A Reason and Season for Nature School
I've been hinting and sharing tidbits all Summer about the nature observation project that the kids and I have been practicing. This project emerged from my desire to do better at studying and connecting with the natural world, its patterns, and my relationship with it.
I decided to embark on this experiment with my kids (ages 8 and 11) since I intuitively knew they were born naturalists. Selfishly, I wanted to learn from their brilliant ideas and approaches.
Well, we are all born with the curiosity and hunger to learn about the world, to notice it, and to hold lengthy conversations with it. Similar to our losing our childhood practice of play, drawing, and uninhibited dancing, many of us stop nurturing our natural curiosities as we age. We learn a false sense of separation from nature, but here is an equation for you - brought to you by Penelope on our first day of Nature School.
It's a little difficult to read, but she wrote, "Hello!!!!! This equation is for you. Humans = Nature" and then, "Humans are Nature" She is undoubtedly familiar with my hashtag #youarenature that I tag onto most of my Instagram posts, but I love that she is sending out an invitation to the reader, "Do the math! You are nature! Pay attention!"
What Nature School Looked Like
Armed with drawing supplies, sketchbooks, picnic blanket, and our guiding text, The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms, by Clare Walker Leslie, we would pick a spot (sometimes indoors if raining) and settle down to notice what was happening around us. We usually sat for about an hour.
On the first day, the kids jumped right in plucking leaves off of the trees, making rubbings and taping them into their books. We made note of any questions we had along with any observations regarding the weather or what was blooming, leafing, insects bugging, etc. We talked about labeling our drawings, and not worrying if drawings were perfect. They were meant to diagram the experience not be works of art.
Almost immediately, though, I introduced Clare Walker Leslie's template for nature observation, and it became an instant hit. It was helpful to have a structure that included unseen elements like the phase of the moon and the times for sunrise and sunset. We each had our own interpretation of the structure, though. Abe leaned into drawing a whole scene, while I tried to focus on documenting poignant happenings.
Penelope took the framework one step farther making her entries into newspaper articles. She would craft a headline for that day's event and write a story describing such exciting news as the first duckling to hatch and the repair of a stone wall next to our patio. She preferred to include puns whenever possible.
Our Most Successful and Fun Day
The very best day we had at nature school, we spent in the creek. We began with Abe and I sitting on the bank and Penelope on a large rock in the middle of the creek. After a long period of arranging our tools and books so they wouldn't get wet, we began drawing and noticing, and there was a lot to see!
Here are some observations:
Here are some questions:
After playing in one spot we walked down the creek, noticing the current, sorting through pebbles, and clearing fallen branches out of the stream. Penelope said that water was the thing that calmed her the most. (She was spending the week without screens). Abe, our geologist, was marveling at all of the rocks. It took a lot to get both kids out of the creek for lunch and a bathroom break, for me. Hours had melted away, and it turned out to be my favorite memory of Summer. If I had to write one of those "back to school" essays about what I did over Summer, this would be it.
Continuing Practice of Nature Notes
These last two weeks have been busy with work, and the kids have been vacationing with grandparents. So, we haven't done nature school in awhile, but I have been continuing to make nature notes. I shared some in previous blog posts, but I really want to develop it as a year long practice of connecting with the natural phenomena around me so that I can recognize those same phenomena within me.
I decided to make a pamphlet book to fill, record, and remember. I want to be able to refer to these nature notes as a visual record of the previous year as well as a tool to develop my relationship with nature.
I am continuing to use the same nature notes template, but I adjusted it slightly to include room for notes that may pertain to nature or just my day in general. Below is the blank template. Feel free to use it as is or amend for your own observations. I also highly recommend The Nature Connection as a guide and resource for more ways to spark your inner child and develop your relationship with nature.
In the coming months, I intend to bring you more creative ways to connect with nature. Remember that important equation: You Are Nature! So take time to look around and make friends with yourself!
PS Just in case you missed my very soft launch of my new quilting line: Thumble. Please check out my new website devoted to quilts From Love, For Love, For Life! And be sure to sign up for Thumble Mail which is more about funny love notes and less about promotions, coupons, or sales!
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.