Posts Tagged ‘nature study’

My Nature Lore Booklist

Dear Reader,

This is a question that came up on a discussion board and it’s one of those things I probably should have gotten together a while ago. You can find all my lists of living books here.

What is Nature Lore and How do you use it?

Simply put, “nature lore” refers to books that tell about nature and science-related topics in a literary way. I use the term because it is popular in Charlotte Mason circles. In reality, “creation lore” might be a better term. I fear that nature lore makes one think that we must read about nature only — animals especially and maybe a little about plants. I use “creation” to draw our attention to all that God has made, from the stars to the rocks, from weather to physical laws. Really any science related topic presented in a literary form is fair game.

If I could go back in time, I would do a lot less with my kids when they were little, but one thing I would definitely keep is reading nature creation lore aloud. The goal of science in the early years particularly is just to keep alive and feed children’s innate curiosity and love for knowledge. Most kids have a love for the world around them in some way. It may be a passion for dinosaurs or panda bears or a penchant for filling up your car and their underwear drawer with rocks and sticks, but one way or another it comes out.  Feeding this love requires two things: time outside and good books. (The former I hope is obvious but at any rate would be the subject for another post.) Books give us the knowledge to dig deeper into what we see with our eyes (and feel and smell and hear). They expand out horizons. We don’t all live near volcanoes and kangaroos. Books take us to the places we can’t go ourselves. Good authors communicate their own passion and inspire ours. They draw us in through their own enthusiasm for their subject. (For more on science and why and how we study it, see this post.)

The actual process of doing nature lore with your kids is simple: read and narrate, read and narrate. If you have multiple kids, have them take turns narrating what you read. Read chunks that are appropriate to their age and ability to retain. With the littlest kids, you may be reading a paragraph or two at a time only. If you have multiple ages, I usually gear my reading to just below the level of the oldest child participating. The oldest can still get something out of what it read but so can the next one or two. Don’t worry too much about littles. They will get more than you expect. One nice thing about science-y topics is that they often lend themselves to alternative forms of narration. Charts, pictures, and diagrams can be good ways to reproduce what one has heard. For instance, if you have just read about types of volcanoes, each child can take a few minutes to draw the various kinds and, depending on age and ability, label them.

Nature lore and time outside are really all you need for science in the elementary years. I know this can be hard to swallow and that you want to add in more but remember the goals — to encourage a love for creation, to build relationships with the things God has made, to encourage curiosity and observational skills. If your child wants to do some hands-on experiments, that’s fine, but you don’t need such things. (They will be getting some hands-on experience in their time outside as well. It is fun to make slime and watch things explode and I would not deprive any kid of those joys, but often science experiments made for young children are pretty preachy and basic anyway.)

Nature lore does not need to end. As my kids got older, meaning into middle school, I would often pick a topic for the year or the term. Things like meteorology or geology (again, look at my other booklists for some of those). Even in high school we continue to use living books as the basis of our science, adding in labs and definitely being more topical (a year each of biology, chemistry, physics). But that doesn’t mean you need to abandon nature lore. There are many wonderful books written for adults that keep alive that sense of wonder and that transport us to new places.

This is not going to be a complete list (if that were ever possible!). There is just too much out there and I am sure I have forgotten a lot of what we used when they were little. If you have other suggestions, please let me know and I will add them. Don’t be afraid to find your own books. Some of the best ones we’ve used were garage sale or thrift store finds that are not on anybody else’s nature lore list. After you have done this a bit, you will become more adept at judging books for yourself. You can usually pick up a book and read the first few paragraphs and get a sense if it is going to be an engaging book and if it is the appropriate level for your kids. If you get a little ways in and for some reason don’t love it, drop it and move on to another.

The books below are roughly sorted by age level, from the youngest to the oldest. I am very hesitant to give specific age ranges. Good nature lore often appeals to a wide range fo ages. Older children can still get something out of simple books and young ones will get more than you expect from books that seem over their heads.

Nature Lore Books for All Ages

Among the ………..People by Clara Dillingham Pierson — This series of books focuses on various environments — meadow, forest, etc. Each reading is fairly short, maybe 2 pages, which can work well with younger children. We had a one volume set that included all the books. My daughter did get tired of them after a while. I do think the whole lot might be a lot to do all at once.

