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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Nature Study, Science, and Charlotte Mason

creek and woodsStudy finds that just looking at nature for even a few seconds can help you focus better and improve your thinking (they need studies for this stuff?)- although, most of the studies seem to involve looking at images of nature, rather than nature itself. At any rate, we know there were plenty of people there ahead of these studies (nothing wrong with that, we all stand on the shoulders of others), including Charlotte Mason.
Mason, however, wanted more than just a few microbreaks.
Nature Study is a distinctive part of a Charlotte Mason education.  Miss Mason herself set the example for her students by spending many hours several times a week out of doors, studying God’s creation, keeping a nature journal, and learning about the animals and plants of her own environment. If you only have time to read one thing about the topic, you should read what Miss Mason herself said here.
seed 6 full cycle silver mapleNature Study is Planting Seeds for Later Development: The children go on nature walks, engage in nature study, and draw what they see, and in doing these things they develop firsthand skills of observation, which will help them with later science studies as well as life in general.

In reading volume 1, pages 177-178, I found Miss Mason's outlining of something like a child's nature study manifesto  helpful:
"(a) That the knowledge most valuable to the child is that which he gets with his own eyes and ears and fingers (under direction) in the open air.
(b) That the claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.
(c) That the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes- moor or meadow, park, common or shore- where he may find new things to examine, and so add to his store of real knowledge. That the child’s observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis of scientific knowledge.
(d) That play, vigorous healthful play, is, in its turn, fully as important as lessons, as regards both bodily health and brainpower.
(e) That the child, though under supervision, should be left much to himself- That the child, though under supervision, should be left much to himself––both that he may go to work in his own way on the ideas that he receives, and also that he may be the more open to natural influences.
Miss Mason believed that young children deserved long hours in out of door play (no knowledge so appropriate to the early years ... As that of the name and look and behavior in situ of every natural object he can get at: page 32)  In situ means in its natural setting.
vintage garden coloring pageCharlotte Mason suggested that the parent’s most important role in teaching children to think scientifically is to "afford abundant and varied opportunities and to direct his observations so that, knowing little of the principles of scientific classification, he is, unconsciously, furnishing himself with the materials for such classification...the future of the man or woman depends largely on the store of knowledge gatheredand the habits of intelligent observation acquired, by the child"  Regardless of the field of study or career path chosen, the invaluable skills of observation gained through nature study done the CM way will benefit the children all their lives.
What does it mean to furnish the children with the materials for classification?  Well, the parent needs to do some reading and learning.  Then you start with small things- while looking at a flower, a bug, a tree, a toad in a jar, a bird at the bird feeder, comment or ask questions such as "What does his beak look like?  How many toes does it have?  How many legs?  What is the skin like?  How does it move?  What color is it?  What is it eating?  What is the shape of the leaf, the petal, the stem?  How many petals?  How is this different from a ...." and so on.  These are the elements of classification that he will build on later.
Children first should be learning about the world as it is- no matter how brilliant and academically gifted children are, they should all have plenty of opportunities to climb trees, play in mud puddles, go for long walks, run in meadows, wade in streams, sort rocks, shells, and acorns, collect bugs, watch butterflies emerge from a cocoon, run, skip, ride, swim, and more.
seed 3 cotyledonA child who has splashed in a puddle has a richer understanding of a pond. A child who has climbed a tree has a broader grasp of what was involved when explorers first climbed Everest. A child who has collected stones or shells has a deeper grasp of what is involved in scientific classification later.
Children who do all these things early also are actually laying down impressive growth in the brain synapses.
...The chief function of the child- his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life- is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavor of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects... page 96-7 of volume one
“The child who does not know the portly form and spotted breast of the thrush, the graceful flight of the swallow, the yellow bill of the blackbird, the gush of song which the skylark pours from above is nearly as much to be pitied as those London children who 'had never seen a bee."
"Most children of six have had this taste of a naturalist's experience, and it is worth speaking of only because, instead of being merely a harmless amusement, it is a valuable piece of education, of more use to the child than the reading of a whole book of natural history, or much geography, and Latin. For the evil is, that children get their knowledge of natural history, like all their knowledge, at second hand. They are so sated with wonders, that nothing surprises them; and they are so little used to see for themselves, that nothing interests them. The cure for this blasé condition is, to let them alone for a bit, and then begin on new lines. Poor children, it is no fault of theirs if they are not as they are meant to be- curious eager little souls, all agog to explore so much of this wonderful world as they can get at, as quite their first business in life."  (volume 1, page 60)
"He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small:
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."
Nature Knowledge the most important for Young Children. –It would be well if all we persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.” Charlotte M. Mason, Home Education, volume 1, p 61.
