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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Why Study Botany

“…every wild flower that grows in their neighbourhood, they should know quite well; should be able to describe the leaf––its shape, size, growing from the root or from the stem; the manner of flowering––a head of flowers, a single flower, a spike, etc. And, having made the acquaintance of a wild flower, so that they can never forget it or mistake it, they should examine the spot where they find it, so that they will know for the future in what sort of ground to look for such and such a flower.”  
~Charlotte Mason, Home-Education
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“The Sense of Beauty comes from Early Contact with Nature.––There is no end to the store of common information, got in such a way that it will never be forgotten, with which an intelligent child may furnish himself before he begins his school career. The boy who can tell you off-hand where to find each of the half-dozen most graceful birches, the three or four finest ash trees in the neighbourhood of his home, has chances in a life a dozen to one compared with the lower, slower intelligence that does not know an elm from an oak––not merely chances of success, but chances of a larger, happier life, for it is curious how certain feelings are linked with the mere observation of Nature and natural objects.” Charlotte Mason, Home Education
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“Every Natural Object a Member of a Series.––Now take up a natural object, it does not matter what, and you are studying one of a group, a member of a series; whatever knowledge you get about it is so much towards the science which includes all of its kind. Break off an elder twig in the spring; you notice a ring of wood round a centre of pith, and there you have at a glance a distinguishing character of a great division of the vegetable world. You pick up a pebble. Its edges are perfectly smooth and rounded: why? you ask. It is water-worn, weatherworn. And that little pebble brings you face to face with disintegration, the force to which, more than to any other, we owe the aspects of the world which we call picturesque––glen, ravine, valley, hill. It is not necessary that the child should be told anything about disintegration or dicotyledon [two-leafed], only that he should observe the wood and pith in the hazel twig, the pleasant roundness of the pebble; by-and-by he will learn the bearing of the facts with which he is already familiar––a very different thing from learning the reason why of facts which have never come under his notice.” 
Charlotte Mason, Home Education

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How to study botany:

“Not that more is taught at an early age, but less, that time is taken- that the wall is not run up in haste, that the bricks are set on carefully and the mortar allowed time to dry.”
Lord Stanley
You study Nature in the house and when you go out of doors you cannot find her.
Professor Louis Agassiz
Advice from 1882 which applies just as much, or even more today:
“Through the liberality of the publishers the book is well supplied with diagrams. It will not do, however, for the student to trust to these alone. No science can be properly studied from mere book-work(emphasis added) and this is especially true of such a science as Botany, which deals with various forms of natural objects. The student is strongly urged from the first to carefully examine specimens. A sharp penknife and a simple lens, which will only cost a few shillings, are all the apparatus required for dissecting and examining most flowers, and the commonest plants around us will well serve the student’s purpose.
For some parts of the subject, as for instance the examination of Cellular Tissues, a microscope is needful. …The student should also especially accustom himself to writing out descriptions of plants according to the model given at the close of the book.”
“As regards the science itself, it seemed to me to be very badly dealt with in the schools. In many it is not taught at all, and in others it is regarded as a kind of superfluous side study, of such secondary importance that it matters little in what way it is treated. And so it is subordinated to the school routine and pursued in a hurried and desultory manner by books and recitations and by memorizing second hand information. It is perfectly well known that in institutions of all grades students often go through the botanical text books without giving any attention whatever to the objects they describe, or, if they do so at all, it is generally in an incidental and irrational way, perhaps by attacking the most complex part of the plant first, and picking flowers to pieces so that the pupil may quickly indulge in the shallow pedantry of giving them their technical names. All this is unjust to the science. Like arithmetic, Botany is only to be acquired by first mastering its rudiments. And, as in arithmetic the student is compelled to exercise his mind directly upon numbers and work out the problems for himself, so in Botany, if worth pursuing at all it should be studied in its actual objects. The characters of plants must become familiarly known by the detailed and repeated examination and accurate description of large numbers of specimens. The pupil must proceed step by step in this preliminary work digesting his observations and making the facts his own until he becomes intelligent in regard to all the common varieties of plant forms and structures.”
from Second Book of Botany: A Practical Guide to the Observation and Study of Plants, Book 2, by Eliza Ann Youmans
published by D. Appleton, 1874
This was true in 1874 and it is still true today. Science tends to be 'taught' via books, rote memorization of terms which mean little to the young memorizors, and parroting of second hand information.  However, of all subjects, science ought to be learned as the students directly observe and examine the real thing and making first-hand, personal observations as much as possible, that is a program largely about passing a test, not learning about the beauty and wonder of the science. It may be school, but it isn’t education. Let the children study and observe for themselves what the author later calls ‘the order and truth of the things around us.’
Eliza Ann Youmans also quotes Dr. Whewell, once Master of Trinity College at Cambridge: “There are perverse intellectual habits very commonly prevalent in the cultivated classes which ought ere now to have been corrected by the general teaching of Natural History. [i.e. science, esp life sciences]. …In order that Natural History may produce such an effect it must be studied by the inspection of the objects themselves and not by the reading of books only. Its lesson is that we must, in all cases of doubt or obscurity, refer not to words or definitions, but to things. The Book of Nature is its own dictionary; it is there that the natural historian looks to find the meaning of the words which he uses.”
Incidentally, William Whewell coined the term scientist, and he was an Anglican priest and devout believer.

