Friday, June 23, 2017

Reflections on Home Education - Part II....

Continuing on from Part I of Home Education by Charlotte Mason, today's post will include thoughts from Part II....

"Never be within doors when you can rightly be without." (p. 42)
I rather enjoyed reading Part II of Home Education as I was reminded of the many opportunities my children have living in the country; and for that, I am grateful. The first sentence of this section says,
People who live in the country know the value of fresh air very well, and their children live out of doors, with intervals within for sleeping and eating. (p. 42)
Now that it's summer, nearly the first thing our kids do when their feet hit the floor in the morning is go outside. They step out to check the weather. They free their pups and snuggle up with their cat.  They breathe deeply of the warm fresh air. It's beautiful!

Sadly, I don't follow their lead. Even though I feel convicted that the out-of-doors is best for everyone, it's hard to drag myself out. More recently, I've tried to be intentional about making time for it. Once I'm there, I love it!...and the kids love it when I'm with them. Early this spring, we made a camp in a grove of pines across a forty. Riley and I re-did a perennial bed and planted our vegetable garden. Along with The Farmer, the kids and I also added to our orchard, planting an apple tree. It was great!...but going outdoors is still a habit that takes great effort on my part. I'm personally working on cultivating it because I understand the importance of this method in the support of Charlotte's philosophy. And, I want to lead my children by example, in the hope it is something they will continue into their adult lives.

There were many subsections in Part II, Out-Of-Door Life For The Child. I will give a brief overview of each, but please don't take this as an end all be all or your only knowledge of Charlotte's ideas on nature, as it's simply an overview of my notes. It is a very significant piece of the Charlotte Mason puzzle, I would argue, not only for children, but for old and young alike. Again, I highly encourage you to read her writing for yourself and maybe you will be convicted as I am to get out in nature.

I. A Growing Time
In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quite growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air. (p. 43)
Charlotte advocates for four to six hours outside every tolerable day from April to October. Knowing this is unrealistic for some, she states...
Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them. (p. 44) 
She also gives guidelines for what to do in that time, advising that there should be time to observe, time spent romping in vigorous play, and time spent in lesson. However, she cautions against story books and too much talk.

II. 'Sight-Seeing'

Here, Charlotte gives a sample lesson on how to train children in "their powers of observation and expression", as well as increasing their vocabulary and the habit of truthfulness by sending them off to explore a particular thing or area, then returning to orally share it with you.

III. 'Picture-Painting'

Encourage the child to picture an image in their mind and then have them narrate or tell back, explaining the scene in detail.

IV. Flowers and Trees
In the course of this 'sight-seeing' and 'picture-painting,' opportunities will occur to make the children familiar with rural objects and employments. (p. 51)
Charlotte suggests that children know the flora of their region, including field crops, wildflowers, trees, leaves, and other various plants. I love her idea of knowing a tree through the seasons. In addition, she shares about calendar keeping and nature diaries.

V. 'Living Creatures'

Charlotte also advised children come to know the fauna of their region. They should become familiar with tadpoles and frogs, bees, ants, beetles, spiders, worms, and birds first hand
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, second hand. 
...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.  (p. 60-61)
The final paragraph of this section is titled, "Nature Work especially valuable for Girls.", in which, Charlotte encourages young ladies in particular to get out-of-doors in so that they don't become self-centered and wrapped up in drama. This made me smile initially and then a little sad to think about the sorry state of so many of our young people's minds today. It would greatly behoove our modern culture to embrace Charlotte's ideals on out-of-door life for children as there is great value in fresh air as it relates to clearer thinking.

VI. Field-Lore and Naturalists' Books

Charlotte begins by asking the question, "Is it advisable, then, to teach the children the elements of natural science, of biology, botany, zoology?" She answers it with a resounding, "no", concluding,
...the dissection even of a flower is painful to a sensitive child, and, during the first six or eight years of life, I would not teach them any botany which should necessitate the pulling of flowers to bits; much less should they be permitted to injure or destroy any (not noxious) form of animal life. (p. 62)
Don't misunderstand, Charlotte was not an animal rights tree hugger, but rather, a lover of God's creation. I love the way she finishes this paragraph...
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."
The child who sees his mother with reverent touch lift an early snowdrop to her lips, learns a higher lesson than the 'print-books' can teach. Years hence, when the children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred and demands some sacrifices, all the 'common information' they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form a capital groundwork for a scientific education. In the meantime, let them consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.  (p. 62-63)
As I envision the mother with the snowdrop, I feel the awe and wonder of creation and reverence for life. The passage is beautiful and almost poetic, of course, reminding me of Matthew 6:25-34....
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
There should be Rough Classification at First Hand...
For convenience in describing they should be able to name and distinguish petals, sepals, and so on; and they should be encouraged to make such rough classifications as they can with their slight knowledge of both animal and vegetable forms....
The power to classify, discriminate, distinguish between things that differ, is amongst the highest faculties of the human intellect, and no opportunity to cultivate it should be let slip; but a classification got out of books, that the child does not make for himself and is not able to verify for himself, cultivates no power but that of verbal memory, and a phrase or two of 'Tamil' or other unknown tongue, learnt off, would serve that purpose just as well. (p. 63-64)
Charlotte does give examples of naturalists' books that are permitted or helpful at this age. These would fall under the category of nature lore. About the use of these books, Charlotte says,
The real use of naturalists' books at this stage is to give the child delightful glimpses into the world of wonders he lives in, to reveal the sort of things to be seen by curious eyes, and fill him with desire to make discoveries for himself. There are many to be had, all pleasant reading, many of them written by scientific men, and yet requiring little or no scientific knowledge for their enjoyment. (p. 64)
You may recognize some of the Ambleside Online titles among her list, including, Water Babies and Madam How and Lady Why by Kingsley, Arabella Buckley's 'Eyes and no Eyes' series, and Seton-Thompson's books, to name a few. They are included in the note at the bottom of page 64.