Of the teaching of Natural Philosophy, I will only remind the reader of what was said in an earlier chapter––that there is no part of a child's education more important than that he should lay, by his own observation, a wide basis of facts towards scientific knowledge in the future. He must live hours daily in the open air, and, as far as possible, in the country; must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant. He must be accustomed to ask why––Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And do not hurry to answer his questions for him; let him think his difficulties out so far as his small experience will carry him. Above all, when you come to the rescue, let it not be in the 'cut and dried' formula of some miserable little text-book; let him have all the insight available and you will find that on many scientific questions the child may be brought at once to the level of modern thought. Do not embarrass him with too much scientific nomenclature. If he discover for himself (helped, perhaps, by a leading question or two), by comparing an oyster and his cat, that some animals have backbones and some have not, it is less important that he should learn the terms vertebrate and invertebrate than that he should class the animals he meets with according to this difference.~Vol. 1, p.264-265
pumpkin vine drawing
The children spend considerable time looking, observing, asking questions, categorizing, and learning names.  
In Science, or rather, nature study, we attach great importance to recognition, believing that the power to recognise and name a plant or stone or constellation involves classification and includes a good deal of knowledge. To know a plant by its gesture and habitat, its time and its way of flowering and fruiting; a bird by its flight and song and its times of coming and going; to know when, year after year, you may come upon the redstart and the pied fly-catcher, means a good deal of interested observation, and of, at any rate, the material for science.
Observation, categorizing, and drawing conclusions are important parts of 'doing science,' and with Miss Mason's approach to nature study, they've been doing this for years.  Now it's time for another important part of science study- the lab notebook.  Only we call it a nature journal or nature notebook.
Consider this from a scientist and former CM home-schooling mom (the former list-mama of the Cmason mailing list, Lynn H.):
As it is with the birds and the moths, so is the best Science in all areas. Science is a pattern of thought, of observation, correlation, theory, hypothesis, experimentation, and more thought. The methods of Science apply to all subjects. Therefor, it does not really matter where you begin to teach Science. Begin where you are- with the moth on the patio, the birds on your birdfeeder, the aquarium in the kitchen, the volcano in your cornfield. Spend the time needed to really look, and think. In Graduate microbiology classes, time was the most precious resource there was. I spent many long evenings staring through a microscope examining the characteristics of some bacteria or fungi. We went through complicated procedures to obtain electron microscope photographs, which we would blow up and hang where we could see them every time we raised our eyes. We had to, because they didn't come labeled- we had to think and identify each structure ourselves. The Science was not in the fancy equipment, it was in the time we spent thinking. We learned the names, we kept vocabulary notebooks (half of any subject is vocabulary), we wrote detailed lab reports. These were not the Sciences- the real work was our lab notebooks, where we kept our notes of what we saw, what happened, what we thought might happen. Lab notebooks are the personal property of the individual scientist, and are the most valuable part of his work.
A Charlotte Mason Nature Notebook is a lab notebook. Teach your children to write down everything they see. The illustrations should be as detailed as possible, the notes should never be removed. A young child may do better with loose-leaf paper, but a teen should learn to keep notes in a bound book where removing pages shows! If they make a mistake (such as in a math calculation) they may draw a line through it, but never obliterate. Obviously, different notebooks should be kept for each topic. Edith Holden did not keep her chemistry notes in her Diary. Her chemistry notebook would have held illustrations of her experiments, notes of colors and reactions, tables of data, titles and quotations applicable to the experiment, and her conclusions."
Click through to read the rest, it's very helpful.  So, the children are branching out now, having sent deep roots down into the field of science through their early observations and time with nature .  Now, Miss Mason has them write:
"The children keep a dated record of what they see in their nature note-books, which are left to their own management and are not corrected. These note-books are a source of pride and joy, and are freely illustrated by drawings (brushwork) of twig, flower, insect, etc. The knowledge necessary for these records is not given in the way of teaching. On one afternoon in the week, the children (of the Practising School) go for a 'nature walk' with their teachers. They notice for themselves, and the teacher gives a name or other information as it is asked for, and it is surprising what a range of knowledge a child of nine or ten acquires.
The teachers are careful not to make these nature walks an opportunity for scientific instruction, as we wish the children's attention to be given to observation with very little direction. In this way they lay up that store of 'common information' which Huxley considered should precede science teaching; and, what is much more important, they learn to know and delight in natural objects as in the familiar faces of friends. (Vol 3 pg 237)
As soon as a child is old enough, he should keep his own nature notebook for his enjoyment. Every day's walk will give something interesting to add - three squirrels playing in a tree, a bluejay flying across a field, a caterpillar crawling up a bush, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider suddenly dropping from a thread to the ground, where he found ivy and how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, and how ivy manages to climb. (Vol 1 p 55)
They write and they draw- and it's worth while to find resources to help them learn drawing.
This is what we wish to do for children in teaching them to draw - to cause the eye to rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some object of beauty which will leave in their minds an image of delight for all their lives to come. (Vol 1 p 313)
The first buttercup in a child's nature notebook is shockingly crude, the sort of thing to scandalise a teacher of brush-drawing, but by and by another buttercup will appear with the delicate poise, uplift and radiance of the growing flower. (Vol 6, p 217)
All that nature study, the nature notebooks, the nature reading, as well as other science observations about how things work (the philosophy, or science, of 'everyday things- more on that here) is building up, layer upon layer, toward a more substantial and meaningful understanding of the scientific discoveries of the day, to knowledge the student will need and use in high school, college, and life.  It's taken root, branched out, and it's bearing fruit.

