Saturday, April 24, 2010

How to give the Lesson – Nature Study

Wow – I sat down 3 hours ago to try to articulate what has been swirling in my noggin  - pieces of Last Child in the Woods and pieces of the introduction to the Handbook of Nature Study. Two loads of laundry and a two batches of dishes done – 2 cups of coffee. And now, my 4th post – so My ponderings is winning. . . . . .and I’m only on page 7 of 24 of the opening.

We are involved in the Handbook of Nature Study’s online group of the Outdoor Hour Challenge.  Many times we have created time outside to discuss the current week’s challenge only to have the boys be excited in a newt, or different tree, or different flower – I am glad that I have grown to a relaxed style of teaching – as Ann says:

“Often the teacher insists upon flowers as the lesson subject, when toads or snakes would prove the key to the door of the child’s interest.”

I smile, sometimes a sad smile, while listening to parents complain and lament over a student who insists on learning something different than what they have prepared.  I am reminded of times that an enormous worm has inched itself out from under our tarp while studying Pine Trees, or when an Oyster Catcher has caught their attention instead of the circling Eagle, or when the clams in the water are more exciting than the temperature study. Be available to move on – change gears. Do not see the Pine Tree study as lost – but the Earthworm Study as gained. “Curiosity may elicit facts, but only real interest may mold these facts into wisdom” She also tags the teacher at fault of a disinterested child sent back to the house that it less of the subject matter and more of her method. Ouch.

She gives quite a few pages of what time of day/week to give these lessons – but what struck me as wonderful – relates to the “how long”.  "

“The Nature-study lesson should be short and sharp and may vary from ten minutes to a half hour in length. There should be no dawdling; if it is an observation lesson, only a few points should be noted and the meaning of the observations made clear. If an outline be suggested for field observation, it should be given in an inspiring manner which shall make each pupil anxious to see and read the truth for himself”

It is true that most of our Nature Walks are 1-4 hours long – but are real Nature Studies are mere moments.  I will now for the future stop saying this in apologetic tones.  People will ask how we learned something, and I feel bad that we spent 15-20 minutes on the topic and moved on.  I am seeing from the Nature Study books I’m reading that this is the best way.  We need the 3 hour walk to observe the whole – it is in that walk that they discover the tiny flower out of place or the tiny bird not seen before.

She talks of the Object Lesson – did you play this at baby showers? Hold up an object or set of objects – let them see the items, and then hide the objects while you try to recall all of the detail.  It is better to have the object living in front of you, eyes amazed at the detail of the live of the object, taking in all that is real and present, than to walk and then talk at home, or walk, and then study out of a book what others saw.  It gives a better relation to life – “of being instead of doing”.

“There is not a weed or insect or tree so common that the child, by observing carefully, may not see things never yet recorded in scientific books;  . .”

Anna gives detailed encouraging instructions for how the lesson is to go – her main idea is to provide questions, having the answers come from what is seen.  In our experience, the boys have raced into the house to find the answers not seen – Where do they build their nests? What do they eat? What is their name? Which seasons will they be here? How big do they get? Are they poisonous? Who eats them? Who do they eat?  Why are they here now? How do they have babies? How long until the babies grow up? on and on their questions go.

I encourage you to get the book- and read the intro – and keep the field guide questions by your side.  I am not good at coming up with the observation questions – but she has written down many of their nature studies in one volume – and you can glean from her overflow. You can also visit Barb’s site to have her hand feed the questions as well, it is what has given us direction this winter to seeing the detail and not just the whole.

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