Natural Wonders Every Child Should Know by Edwin Tenney Brewster — This was one of those thrift store finds for me. It covers a wide range of topics (including reproduction!) at an elementary level. I include not because I expect it to be easy for anyone to find (though certainly pick it up if you do) but because look at that title — if you see an old looking book with a title like this, you should always buy it.

Millicent Ellis Selsam — Some authors are so good it is hard to pick one book by them. Selsam’s are fairly brief, mostly of the easy reader variety, and cover a variety f topics. She has books on seeds, microscopes, turtles, and more.

Robert McClung — McClung will reappear below as well. His easier books are fun, easy reader level books. We particularly liked the one about Stripe the Chipmunk.

In the Land of the Lion — Another thrift store find. Again, this is the sort of title you should perk up at if you see it. This book discusses various African animals which brings up another point: nature lore can also often be geography. It’s good to learn more details about nature close to home, but books also open the world to us.

Toklat: The Story of an Alaskan Grizzly Bear by Alfred Milotte — Some books are surveys of a time or place; some take us in depth on one animal. The title kind of says it all for this one. A quick search on Amazon shows me Milotte wrote others as well and I suspect they are all worthwhile.

How’s Inky (and sequels) by Sam Campbell — The story of a porcupine (if I am remembering correctly). Told with humor.

Tale of …………….. by Thornton Burgess — Burgess will reappear below as well. His books that are along the lines of “the Story of so-and-so animal” are wonderful for children learning to read chapter books. Each section is very short but manages to advance the story so one doesn’t get bored.  I prefered his books that stick to animals and was less enamored of the ones that feature Mother West Wind.

The Storybook of Science  by Jean Henri Fabre — This is one of my must reads because it covers so many subjects, from bees to volcanoes, even including some history as I recall. I am not actually crazy about its modus operandi which is to set the information as stories told my an uncle to his nephews and nieces, but is it still a good book. Fabre has many others though I am less enamored of those that stick to a single subject.

Jack’s Insects by Edmund Selous — There are some guides to go along with this book and it is quite popular on living book lists. We used it. I wasn’t crazy about it. Honestly, it might be a bit too much on insects.

Spotty the Bower Bird by Edward Sorenson — This was out foray into Australian animals. I lovely book if you can manage to find it.

Jacques Cousteau — The famous French diver and oceanologist has written a number of books for kids. We stumbled across two, one on dolphins and one on walruses and seals. Both were fairly well done and worth getting. They are from the series the Undersea Discoveries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. I believe there are other series under his name that are a bit more textbook-y.

Naturally Curious by Mary Holland — This book focuses on New England (my area) and gives what to look  for in each month, what is blooming etc. It tends to list a few things and then go in-depth on one or two. This would not be an every day or even every week book but is good to check in with every month to get an idea of what one might expect to see.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot — Herriot’s tales of a vet and the people and animals he encounters are quite well-known. My daughters really enjoyed them. He has various volumes and you can also find shorter versions of his books that focus on one topic, cats for instance.

Forgotten by Time by Robert Silverberg — Silverberg is a favorite author of mine. He also has books on history and one called Scientists and Scoundrels. This one is on all those animals (and a few plants) that don’t quite fit our usual categories.

The Rhino with the Glue-on Shoes by Lucy Spelman — Tales from a zoo-keeper, I believe. My daughter liked this one when she was in middle school.

Curious Naturalist by Sy Montgomery — This book has short readings organized by season. It is good even for high school. The chapter on beavers is worth the whole book.

The Animal Book and  The Bird Book by Thornton Burgess — I told you he would reappear. These two books are longer and a bit more of a haul. We found the bird book a bit much all at once though my one bird-living daughter read some of it on her own. Beware that sometimes things change in science: rabbits are no longer considered rodents.

Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson — Silent Spring is quite famous and tells of the effect of pesticides on the environment.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson — Tells the author’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail.

A Walk through the Year, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm  and Circle of the Seasons by Edwin Way Teale — Teale has a number fo wonderful books. They can be read by adults but I also read one aloud to my elementary kids. Circle of the Seasons gives daily readings. A Walk Through the Year is organized by seasons and can also be found as four separate volumes. A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm  is more anecdotal and the title pretty much tells you where you are going with this one.

Wilderness Essays by John Muir — Muir is famous naturalist and I have heard he was a Christian. His love for nature comes through. This is the book of his we have used but I suspect his others are also worth the time.

Tristan Gooley — Gooley has a number of books that are good reads for high school boys who might be les enthused by nature books. They cover things like finding your way in the woods.