Getting Ready for High School Science, Wonder and Order  by Beth Pinckney: How students with a good Charlotte Mason style background in nature study build a firm foundation for high school and college lab sciences. It is a good read for parents teaching older students.  But I also think it's a very good read for parents who are just starting out.  It will help the beginner understand why nature studis important. It will help a young mother lacking confidence understand more about how nature study works and why it's so important.
AO's Nature Study Posts Page: Once you've read about why you need and want to do Nature Study, and perhaps even after you've tried it a handful of times, you might want to read this collection of nature study posts which experienced moms shared on AO's old email list.
But mainly, get outside with the kids and start looking, observing, categorizing, asking questions, drawing conclusions.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Winter Nature Study Ideas

The ideas below are mostly suitable for those living in northern climes where you get snow and ice.  There are some principles applicable to most of us, but the specific practices are mostly more doable in the north, with a couple exceptions of more universal application.

Charlotte Mason expected her students to engage in nature study throughout their lives, not just as preparation for the study of other sciences.

She said, "The study of natural history and botany with bird lists and plant lists continues throughout school life, while other branches are taken term by term." She herself set the example for her students by spending many hours several times a week out of doors, studying God’s creation, keeping a nature journal, and learning about the animals and plants of her own environment. Irregardless of the field of study or career path chosen, the invaluable skills of observation

 Children first should be learning about the world as it is- no matter how brilliant and academically gifted children are, they should all have plenty of opportunities to climb trees, play in mud puddles, go for long walks, run in meadows, wade in streams, sort rocks, shells, and acorns, collect bugs, watch butterflies emerge from a cocoon, run, skip, ride, swim, and more. A child who has splashed in a puddle has a richer understanding of a pond. A child who has climbed a tree has a broader grasp of what was involved when explorers first climbed Everest. A child who has collected stones or shells has a deeper grasp of what is involved in scientific classification later.

A little advance preparation can help a lot.   Keep a piece of black wool, felt, or velvet in your freezer (we just used a black mitten that had lost its mate.)  When it snows, grab it and catch some snowflakes on it. Hold your breath while you look at the snowflakes through a magnifying glass. You keep it in the freezer to help the snowflakes last long enough to see them under magnification.

 Play a version of `Kim's game'- pick a scene outside a window, look at it carefully enough to be able to look at it again on another day and describe what is different. When you have been able to take a brisk walk, go home, and over hot cocoa ask who can remember what you passed on your walk and tell each other all you remember.

 Observe the trees, note their changes- pick one or two trees and check them every week to see what's different. You can do this from inside with a good pair of binoculars. We've tied a bit of scarlet ribbon around one tree branch in the past, and checked just that branch a couple of times a month to see if we can spy any changes. Learn to recognize bird calls- set up a bird feeder, check out, and once you have identified a bird, go to the website to hear its call.

 The Sun: Observe its position at various times throughout the day
 Note times of sunrise and sunset as well as their direction
 The place of the sun at the hottest part of the day
 Distance and direction
 In addition to noting the location of the sun
 Note the time it takes to walk/drive
 A foot, a yard, a block, a quarter mile, a half mile
 To frequent destinations- a friend's house, the store, the library, the barn, the corner, around the block (wherever it is you do walk- learn how far that is and how long it takes to walk that distance) 
Wind Direction, learn what a western wind means (it is blowing from the west, not toward the west, just as a Canadian is _from_ Canada)
 Clouds Observe their shape, size, style, color and note the connection between clouds and weather

 WE bought the book _Exploring Nature In Winter_, by Alan Cvancara through Abebooks. I found a few useful ideas, although it is primarily for adults to use to learn to enjoy the outdoors in winter as well as warmer months. One of the many ideas between its covers is how to preserve snowflakes to sketch. You need microscope slides, which you put on a sturdy surface, like cardboard. Spray the slides with something like Krylon- clear, plastic spray generally for preserving artwork. Then allow snow crystals to land on the sprayed slides. Bring the slides in to dry. If it worked, you will have replicas of snowflake crystals that remain clear. You can sketch them, examine them under the microscope, or use a magnifying glass. Of course, to do this, your slides and the spray should be below freezing, or they will melt the snowflake on contact. (I will tell you that this sounds very interesting, but we have only tried this once and it didn't work for us)

 He suggests noting weather conditions, air temperatures, wind direction, speed, and what type of snow crystals predominate. These things, of course, could all be admirable additions to the Nature Notebook.

 Another way to study snowflakes is take out a a piece of black cardboard, or black felt stretched on a board, (or wear black wool mittens), and a magnifying glass and study the snowflakes outside. Just be careful not to melt them with your breath as you gasp in rapt admiration;-)

 Another nice nature study book for winter is the Winter ecojournal. It has lots of ideas to help children journal their own nature study adventures.

 Another neat thing to do is to sketch the moon each week, on the same night, to let the child discover for herself the cycles of the moon. You can do this just by looking out the window every night. I am embarrassed to admit that I never realized that the moon does not always rise from the same direction until I did this with my children 20 years ago.

Evergreens are always good subjects for winter nature study. Learn the pattern their needles grow in, look at pine cones, study what wildlife, if any, hangs out at the evergreen tree in winter.

 You can also bring in a rock, a bit of wood, a seed pod, a pine cone or small log with lichen on it and sketch it from the dining room table.

 You can sketch a leafless twig, noting the placing of the leaf scars, the color of the wood, the shape, etc. These will vary by type of tree, but see if your children can figure that out for themselves. We have tied a string around a twig or tree branch you can see from a window, then sketch it once a month, observing seasonal changes.

 You could look for old seed pods and sketch them, or animal tracks in the snow.

 Force a bulb to bloom indoors.

 Keep a calendar of nature firsts all year long- this should include things like first snowfall, first ice storm, first bird to your feeder, first goose seen flying south, first goose seen returning, and even the i.d. of the birds you see at your feeder every day.

Contrary to one common belief,  Miss Mason did not suggest that the children go outside everyday, rain or snow or sunshine. She said something about every tolerably fine day from May through October. She did think they should have appropriate clothes to make some snowdays comfortable and safe, but she expected reason, a thinking love, from mothers. I am sure she never meant for mothers to kick the children out of doors for 12 hours during the blizzards we get on the prairies in North America. We do what we can with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

That includes learning from the circumstances in which you and your child find yourselves- in the following quote replace the bird species, for instance, with those common in your area:

“The child who does not know the portly form and spotted breast of the thrush, the graceful flight of the swallow, the yellow bill of the blackbird, the gush of song which the skylark pours from above is nearly as much to be pitied as those London children who 'had never seen a bee.'

