Our main book for Nature Study has been the AO recommendation, The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock. I love the Comstock book, and have found it to be very valuable in taking nature study to the next level. It has plenty of detailed information on a wide variety of subjects - many of them pertinent to nature in our area.
Next to the Handbook of Nature Study, this series of Peterson First Field Guides has been my favorite nature study resource. Have you seen these handy little books? They are great for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their appropriateness for children of elementary age. My children love these books, and we have been able to use them to identify caterpillars, trees, and wild plants that are not covered in the Comstock book. I know more about nature than I did a short 5 years ago, but I still have far more to learn. For a mama like me, who can't necessarily spout off useful information from the top of her head on every twig, bug, and berry we come across, these little gems are a great find :)
Now, those of you who are already familiar with Charlotte Mason will know that the books are only part of the nature study lesson - and not the greater part. The education that comes from "things" is the primary sort of education in nature study. Children must actually be outdoors, and often, coming across the little wonders in nature on their own, personally dealing with the natural world through their senses. Books do have their place in nature study, but they are secondary to physical interaction with real things. This is especially true for the younger children.
If you'd like to hear a bit more of what Miss Mason might have to say regarding books like these and their relationship to nature study, I'd like to reference a section of Volume One. Regarding scientific classification and the use of naturalists' books, Miss Mason writes the following:
"For convenience in describing they should be able to name and distinguish petals, sepals, and so on; and they should be encouraged to make such rough classifications as they can with their slight knowledge of both animal and vegetable forms. Plants with heart-shaped or spoon-shaped leaves; leaves with criss-cross veins and leaves with straight veins; bell-shaped flowers and cross-shaped flowers; flowers with three petals, with four, with five; trees which keep their leaves all the year, and trees which lose them in the autumn; creatures with a backbone and creatures without; creatures that eat grass and creatures that eat flesh, and so on. To make collections of leaves and flowers, pressed and mounted, and arranged according to their form, affords much pleasure, and, what is better, valuable training in the noticing of differences and resemblances. Patterns for this sort of classification of leaves and flowers will be found in every little book of elementary botany.
The power to classify, discriminate, distinguish between things that differ, is amongst the highest faculties of the human intellect; and no opportunity to cultivate it should be let slip; but a classification got out of books, that the child does not make for himself and is not able to verify for himself, cultivates no power but that of verbal memory...
...The real use of naturalists' books at this stage is to give the child delightful glimpses into the world of wonders he lives in, to reveal the sort of things to be seen by curious eyes, and fill him with desire to make discoveries for himself. There are many to be had, all pleasant reading, many of them written by scientific men, and yet requiring little or no scientific knowledge for their enjoyment." -Home Education pgs. 63,64
Interestingly, these guides are the perfect size for stocking stuffers (hint, hint grandma and grandpa). At only $5.95 per book, they are very reasonably priced as well :) They are a great addition to help round out your nature study lessons and bolster the children's interest in the natural world all around them. Hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
Happy field guiding!!!