Lost Wild America by Robert McClung — McClung reappears with a book for the older crew. This one is on endangered animals and includes some historical context for each.

Tracker: The Story of Tom Brown as told to William Jon Watkins — The true story of a boy growing up in New Jersey in the 1960s (or so). His friend’s grandfather is an old Native American tracker and teaches them what he knows. There is one tiny adult bit (that might easily slip past a child) and there is some “spirit of nature” type stuff but personally, I wouldn’t worry about it confusing an older child. Overall this is a wonderful book that is very engaging and transports you to another place plus gives lots of useful info on tracking and the like. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell — I loved this book. I laughed aloud in parts. It is an upper level book because, well, the family is included and there is some adult content. Read it yourself if you don’t want to give it to your kids. The Durrell family moved from England to Cyprus and the boy, Gerald, was quite the collector of animals. There is also a PBS series about them, though it strays quite far from the book.

As a reminder, if you are looking for specific topics like geology and environmental studies, click on the “lists of living books” link above and scroll down to the science section. There are other choices there that would work well for nature lore also but I didn’t want to repeat myself too much.

Happy Reading!



A Reason for Nature Study

Dear Reader,

I am rereading The Golden Milestone, a book of essays from one of my favorite authors, Frank Boreham. I have a problem which I think Mr. Boreham himself would have appreciated that I love his books so much that I can’t seem to progress through them. I am always going back to reread bits though I know there are many more out there awaiting my efforts.

As I reread, I find that new bits strike me that I did not note on my first perusal. In the chapter entitled “Wedge Bay” Mr.Boreham tells of a particular bay which he spent six months poking around until he felt that “if one of the trees about the water’s edge were to fall in my absence, I should miss it and mourn it next time I go.” He then goes on to say that:

“Fortunately, however, such calamities [as fallen trees] occur much less frequently than one would suppose, and the thing that most surprises you is that the changes are so few. I rowed one day recently into a shady little inlet, and was surprised to find it exactly as I had left it a couple of years before. The stone fireplace I had fashioned, and the traces of the picnic we had held there, were quite undisturbed. So far as I could discern, not a stick not a stone had been moved since our previous visit, and the bush was to all appearances exactly as we left it. Out in the world of men things change so swiftly that one’s brain reels and swims with the ceaseless whirl, and it exerts a steadying influence on one’s mind to retreat unto solitude that simple scorns all your lightning transformations. Here, as it was in the beginning, it is now, and so it ever shall be, world without end; and it is restful to saturate oneself in the brooding silence of the forest primaeval.”

How is that for a reason for nature study? I will admit that too often I have been bored by it because it does not change and I am always looking for something new to point out. But perhaps the pint should be just the opposite, it is good because it does not change, because one can get to know it as it is and because it is so much the opposite of the rest of our lives which I am sure have only gotten so much faster and disjointed since Mr. Boreham’s time.



God’s Word Written in His Creation

Dear Reader,

I just finished another volume by one of my favorite authors, Frank Boreham. Boreham was a minister in New Zealand some years ago and  a very prolific writer. His books are very pastoral and most I have read, this one among them, are collections of essays. The volume I just finish is A Bunch of Everlastings: Or, Texts that Made History. Like his book A Handful of Stars, this one looks at the biblical texts that have moved and inspired great men. As you may be able to tell by now, I really enjoyed this book. It is not difficult reading and I may have one of my kids read it soon too.

I want to focus now on just one passage, a quote from Boreham’s chapter on Dean Stanley. The quote which inspired Stanley was a reference to “The Lamb’s Book of Life.” Boreham expounds upon this idea of a book, saying that “God is a great believer in putting things down.” I have often marveled how integral words are to God’s work: He created the universe by His word and He sent us salvation through His Son, also called the Word of God. As 21st century Protestants, we value the written revelation of God that those of the past have not had such ready access to. But Boreham speaks also of that other source of divine revelation: nature. He says that,

“[God] writes everywhere and on everything. He is the most voluminous author in the universe. Every leaf in the forest, every sand on the seashore, is smothered wth his handwiritng. The trouble is that I am slow to recognize the manuscripts of God.”

In a wonderful call to nature study, he goes on to talk of all the information one can gain who has knowledge of a tree– he can tell from its rings how old it is, what weather it has experienced and what diseases it has suffered. “A botanist,” he says, “could open the book and interpret the entire romance.”

