You know, nature study is the one subject we have done really consistently for many years. It’s probably what we do best. Heck, the kids can pick up a field guide and identify an insect or wildflower before they can read. Their nature journals are stuffed full of bird sketches, tree rubbings, pressed flowers, mushroom spore prints, and notes on seed dispersal, weather, animal tracks, soils and all the many creatures we’ve discovered together over the years.Nature study is as natural to our family as ball-parks and dance recitals are to other families. It’s just *what we do.*
So what do you do when you have a high-school-aged student to whom nature journaling, species identification, collecting and labeling, etc are all just second nature? How do you challenge him to take nature study to the next level?
Well, for one thing, I won’t be requiring any nature journaling from him any more. He has moved beyond the need for guidance from me in that area. From now on, his nature journal is his own, and he can journal (or not) as he pleases.
Instead, our time together will be spent looking beyond our own backyard and exploring some of the many larger issues involving nature: the history, the intrigue, the problems and solutions, and the people for whom nature study is more than just a family pastime.
To set us off on that journey, Superboy has quite a fascinating line-up of fascinating nature-related reading material this year, and I’d love to share it with you. In choosing these books I tried to keep a balance between plant and animal related books on a variety of themes. Some natural history, some environmental issues, some just interesting fact-filled explorations. But above all, these books are all highly engaging and thought-provoking literature.
We are kicking it off with Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart. Oh, my, if this isn’t a plant guide that appeals to a teenage boy’s heart, I don’t know what is! Plants that kill, maim, and irritate, this book has got them all from A to Z. Throw in some nifty historical tidbits and you’ve got a book that will draw you in like the sweet scent of oleander.
After that comes Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis by Rowan Jacobsen. What happens when one quarter of all honey bees throughout the northern hemisphere suddenly disappear? This instant classic takes a look at colony collapse syndrome and what it could mean for food production, and plant life in general, in the future.
Next we take little meander into the very basics of nature–the elements, with The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. Readable chemistry? You better believe it!
Then it’s back to the animal kingdom with Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species Like a CSI of the animal world, this book explores cases of wildlife trafficking and the methods being used to stop it. This book caught my eye in particular because the first case involves illegal slaughter of walrus in Alaska, an issue with local ramifications.
Then plants steal the show again with Flora Mirabilis: How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge, Health, Wealth, and Beauty (National Geographic) The pages of this gorgeous book are practically overflowing with stunning illustrations as the text traces the history of botanical knowledge, exploration and discovery through the ages. Superboy may just have to pry this one from my fingers in order to read it himself. Just gorgeous.
And next up is Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky (author of the popular Salt: A World History). Who knew the humble Codfish had such an enormous impact throughout history? This book has been making the rounds here amongst the fishermen of Sitka to rave reviews. We have got to see what all the fuss is about, so this book earns a spot on our list.
Last but certainly not least is The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists by Peter Laufer. I’m telling you, this one has it all. As the back cover states, this book is a ” true tale of beauty and obsession, smugglers and scientists, and nature’s most enigmatic creature.”
And that is all I have planned for now. We may end up adding more to the list, but for now I think it is a great set of books and should provide much food for thought.
21 Responses to “Nature Study: taking it to the next level”