“To attempt the study of Botany without the practical examination of plants is futile. Students of plant life must look at plants…
Elementary Botany, by Percy Groom

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More from Charlotte Mason (volume 6, which is mostly about education in high school):
They keep records and drawings, make special studies of their own for the season with drawings and notes. 219
Form III (12-13): study habitats, the work of one term enabling them to “make a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put in the names of the plants you would expect to find.” “write notes with drawings of the special study you have made this term.” What do you understand by calyx, corolla, stamen, pistil? In what way are flowers fertilized? How could you find the pole star? Mention six other stars and say in what constellations they occur.
They study six or so books on natural history, botany, architecture and astronomy- they observe and chronicle, but are not dependent on their own unassisted observation. 220
Study of Natural History and Botany with bird lists and plant lists continues throughout school life, other branches of science are taken term by term. 220

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1.How and where to begin:
Begin at home and confine your lessons at first to such plants that grow in your neighbourhood, and with which children are all more or less familiar.
Manuals of the Science and Art of Teaching, ADVANCED SERIES No VI HOW TO TEACH BOTANY, London, 1880


First spend a great deal of time looking at plants, noticing the things they have in common, the details.  Let this knowledge amass over time.
Point out the stems, leaves, roots, flowers, buds, and note that some plants are flowers, some are shrubs or bushes, some are grasses, some are trees.  
Petals- how many, what shape, what colour?  What other plants have petals the same shape or formation, or same number?.
Leaves: how do they grow on the plant? How are they arranged on the stem? What shape are they? What do the borders or margins or edges of the leaves look like?  What are the veins like?
Stems: Shape, length, pattern of stems or leaves?
Other flower parts- you can learn the names over time- sepals- how many, what colour and shape?
Stamens and Pistils- how many, how long, is there a pattern? Colour, style, size?

Try finding members of the mustard family.  Ask a farmer or a gardener.  Look in the herb department of your grocery store.  This one is great because it grows almost everywhere.

There are a couple of very helpful plant I.D. groups on facebook. Join one of them. Take pictures of the plants you want to identify, post them on the FB group and tell where the plant is (your location and a description of the sort of place it's growing shade, sun, sand, Philippines, city lot, wild patch of woods....).

Do not stop with the answer.  Note the answer, but google it. Find out more. Write it down in your nature notebook next to your sketch.  Ask around and find out the local common names.  Make a note of it in your calendar of firsts- a calendar on which you write the 'first' plants and birds you see each year.  IT's a sort of a diary of your nature discoveries through the year.

Again, take your time.  This skill will develop as your knowledge grows, and it's okay for this to happen cumulatively, over time, with steady attention.  It doesn't matter that you don't know a thing about it now. You are going to learn and your children will learn with you.

Other reasons to study Botany:

Consider the lilies, how they grow.... Can you consider the lilies and how they grow if you do not even know what they are?

The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

God cared enough about creating the world of plants in all its glorious variety.  It is the glory of kings t0 discover the secrets God has hidden in His creation.

The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious.
Do you know what these trees are? 

"I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress, That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the LORD has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Isn't it interesting that God takes the time to name specific species? If He thinks it matters, why do we think it's boring to know?

Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices—   These are all plants.

Botany is part of the natural world around us. It is part of the proper focus of study in a living education of human beings, who deserve a wide and generous curriculum, rich with variety and beauty.

To know is a delight.


