Learning Through the Lens of Nature and Natural History is Child’s Play, by Lisa Carne

Lisa Carne shares with us a flavour of her book, Natural Curiosity, which is a warm and contemplative insight into her family’s experience of moving from mainstream schooling to home education, and learning through the lens of nature and natural history:

“People say to me, ‘How did you first become interested in animals?‘ and I look at them and I say: ‘Was there a time when you were not interested in animals?’ It’s the first sort of pleasure, delight and joy you get as a child.”

Sir David Attenborough

The natural world and its inhabitants (past, present and under our noses) have long provided a wonderfully rich learning environment. My own offspring’s learning experiences led me to discover how children (who are naturally and often insatiably curious about the world around them) can be inspired to place trust in their own ability to learn through the informal habit of being curious.

All that a child finds interesting should be seen as relevant to their learning. A child led, ever-changing learning environment can enable role models to share the wonder and magic of the natural world, retain their own curiosity and prioritise this common interest as a fundamental part of learning.

The kindest decision we made was not to prioritise schoolwork on their behalf and as a family we simply established a healthy balance of nature and technology. Prioritizing their early interest in the natural world came first and our children’s curiosity led us outdoors (even ‘back in time’) and it changed our lives:

“For much of human evolution, the natural world constituted one of the most important contexts children encountered during their critical years of maturation.”

Kahn and Kellert 2002, Children and Nature

To give a clearer understanding on the role of technology, here is an example/extract from Chapter 10:

The Dead Zoo and Other Curiosities

I’m going to be brave and mention the joys of Minecraft – oh yes, bear with me – as there are indeed many benefits. I used to be wary but not any longer. They both currently enjoy creating worlds together in Minecraft based on their knowledge of the natural world. I was a little apprehensive about this at first as I think many parents fear excessive use of online games, but having reminded myself to be mindful I’m glad I did as I can now see many benefits. The knowledge they gain from understanding their natural world is being created in front of me; they enjoy building and bringing to life all that they experience and learn about. They create knowledge-filled lands from the Earth’s time line and I have sometimes been shown around these Minecraft worlds as a little character sitting in a cart; not just a mine cart either – a ‘time’ cart – no less,which can trundle or hurtle along the track. They even take into consideration the temperature of each time period, offering to speed up the cart’s journey through the frozen eras of our Earth’s history to prevent the occupants in the ‘time’ cart getting too chilly.

“Since becoming ‘unschooled’, the author’s two children have thrived on a diet of self-directed play and learning, amassing life skills, confidence, responsibility and a vast array of knowledge along the way. This thoughtful book touches upon important themes in education and environmentalism, including children’s rights in schooling, the use and place of technology in learning and the absence of the natural world in mainstream education.”

Jessica Kingsley Publishers (JKP)

After much deliberation, my children opted out of their mainstream schools in 2014 to follow their interests and learn in an environment that they love, where they could be themselves, stay true to their interests, play, observe family members and other species (of all ages) and develop bonds with those around them and the natural world that sustains them.

Today, in their teenage years, there is always a window ajar to allow the sights, sounds, scents and of course our friends from the natural world to distract, fly by or simply wander in.

“This book is a warm and charming reminder to encourage the curiosity of children, to retain it in ourselves, and never to let our instinctive sense of wonder at the intricacy and beauty of the nature all around us be worn away.”

Max Barclay, Collection Manager, The Natural History Museum, UK

My own curiosity led me to observe, research and investigate how early bonds are established; looking closely at the lives of other species, child development and human evolution before delving into the childhoods of authors, artists, scientists and other historical figures revered by society today. A few are mentioned for inspiration in Natural Curiosity and were selected for their nature inspired creativity and/or enjoyment gained from their home environment and family-life with their siblings, elders, pets, friends and other animals, their garden or much loved and ever-changing nature filled learning environments.

“Lisa’s engaging book, full of observations and reflections, shows up the wonders of the natural world and is not just relevant to home educators but also to schools, especially in describing how we should all live in wonder at how the natural world has evolved and how we should look after it.”

Dr. Alan Thomas, Developmental Psychologist

Since publication of my work in 2016 and the creation of my website www.scribblersdrey.co.uk I have also been active on Twitter @scribblersdrey where I have been quietly blowing my own trumpet for five years; I’m pleased to say that profile visits have been dramatically on the rise recently (much like home education) as families search for new paths in these challenging times.

I hope that anyone who thinks that children (and the natural world they love) need a little more nurture and respect will read Natural Curiosity. We can all prioritise the need, health benefits and rich educational path this vital and common interest offers throughout their lives.

All parents can share their child’s love of the natural world and help ensure that future generations will take care of the planet.