At the end of this section, Charlotte encourages mothers and teachers to know about nature as well so that they are able to answer inquiries and direct the observations of their children.

VII. The Child Gets Knowledge by Means of His Senses

Children naturally learn through the use of their five senses and Charlotte advocates letting them do so. She argues that, "...Nature teaches so gently, so gradually, so persistently, that he is never overdone, but goes on gathering little stores of knowledge about whatever comes before him." and that there is not "overpressure" through use of nature as a means to educate, such as there is in requiring too much mental work.
The danger exists; but lies, not in giving the child too much, but in giving him the wrong thing to do, the sort of work for which the present state of his mental development does not fit him. (p. 67)
She further states that a child learns from things, while adults learn through words and that a sense of beauty comes from early contact with nature. She closes this section with a strong argument that many grown men lose the habit of observation.

VIII. The Child Should be Made Familiar with Natural Objects
It is infinitely well worth the mother's while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation. (p. 71)
IX. Out-of-Door Geography

Here we see some practical application in what to do once we are outside in regard to geography. Charlotte lists and explains such things pictorial geography; learning the position of the sun; the mysteries of clouds, rain, snow, and hail; judging distance; learning directions and having compass drill; understanding boundaries; and drawing plans to scale, such as garden, stable, house, etc.

X. The Child and Mother Nature
Mother must refrain from too much talk....the less she says, the better... (p. 78)
There are few things sweeter and more precious to the child than playful prattle with her mother; but one thing is better - the communing with the larger Mother, in order to which the child and she should be left to themselves.  
Two Things Permissible to the Mother....once a week or once a month....she will point out to the child some touch of especial loveliness in colouring or grouping of the landscape or in the heavens.....she will point to some lovely flower or gracious tree, not only as a beautiful work, but a beautiful thought of God, in which we may believe He finds continual pleasure, and which He is pleased to see his human children rejoice in. (p. 79-80)
XI. Out-of-Door Games, etc. 

There should be oral lessons in which the child repeats words and phrases in French, noisy games, songs and riddles sung during play, rope jumping, shuttlecock, and climbing. Children must be dressed for their excursions. Charlotte was a huge advocate for wool clothing, as we saw in Part VI of Section I.

XII. Walks in Bad Weather

Charlotte felt winter walks were as necessary as summer walks and that it was OK for children to go out in the rain as long as they were dressed appropriately, in woolen rain garments, and were not allowed to sit or stand around in damp clothes for any period of time.

XIII. 'Red Indian' Life

Here, Charlotte referenced a book called Scouting by Baden-Powell, who was a Lieutenant-General in the British Army and the founder of the international Scouting Movement. She also wrote about bird stalking.

XIV. The Children Require Country Air

The final section of Part II was one of my favorite as Charlotte made me feel so fortunate to be a rural Midwesterner. We have been told on several occasions how healthy our children look, the shine in their eyes, the rosiness of their cheeks, and the ease of movement over the terrain is evident. This is not a brag, but a thankful shout out to the Lord for his mercy....and hopefully, an encouragement for you to take yourself and your children out-of-doors. Even if you don't live in a rural area, simply open your door and step outside. Take in a breath of fresh air and love the land you're in!
Every one knows that the breathing of air which has lost little of its due proportion of oxygen is the essential condition of vigorous life and of a fine physique;... (p. 92) is not possible to enjoy fulness of life in town. (p. 93)
Therefore, it is worth while to have even a physical ideal for one's child; not, for instance, to be run away with by the notion that a fat child is necessarily a fine child. The fat child can easily be produced: but the bright eye, the open regard, the springing step; the tones, clear as a bell; the agile, graceful movements that characterise the well-brought-up child, are the result, not of bodily well-being only, but of 'mind and should according well,' of a quick, trained intelligence, and of a moral nature habituated to 'the joy of self-control.' (p.95)
Other Resources in Support of Nature Study: 

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Ted Talk with great information on the importance of nature: Get Hooked on Nature.

Our Children Deserve As Much Outdoor Time as Inmates and Chickens by Ben Klasky

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