Charlotte Mason encouraged supplementing informal nature walks with incidental, natural object lessons which sharpen a child’s observational skills with gentle, guided discovery questions once in a while.
A Natural Object Lesson is simply noticing an object of interest while on a nature walk and taking a closer look at it in its habitat or environment. It’s the moment we recognize an opportunity during an encounter with an interesting plant, inquisitive bird or a fluttering insect and we call the child/children over, ‘This is pretty awesome. Come and See!’
As the child/children notice the subject of so much interest, they’ll make their own relations with the object by asking questions and commenting on their observations. Once they’ve had time to make these connections, we can help them to take a closer look by pointing out one new aspect with a question to increase further attention and focus.
We may point out shapes, patterns, colours, textures or take a step back to observe the environment or ecosystem the object is either living or growing in. We can compare the object with a similar one we noticed before or ask leading questions about the object’s behaviour.
Natural object lessons for young children would include enhancing their five senses by engaging them in sensory games like searching for seasonal colours, noticing bark textures and different gum tree leaves, nuts and buds.
The songs of birds or sounds in the area can be called out and scents can be explored as rain falls on dry ground, roses bloom and wattles flower. Activities like these, train their five senses to become engaged in the environment they’re exploring.
Although, natural object lessons are better observed outdoors, they can be brought indoors when the weather is inclement to study and, perhaps, a sketch of the object will be drawn in a nature journal.
Special projects such as raising butterflies, watching tadpoles grow into frogs or ants build farms provide wonderful opportunities for natural object lessons. Sometimes, natural object lessons are introduced intentionally through field guides, nature stories or documentaries.
The idea is that object lessons are supplemented every now and then, so we shouldn’t over do it and turn every nature walk into one or ask a string of random questions. Questions during guided discoveries are kept at a minimum and are asked with the intention to help the child/children focus on a new concept or aspect of the object.
Anything can lead to an object lesson, so look for those encounters in nature during walks or wild forest play. Be excited during discoveries and inquisitive minds will soon surround you.
Learn more about Natural Object Lessons:
Our Australian Nature Study Guides are a great way to introduce object lessons to children as they include nature walk prompts and suggest guided discovery questions to encourage deeper observations.
There’s a Nature Study Guide for every season, so come along and explore with us here.