Speaking of watching the metamorphis of a caterpillar to a butterfly (in real life, not on a youtube video), Mason says,
"Most children of six have had this taste of a naturalist's experience, and it is worth speaking of only because, instead of being merely a harmless amusement, it is a valuable piece of education, of more use to the child than the reading of a whole book of natural history, or much geography, and Latin. For the evil is, that children get their knowledge of natural history, like all their knowledge, at second hand. They are so sated with wonders, that nothing surprises them; and they are so little used to see for themselves, that nothing interests them. The cure for this blasé condition is, to let them alone for a bit, and then begin on new lines. Poor children, it is no fault of theirs if they are not as they are meant to be- curious eager little souls, all agog to explore so much of this wonderful world as they can get at, as quite their first business in life."

Do not substitute books for first hand, hands on, nature study with the things in your house, yard, neighbourhood, local fields and parks, no matter how barren you think they are.

Other winter nature study ideas:

~Charlotte Mason Other resources for Winter Nature Study:
I don't know where this list of suggested books comes from. I own two or three of them, don't know that I've seen a couple.  I found it in my drafts from 2009, while looking for something else. Isn't that the way it goes?  At least, it is for some of us! Winter Search Party: a Guide to Insects and Other Invertebrates
Exploring Nature in Winter: A Guide to Activities, Adventures, and Projects for the Winter Naturalist (Naturalist's Bookshelf)
  Plants in Winter (A Lets-Read-and-Find-Out Science Book) Discover Nature in Winter (Discover Nature Series)
Winter-sleeping wildlife.
Winter Buds, Exploring Winter

Illustration taken from From Nature Studies for Children, Book One, by Nora B. Albright, Primary Teacher, and Jennie Hall, Supervisor of Nature Study in the elementary schools of minneapolis, Minnesota
Mentzer, Bush & Company, publishers

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

True Stem Study

I. Stem Science begins at birth, but for six years it has nothing to do with  'academics:'
Science begins with:
    1. Baths: splashing, floating, dropping things in the water, kicking, and more.

    1. Food: smearing it, fingering it, smelling it, wiping it on one's face, and sometimes, eating it.

    1. Dropping things, over and over and over and over and over and over and over....

    1. Throwing things over and over and over and over and over

    1. Bumping into things.

    1. Getting hurt sometimes.

    1. Exploring, crawling in and out of cupboards and closets and losing things under the couch and feeling things - sharp things, soft things, pointed things, round things, angular things, faces, hands, puppies, water, ice, things that squish and things that don't, things that are smooth or gritty, silky or prickly and more besides.

    Outdoor play in the wild- not on equipment at a sterile park, but play with mud puddles, ponds, dirt, trees, and the risk of skinned knees, bug bites, and splinters.  Play transitions into noticing- listening- smelling- seeing- feeling- wondering.  "Oh, look at this caterpillar!  I love that colour.  I wonder what it those bits that stick out are for?"  "Wow, this weed looks beautiful, but it stinks. I wonder why it smells?"  "See those tracks in the mud by the creek! I wonder what made them?  Do they remind you of anything? They kind of look like two crescent moons to me.  Let's look these up when we go back home."
All that is just off the top of my head. I am sure if we took more time we could come up with more things, but they would still all have this in common- they are what human babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and small children do and have done for ever and ever.

II: the nature notebooks, sketching
    You'll transition to sketching, and let me stress here that it does not matter that you cannot draw, that you hate to draw.  The goal here is  not to produce lovely drawings (it's nice if you can, bonus! But that's NOT THE POINT!).  No, all you are trying to do is two things:
    ~Produce enough of a rough draft to serve as a reminder of what you saw to help you look it up later.
    1. ~ Notice details.  Try it and see.  Pick any two objects on your next nature exploratory, the leaves of two houseplants if you need to, or slice two different fruits into a cross section and sketch one, and take a photograph of the other to put in your nature journal. Set them aside. A week later think about them, compare, write a description from memory.  Look at them and write a description.  See which one has resulted in clearer, more detailed recollection *in your mind.*

    It's fine to desire a beautiful product, and you can keep striving for that.  But what I'm saying is don't give up because you don't get there.  The other two things are excellent results, even if you never sketch better than rough scrawls.  Just don't give up!
    There is a deep, important relationship, a connection (or multiple connections) made in the brain that happens when you combine these experiences- seeing something wonderful, experiencing awe, wonder, curiosity, and then reprocessing that by recording it (by hand, not machine!) and putting it into words, words on paper, words you exchange with others- your kids, your parents, your classmates.

  1. I was in the sixth grade and we had a series of science assignments where we had to find short little science experiments or demonstrations to present to the class, and also write about them and give our written work to the teacher. Each part of the assignment was half the grade for the assignment, which was a substantial portion of our class grade. They could be very, very simple, but we had to write at least a paragraph about what we'd done. It isn't really science, said our teacher, until you've communicated about it. One could nitpick the finer points of that, but essentially, he was right.

  2. III.  Why is nature and time outside so important?

  3. Outdoor play, and lots of it, followed by first informal and later some more formal Nature study is building an important foundation for later formal science. Your child is stocking his mind with an incredible collection of real, concrete experiences with the physical world and how it works. These experiences are vital to a later conceptual understanding, to the later ability to translate those experiences into the abstract concepts he learns of. IT will enable him to more accurately hypothesize and predict results.You want "to stimulate observation and to excite a living and lasting
    interest in the world that lies about us" (Home Education by Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1 of her 6 volume series, p. 267)  Miss Mason is quoting Edward Holden, author of The Sciences there.   Nobody has any business asking 'but what about STEM' if they haven't been out in the great outdoors getting gloriously dirty- the outdoors can be your backyard, the neighbor's yard, the empty lot up the road, the back corner of a park, a 3rd story balcony with a variety of potted plants, possibly a bird feeder, and inside a goldfish bowl with a water snail and a couple water weeds to observe.

