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Welcome to week 3 of our Home Education book club! This week we’re discussing pages 42-62. Below you can find journaling pages, a video discussion, and a summary of the pages read.
The following journaling pages contain a few questions to ponder as you read the pages for this week. Downloading and answering these is not a requirement to participate, they are simply for your convenience. These questions are also discussed in the weekly live chat discussion below.
Resources mentioned in this week’s video:
The following is a short synopsis of this week’s readings in my own words.
Part II: Out-of-Door Life for the Children
I. A Growing Time
Meals Out of Doors:
Folks who live in the country tend to get the best use of the outdoors, only coming in to eat and sleep. But imagine the refreshment of even taking meals outdoors on days that allow! This is the section where Charlotte makes her famous proclamation, “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” (pg. 42)
Not only are meals outdoors joyful and refreshing, they also create precious memories for the children who take part. “Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children’s laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.” (pg. 43)
For Dwellers in Towns and Suburbs:
For those of us who live in more populated areas, it’s a little harder to secure a place for outdoor pleasure. So how much time should we spend outside? And how can we provide this for them?
Each person’s answer will be different, depending upon their current circumstances. But Charlotte says it’s of the utmost importance to find somewhere… “perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet 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.” (pg. 43)
Possibilities of a Day in the Open:
When a well meaning mother says that she sends her children outside for one to two hours per day, Charlotte suggests that even this is not enough. “In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them…” (pg. 43) There is so much to be done and to prevent during these long hours, a mother should spend this time with her children. And she states that 4, 5, or even 6 hours should be spent out of doors between April and October.
Charlotte admits that this seems like an impossibility to many mothers who already have so much on their plate, and understands it may not be doable for everyone. But she believes that this much time outdoors is what is absolutely best for children. And she admits that “mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.” (pg. 44)
So what should we do with all of this outdoor time? It takes up such a large chunk of the day, after all. Well, it’s not a time for the “perpetual cackle of his elders” that leaves the child no time to his own thoughts or wonders. But it is a great time to “train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit, without further help or knowledge of hers (the mother’s).” (pg. 44)
Charlotte goes on to recommend that at least one of these hours should be spent in vigorous play, and a lesson or two should certainly be squeezed in.
She goes on to say that story books aren’t necessary in these outdoor hours because there is so much to be seen and learned simply from nature itself. (Although I do believe that reading outside is a wonderful pastime as well!) Let them run and play and shout and discover!
Once they’ve spent some energy and returned to their mother, she can send them out on a scavenger hunt. “Who can tell me the most about that little hill over there?” Then off they go to learn more, enjoying it like a game without even realizing it’s a lesson.
How to See:
Once sent out on a mission to learn more about a particular object or area, children are certain to come back breathless with all kinds of details to behold! In this section Charlotte gives a great example of a conversation that could be had once a child’s interest is piqued, just by wondering to know more about “that cottage at the foot of the hill.” They return overflowing with details about sunflowers, bees hives, daisies and pansies, fruit trees, and a little path up the middle of the garden. (pg. 46)
Educational Uses of ‘Sight-Seeing’:
This practice is valuable in so many ways! The mother is “training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment…” (pg. 47) But we should encourage detailed descriptions at all times, in order to get the results we’re hoping for.
Another valuable result of this keen observing is the memories that are built in the process. Charlotte explains that most of our childhood memories are hazy not because they’ve been forgotten, but because the old scenes were never fully seen. But if a child is more cognizant of his natural surroundings, the more likely his childhood memories will remain vivid.
We spend our lives taking in and savoring so many mental images, trying to recall those beautiful things that captured our attention from long ago. How can we train our children to really see what is before them? Charlotte suggests that we train them to drink in their view and (with closed eyes) relay back with the greatest of detail all that they can recall about it. The more we cultivate this habit, the more detailed they will be in their responses. Not only do they learn to be more observant, they also expand their vocabulary in the process.
Strain on the Attention:
However, she warns against overusing this technique, otherwise the children are likely to tire of it due to the strain of recalling and reproducing. “It is, however, well worth while to give children the habit of getting a bit of landscape by heart in this way, because it is the effort of recalling and reproducing that is fatiguing; while the altogether pleasurable act of seeing, fully and in detail, is likely to be repeated unconsciously until it becomes a habit…” (pg. 49)
Seeing Fully and in Detail:
This art form of painting pictures in the mind may take a little prodding from mother at first. She can ask questions to help her child see a little more deeply and broadly. Or she can do the exercise herself, using expressive and descriptive words, all of which are sure to be mimicked as her children follow suit.
“The children will delight in this game of ‘picture-painting’ all the more if the mother introduces it by describing some great picture-gallery she has seen… and goes on to say, that though she does not paint her pictures on canvas and have them put in frames, she carries about with her just such a picture-gallery; for whenever she sees anything lovely or interesting, she looks at it until she has the picture in her ‘mind’s eye’; and then she carries it away with her, her own forever, a picture ‘on view’ just when she wants it.” (pg. 49-50)
A Means of After-Solace and Refreshment:
Charlotte explains that this form of expression is not just for the poets, anyone can take more notice and appreciation of the world around them if they so choose. And by adopting this practice we may be pleasantly surprised to find how skilled our children become in eloquently expressing themselves. But she warns against making it a “task” that we require the children to repeat over and over again for everyone, despite our pride in their talent. Doing so may spoil their pleasure in this skill of seeing and expressing.
IV. Flowers and Trees
Children Should Know Field-Crops:
This practice of mental picture-painting can give children the opportunity to familiarize themselves with farming and crops, from planting to plowing to harvesting. It’s up to the mother to provide her children with the opportunities to witness these things from start to finish.