And the same can be done for the earth itself if we have the knowledge. And here we get to the passage which struck me. Boreham says that:

“He taps at a stone, and crumbles a lump of loam, and straightaway tells you of the lora and fauna od the district in some prehistoric time. It is all written down; nothing happens without leaving its record. God is a great believer in bookkeeping.”

Now, I have done a series of posts on the whole creation/evolution thing; I don’t want to revisit the whole topic. But here is what Boreham made me think: if God has given us a written record in His creation and if God is not a liar or a deceiver, than shouldn’t we seriously consider the record He has given us. I have heard Christians say that God planted dinosaur bones in the earth to test us only and that they never truly roamed the land. Not only does this seem depressing, it does not seem like the God I know. It sounds too deceptive. But if the record in the earth’s layers also points to a very old earth, perhaps we should believe that as well. It is, after all, God’s record and He is not One to deceive. (I know there are a lot of other issues this raises like how we deal with Genesis 1 but, well, you can look back at those older posts for my thoughts on that.)


Nature Journaling with Little Ones

Dear Reader,

As I was sorting through some things lately, I came across the family nature journal we kept when my kids were littler. I almost threw it out but then decided to show it to the kids again first. I was surprised to find that they were still enthusiastic about it. Only the older two remember doing it, but my daughter could remember specific events and finds that were recorded there and seemed excited to do so. Since there were little and barely writing, we kept a family nature journal rather than individual ones. I made a nature journaling page which we would put in a 3-ring binder. We often printed out images of what we had seen since their drawing skills were not very refined yet. I remember having to spell out all the words for them as they recorded where and when we found the items. Below are some samples so you can see how it all worked. I don’t know how Charlotte Mason would feel about this approach, but I think it worked well. Clearly they have fond memories of it and at that age I don’t think they could have done more than illegible scribbles if they had been left to do it on their own without preprinted images. As it is, they have something they can look back at and decipher and not just a book of scribbles.


The cover  . . our journal was just a 3-ring binder. You can see we began it in 2006 which means my oldest two were 6 and 4.

The cover . . our journal was just a 3-ring binder. You can see we began it in 2006 which means my oldest two were 6 and 4.

A sample page. The picture is off the internet. The bird was a pretty cool find though -- a dowitcher in our own backyard.

A sample page. The picture is off the internet. The bird was a pretty cool find though — a dowitcher in our own backyard.

A close up of the information we recorded-- it's pretty much what, who, when and where. Notice that most of the numbers are written backwards.

A close up of the information we recorded– it’s pretty much what, who, when and where. Notice that most of the numbers are written backwards.

This printed picture is from Enchanted Learning. They ahve lots of cool resources.

This printed picture is from Enchanted Learning. They ahve lots of cool resources.

Sometimes we drew our own pictures. Can you tell this is a chipmunk?

Sometimes we drew our own pictures. Can you tell this is a chipmunk?

A feather we found

A feather we found

I made special pages for trees where we could describe or draw their leaves, bark, etc.

I made special pages for trees where we could describe or draw their leaves, bark, etc.

Last one ... this is a picture we took. It's actually not nature because it's a pet. Someone's racing pigeon got injured and was hanging around our backyard till we managed to track them down and return it.

Last one … this is a picture we took. It’s actually not nature because it’s a pet. Someone’s racing pigeon got injured and was hanging around our backyard till we managed to track them down and return it.

Nature Study Tip

Dear Reader,

Here from Charlotte Mason’s fifth book, Formation of Character, is a tip for any parent attempting nature study:

“We are awaking to the use of nature-knowledge, but how we spoil things by teaching them! We are not content that children should know the things of nature as we know our friends, by their looks and ways, an unconscious comprehensive knowledge which sinks in by dint of much looking, but we set them to fragmentary scraps of scientific research. They intend investigation, and lose the joy of seeing.” (p.250)

So what is the tip? Don’t talk too much and don’t make everything a project. Spending lots of time in nature is good. Encouraging observation is good. But don’t turn it all into a  big thing. Have you ever recognized a friend or family member walking towards you by the way they walk? You probably never set out to learn how Dad or Jimmy walks, and yet one day you found that this was something you just knew about them. This is how our knowledge of nature should be. We should begin to just know “this is an elm tree” or “that is the song of the chickadee.” I think homeschooling parents are particularly tempted to make everything a lesson, especially if our child shows a glimmer of interest, but sometimes we kill that very interest we are trying to foster by pouncing upon it and adding our own words and thoughts.