How We Incorporate Nature Study
I found this resource at our local homeschool store. It’s currently out of print, but a search online might lead you to a used copy.
Nature Study through Living Books: A Multi-Level Study Guide for Studying Nature Through Literature Using Pagoo by Holling C. Holling is a twenty-day unit study written for homeschoolers that combines literature with science and nature study using the classic book about a hermit crab and life in a tide pool. This guide is designed to be used by all ages, making it perfect for a family unit study:
Crawl up on the couch and use the book as a read-aloud, then delve into the study guide to see how to use what you read to spur on a study in nature.
All you need to get started with this study are the book, Pagoo, a notebook or journal for each student, a field guide or internet connection, a dictionary, and basic drawing supplies (pencil, color pencils, or crayons). Even older kids will benefit from the parent reading the book aloud, but this study could be done independently as well.
When using this study guide in my own family, I first assembled all the materials we needed in a tote bag. I provided each of my children with a sewn-binding composition notebook and quality color pencils, and by having everything together in one place, it was easy for us to pick it up and go. I gathered my kids together each day in our favorite reading spot and read one section of Pagoo aloud to them while they worked on the assigned drawing. (I find that with my boys, busy hands keep the wiggles at a minimum while they are listening.) Each daily lesson usually includes a word or two to look up in the dictionary, such as copepod, as well as some facts to find in the story:
Define the term ‘crustacean’ in your notebook. As noted in the chapter, Pagoo is a crustacean. What other crustaceans are mentioned in this chapter? Make a list of crustaceans in your notebook, noting the characteristics that make them members of this group.
Older children can look up terms, while younger students can be guided by an older child or parent. All ages will practice research skills and learn the proper places to search for information. My children discovered that they could find a basic factual definition in the dictionary, descriptive details from the Holling book, more detailed facts from the field guide, and maybe even a photo or video from the Internet.
Nature Study Through Living Books: Pagoo instructs students to draw something specific in their notebooks each day, as well as giving them prompts for writing:
Describe in your notebook how Pagoo’s body has changed after this most recent molting (at the beginning of this chapter). Sketch a picture of what he looked like now.
Other writing practice includes making lists, drawing charts, recording facts, writing explanations, comparing and contrasting, and writing a story. To adapt the assignment for younger children, parents can use narration or serve as their child’s scribe, writing their responses in the notebook for them. For my youngest child, I wrote a sentence or two on a separate sheet of paper and had him copy them into his notebook. My older children would often fill up a couple of pages in their notebooks, but everyone learned at his own pace and level.
Nature Study Through Living Books: Pagoo is not fancy, so do not judge it by its cover. It is only seven pages long, but each daily lesson is substantial, and we spent between thirty minutes to an hour on each one. My favorite thing about this guide is that it proves that homeschooling does not have to be expensive or complicated. Often, the simpler things are, the more we benefit from them.
This is a nice unit study to do during the summer or during the holidays when you relax your school schedule a bit, but it could be used as a supplement to science curriculum, or anytime as a stand-alone science unit. I found some picture books about hermit crabs to read to my kids as we went along, and we ended the study with a trip to the pet store to observe live hermit crabs, being especially careful not to bring one home. At the end of the month, my children each had a beautiful completed nature journal and a greater appreciation for God’s creatures.