines for nature journaling which Miss Mason herself laid out. At the extremely useful website called Charlotte’s Daughters, a generous CM enthusiast has typed out some actual PNEU syllabi. These make fascinating reads for a number of reasons, and I will be referring to them often in days to come. For now, I want simply to focus on the nature-journaling aspect of these programmes. The science section of each level includes instructions for students to "find and describe" various natural objects and creatures: for example, six-year-olds are to find

6 wild fruits

6 twigs of trees


6 wild flowers

 
Watch, if possible, and describe 30 birds and 15 other animals.

and to "keep a nature notebook." The syllabus does  not elaborate on what that means (presumably it was explained in other accompanying materials), but farther down the page we find instructions for the year’s drawing lessons:

Drawing and painting
 

Pencils should not be much used.

 

1.    Observation

 

In season, in brush painting or in pastel, draw

 

6 wild fruits or berries, and autumn leaves


6 twigs of trees, especially with buds or catkins


6 wild flowers

 

Draw or paint 18 animals that the child has been able to watch.

 

Draw and paint occasionally from memory.

 

2.    Technique

 

"Children should have exercises in brush strokes and should paint
freely on large sheets of … paper … They should draw with brush,
crayon, charcoal, or blackboard chalks. … Avoid pencil outlines
filled in with colour."

 

Simple flat color washes of shapes or clouds, sunsets, the sea, etc.

 

3.    Imaginative work

 

Pictures of people or scenes read about in Literature

 

Christmas, Easter, birthday, and other greeting cards

This is for the first-year students, remember, about age six, and is an overview of the goals for the whole school year. I imagine a great deal of this happens spontaneously in most homeschools…but it is nice to have as a frame of reference, don’t you think? Especially in regard to the nature journals.

Drawing goals for eleven-year-old PNEU students (Year 6) were similar: over the course of the year, draw

6 wild fruits or berries, and autumn leaves
6 twigs of trees, especially with buds or catkins
6 wild flowers

18 studies of animals that the child has been able to watch.

Draw from memory.

And (under Science)

Make special studies for the season with drawings and notes, e.g.,

 

        seed dispersal

        twigs, seedlings, etc.

        learn the songs of 6 birds

        visits of insects to plants

        wild flowers that grow together.

Our pencils are sharpened. (Never mind that "pencils should not be much used.") Our most recent half-filled notebooks are ready and waiting. Our trusty Prismacolor pencils are handily arranged. We have the will; we have the way; now all that remains is to do.


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Comments

9 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. I wouldn’t get too perturbed over this. It’s actually just one more example of why homeschooling is so wonferful. You find the glove that fits the hand you’ve been given. No need to worry about it, if it’s not “broke.”

    I’m not saying DON’T do the nature journals… just rest in the fact that you know what’s been working well for your family!

    Of course we should all try to stretch ourselves a bit, but not at the expense of our sanity as many mothers do. All things in their proper perspective I suppose… I’m sure you already knew that! ;o)

  2. WE have markedly stepped up our nature journaling as of late as well, let’s check back in with each other in a month and see how it’s going ; ) Thanks for the CM Daughters link, I’m excited to explore it!!

  3. I haven’t had ONE CHILD who ever managed to fill more than a few nature notebook pages. I am absolutely GREEN (pun intended) with envy when I see other peoples’ nice journals and hear about packing the backpacks with Prismacolours etc.

    I understand the theory behind it, I know why reproducing what you see would be a wonderful schooling in observation. We do go OUT and look at things. I have copies of The Edwardian Lady etc. around for inspiration, and Clare Walker Leslie’s book about keeping a nature journal. But the actual journalling is pretty sporadic.

  4. I haven’t had ONE CHILD who ever managed to fill more than a few nature notebook pages. I am absolutely GREEN (pun intended) with envy when I see other peoples’ nice journals and hear about packing the backpacks with Prismacolours etc.

    I understand the theory behind it, I know why reproducing what you see would be a wonderful schooling in observation. We do go OUT and look at the things. I have copies of The Edwardian Lady etc. around for inspiration, and Clare Walker Leslie’s book about keeping a nature journal. But the actual journalling is pretty sporadic.

  5. Ellie, it doesn’t distress me at all; I actually think it’s pretty funny. I like to share our shortcomings here as well as our successes lest I give anyone a false impression of perfection–we are far from perfect here! 🙂

  6. OK, Lissa, I’ll hold you to it! Will you do the same for me?

  7. This is where we fall down, too. The actual recording, drawing, etc. …. I’m not distressed over it, either, but I do like to have those fresh starts. 🙂

  8. I recently purchased 4 spiral bound sketchbooks to use as nature journals. We tried the clipboards and composition notebooks too and didn’t get far at all.

  9. We’ve had the worst track record with this too. I am the first to admit that rarely do we go on an actual “nature walk”, so that’s part of the problem. Our (ok, MY) bent is more toward ordering ladybug larvae and caterpillars from Insect Lore, observing them, and then turning them loose in our organic garden when the time is right. The older one and I tried journaling, and I found lovely journals at Borders (on clearance, no less) that were perfect for this. That lasted during the summer. The summer of 2002! Oops. At least we are in an area with plenty of natural resources, so field trip days = plenty of observation of nature. I suppose that is more than many schoolchildren will receive, so I shouldn’t sweat it too much.