    While the science is important, as is the appreciation of the natural world, we actually are also looking for something more, something deeper- a type of sanity, common sense, and level headed approach to life which flourishes best in minds and hearts which regularly have the cobwebs brushed away by time in the natural world contemplating a larger world and the Creator who formed it.
    In the Parents Review article "The value of Scientific
    Training", Prof. J. Logan Lobley says:
    "So wondrous, too, are the revelations of natural science in opening to the view illimitable fields of knowledge, that instead of generating conceit or hateful priggishness in the youthful student, they suffuse the spirit with awe and reverence for the majesty of the universe, and modesty and humbleness from the consciousness of the little that is known and the boundless extent of the unknown.
    With the increase of the habit of observation comes an increase of the power of observation, that is, in fact, the power of accurate observation. More is seen, and the ability to discriminate between similar objects rapidly develops. Use of the power increases the power, even as the muscles of the body are developed by their frequent employment.
    Beyond this development of the observing and discriminating powers, which is most valuable in itself, thought, consideration, deduction, and analytical and synthetical mental processes, are begotten, encouraged, and developed, with the result that mental activity becomes usual and normal instead of being merely occasional and abnormal. Thus the mind is both fed and stimulated, developed, strengthened, and enlivened, its range of vision is vastly enlarged, and its activities largely increased. It is consequently less liable to be unduly influenced by those small considerations and allurements that in so many cases most injuriously and sometimes disastrously affect the life."
    Nature study, outdoor time, is absolutely unconditionally, irrefutably valuable for building up the foundation for future science learning. IT's also good for the soul.
    It is not that nature is some minor deity. It's not magic, it's not a replacement for other things (teaching, heart, the Holy Spirit, a relationship with God)- but it is a tool, and a highly effective one, for resting the fractious soul, renewing vigor, strengthening the will, building relationships both God-ward and with other people, for informing the conscience. A child who has spent some time really observing an ant hill and watching them work, who has watched a nest from building season to hatching season and beyond, who has put food in a bird feeder and filled the bird bath regularly is less likely to be a child who cannot put himself in the place of creatures smaller and weaker than himself, less likely to be a carelessly cruel child (this happens over time, don't despair of your small 3 year old psychopath who stomps on caterpillars).

  4. There's a Reason for this. 
  5. I will look up to the hills, from whence cometh my strength. Consider the lilies. Go to the ant. Ask the birds and they will teach you. The Heavens declare the glory of God. The sky proclaims His handiwork. His invisible attributes.... have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things which He created. Ask the beasts, and they will teach you. Speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you...* 

  6. The same Creator who made the world made us and put us in it- the first place he chose for mankind, made in His image, was a garden. There is already a connection. Some of us need more effort to winkle it out and strengthen it because it's been squelched by years of air conditioned, sterile, insect free, indoor living.

  7. Not every child is going to grow up to be a scientist. But every child should be somebody who can find delight in science in both childhood and as they become adults. Every human should be able to read the science and technology sections of a paper or news site with some basic ability and interest- especially interest.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Study of Science: "'Scientific truths,' said Descartes, 'are battles won.' Describe to the young the principal and most heroic of these battles; you will thus interest them in the results of science and you will develop in them a scientific spirit by means of the enthusiasm for the conquest of truth . . . How interesting Arithmetic and Geometry might be if we gave a short history of their principal theorems, if the child were meant to be present at the labours of a Pythagoras, a Plato, a Euclid, or in modern times, of a Descartes, a Pascal, or a Leibnitz. Great theories instead of being lifeless and anonymous abstractions would become living human truths each with its own history like a statue by Michael Angelo or like a painting by Raphael." (Charlotte Mason, volume 6)

Our goals for education are not utilitarian- we don't educate merely for a job or for passing a test, but because God has created a wide and wonderful world full of amazing, interesting, astonishing, and even useful things and ideas and it is the glory of God to conceal these things, but the glory of kings to discover them, and our children are all royalty, sons and daughters of the King of Kings.  We don't want to dismiss scientific knowledge of any sort on the grounds that it's not useful (some things don't get covered because of time, but use alone is not our criteria).  There are many reasons for this, but one of them is that humility and experience both tell us that we have no way of determining what will and won't be useful knowledge to our children at some future date.

We want books that appeal to children's natural inborn love of knowledge, not books with gimmicks and dated jokes and silly attempts to use current slang and talk down to kids in a mistaken attempt to be relevant that really makes a book dated and irrelevant in about six weeks.
Even when children may have had their natural love of knowledge squelched by bad teaching, bad practices, hard lives or whatever cause, we feel that most of us really do like to know about the world around us and how it works even if that interest has been weakened by years of dry, boring text books and assumptions that we *aren't* interested in those things and that they are not interesting at all.

Because what you subsidize, use of as bribes or hooks is what you get more of, what your students come to depend on, what distracts them, we don't want to enforce notions that this is a topic of interest only if we give you candy, stickers, and special points for studying it.  We will appeal to interest, to that still living, tiny spark of thirst for knowledge. We don't want to rely on appeals of bribery, shallow trivia, and tests that treat the material like dictionary entries.

We want science books that are alive, well written, and that are also humble- recognizing the fact that what is understood today can change tomorrow.  We want books that do not substitute opinion for fact.

We want accompanying experiments, activities, and demonstrations. We want them clearly explained and as much as possible using inexpensive materials that families can easily find at home.

