Last week, as you all must know by now, (considering how much I've mentioned it!) I hosted a homeschool support group meeting at my house and the theme was nature study. We were a small group of 5, but it was a fruitful and fun evening. I'd like to share a few pictures of the set up with you, as well as some of my notes from the meeting.
To begin with, here is how I set up the learning room, in order to display some of my nature study resources:
I spread picture books all across the windowsills, favorite stories that inspire or supplement a particular topic (I'll set up a sidebar book list soon). On the chairs I have our nature puppet collection (at left) and all our field guides (at right). On the table I set out favorite nature study resources:
Here's a close up of our nature puppets, which I find to be excellent teaching tools with the younger children:
Our favorite puppets are made by Audubon and Folkmanis. A great resource for puppets and all kinds of nature study supplies, is Acorn Naturalists.
And here are our field guides:
Favorites are Peterson First Guides, Golden Guides and Smithsonian Handbooks.
Above you see the far right corner of the room and the second display table. More resources here, including our Birdsong Identiflyer, nature magazines and catalogs, and our new squirrel feeder. Here's a close-up:
Oops, how did that phone get in there? :)
I even set up the prayer corner for the night, with a tiny paper mache bird and a postcard showing my all-time favorite nature study subject, a little red squirrel.
I must tell you, I had candles lit and classical music playing - it was a very peaceful and contemplative atmostphere, I think . Bill had taken the boys out for the night, and for a few minutes there, before my first guest showed up, I hardly knew what to do with myself, lol! Clean house, coffee brewing, music playing, candles lit - what now?? :)
Here's a peek at the goodies spread out on the island (not shown are the delicious cinnamon buns brought by my friend Lisa):
So, did we talk about nature? Well, yes we did, but we also happened to be a group of good friends and, as any mother knows - when you get together with your mommy friends (without kids), you can hardly stop talking about all manner of things!
Once we got around to the actual meeting we talked about whether or not our children enjoyed nature study - why they do (a love of bugs) or might not (a fear of bugs). One mom brought a page from her son's nature journal - a wonderful collection of notes and sketches. This particular page was filled with comments on urban nature study, which led us to another aspect of discussion. What can we see where we live, here in the suburbs? Turns out a lot, as we compared notes on who's seen what - coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, deer, woodchucks/groundhogs, bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks, ducks, and birds of all kinds.
We talked for quite a while about nature sketching and how for some children (and moms) it can present a real obstacle. One friend shared how her daughter gets quite frustrated when she can't draw things just right. She wondered if she should encourage her child to perservere or back off lest she turn her off sketching completely. We also spoke about the different ways children draw - some press their pencils very hard, some not enough, some prefer to trace and are happy with that. Our talk turned to art programs for a while.
We discussed how nature study might lead a child to a certain career path - wildlife handler, nature park ranger, photographer, even a (biology) textbook illustrator.
We talked at great length about what has happened to childhood in general over the past few generations - how we've slowly become an indoor, plugged-in society. Many of us recounted childhoods spent out-of-doors (in the summer anyway) roaming all over, knowing the trees in our neighborhood so well. Today we face many obstacles to such freedom - too much stuff, too much busy-ness, too many distractions, too many stranger dangers. We touched briefly upon the book Last Child in the Woods (which I own but have not yet read).
We didn't get around to it at this meeting, but later I spoke with one of my friends about the possibility of starting a small nature study group. Perhaps we could get together on a regular basis (once a month or every six weeks?) to do an activity, share journals and recent nature observations with each other. This would be a great way to do some larger group activities and allow the kids to encourage each other and fuel each other's interest in the outside world. We'll see what happens - I have yet to spread the word too far.
I'd like to say thank you to all the moms who came to my meeting - wish we could all do it again sometime soon. I'd also like to thank everyone who took the time to leave suggestions for me in my earlier post: Nature Study: What are Your Questions?. Like I said before, I do not have the answers myself, but maybe we can work on the questions together! I'm not sure if I'll start those posts here or at The Nature Corner, my other blog. So stay tuned. :)