Young people light up when they meet new plants, trees, and flowers. They gaze intently at the unfamiliar forms and memorize each line and edge. “What is it called?” they ask. They echo its name with reverence and gladness. After a few minutes of study, they know this plant, and they feel as though they have made a remarkable friend. When they turn to their watercolors to capture its likeness, their paintbrushes express truth.
Nature Study is a beloved class taught in every Ambleside grade. Our students might line up to go outside and identify a ponderosa pine or watch the little cities of butterflies, moths, and bees bustling around a rabbitbrush shrub. First, they listen to a few words about the plant or tree, and then they step up to take a good look. They notice the stem and feel its texture. They look for how the leaves are arranged on the stem: either perfect matches all the way down, or some on the left and some on the right, or a spiral. They trace the edges of a leaf to see if its margin is smooth, jagged, or scalloped. Is it just one leaf on the stem, or several of them? They note how the flowers are arranged and consider the subtleties of their colors. They observe the tiny details of each floret’s design.
It is a restful thing for children to forget themselves as they humbly ponder something God has made. The details of color and texture are not lost on them. A deep thankfulness rises in them as they describe structure and shape. A small piece of Nature speaks to the young, wordlessly. Children perceive its truth, order, and joy. They are content to admire the beauty of something outside their own selves. Sometimes the thoughtfulness and completeness of Creation fills them with awe, and a greater love for the Heavenly Father follows. They agree with the psalmist: It is he who made us, and not we ourselves.
Now, it is back to the classroom, where each student knows their assigned task. They set out paintbrushes, pour water, gather materials. They challenge themselves to match the colors exactly: a little red to quiet down the green; a bit more yellow for the flowers. When they paint, it is with smooth precision and patience. They are not satisfied with hazy representation. Only thorough truthfulness will do.
This study of God’s creation awakens our love for wild places. It causes us to delight in the glory of simple things. It suggests that we learn the voices of songbirds or the names of trees. The work we do now gives our students a lifelong appreciation for the goodness of life. They find that everywhere they go, there are new friends to make: a wildflower, a tree, a mountain. All these things sink into their open hearts and give them a fuller life. By welcoming a little of Nature into our Ambleside classrooms, we offer our students the world.