Monday, February 5, 2018

Reflections on Home Education - Part V, Post 4 - Natural Philosophy, Geography, and History....

Carrying on with the fourth installment of Part V in Vol. 1 of Home Education by Charlotte Mason, you can find the previous posts here, Post 1, Post 2, and Post 3.

Natural Philosophy

In Charlotte's day, Natural Philosophy was the study of nature and the universe. It began in the ancient world with Aristotle and continued throughout the 19th Century. It is considered the precursor to natural science, which can be divided into life science and physical science.  According to Oxford Dictionaries, Philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline. And, natural is defined as existing in or caused by nature, not made or caused by humankind. So, in my mind, Natural Philosophy is the basic knowledge of all things created by God.

Charlotte wrote extensively earlier in Vol. 1, about the importance of children being out of doors in the younger years so that they can encounter and gain knowledge of Natural Philosophy by their own observations. At the beginning of this section, she reiterates and summarizes her position...
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 the 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. (p. 264-265)
Charlotte goes on to recommend a couple of books for reinforcing her method of teaching Natural Philosophy. These being the Eyes and No-eyes series in Evenings at Home by John Aikin and his sister Anna Laetitia Barbauld and The Sciences by Holden. Regarding the use of books in education, Charlotte says,
The general plan of the book is to awaken the imagination; to convey useful knowledge; to open the doors towards wisdom. Its special aim is to stimulate observation and to excite a living and lasting interest in the world that lies about us. (p. 267)
Therein, lies an excellent definition of a 'living book'!

Geography is, to my mind, a subject of high educational value; though not because it affords the means of scientific training....But the peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures. (p. 271-272)
Again, Charlotte recommends beginning geography through natural science and long hours in the out of doors. Keep in mind, Vol. 1 was recommended for the teaching of children under age nine. At this point, she does not recommend students learn the geography of any one particular country of continent, but rather places in their natural surroundings and ones they read about in their histories and well-written books on travel. She suggests children in Form I, between the ages of six and nine, have half a dozen well-chosen standard books of travel read to them.

In regard to maps, Charlotte states,
Maps must be carefully used in this kind of work, - a sketch-map following the traveller's progress, to be compared finally with a complete map of the region;.. (p. 275)
Once people and places have been introduced through a reading, Charlotte does recommend showing the child a big picture map and pointing out the location so they get a general idea of geography. However, this is only after the child learns the meaning of a map by drawing a floor plan of his bedroom or the school room or the neighborhood. This introduction of maps and their purpose serves as a base for later geographic knowledge.


I've written a great deal about the teaching of history in the past. Therefore, I will limit this section to a brief review and highlight any new quotes I've obtained here.
Much that has been said about the teaching of geography applies equally to that of history. Here, too, is a subject which should be to the child an inexhaustible storehouse of ideas, should enrich the chambers of his House Beautiful with a thousand tableaux, pathetic and heroic, and should form in him, insensibly, principles whereby he will hereafter judge of the behaviour of nations, and will rule his own conduct as one of a nation. (p. 279)
The study of history was used in moral teaching and to develop self-governance in children. The main method of teaching history was through the use of  living books. Charlotte used biographies, about noble characters in history, such as Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionhearted, and Henry V to name a few. She despised what she called, "outlines or a baby edition of the whole history." Charlotte also opposed history books written specifically for children as she felt they were watered down and without literary power. Charlotte further recommended early histories of a nation or older books written closer to the time period vs. modern books that didn't recognize the 'dignity of history'. She suggested chronicles, at the rate of one per year. Many of which are used in Ambleside Online today, like Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England, Chronicles of the Kings of England, and Asser's Alfred. Charlotte also purported teaching myths and legends, such as Tennyson's Idylls of the King. She called for original sources....
...wherever practicable, the child should get his first notions of a given period, not from the modern historian, the commentator and reviewer, but from the original sources of history, the writings of contemporaries. (p. 286)
She used books like Plutarch's Lives in preparation for the study of Grecian or of Roman history. In addition, she taught classic myths. Charlotte devoted several pages in this section writing about her ideal of history books and the importance of having the right books.

In addition, Charlotte mentioned the century chart that young children kept. It was a timeline of sorts, divided into twenty columns, each representing a century, where the child wrote names of people he encountered in history.  Charlotte also talked about the importance of children narrating each of their history readings, whether orally or by illustration. She closed this section mentioning the importance of playing at history when the child has been fed a healthy diet of living ideas.
The mistake we make is to suppose that imagination is fed by nature, or that it works on the insipid diet of children's story-books. Let the child have the meat he requires in his history readings, an in the literature which naturally gathers round this history, and imagination will bestir itself without any help of ours the child will live out in detail a thousand scenes of which he only gets the merest hint. (p. 295)
Here are a few more quotes on History and Geography taken from Charlotte's writings. Also, last January, I wrote a response to a blog post titled, "The Perils of Teaching History Through Literature" by John De Gree, of the Classical Historian, which you can find here.  I found Mr. De Gree's claims inaccurate in comparison to Charlotte Mason's teachings on the study of history. He used an exaggerated example to decry a method that works. I have been using living books for history teaching in our homeschool since day one, back in 2007. My kids are all very passionate about history and will tell you it's their favorite subject. Here is one area, I know Mason's methods work!

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