Thursday, August 21, 2014

Living Books for Learning - Part 2

This post is a continuation about subjects in which Charlotte Mason used living books.  You can read Part 1 here, which covers Bible, History, and Geography.  Today's post will cover Science, Literature, and Poetry.


"Books dealing with science as with history, say, should be of a literary character, and we should probably be more scientific as a people if we scrapped all the text-books which swell publishers' lists and nearly all the chalk expended so freely on our blackboards." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 218)

Charlotte used books such as Life and Her Child by Arabella Buckley and Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley with younger students in her schools.  The children narrated after each reading.  Charlotte also used nature study as a means for children to connect with natural science and the out of doors.  One day per week, the students went outside for the afternoon and "notice for themselves" natural things in their surroundings.  Students kept nature journals/notebooks of their findings.  Charlotte wrote the following on nature study...

"Science - 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.  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.  The nature-walk should not be made the occasion to impart a sort of Tit-Bits miscellany of scientific information.  The study of science should be pursued in an ordered sequence, which is not possible or desirable in a walk.  It seems to me a sine qua non of a living education that all school children of whatever grade should have one half-day in the week, throughout the year, in the fields.  There are few towns where country of some sort is not accessible, and every child should have the opportunity of watching week to week, the procession of the seasons.   

Geography, geology, the course of the sun, the behaviour of the clouds, weather signs, all that the 'open' has to offer, are made use of in these walks; but all is incidental, easy, and things are noticed as they occur.  It is probable that in most neighbourhoods there are naturalists who would be willing to give their help in the 'nature walks' of a given school.

We supplement this direct 'nature walk' by occasional object-lessons, as, on the hairs of plants, on diversity of wings, on the sorts of matters taken up in Professor Miall's capital books; but our main dependence is on books as an adjunct to out-of-door work - Mrs. Fisher's, Mrs. Brightwen's, Professor Lloyd Morgan's, Professor Geikie's, Professors Geddes' and Thomson's (the two last for children over fourteen), etc., etc. In the books of these and some other authors the children are put in the position of the original observer of biological and other phenomena.  They learn what to observe, and make discoveries for themselves, original so far as they are concerned.  They are put in the right attitude of mind for scientific observations and deductions, and their keen interest is awakened.  We are extremely careful not to burden the verbal memory with scientific nomenclature.  Children lean of pollen, antennae, and what not, incidentally, when the thing is present and they require a name for it. The children who are curious about it, and they only, should have the opportunity of seeing with the microscope any minute wonder of structure that has come up in their reading or their walks; but a good lens is a capital and almost an indispensable companion in field work." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 3, School Education, p. 236-238)


"As for literature - to introduce children to literature is to instal them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them in a feast exquisitely served.  But they must learn to know literature by being familiar with it from the very first.  A child's intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find." - Charlotte Mason ( Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p 51)

I think using living books and narration for the teaching of literature is a no brainer.  Living books are beautiful and speak to our soul.  Again, I've written more here regarding living books. 


"Poetry. - Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers.  To know about such a poet and his works may be interesting, as it is to know about repousse work; but in the latter case we must know how to use the tools before we get joy and service out of the art.  Poetry, too, supplies us with tools for the modelling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at for ourselves." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 4, Ourselves, Book 2, p 71)

"Poetry takes first rank as a means of intellectual culture.  Goethe tells us that we ought to see a good picture, hear good music, and read some good poetry every day; and certainly, a little poetry should form part of the evening lecture.  "Collections" of poems are to be eschewed; but some one poet should have at least a year to himself, that he may have time to do what is in him towards cultivating the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the generous heart." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 5, Formation of Character, p 224)

In Charlotte's schools, poetry was read aloud and enjoyed frequently.  The students narrated occasionally, but not after every reading as in other subjects.  A variety of poets were studied, perhaps one, for a period of time - "at least a year".  The children memorized and recited poetry each term.  Poetry was used for copy work and dictation.  Charlotte believed the students could deepen their character from studying heroic and noble poems.  Poetry teaches to speak beautiful words in a beautiful way.   I was surprised to learn that Shakespeare was studied as part of poetry.  I was thinking of it as an entirely separate subject. 

"And Shakespeare?  He, indeed, is not to be classed, and timed, and treated as one amongst others, - he, who might well be the daily bead of the intellectual life; Shakespeare is not to be studied in a year; he is to be read continuously throughout life, from ten years old and onwards.  But a child of ten cannot understand Shakespeare.  No; but can a man of fifty?  Is not our great poet rather an ample feast of which every one takes according to his needs, and leaves what he has no stomach for?  A little girl of nine said to me the other day that she had only read one play of Shakespeare's through, and that was A Midsummer Night's Dream.  She did not understand the play, of course, but she must have found enough to amuse and interest her.  How would it be to have a monthly reading of Shakespeare - a play, to be read in character, and continued for two or three evenings until it is finished?  The Shakespeare evening would come to be looked on as a family festa; and the plays, read again and again, year after year, would yield more at each reading, and would leave behind in the end rich deposits of wisdom." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 5, Formation of Character, p 226)

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