Selling Nature Study: PNWCM Conference Post #1

At the Northwest CM Conference last weekend, I was blessed to not only hear Naomi Goegan speak, but also to take a nature walk with her as she explored Dash Point State Park and the grounds of the beautiful Archbishop Brunett Retreat Center. She posted pictures of those walks on her blog: Living CM in CA.

I’ve mentioned that Miss T. is not a fan of nature study or of being outside, and that last year we were trying to kick start the habit before she leaves parent-led Charlotte Mason education. I had hoped to glean more tools to use to draw my daughter in, as bribery has been effective but it only goes so far. Walking with Naomi is an experience in how to wonder, and such is the essence of nature study – the essence of science, really.  Without taking time to pull out the paints this go-around, she led us to ask questions of everything we saw: what is that?  Is that a worm on the end of the thread? Why is it hanging on a thread? What kind of mushroom is that? Is that part of the moss, or is it another mushroom growing up through the moss?  She looked under rocks, on the underside of leaves, dug into the mud to see if she could reach the clams. Her sharp eye found a camouflaged locust, one we were just able to see as it flew off to another bush. I found her capacity to ask questions far outstripped my Northwest nature knowledge, and that is as it should be.

In her family, there is time for nature study, and then time for outdoor play. Naomi allows those questions to hang in the air and then she, or now her older child, will look up the answers online (nature guides can be rather limited). Sometimes she will bring a specimen home to watch for a few days, or to look at under the microscope. She also will bring along a hand lens for the kids to use.

Our first nature study of the year was inspired by Dave Tucker, the author of Geology Underfoot In Western Washington, who blogs here. We learned a little about glacial erratics, and found our local one after a long walk. For our second, we took advantage of glorious weather and went to our usual park on the lake, with the Audubon Center on site.

Lake WAThis time, Miss T. chose to walk along the water to make her discoveries. And she was appropriately shod for the adventure…

Native Flips

We found plenty of things to question, and once she found her rhythm she was doing all the noticing, finding the bunny in the grass, waiting patiently for the turtles to show up who were hiding under the pond lily leaves.  I did end up asking all the questions, though. Things like: Why does this tree have spines under its bark? What is this tree with seed pods that look like green beans?Pointy things on treePhoto0076

I was pleased when she declared her special study to be waterfowl, because she saw this bird swimming like a duck, but it isn’t a duck. It’s an American Coot . When we stopped by the Audubon Center, the director informed her that they usually swim so closely together that it seems you can walk on them. That is why a group of them is referred to as a “raft of coots.” See, the Audubon Center works particularly well as a bribe for nature study: not only does Miss T. enjoy a bag of chips at the end of our walk, but she also gets to talk to the very nice staff people there who tell her all kinds of interesting things.

I had to borrow the close up picture, but we took one of our raft, and we will be observing them and other water birds over the fall term.


Raft of coots

Coot DrawingAnd, finally, her entry in her nature journal. For some reason, she dislikes using color, which is just fine for the old coot. Although maybe I can convince her to use red for the eye. She included some of the factoids she learned from the Audubon staff, one of which was the fact that the park’s eagles like to avail themselves of the coots for lunch.