Nature Study and Relaxed Charlotte Mason Homeschool (a video interview with Cindy West)

Nature Study Cindy West interview

This was a delightful conversation with Cindy West discussing nature study, what it means to be a relaxed Charlotte Mason homeschooler, how homeschooling only 1 child is more challenging in some ways than homeschooling many, and more. You don’t want to miss the moment where I metaphorically started throwing confetti around everywhere in my excitement!

Watch the video, read the show notes, and share with your friends!

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Nature Study and Relaxed Charlotte Mason homeschooling Cindy West Interview

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Who is Cindy West?

Cindy West is a busy homeschooling mom to three active and wonderful children.  They are very eclectic in what and how they learn, but identify most with the Charlotte Mason style of schooling.  Their school relies heavily on short academic lessons, good literature, nature study, living math, handicrafts, life as learning, free time, and habit training. The West family lives on a cattle farm in Central Kentucky.  

nature study cindy west

Besides homeschooling and blogging, Cindy also writes and reviews homeschool curriculum, speaks regularly at homeschool events, and offers homeschool consultations. I first learned of Cindy West from her nature study resources. You can find all of her resources at Our Journey Westward.

Watch my video interview with Cindy West

Show Notes {with video time stamps}

How a public school teacher who thought homeschooling was silly became a happy homeschooler {1:40}

Cindy has 3 children. Her 23 year old daughter is about to graduate with a Bachelor degree in Marketing. Her 19 year old son is about to graduate with his Associate degree in Business Management, and her 7th grade son is still at home.

Cindy is actually finding it more of a challenge than she thought it would be to homeschool only one child! It’s fabulous in many ways, but still a different kind of challenge from when she had all 3 children in her homeschool.

When she taught in public school, Cindy thought homeschoolers were silly and that home education was not a good decision on the part of a parent. When her first child was born, however, she knew she didn’t want to place daughter in a place not conducive to raising up good, smart, confident children. Happily, she also met a local (not-strange) homeschool family whose children were smart and well-socialized.

The West family decided to try homeschooling for a year or two … and here they are 18 years later! They quickly realized they wanted to do this for the long-haul.

Cindy has had the experience of homeschooling multiple children at a time, and is now facing an only-child in the homeschool situation.

Multiple children keep each other busy. Socialization happens naturally among siblings. Having just Mom and a 13-year-old at home, and adding in the fact they’re living on a farm? It’s not helpful for either of them to be exclusively together 100% of the time! Cindy actually finds herself busier on this end of homeschooling making sure her son is involved in many other things (sports, classes, etc) outside the home. It’s important for them to have that break from each other, and socialization has to be more purposeful and intentional without sibling interactions.

It does make planning much easier, however, to just have one child in the homeschool!

The West children participate in the work of the family farm. But Cindy has never learned to drive a tractor… on purpose.

Benefits and challenges arising from Cindy’s professional background in education {6:55}

Cindy has always been confident about teaching her kids. She’s does not think that anyone needs a teaching degree to teach their own kids, but her background definitely has helped her never struggle in that area of confidence.

Also, she knew how important developing character qualities was in children. She saw it wasn’t happening in the public school classroom. So having that perspective also helped her.

At first, though, her teaching background was perhaps a little bit of a hindrance. She probably started with something of a sitting-at-a-desk mentality. But early on she was introduced to For the Children’s Sake, so by the time they were a year or so in she had really solidified how they were going to do homeschooling. It looked nothing like the classroom!

As a 2nd-generation homeschooler, I feel so blessed to have always had an outside the box education. My concept of “normal” is thus much freer. I’m excited to see how other 2nd and 3rd generations of homeschoolers will be able to be even more free from the traditional mindset!

Cindy’s homeschool philosophy: Relaxed Charlotte Mason {10:45}

Reading For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay cast a new vision for what education could be: snuggling on the couch, going outside on nature walks, reading and playing her her children. This book and others (including reading some by John Taylor Gatto) re-framed for Cindy what education could look like.

But what does Cindy mean by “Relaxed Charlotte Mason Homeschooler”?

Cindy noted that many people now would consider that if you aren’t an all-in Charlotte Mason purist you aren’t really a true Charlotte Mason homeschooler. “But that kind of defeats the whole purpose of homeschooling from my perspective,” Cindy reflects. “We define ourselves based on what’s best for our own families.” Cindy has always approached homeschooling from a CM framework (short lessons, nature, living books).