Facts are important, but we don't want books that are basically lists of facts- we want facts only when clothed in their inspiring ideas, a big picture, a breathless since of wonder, discovery, and awe.

A child's mind is alive, a living organism that, like other organisms, requires nourishing food and regular servings of it- and the food the mind takes in best is the living idea, ideas communicated in literary language and illustrated with demonstrations and experiments with real things.  The mind responds to ideas, and that is what we want to see in science books.  We also want for children to leave their schooling years with the understanding that learning never ends, that it is a natural and desirable thing to continue to be interested in and to stay abreast of the scientific work of the day.

Mason tells this story:  "The mistress of an Elementary School writes,––"The father of one of my girls said to me yesterday, 'You have given me some work to do. E. has let me have no rest until I promised to set up my microscope and get pond water to look for monads and other wonders.'" Here we have the right order. That which was born of the spirit, the idea, came first and demanded to confirm and illustrate."
This is part of the reason why a Charlotte Mason education spends so much of the early years out of doors, looking, observing, wondering, pondering, noticing, thinking, with helpful hints, direction, and elucidations from adults who know what to look for or how to find out how to answer questions. We don't pretend to know everything- or anything at all that we don't know. We find out. We are interested in these things ourselves or we learn how to be.

Mason also writes of a class that:
"is open to the wonders that science reveals, is interested in the wheeling worlds of the winter firmament. "Child after child," said a schoolmistress, "writes to say how much they have enjoyed reading about the stars." "As we are walking sometimes and the stars are shining," says a girl of eleven in an Elementary School, "I tell mother about the stars and planets and comets. She said she should think astronomy very interesting."
But we teach astronomy, no, we teach 'light and heat' by means of dessicated text-books, diagrams and experiments, which last are no more to children than the tricks of white magic. The infinitely little is as attractive to them as the infinitely great and the behavior of an atom, an ion, is a fairy tale they delight in, that is, if no semblance to a fairy tale be suggested. "

Finally, but most importantly- "Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value."

That is what we want. I use the royal we.  If you know of such a book, or have written one, I'd love to read it!

You may also enjoy this post on stem studies from the beginning in a CM education.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Reading your Bible when you don't have time to read your Bible

One of my favourite sources for parenting help's is Benedict's Rule of Order (and I am not Catholic).

For example, Benedict's monks got up at orderly times and recited Psalms and prayers, listened to a benediction, and occasionaly had spiritually nourishing readings throughout the day and into the nights.  He prescribed some of them, and left others up to the choice of the Abbot- the mother and father play the role of abbot in your home.

As Mothers we are likewise often called to arise in the night hours, although with somewhat less regularity than the Monks, and the calls for us are not often calls such as permit us space and quiet for thoughtful prayer and meditation.

Nevertheless, if we make a plan for these things in advance, it is more likely to do us good than not, even if we cannot always follow through.  If we make a plan in advance we will find it more often possible for us to use some of those middle of the night duties for prayer and praise than if we have no plan.  If you have no desire to use your time wisely and make the most of the time because the days are evil, then you should not make such a plan.  If you have the desire but are afraid of failing, make your plans and arrangements in advance.  You will be further ahead than if you don't.

It needn't be glorious and elaborate, your plan or your praise and studies.  God knows where you are because He knows who you are, and He loves you.  Years ago I read a poem about the nativity, by Kathy Epling, a woman who knew clearly knew motherhood and exhaustion. She wrote of dragging herself and her little ones to a Christmas service, I think, and she spoke of being tired and having only praise as 'plain as bread and milk.'  I loved that phrase and it has stayed with me.  That is more than good enough at those seasons in your life.

Also years ago, when I was pregnant with my second child (she was born in the Christmas season of 1984), I was often up in the middle of the night in too much pain to sleep.  I have scoliosis and something about the way she was lying made it impossible for me to rest comfortably.  I spent many hours in the middle of the night simply suffering, or distracting myself by cotton candy reading, but I also spent many hours praying, reading my Bible, and studying.  I was in great pain, but looking back on those hours, they are very precious to me, and the pain barely a fleeting impression. When I was able to put them to good use it was because my desire was to sit at my Savior's feet and learn.  I have had other opportunities I regret to say I wasted because that was not so, but this was a time of great learning.

I was also able to use those moments well by the grace of God because, again by his grace,   I knew where I had put my Bible, notebook, and pen before I went to bed so I could easily find them when my back pain woke me up and drove me from my bed.  That small bit of organization resulted in great spiritual blessings.

With that in mind, here is how I would adapt chapter 9 of Benedict's Rule for housewives, for families, for mothers in particular:

Be ready to praise the Lord, in season and out of season.  When you lie down and when you must arise in the middle of the night, do not forget the Lord your God.
Praise Him in prayer, song, and study.
Petition Him in prayer, song, and study.

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help,
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.
(Psalms 63:1-8)

Further helps and ideas:

Arrange your thoughts as well as your environment to make this more natural.  Plan ahead simply by reminding yourself from time to time that this is your goal- to redeem the odd moments when you can.  

Place copies of the Psalms, Bible study materials, and any reminders you would find helpful where you are likely to see them- in the bathroom, if what is most likely to prompt you up at night will find you there. Over the changing table, rocking chair, or on a shelf by your favorite living room chair might be another spot where these reminders will be useful when you are up but dozy.  Perhaps near the rocking chair and humidifier if it is croup that is most likely to call you from your slumbers.

