Natural History and the Pursuit of Love of Place

As an artist by profession and a naturalist by inclination, I have created a science class that seeks to understand art as a natural human phenomenon that is accessible to everyone. I then take art – this basic human activity – and use it as a lens to see and examine the wildlife of my home. In my Central Florida Natural History class at my school, I have worked to foster a love of home in my students. I am not specifically interested in fostering a love of abstracts such as nature or creation, as wonderful as those things are. I want students to love their actual home, and the things they tend to overlook every day. Love always moves outward from the specific to the general.

My plan is rather simple: students learn many of the plants and animals in Central Florida by name. The students go out and collect many examples of plants and animals, then they make many drawings of their finds in hand-bound books. Making drawings and books is important because artwork is just that – work. It is a tangible, physical product that students can see and hold in their hands. There is much satisfaction to be had in this and it breeds affection for its object. In my class, it is also a record having looked at an object closely. Art requires close observation and this is a skill that is often neglected in much of science education. Students leave my class seeing and recognizing the hundreds of little things that have always been there but have remained largely invisible.

This workshop will discuss ideas for helping teachers foster a love of place in their students. I will show how I have developed my own class in my particular locale and will discuss strategies for building Natural History classes in other regions. We will also discuss practical issues such as bookmaking, drawing, and procuring Natural History collections.