On Nature Journals and Open Eyes

Our nature study focus for this term is reptiles.  No, this was not of my choosing.  We are following the Ambleside Online rotation.  I don’t think I would pick snakes and lizards in a million years if it were up to me!

I thought it would be a rather challenging topic since we can’t just go out in the backyard or go for a nature walk and observe reptiles in their natural habitat.  I knew this would be a little trickier than trees or birds or flowers.  But with a little creativity and some strategic planning ahead for field trips it seems to be working well.

Last week we made a trip to a zoo in a neighboring province.  I checked their website ahead of time to see which reptiles they had and printed information sheets on each one.  Those sheets, along with a few good books about reptiles from the library, served as entertainment and reading material for the girls on the two hour drive to the zoo.  I told them we would choose one reptile in particular that we would be sure to snap some good pictures of, and later in the week we would make an entry in our nature journals.

  
  So when “Friday Fun Day” rolled around (the usual day we work on our nature journals) we focused on snakes.  We read the section on snakes from this amazing library book, recommended to me by a fellow homeschooler, and then sketched the Reticulated Python that had so enamoured us at the zoo earlier in the week. 

 Something dawned on me as we were painting and sketching last Friday.  As I was watching closely to see how to portray the markings on the snake in our picture I noticed a pattern in its scales that I hadn’t seen before.  It was one of those “aha” moments where I realized that even though this painting wasn’t turning out to be anything beautiful to look at, it was what was happening in my mind and eyes that was the important part.  I was teaching myself to observe, to really see the details.  I talk a lot with the kids when we are nature journaling about the importance of “drawing what we see,” accurately representing the natural object we are trying to capture.  There is a time for creative drawing and using our imaginations, but drawing in our nature journals is different.  We want to really look closely and learn something about what we are drawing that we wouldn’t notice with a haphazard glance.  And that’s exactly what happened with me and the Python.  

I love this quote from George MacDonald’s book The Seaboard Parish.  The Vicar is listening to his daughter Wynnie describe a rock jutting out of the water that she had been trying to sketch.  After hearing her detailed description he turns to his younger daughter and says,

“Now, Dora, do you see why I want you to learn to draw?  Look how Wynnie sees things.  That is, in great measure, because she draws things, and has learned to watch in order to find out. It is a great thing to have your eyes open.”  

Dora’s eyes were large, and she opened them to their full width, as if she would take in the universe at their little doors.

Isn’t that what we’re after too, as parents who want our children…ourselves to learn to draw?  We’re not setting out to launch careers as world-class artists.  We are desiring to open their eyes to their full width and teach them how to “take in the universe at their little doors.”  

I leave you today with a lengthy yet (in my opinion) moving quote from one of C-Bear’s school books called Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley…

So use your eyes and your intellect, your senses and your brains, and learn what God is trying to teach you continually by them. I do not mean that you must stop there, and learn nothing more. Anything but that. There are things which neither your senses nor your brains can tell you; and they are not only more glorious, but actually more true and more real than any things which you can see or touch. But you must begin at the beginning in order to end at the end, and sow the seed if you wish to gather the fruit. God has ordained that you, and every child which comes into the world, should begin by learning something of the world about him by his senses and his brain; and the better you learn what they can teach you, the more fit you will be to learn what they cannot teach you. The more you try now to understand things, the more you will be able hereafter to understand men, and That which is above men. You began to find out that truly Divine mystery, that you had a mother on earth, simply by lying soft and warm upon her bosom; and so (as Our Lord told the Jews of old) it is by watching the common natural things around you, and considering the lilies of the field, how they grow, that you will begin at least to learn that far Diviner mystery, that you have a Father in Heaven. 

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5 thoughts on “On Nature Journals and Open Eyes

  1. I’m glad you checked out the Arnosky book…he’s great! I’m going to have to check out that zoo one of these days. My parents actually live minutes away from it, but I haven’t visited it since I was fifteen. Pet stores can be fun too…they usually have a few snakes and lizards.
    I love the quotes you shared.

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    • Thanks, Nelleke. I’m planning on covering lizards next so a trip to PetSmart might be thrown into the mix of activities. Found some great “experiments” to do that help to explain the many unique adaptations of different lizard species on the PBS website that corresponds to a Wild Kratt’s episode about lizards that we might do too. I’m enjoying the challenge of nature study this term. 🙂

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  2. First of all, I LOVE the name of your blog! So clever! 🙂 I know exactly what you mean when it comes to paying closer attention due to Nature Study. 🙂 I’m loving it!

    I’ve never actually looked at the NS rotation at AO *says sheepishly* I’m going to have to check it out. We kind of just do the things around us, but it might be fun to try something new sometime, too!

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    • Thanks, Catie! So nice to “meet” you. We like having a particular focus for the term. I think it’s helpful for me to stay on track and have a bit of a plan, but there are definitely times we meander and study something else that’s right under our noses! 🙂

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  3. That quote from MacDonald is wonderful. Yes, I am noticing so much more since I started keeping a nature journal and trying to draw. All those little details and the way they all fit together…it requires a whole different level of observation. Thank you for linking this!

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