Our Journey Westward

Cindy is “relaxed” in the sense that she isn’t overly concerned if they don’t get to every single thing every single day, or if they replace an entire day with a field trip.

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Cindy is concerned, however, that there are some people who tend to take relaxed a little bit too far. We can take any method too far, after all, including the relaxed point-of-view. “Well, if our kids don’t want to do school today it will come tomorrow,” is one example of this extreme version of relaxed education.

On the contrary, Cindy says,

“We have a framework, we have a plan. I’m not afraid to replace some things, I’m not afraid to not get to some things if we fill it with some other good stuff. So I’m very relaxed in that manner, but I’m certainly not going to let my kids get away with not doing school simply because they’re not interested or none of us feel like we want to do school today.”

Nature Study with Cindy West: easy and accessible for everyone! {15:45}

Cindy noticed that her children were outside all the time on the farm, but when it came to purposefully walking and observing and making connections? She hadn’t made time for it. She noticed that many other homeschool families also wanted to include purposeful nature study but weren’t sure how to find the time to do it, or to know what exactly to do while they were out there!

“We can go out there and walk…but what exactly are we supposed to do while we’re out there?”

Cindy West began creating nature study curriculum that enables any family to get outside with practical tips for what to do on the walk. It’s a very creative approach. She includes themed nature walks alongside suggestions for what to look for, how to observe, and how/what to include in a nature journal.

Our Journey Westward

Cindy’s nature study options work both for the kids who are really excited and for the ones who are really bummed about having to do this. There is a nature walk suggestion for everyone!

Cindy West makes sure her nature study is hands-on. There’s lots of measuring and comparing. Sometimes you’re making maps in your journal instead of writing. She provides lots of ideas and options based around topical things. (for example, “Wildflowers“).

Cindy also includes further ideas for exploring and learning once you get home. Nature study can expand into hands-on and kid-friendly research projects at home!

Our family enjoyed using Cindy’s “Remarkable Rain” nature study resource when we studied weather recently!

A new fabulous option Cindy has created is “No Sweat Nature Study,” perfect for families who can’t get outside easily (due to allergies, severe-handicap, inclement weather) or who just don’t care to go outside. Cindy gets online a couple times a month, teaches a lesson, and does a nature journal with the kids onscreen. Side benefit? It’s actually getting a lot of the kids outside! They want to go find the things in nature that they’ve been learning about.

Our Journey Westward

Why is it important to include nature study in our homeschools? {21:25}

Cindy can relate to not understanding at first that nature study is a big deal, and then physically needing to adjust the family’s schedule in order to fit it in regularly.

Some people want to include nature study in their homeschool, but they already feel overwhelmed by their full schedule. On top of that, you may wonder if it is worth your time if you don’t even know what you’re doing out there!

Most sciences find their foundation in nature. Nature Study is like your hands-on biology lab! Nature study lays a foundational understanding of comparison and observation, and even some elements of physics and chemistry. “All of that experiential learning is huge,” Cindy commented.

As Cindy’s kids got into high school they realized that they had already learned and experienced and documented many of the topics found in their high school textbook in their earlier nature study exploration! “It turned into a great validation that nature study really works,” Cindy said.

Nature study also has the additional benefit of getting kids outside. Nature study gets your kids into the fresh air and sunshine. Rejuvenating the body helps their mind focus better. And bonus? You can also count it as “school.”

Cindy’s perspective looking back as a veteran homeschool mom {27:38}

Cindy tries not to live with regret and to give herself a lot of grace. “If I go forth every day and I give it my best effort, there are obviously going to be mistakes I make but I gotta give myself grace… so I try to just go forth and do the best I can.”

With her exuberant child who had so much energy and noise and movement, she tended to squelch him. On this end of it, “I wish I had enjoyed him for what he was…That exuberance was going to be so powerful. That energy was going to create him to do some really awesome things.”  Cindy wishes that her younger mom self had been a little more patient with someone who wasn’t like her, even if it drove her a little crazy.

Also, Cindy can look back and see how her kids were really good at talking her out of certain things, convincing her with “hey, Mom, I’ve got this, I don’t need to do any more work.” Maybe sometimes she was a bit too much of a push-over.

Every child is different. You’re always learning. That’s where the grace comes in.

Cindy encouraged us all: “You’re going to make mistakes. And it’s ok.”

Find Cindy Online

Do you include nature study in your homeschool? What is your biggest challenge when it comes to nature study?

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