By 'reminders,' I mean things as simple as a photograph of somebody you mean to pray for, a note reminding you of your goal to praise the Lord even in the dead of night, or an index card with something like this written on it:
"O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise."
This is a great start. Don't stumble yourself before you begin by looking for the perfect little notecard and the prettiest ink to write sucha reminder.  Use a stick-it pad, an index card, the back of an envelope- whatever is near to you right this very moment.  You can pretty it up later if you need to.

But we can make it even easier on ourselves by being a little more specific and even a little more organized.

Download or subscribe to this free podcast of the Psalms by my friend's husband, Dan Bunting.  He and his wife are homeschooling parents.

Benedict recommends Psalm 3, which I imagine speaks to many of us when we are up in the dead of night.  Here are two song versions- I personally prefer the second, but more important than style is the substance.

There is an acapella version here in old medieval chant style but English words. I find it helpful to listen to it, hitting the pause button at the end of each half verse or so and then repeating it myself.  Save it to your phone, your mp3 player, iPod, or computer (or some other technological wonder of which I am ignorant).  The Benedictine Christian Housewife should totally have one of those.=)

Next he recommends Psalm 94.  The first half is arranged to match the tune Austria, Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken, and if you scroll down just a short big you will find the tune Austria here to listen to. 
Or you can listen to the spoken version here:
The Sons of Korah sing a version here:
An Anglican choir sings it here:

You may be wondering why you would want to meditate on God's vengeance and judgement of the wicked in the middle of the night. I am not sure what Benedict's thinking was.  I have two thoughts - sometimes what keeps us up at night is frustration, emotional pain at having been badly treated or having one of our loved ones badly treated. It may be a comfort and a good reminder to know that vengeance is God's and not ours. And it is an excellent reminder to be humble.  You don't have to follow Benedict's suggestions, of course.  Pick any Psalm and either bookmark it, record it, save a recording, or print out a copy in font large enough for you to see it and read it while nursing or rocking a little one, or whatever occupation has you up in the middle of the night.

Benedict then says the Te Deum should follow- this is a song of praise, you can read it here, or listen to the tune by Tallis and read some of the lyrics here (there are others).

Psalm 45 would also be excellent- again I would recommend the Psalms sung here as they are particularly good for the night watches- not too jarring or disruptive of your sleeping family members, and done in such a way that all the attention is on the words, not the musical flourishes (because there are none).  I have had more than one more than musical friend who started by singing along with these grudgingly, because I suggested it, and then acknowledged that yes, they did think about the words more when listening to these.

Benedictine then recommends that the night service include six more Psalms, a blessing from the Abbot, and three lessons 'read from the book on the lectern by the brethren in their turn.'

If you wanted something other than the Psalms for the wee hours (and I am not sure why you would), Fanny Crosby's hymn, Will Jesus Find Us Watching might fit your needs:
Here's an acapella version on youtube (I know it doesn't look like it's going to be acapella, but I promise, it is).
O God the deep immutable, the changeless, wise and still,
You’re the absolute, eternal One; You wield the sovereign will.
Deep Heav’n itself and even time must bend beneath your sway.
With a whispered thought you banish night in a flash of blinding day.
The seas are boundaried by your word; great mountains heed your call.
Majestic swirls of galaxies adorn your royal hall.
The centuries are lumps of clay shaped by your strength and skill.
You mold the long millennia to the dictates of your will.
The boundless, black-robed skies proclaim your vast, astonishing might:
Their flaming jewels rejoice for you in silent shouts of light.
With sure and sovereign strokes your hands finger the cosmic strings,
And play celestial symphonies as all creation sings.
And silent now, the angels stare; stunned seraphs blush, amazed;
Great Michael sheaths the sword that at the Gate of Eden blazed.
Mighty Gabriel sets his trump aside, and listens to his Lord,
As Love incomprehensible enfleshes the Living Word.
Now space and time have cracked before the size of this event:
The Godhead shudders as the glorious Son to Hell is sent.
Though Very God of Very God, He counts it all but loss,
And comes and suffers as a man, from the manger to the Cross.
These lyr­ics may be free­ly re­pro­duced or pub­lished for Christ­ian wor­ship, pro­vid­ed
they are not al­tered, and this no­tice is on each co­py. All other rights re­served. )

It is my personal experience that the sorts of things likely to awaken me or keep me awake and sleepless in the late watches of the night are not the happiest events of my life.  I do not often find myself with burning eyes staring in the dark while I ponder over the joys of salvation, the births of our babies, the adoptions of two of our daughters, and other blessings.
The Psalms put those things in a better perspective. 
Also helpful:
Colossians 1, esp verses 13-20, chapter 3, esp the first verse
Romans 8:18 (and following)
2 Corinthians 4, especially verses 7-18
Psalms 30:5- weeping may last for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
Psalm 126:5= those that sow in tears will reap in joy.

These are things I learned were true even through many serious  trials and heartaches, which included the ups and downs of our second grandson's health, even the death sentence we lived with and loved him through over his first year (thankfully, on his first birthday the doctors revised their diagnosis).
I can say these things are true even though we lived through a similar fright and scare with another grandson a few years later.

I can say these things are true, even though the things our family endured with our precious grandsons, as hard and as much as those paths broke my heart and brought me to my knees begging God to protect my daughters from this valley-  even if the worst had happened, or would happen, for me it is not the most agonizing grief I have ever endured.  I can say those things are true even in the face of the deaths of family members and loved ones we have experience in the last couple of years.

I can say these things are true even in spite of the events in my life that caused me to have PTSD, and the relationships broken or injured by those who could not weather the storms of PTSD.

I can say these things are true in spit of that other, deeper, harder, more searingly painful sorrow which I never have, and cannot imagine I ever will, explicitly write about.