Field Flowers and the Life History of Plants:
In the spring, it’s good practice to teach children to become familiar with the flowers in their neighborhood. They “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.” (pg. 51)
Charlotte recommends Ann Pratt’s Wild Flowers (which is now available for free online in the public domain but can also be purchased on Amazon), as a resource for identifying wildflowers. There are also Golden Guides, etc. that you can purchase to help identify local species.
She also suggests curating a wild flower collection by pressing, mounting and displaying your chidrens’ wildflowers, and labeling each of them with the date and location where they were found.
The Study of Trees and The Seasons Should be Followed:
Children should “make friends” with as many local trees as possible, familiarizing themselves with the bark, shape, and (as spring comes) observing the buds opening, and taking notice of their leaf shapes. Blossoms, nuts, and seeds should be noted as well. Diligent observation of nature’s unfolding throughout the year will benefit a child for a lifetime.
Leigh Hunt on Flowers:
In this section Charlotte quotes Leight Hunt (an English critic, essayist, and poet) about flowers. What if we saw flowers for the very first time? What if they were brand new to us? How we would marvel at them!
“The flowers, it is true, are not new; but the children are; and it is the fault of their elders if every new flower they come upon is not to them a Picciola, a mystery of beauty to be watched from day to day with unspeakable awe and delight.” (pg. 53)
“All this is stale knowledge to older people, but one of the secrets of the educator is to present nothing as stale knowledge, but to put himself in the position of the child, and wonder and admire with him; for every common miracle which the child sees with his own eyes makes of him for the moment another Newton.” (pg. 54)
It’s a great idea to keep a “calendar of firsts” for each child and allow them to record the first leaf, blossom, seed, etc. throughout the year, taking note of where it was found as well. “The next year they will know when and where to look out for their favourites, and will, every year, be in a condition to add new observations.” (pg. 54)
“Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.” (pg. 54)
A child should be introduced to Nature Journaling as early as possible. Even as young as 5 or 6 years old he can begin the practice of drawing what he sees and mother can take note of his narration. Charlotte encourages mom to step aside in this learning, not telling a child how or what to draw, only assisting gently in color mixing. Allowing the child to take his own initiative to make the diary his own will give him a sense of pride that we should avoid interfering with.
I Can’t Stop Thinking:
When a child has an overactive brain, it’s best to provide him with something that will put his brain to work.
“The human (brain) is like a millstone, turning ever round and round; If it have nothing else to grind, it must itself be ground.” (pg. 55)
Nature provides so much for a child’s brain to “grind on.”
V. Living Creatures
A Field of Interest and Delight:
There is so much to captivate a little mind in the world of living creatures. But they cannot admire this field of study if they aren’t put before these things. Charlotte describes a class of children completely uninterested in their teacher’s lesson about bees. The cause of their disinterest: they had never seen a bee! We must make every effort to get our children out amongst the living things!
Children Should be Encouraged to Watch:
The discipline of watching patiently and quietly the comings and goings of a number of insects always produces fruit for our children. Charlotte encourages mothers to create an ant farm so that their children can observe the daily workings of the ants. She also informs us that fear of insects is a “trick picked up from grown-up people.” (pg. 58) If we teach them to interact with these things instead, the children are less likely to show fear.
“Let all he finds out about it be entered into his diary-- by his mother, if writing be a labour to him,-- where he finds it, what it is doing, or seems to him to be doing; its colour, shape, legs: some day he will come across the name of the creature, and will recognise the description of an old friend.” (pg. 58)
The Force of Public Opinion in the Home:
We must also be careful not to snuff out a child’s sparked interest, even those creepy critters we may find disgusting. Because once we convince them that something is gross or unacceptable, that chapter in their Naturalist’s book is closed forever. She gives John James Audubon as an example. Had his father not encouraged all of his curiosities, it’s likely he never would have become the infamous wild life artist whose name we still know today.
A quote from Audubon: “When I had hardly learned to walk,” he says, “and to articulate those first words always so endearing to parents, the productions of Nature that lay spread all around were constantly pointed out to me… My father generally accompanied my steps, procured birds and flowers for me, and pointed out the elegant movements of the former, the beauty and softness of their plumage, the manifestations of their pleasure, or their sense of danger, and the always perfect forms and splendid attire of the latter. He would speak of the departure and return of the birds with the season, describe their haunts, and, more wonderful than all, their change of livery, thus exciting me to study them, and to raise my mind towards their great Creator.” (pg. 59)
What Town Children Can Do:
Charlotte continues pressing the fact that Nature is a child’s greatest teacher, and it is only because we grown people force feed them second hand information that they lose their interest in new and captivating things. But once we leave a child to himself, suddenly the world sparks to life again, with countless things to see and observe. The ways of the small fluttering birds in our backyards, the determination of the fuzzy caterpillar in search of a place to rest and make his cocoon. These small things interest a child who is put in the way of them.
“He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.” (pg. 61)
Nature Knowledge the Most Important for Young Children:
Once we grown people accept that Nature is truly the greatest teacher, we open for our children the floodgates of a lifetime of curiosity and learning. “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.” (pg. 61)
Mental Training of a Child Naturalist:
And if we still aren’t convinced, Charlotte points out all of the wonderful habits that are formed by learning to observe and interact with nature: attention, discernment, patience, growth, etc. These things alone will prepare a child for a life of anything under the sun!
Nature Work Especially Valuable for Girls:
Much can be said about the steps that have been taken to give girls the same education as boys since Charlotte’s writing of her series. But it’s important to remember our girls in all of our nature lessons as well because the benefit for them is just as valuable and “with whom but the girls must it rest to mould the generations yet to be born?” (pg. 62)
That concludes our week 3 readings! This week was so inspiring and made me want to spend every day outside! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment here or find me on Instagram!