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Welcome to week 4 of our Home Education book club! This week we’re discussing pages 62-78. Below you can find journaling pages, a video discussion, and a summary of the pages read.
This week we’re reading about field lore and Naturalists’ books, how children use their senses in nature, how children should be made familiar with natural objects, and how to teach young children geography.
The following journaling pages are for your convenience and contain questions that will be discussed in our live chat later this week.
Resources mentioned in this week’s video:
Part II: Out of Door Life for the Children, Continued…
VI. Field-Lore and Naturalists’ Books
Reverence for Life:
Since we are doing all of this nature learning, should we be teaching young children the most detailed elements of biology, botany, and zoology (meaning dissection, etc.)? Charlotte says no. Teaching a reverence for life is more important than the picking apart of living things.
“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 the 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.” (pg. 63)
Rough Classification at First Hand:
Teaching the anatomy of these things is fine— learning to distinguish between different shapes, veining, divisions, etc.— is an important skill and practice. Making collections is also a fun hobby for a curious child and helps him in the habit of “noticing”. These types of classification done in his own power is a priceless tool that is so much more valuable than the classifications taught in books.
“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.” (pg. 64)
Uses of Naturalists’ Books:
The real use of these books is to inspire a child to see just how many wonders the world holds and to fill him with the desire to discover more. Charlotte recommends the following naturalists’ books:
Living Animals of the World by Richard Kearton
Mothers and Teachers Should Know About Nature:
Charlotte says there is no such thing as over studying in this department and encourages mothers and teachers to pursue an education in the natural world as well. Being able to answer the many questions our children have about their observations in nature is a valuable asset.
“... the children will adore her for knowing what they want to know, and who knows but she may give its bent for life to some young mind destined to do great things for the world.” (pg. 65)
VII. The Child Gets Knowledge by Means of His Senses
The natural curiosity of a child is an incredible gift, Charlotte reminds us. They are constantly absorbing new information through their senses, “taking in intellectual food.” The ideas that are forming in their brains are their “judgements of experience.” (pg. 65)
There is SO much for them to see and learn “but 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.” (pg. 66)
By storing up this knowledge that is so abundant in the natural world around him, a child will one day be capable of conceiving things which he hasn’t seen… “how can he do it except by comparison with things he has seen and knows?” (pg. 66)
So the more he is exposed to now, the more he will be capable of understanding new things later!
While the danger of overpressuring a child exists, Charlotte says it does not come from giving him too much; rather, it comes from giving him the wrong thing to do. (My immediate thought is handwriting for a little boy who just isn’t ready.) “But give the child work that Nature intended for him, and the quantity he can get through with ease is practically unlimited.” (pg. 67)
So are we providing our children with what they need to satisfy their natural curiosity? Or are we skimping on content and exposure because they are young?
Charlotte compares “object lessons” that are so often used in Kindergarten and Preschool to the french man who fed his horse one bean a day— in other words, these skimpy lessons just aren’t enough to satiate the mental appetite of a child. We should be putting an abundant feast of knowledge before them! (Think Playful Pioneers, Five in a Row, and Beautiful Feet Books.)
A Child Learns from ‘Things’:
As grown people we associate learning with words, but we wonder why our children seem dull when we expect them to learn through the same medium. Why? Charlotte explains that it’s because children only associate meanings to a limited number of words— the rest are all mumbo jumbo! “But set him face to face with a thing and he is twenty times as quick as you are in knowing all about; knowledge of things flies to the mind of a child as steel filings to a magnet. And pari passu with his knowledge of things, his vocabulary grows; for it is a law of the mind that what we know, we struggle to express.” (pg. 67)
This explains the never ending questions of a young child— they are not in search of knowledge, they’re in search of words to express their knowledge. So we must do our best to find the balance between a child shut up in four walls learning only through text and a child running loose in the country with no method or direction for all of his observations.
The Sense of Beauty Comes from Early Contact with Nature:
These habits of observing, revering, and learning about nature transfer to a more satisfied, larger, and happier life. “For it is curious how certain feelings are linked with the mere observation of Nature and natural objects.” (pg. 68)
“The aesthetic sense of the beautiful,” says Dr. Carpenter, “of the sublime, of the harmonious, seems in its most elementary form to connect itself immediately with the Perceptions which arise out of the contact of our minds with external Nature.” (pg. 68)
Most Grown Men Lose the Habit of Observation:
While most of us lose our habit of observation, this doesn’t have to be the case! Charlotte mentions Mary Ann Evans (author with the pen name George Eliot), poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Wodsworth, and even Charles Dickens’ fictional character David Copperfield as examples of grown people who maintained their habit of observation. And because of it, future generations are blessed by their ‘picture-painting.’ Dickens compared his character with such men who “retain a certain freshness, gentless, and capacity of being pleased, which are also an inheritance they have preserved from their childhood.” (pg. 69)
VIII. The Child Should be Made Familiar with Natural Objects
An Observant Child Should be Put in the Way of Things Worth Observing:
There’s little use, Charlotte says, of being an observant person if you’re not put in the midst of things worth observing. We greatly limit a child’s horizons when they are only ever exposed to their neighborhood streets.
