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One of our favorite things about homeschooling is getting to know people who have made a mark on the world by sharing their gifts in some way. With high school English, we often learn about the authors of classic literature and I thought it would be fun to build a unit around the children’s author, Beatrix Potter. Miss Potter was homeschooled as a child and has many of the same interests as our daughter, Rebecca. Art & Nature Study with Beatrix Potter is a study about the life, times, art, and pursuit of the natural world of the famous children’s author and illustrator.
Studying Beatrix Potter
While her education was tailored to her interests, it was certainly not ‘neglected’ and was, by her own choice, rigorous, in part because so much of it was self-directed. ‘I have always found my own pleasure in nature and books,’ she announced. – Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature
Miss Potter lived an extraordinary life at a time in English history when women were not afforded every opportunity. What makes her life so compelling?
- homeschooled based on her interests
- accomplished largely self-taught artist and illustrator
- studied natural history
- pursued the study of nature by observation and drawing
- spent time in museums to learn about the things she saw
Art Lessons with Beatrix Potter
Beatrix was a serious student of art and her father recognized her talent from a young age. Although he provided art lessons with artists of the day, Beatrix was very particular about her art and preferred to work on her own.
- Watercolor Technique– This was her favorite medium to the point that she thought learning about acrylics, as her father requested, would ruin her watercolor skills.
- Drawing of Plants– Miss Potter loved the garden.
- Drawing of Fungi– These were her favorite to draw!
- Drawing of Animals– She loved to keep animals all through her life to draw. Just like in the video above, she would let the animals roam her nursery and room.
- Scientific Illustration– as a career. How did Beatrix get her start in illustration? How does a person study scientific illustration today?
Rebecca has an interest in learning to draw rabbits and woodland creatures both as realistic drawings and for her fantasy illustrations.
Victorian Culture & Beatrix Potter
Miss Potter grew up in Victorian England and she had an unusual upbringing although not all that uncommon for the time and place and her family’s station. Here are a few issues we will discuss throughout the unit:
- Method of Education– both for a typical student and for Beatrix. She was taught at home by governesses and really left to her own studies much of the time. Her father worked with experts to teach her as she got older.
- Victorian England– When was it and what was life like in England at the time. Compare Beatrix Potter to her American contemporaries such as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Marie Curie who were born the same year. It’s amazing to consider the lives of people in different parts of the world at the same time in history.
- Role of Women at the Time– Beatrix pursued education in the only way she really could as a woman in the late 19th century. She accomplished a great deal.
- Unitarianism– The Potters were an influential family in the rise of Unitarianism in England. Learn about this sect and its impact on the church.
The Lake District of England
Much of Miss Potter’s adult life was devoted to preserving this area of England. Learn more about the Lake District.
- Locate & map the Lake District– Where is it and what is found there. Make a detailed map of the region. Beatrix spent many summers there and this is where her family was from before moving to London. Her art was certainly inspired by her surroundings there.
- Habitat– What sort of plants and animals are there? These are the specimens Beatrix Potter worked with when she was young and coming of age.
- Learn about the Farm She Purchased– When and under what circumstances did she live there?
- Life with Sheep– Beatrix became a skilled sheep herder. Learn about this trade and its history.
- As a Setting– There are other stories set in the Lake District of England. Swallows & Amazons and The Secret Garden are two. Can you find more?
Nature Study with Beatrix Potter
A study of Beatrix Potter would not be complete without nature study. She was a nature enthusiast and was committed to learning as much as she could. It was a popular past time for the wealthy in Victorian times to study nature and natural history.
- National Fungus Month– September is the month to celebrate fungi! Beatrix loved to hunt and study fungi and she was responsible for discovering new species. She was an expert on the topic in her own right.
- Natural History– This was an item of great interest in Victorian times. Look for fossils!
- Classification– of organisms like insects, shells, ferns, fossils, and fungi.
- Observations under the Microscope– Collect, mount, and look at specimens under the microscope. Evenings at the Microscope is a book from Miss Potter’s time which is still in print!
- Draw What You See– Make sketches of magnified living and non-living specimens. It will heighten your observation skills.
Making Connections with Beatrix Potter
I was compelled to study Beatrix Potter because she and Rebecca are similar. I knew she would connect with her and that it would give us plenty to talk about. Here are few ways we have and will continue to learn together:
- Loves Nature– Miss Potter had a love for animals, plants, and nature studies
- Nature Artist– She loved to paint nature
- Independent Learner– It is clear from a young age that Beatrix learned on her own and had a drive to conquer the next thing she wanted to know.
- Resourceful– Even without the Internet, Beatrix connected with the experts and places she needed to be to learn what she wanted to know.
Rebecca and I have been reading separate books about Miss Potter at the same time and they naturally parallel one another. I have been reading her biography, Beatrix Potter A Life in Nature while Rebecca has been reading her journal. The pursuit of art and the study of nature was intensely personal to Miss Potter and I would say the same is true for Rebecca. Although she is talented at the study of plants and the things of the natural world, that is best left to her own pursuit. She wants to learn it her way and not how others tell her to or what to learn. We’ve had a lot of great discussions while reading these books.
Let him, on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age. – Charlotte Mason
Resources for Studying Beatrix Potter
We found plenty to choose from for learning more about Beatrix Potter. This is a list of our favorites:
- Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature– A biography of Miss Potter which has been an enjoyable read and includes many selections from her journals.
- The Journal of Beatrix Potter from 1881-1897– She kept this journal for sixteen years in a secret code that was deciphered many years after her death.
- The Magic Years of Beatrix Potter- Biography with sketches and photographs
- Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller, & Countrywoman– More biography, early nature sketches, photographs, and book drawings
- The Illustrated Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes– A travel guide with pictures from Wordsworth about the Lake District in England which was home to Potter in her later years and the setting for the Swallows & Amazons series of books.
- Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig– A picture book about a guinea pig she borrowed to draw and it died while in her care.
- Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants & Places that Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales
- At Home with Beatrix Potter the Creator of Peter Rabbit
- Walk with Beatrix Potter: 15 Walks in Beatrix Potter Country– A walking guide inspired by Miss Potter
- Miss Potter– the motion picture about her life and her loves. The reviews are excellent.
- The Complete Tales– You can listen on Audible or purchase the Kindle book
More Art & Nature Studies from Blog, She Wrote
If you are looking for more ways to incorporate these into your homeschool, you might also enjoy the following posts:
- Gardening as a Tool for Teaching Science– Do you keep a garden? This is a great post in how to turn your garden into real science.
- Tips for Botanical Illustrating– Tips from an artist on how to draw plants and flowers
- How to Make a Plant Journal– This was a fantastic effort this year from Rebecca which received a blue ribbon at the county fair and a blue and a rosette for outstanding exhibits at the NY state fair. It was also a useful tool in helping her to study for the state horticulture contest in which she placed first.
- Wildflower Pressing & Identification– All the supplies and know how you need for identifying wildflowers and pressing them.
- How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists– A compelling way to teach science is to learn about the people behind it.