For further study:

P.R. article by Professor Geddes on the development and study of modern botany: "Leave for a moment each shelf of books, close every appalling dictionary of information, and ask, What is Linnaeus' secret, what Cuvier's, Goethe's, Von Baer's? Their results are infinite, are endless; but their method simple. Each opened a treasure-house of new ideas too vast for any man to carry; but this with the very simplest key, which is henceforth at the service of each and all. In all Linnaeus, what it the secret--the logical principle--the key? Only this--isolate your organism, observe its outward form, describe and name it, catalogue and index it; as far as possible also preserve and draw. But practice upon our common flora is all we need to do this, right through the world. Would we next descend to Cuvier's plane? What have we? First, the Linnaean secret over again applied to the parts of the organism instead of the whole--isolate, observe, describe, and record as before, but now with the addition, compare as well. This, too, can be soon adequately learned in practice, and we are henceforth comparative anatomists in a special group or field."

 P.R. article on value of botanical gardens in education "First, set aside a piece of ground in garden or adjoining field; the more the better, but a small piece will serve. I once laid out for some girls in their fathers' garden, a border against a wall, twelve by three yards in extent, and put into it more than a hundred plants. Divide the beds not less than two feet wide, severed by paths eighteen inches wide, of gravel or of ashes, not of grass. This is a minimum; give rather more width to both if you can afford it. Then put in your plants two feet apart; be sure that all are named on labels eight inches long, writing the names, Latin on one side, English on the other, from the blunt end of the label, and mark with larger labels the beginning of a fresh order. Now get Oliver's Elementary Botany, and Anne Pratt's Flowers of the Field. The first will tell you, with much more besides, the genera which each order contains; the second will identify flowers gathered in your children's walks. "

  Flower Teaching by Dorothea Beale "There is surely nothing in Nature of greater educational value than flowers. Children take a wonderful delight in them. I know one who was taken to a Zoological Gardens when she was about three. She was a London child, and had never seen growing daisies. She could not be induced to look at the strange animals, but threw herself on the grass, crying: "Daisies, daisies!" and to this day, more than half a century after, the memory of those first flowers which she gathered and brought to her home is a delightful memory. To her the first sight of the delicate crane's-bill, of a magnificent spike of black mullin, are like Wordsworth's vision of the "cloud of golden daffodils." The love of flowers should be fostered in all--there is a kind of botany suitable for every age. The shape, the colour, the ever-changing form of the plant, first develops the love of the beautiful, later the observing faculty is cultivated, and the sense of order when the child is led to count the petals, stamens, &c., and to form classified collections, to name the different kinds of leaves, and to trace their shapes. It it important, however, not to weary children with hard names, but let them learn the popular ones which appeal to the imagination, as the foxglove, the columbine, &c."

  The Charm of Nature Study * Nature study as a subject is one which should be approached with great reverence, for in dealing with birds, animals, flower and all other forms of natural life, we are perhaps, nearer to the Creator than in any other branch of science; for the natural world is the expression of God's personality in a form that is within the reach of all of us to comprehend in some measure. And is not the natural world one of the greatest proofs that there is a God? The secret of having reverence in all branches of Nature Study lies in reverence for Life in any shape or form. In speaking of this reverence for Life, Miss Mason says, "Reverence for Life as a wonderful and awful gift which a ruthless child may destroy but never can restore, is a lesson of first importance to the child." "Let knowledge grow from more to more. But more of reverence in us dwell." Years hence when children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred, and demands some sacrifice, all the common information they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form an excellent ground work for a scientific education. In the meantime let them consider the lilies of the field and fowls of the air.

  Psychological Order of Teaching With Special Reference to Natural Science by Dorothea Beale, Surely the world of flowers is specially suited for teaching the little ones. How the colours and forms delight them--has not the first sight of a flower remained with many of us through life, "a joy for ever." It is for us to teach how to observe, so that the memories shall be not mere vague impressions, but clear-cut, accurate, lasting: all the senses must combine to give unity and completeness to the sense --concept, so that the child may feel the beauty, enter into loving sympathy with Nature, and perfect that "inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude." Children should be led to form collections, by which the first observations may be repeated and fulfilled; they should also learn to draw, so that not merely the individual, but the essential, the typical, may be brought into clearness; we should, too, encourage in them the desire to co-operate with Nature in making the earth beautiful, and call out the affections towards the Unseen Giver of all good things.

  PR article with a lesson on the periwinkle or vinca major- this plant grows in gardens in North America, the Philippines and Mexico, to my firsthand knowledge. Likely it grows in many other places as well.


For sale, proceeds support my family's work.  When creating these things,  my constant thought was 'What might readers like to know or think about? What will help our Charlotte Mason parents and families?  What will give them something to think about, something to love, something to grow on?'  I hope you can tell. 

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.  
 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

Picture Study!  Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00

Common Kitchen:  What's for lunch?  Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families?  What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing?  How can I accomplish all those things at once?  We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income.  I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world.  These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids.  Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

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