Every Natural Object is a Matter of a Series:
Our goal is not to teach every fact under the sun at this age. Instead, the combination of our exposing them to worthy things and the child’s natural habit of observation harmoniously contribute to the overarching unfolding of scientific understanding. All things learned and observed at this age echo the greater things at work in the wide world.
“It is not necessary that the child should be told anything about disintegration or dicotyledon, 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.” (pg. 70)
Power will Pass, More and More, into the Hands of Scientific Men:
Charlotte says it is well worth our while to “infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation.” (pg. 71)
She quotes Kingsley regarding power in the hands of scientific men:
“I say it deliberately as a student of society and of history: power will pass more and more into the hands of scientific men. They will rule, and they will act—cautiously, we may hope, and modestly, and charitably— because in learning true knowledge they will have learnt also their own ignorance, and the vastness, the complexity, the mystery of Nature. But they will be able to rule, they will be able to act, because they have taken the trouble to learn the facts and the laws of Nature.” (pg. 71)
These are powerful words spoken over a century ago, and we can attest as witnesses now (several generations later) that they are true!
Intimacy with Nature Makes for Personal Well-Being:
This interaction with nature that we are cultivating not only assists in the education of our children, it also greatly benefits their personal well-being!
“...a love of Nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them, will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humour.” (pg. 71)
Expending their energy in this way is of the highest value for the personal development.
IX. Out-of-Door Geography
Small Things May Teach Great:
So with all this time spent outside, stirring up a love for Nature, are we to leave other subjects untaught? Like Geography, for example? Charlotte says no.
Instead, our local surroundings offer countless opportunities to teach geography from all over the world!
“... a duck pond is a lake or an inland sea; any brooklet will serve to illustrate the great rivers of the world; a hillock grows into a mountain— an Alpine system; a hazel-copse suggests the mighty forests of the Amazon; a reedy swamp, the rice-fields of China; a meadow, the boundless prairies of the West; the pretty purple flowers of the common mallow is a text whereon to hang the cotton-fields of the Southern States: indeed, the whole field of pictorial geography… may be covered in this way” (pg. 72)
The Position of the Sun:
Children should also learn to observe the position of the sun and its relation to time. And this will likely lead to further conversations about sun, earth, and moon and their eternal dance.
Clouds, Rain, Snow, and Hail:
Simple understandings of the weather can lay the foundation for greater geographical learning down the road as well. Our explanations do not have to be complicated.
Charlotte suggests a fun exercise for learning to measure distances:
Start by measuring a child’s stride as well as his siblings’ strides. From there you can add in and calculate the distance traveled for a certain outing, etc. When this physical measurement has been fully established, mother can introduce time as a means of measuring as well. Add in the time it takes to walk a certain distance. And from there the mother continues to build.
Once distance and time have been established, the sun can be revisited. Learning the sun’s position in relation to the time of day will continue expanding their understanding of these concepts. A few more practices include:
Taking note of the sun’s position at different times during the day
Observing the lengths of the day’s shadows
Considering the harshness or softness of the light
Comparing the hotter and cooler hours of the day
Once understanding of these concepts has been established further, the child can move onto learning the names of directions.
East and West:
First, children should learn that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. From here, Charlotte recommends a simple activity for learning directions. Have the child stand with his arms out, the right toward the east and the left toward the west. Then explain that he is facing the north and his back is toward the south. From here a discussion can take place explaining that the things surrounding him are either to the north, south, east or west of him.
Practice in Finding Direction:
From here a child will likely take an interest in his surroundings: houses that are on a certain side of the street, which way the windows in the school room face, the direction of the wind based on the smoke from chimneys, branches, or grass. And he should also be taught that the wind is named after the direction from which it comes, not the direction it blows toward. “Just as he is English because he was born in England, and not French because he goes to France.” (pg. 76)
Slowly he’ll begin to understand that many things are not exactly one direction or another, but more east than west, etc. And later he should have a compass of his own so he can see these directions.
A child should also be taught to practice holding a compass, watching the needle move independently in the opposite direction because it is always trying to point north.
By learning the boundaries of things like crops, he will later be capable of understanding the boundaries of countries, and so on. “... such a such a turnip field, for instance, is bounded by the highroad on the south, by a wheat crop on the south-east, a hedge on the north east, and so on.” (pg. 77)
Drawing his own sketches of these things will one day prepare him to read and understand maps.
Eventually he can expand his rough maps to plans drawn to scale (like indoor floor plans, for example), allowing so many inches per yard on paper. From there he can expand to ground plans of gardens, stables, houses, and more.
All of these practices joined together will teach him within his own neighborhood how to roughly map out his local geography. “It is probable that a child’s own neighborhood will give him opportunities to learn the meaning of hill and dale, pool and brook, watershed, the current, bed, banks, tributaries of a brook, the relative positions of villages and towns.” (pg. 78)
A beautifully slow unfolding of these somewhat abstract concepts! And this understanding of his local geography will take him great lengths in understanding more fully the broader aspects of world geography.
That concludes our week 4 readings! I’d love to hear your thoughts, either here or on Instagram!