A CALL TO EXPLORE
As inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere, I have often felt the need to connect my children with the local flora and fauna. Australian nature is so rich and distinctive that it truly deserves to hold a place of study in our homeschool. Australia is home to a huge range of incredibly unique and biodiverse plants and animals. Many of the animals living here such as koalas, kangaroos, wombats, Tasmanian devils, and platypus are found nowhere else in the world. In fact over 90 percent of the plants growing in this land down under are unique to Australia. We truly have an incredibly interesting backyard to be exploring and inspiring our children’s love for learning and interest in nature and science. Most homeschooling curriculum, however, is Northern Hemisphere based and not especially relevant among gum trees and brown snakes.
Enter Maria at Nature Study Australia who has clearly identified the problems with overseas resources and has created her own series of Charlotte Mason inspired Australian based nature studies. I purchased one of her Australian Nature Study Guides after seeing a sale advertised online. I was excited by the prospect of a resource that applied to us right here in Australia.
THE AUSTRALIAN NATURE STUDY GUIDE
The Australian Nature Study: A Weekly Observation of Australian Wild Life guide is a four volume, I want to say a series of lesson outlines, that introduces students to a variety of Australian flora and fauna over the course of the year. The studies use a Charlotte Mason style approach. They are seasonally based so there is a volume for each season. The volumes are for Spring/Summer, Summer/Autumn, Autumn/Winter, and Winter/Spring. These studies are sold as digital files so you can print them out or use them on a tablet. To save time have the folks over at InaBind Family Printing professionally print and bind the volumes for you. The studies are very reasonably priced, and I think they are great value for money.
These nature studies cover a broad variety of topics. Through the series we have studied everything from fungi to different tree types, to lyrebirds, to specific flora species such as banksia and wattle. Each topic includes a little informational lesson to read, which we have found to be quite interesting and always seems to include some fascinating bits of trivia that we all learn from. For example did you know that trees communicate with each other?! Following the main lesson is a list of suggested further reading, including excerpts from Apologia Zoology books, Australian nature encyclopaedias and other relevant educational resources and nature based books. We have been introduced to some incredibly beautiful, rich and really enjoyable non-fiction books through these suggestions. Following this section is a list of internet links that includes videos or websites for further exploration of the topic. Next are suggestions for observations and activities to do and questions to ask while on a nature walk. The study then includes a list of literature based story book suggestions. Each lesson includes a poem, which the study encourages you to use as part of a “poetry picnic.” In Charlotte Mason style there is also a link to a picture study/art piece to view. Every lesson includes a related Bible scripture and hymn, these add to ability to use these nature studies for a Charlotte Mason style morning time, but can easily be excluded if a family is not religious.
The last section included in each lesson entitled “Digging deeper” provides a list of suggested activities and exploration assignments for three age groups. For example, on the lesson about parrots younger students are encouraged to create a parrot using leaves, older students are encouraged to research how birds fly or visit an ornithologist to discuss parrot species, and the oldest students are suggested to sketch the external and internal structure of a bird or research how parrots obtain the colour of their feathers. That is just a tiny sample of a greater list of ideas for each group.
Also included in the program is access to downloadable journaling pages for each of the topics. There are three levels of journals: kinder, intermediate, and advanced. I have a 6 and 7 year old doing the program and we have predominantly found the intermediate pages have worked best for them. The kinder pages have less writing and more room for drawing. These pages give a good framework to introduce the students to nature journaling in a structured way.
WHAT NATURE STUDY LOOKS LIKE FOR US
We have really enjoyed using these studies. Our family has mostly used them in conjunction with another homeschooling family. Soon after I bought my first study I was chatting to a friend and we realised we’d both purchased the same program and “hey! Let’s do it together.”
We gather together and read the introductory lesson, and poem. We look at the art and any books that we were able to find related to the topic. We sometimes watch a couple of the related videos, and then the kids all go out with their journaling pages and clip boards and explore in nature. We often do our studies at parks or nature reserves or other places we think we might find the wattle plants or whatever we are learning about.
WHAT WE HAVE LOVED
Overall these nature studies have been a big hit in our family. I love that these studies give a framework to start a study and then allow you to delve in as deep as you want to. I think there are enough supplemental books, videos and activity suggestions that you could really make each one of the topics into a month long study if you wanted to or they are simple enough that you can do what we usually do and use them for a simple overview or introduction to Australian nature.
I also love that these studies are perfect for families with multiple age groups. The studies include everything you need to be able to include all the members of the family and to ensure each child is working at their own level and able to develop the skills and knowledge they need. These studies would work perfectly for a Charlotte Mason morning time framework or a longer unit study.
We have really enjoyed using these nature studies and I definitely recommend them. I feel we have all learned a ton about the nature in our country and also biology in general. If you are in Australia these are a fantastic, affordable and fun way to study Australian species of plant and animals and to introduce your kids to the nature around them.
NOT IN AUSTRALIA?
If you aren’t located in Australia – I still think these could be a great resource to use to learn about some of the plants and animals in Australia. Australia has some incredibly cool and unique animals and plants found nowhere else in the world! These studies are a pretty inexpensive resource and would work alongside a geography study or unit study of Australia, and you even could use youtube videos to fill out the journaling pages if you are unable find the animals or plants in your areas.
Let me know if you have any questions or if you’d like to see anything else in the program. I hope this has been helpful to you. Are there any Australian based curriculums that you have found useful in your family? Leave a comment below.