I can say these things are true, even if I do not always act like they are.
Margaret Widdemer once wrote a poem:

Pain has been, and grief enough, and bitterness and crying,
Sharp ways and stony ways I think it was she trod.
But all there is to see now is a white bird flying,
Whose blood-stained wings go circling high, 
Circling up to God.

I think we all have blood-stained wings from one cause or another.  Fix our eyes and hearts on God, and one day there will be Joy in the Morning.

Start now, in small and immediate ways.  Prepare your house and your heart to make it easier.  Make a plan, but don't lose your opportunities in the planning. Don't let the plan because bigger and more elaborate than the goal, spending time in the Lord's words, in whatever doses you can take, in whatever medium works for you in the moments you have.  This post has focused on the wee hours of the morning.  The moments you can snatch may be while stirring breakfast or soup for supper. They may be while driving. They may be while slicing bread or kneading it. They might be while shoveling snow or tying shoes.  Take advantage of the moments you have and larger moments with a deeper attention span will come. 

Much of this post adapted from Benedict's Rule of Order, chapter 9, How Many Psalms are to be said at the Night Office, which you can read by clicking that link.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Education happens in the mind

This is a bit of an oversimplification.  I also find I process my own thoughts better when I write them down and play around with them on paper.  As your students get older you will want to transition to written work, too. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Habit Training

train railsTrains run smoothly on train tracks. Good habits are the tracks for the train of life- laid down carefully, with forethought, planning, and care, trains run smoothly and efficiently. Laid down carelessly, delays and accidents occur.

Here's the frightening thing- habit is inevitable. Your children (and you) are developing and reinforcing habits on a daily basis, whether you give it any thought or not. When you do not bother to take the care to ease your childrens' lives "by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord, " you are still helping them lay down habits.  The non-act of not taking action, of avoiding the effort of deciding to build good habits and enforcing them through diligent, loving, consistent, training simply leaves your children at the mercy of the default button when it comes to building habits- because they will still build them. Only they will be more likely to build bad habits that make their lives run more roughly and unevenly.

"We avoid decision and indecision brings its own delays, "and days are lost lamenting o'er lost days." "
The interesting- and to me rather depressing thing- is that even the most casual parents never truly neglects all habit training. We do train children to eat with their utensils instead of their hands so that the habit is so ingrained they pick up the fork or spoon automatically, without thought. We train them to certain habits of hygiene or grooming much the same way. They do not have to think about every single bite of food in order to chew with their lips closed. They do not have to remind themselves to use soap (if they are not 12 year old boys). What a burden and drudgery daily life would be if "every act of the bath, toilet, table, every lifting of the fork and use of spoon were a matter of consideration and required an effort of decision!"

When you consider how much more smoothly daily life runs when smooth rails of good habits have been laid down, it's easy to see that while the job of the parent is multi-faceted, habit training is certainly a vital, but neglected part of parenting.  It is every parent's business is to lay down lines of habit upon which our children's behaviour might run more easily, so that their lives run more smoothly in the way they should go.  They can thus expend more energy and attention on the harder tasks of life, unhindered by the obstacles and delays of bad habits that otherwise derail our lives.

Realizing that there are good habits in both the physical and the spiritual realms of life, we can list some of those good habits.  Here are some that come randomly to my mind (you may think of others):

regular church attendance, truth telling, putting things away instead of the 'unlawful habit of scattering,' washing hands before a meal and after petting an animal, opening a door for a woman, offering a chair to the elderly (or boys offering a chair to ladies), regular bathing, polite speech, civility, the proper use of those magic words (please, thank-you, and you're welcome), good posture, praying before meals, daily Bible reading, closing doors behind one, not interrupting, proper apologies, self-control, and so on, and on.

However, it's really not that necessary to list those habits which we should aim at forming, because.- and this is important to recognize in ourselves- everyone "knows more about these than anyone practises."

We admire the result of years of good habits when we see those results, but we shrink from the discipline which is able to produce them, and there is no other way of forming any good habit except through that discipline.

The most effective discipline is that of self discipline- a government of the soul which the person exercises upon himself, but most people need help from the outside to reach that state of self-governance from the inside. Especially when we are young (for best results), a " certain strenuousness in the formation of good habits" from the outside in is necessary because "every such habit is the result of conflict-" or hard work, a fight against what is easiest and for what is best.

That is because the bad habits are easy to develop and the good ones harder, and the easy life is, well, easy. The bad habit of the easy life always seems pleasant and persuasive but it is to be resisted with pain and effort. However, we should work on those bad habits also with hope and certainty of success, because God created and designed us so that we could form such disciplined habits of muscle and mind as we deliberately propose to ourselves.

Paraphrased and sometimes directly quoted from "Towards the Philosophy of Education," by Charlotte Mason

Questions to consider-  you do not have to tell me the answers, but they might be helpful for discussion in a group or family:
What, if any, bad habits derail you? How?
How would good habits make your daily life run more smoothly?
What good habits would you like to develop in yourself or your children?
What hinders you?
What sort of discipline would you need to apply to develop those habits? What would you need to change in your life to make deliberate habit training easier?  Is there something you could change in your house and daily activities that would help improve a good habit and derail a bad one?  This can be something as simple as a laundry basket or waste bin in the right place.

We ought, of course, to tell the truth because it is the right thing to do, but I also believe that truth telling as a good habit can also make doing the right thing easier. Why would that be?

What, if anything, does the Bible have to say about habits? Which verses or biblical stories could encourage you in the development of good habits in yourself or your children?

What other stories can you think of that might help spur you or your children in the development of good habits?

You might like this post on building the habit of Bible reading even during the hard times of life.