Before treading any further, we must ask the question of why the study of nature is so important? Why does Charlotte Mason place so much emphasis on the natural world? When reading through Miss Mason’s volumes, particularly vol. 1 Home Education, we find that Nature Study in a Charlotte Mason education is foundational to all of school life. How so? Nature study is a study through observation. It requires the observational power of our senses. By taking in the natural world through our senses we organically begin to distinguish, discriminate and identify those things around us. The more we observe, the more the opportunity to strengthen these and other skills needed in academics. No wonder Miss Mason advocated for young children to be out of doors 4-6 hours every day! Not only is nature study valued for being foundational to academics, but it is highly valued because of the aesthetic experience it offers. Being out in nature, most anyone will tell you, is refreshing and renewing to the soul. Charlotte Mason herself is said to have spent 2 hours a day in the outdoors. Mrs. Edward Sieveking had this to say in a Parents Review article on the educational value of natural history:
About everyone who has drunk deep the wells Nature, there is always a calm, absorbed freedom from mental stress, from emotional wear and tear…[Natural History] takes us off to a new world of life, to a new way of looking at our own world. It has a power of Divinity in it, for it makes all things new to anyone, man, woman or child, who comes to it not preoccupied, and with an open mind, ready to be taught a wider education of life at first hand.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was inspired by the concept of the Natural History Club. In our community, we have a growing number of homeschooling parents new to Charlotte Mason. The enthusiasm is tremendous, but so is the time and effort that goes into self-educating, parenting, teaching and being the CEO of the household. Unfortunately, subjects like Nature Study begin to be seen as “extra” and get put off day after day. We cannot let this be the case if nature study is the foundational study of a Charlotte Mason education. I believe Miss Mason understood the demands of motherhood and still offers hope when she states,
I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them (vol. 1, p. 44).
With Nature, the dear old nurse,
Who will sing to them night and day
The rhymes of the universe.