Early in their school careers, kindergarteners at South City Community School in St. Louis, Missouri, are provided with sketch journals. The notebooks, intended to be used throughout the students’ years at South City, are repositories for detailed sketches of objects from nature.
The school, founded in 2007, follows many of the principles of Charlotte Mason, who was a strong proponent of lessons from life and from nature, among other things. The drawings are essentially the heart of the school’s science curriculum, but the value of the activity stretches beyond science. Students have to observe, concentrate, replicate scale and color, and label carefully with the common and Latin names of the object, which ties in with the school’s Latin curriculum.
The close, daily contact with the natural world develops a love of creation in students, as well as an up-close view of the ways nature changes through the seasons. At the beginning of the year, each class adopts a tree on the school grounds and tracks seasonal changes through their sketches. Another exercise involves the sketching of a marked-off square foot of ground.
Although teachers review the journals regularly, they do not evaluate them according to a standard rubric, but encourage growth as the students advance. “We see a lot of growth in our students through their nature journaling, especially in attention to detail, painting skills, patience with a meticulous task, and developing a sense of delight in the natural world,” said Julia Wickes, the school’s communication specialist.
The journals are kept at school and “are never allowed anywhere near the nether regions of a backpack, to emerge water-stained and crumpled,” says Wickes. “Students can count on having these journals to keep and treasure after they leave SCCS.”