Topical CM Series

Charlotte Mason's ideas are too important not to be understood and implemented in the 21st century, but her Victorian style of writing sometimes prevents parents from attempting to read her books. This is an imperfect attempt to make Charlotte's words accessible to modern parents. You may read these, print them out, share them freely--but they are copyrighted to me, so please don't post or publish them without asking.
~L. N. Laurio

The Charlotte Mason Series in Modern English Arranged Topically

Science, Nature, Outdoor Life

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 29

Children Should be Outside Every Day

A mother brags that her children are outside for a walk at least one hour a day. Perhaps that's better than nothing. A little girl uses her lunch money to buy aniseed candy drops; we might say that's better than nothing, too. But children can't thrive on candy and they can't thrive on just an hour outside every day. The human animal wasn't meant to survive in an artificial environment of walls any more than plants were designed to live in glass houses. Countries such as France, Germany, Italy have an advantage in that their people practically live out-of-doors and are happier, simpler and healthier for it. Charles II said England had the best climate for being outside. Man can't live on food and drink alone. It's true that you can't live on air, but if we had to choose between air, food or drink, air would sustain us longer. You can survive days or weeks without food and water, but only a few minutes without air. We are so used to that knowledge that it no longer holds our interest. Every schoolboy knows how the blood circulates and is brought to the lungs for oxygen.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 43-96

Outdoor Life For Children

I.--A Growing Time

Meals Outside

Country dwellers already know what wonders fresh air can do for a person. Their children practically live outside when they aren't eating or sleeping. But even country people don't make the most of their opportunity--when the weather is warm, why not eat breakfast and lunch outside? We are so stressed from our hectic lives, but time spent in the open air is great for the mind and body and could even prolong our lives. Those who have been sick with fever and headache and felt soothed by the deliciousness of fresh, cool air often make it a rule never to be indoors when they can be out.

Besides the benefit of an added hour or two of fresh air, meals eaten outside are often delightful, and there's nothing like happiness to convert food and drink into healthy blood and bodies. And, meanwhile, children are storing lots of glad memories of a happy childhood. In their old age, the memories of the shadows playing on the white tablecloth, the sunshine, laughter, hum of insects, smells of flowers are being filed away in their minds to gladden their thoughts later.

For Those Who Live in Towns and Suburbs

But not everyone is lucky enough to live in the country where they can eat outside. So, what about those of us who live in the city or suburbs? How much time should we dedicate to making our children stay outside? And how can we pull it off? With all the pressure to give our children a good education and adequate socialization, it's good to remember that a mother's first duty should be to provide a secure, quiet early childhood. For the first six years, children should have low-key schedules so they can just be and grow, and they should spend most of their waking hours outside enjoying the fresh air. This is not just good for their bodies; their heart, soul and mind are nourished with exactly what they need when we leave them alone in a stress-free environment among happy influences that give them no reason to rebel and misbehave.

Possibilities of a Day in the Country

A mother may brag, 'I make sure to send my children outside, weather permitting, for an hour every day in the winter and two hours in the summer.' That's a good start, but it's not enough. First of all, the mother shouldn't send them, she should take them. If at all possible, she should take them outside, because, although they need to be left to themselves much of the time, there are still things that she needs to make sure get done, and things she needs to prevent during their long days in the open air. And they should be long days spent outside--not two, but four or even six hours on every tolerable day from April til October. But a stressed, overworked mother may see no way to give her children more than an hour on the neighborhood sidewalks. Well, long hours in fresh air is the ideal for children. It may not be practical for every family, but when mothers understand the good that a measure can do, they will often work miracles to provide it. A twenty minute trip with a picnic lunch can make a day in the country accessible to almost anyone, but why do it just one day? Why not do it lots of days? Or even every nice day?

But suppose we have those long days in the open air, what is to be done with them so that they are pleasant days? There must be a plan, or else it will be all work and no fun for the mother, and the children will be bored. There is a lot to get accomplished in this large block of time. The children must be kept in a good temper if they are to get the most out of the refreshing, strengthening atmosphere of the great outdoors. They must be left to themselves for a good part of the day to take in their own impressions of nature's beauty. There's nothing worse than children being deprived of every moment to wonder and dream within their own minds because teachers and adults are constantly talking at them, not leaving them a moment's peace. Yet, the mother must not miss this opportunity of being outdoors to train the children to have seeing eyes, hearing ears and seeds of truth deposited into their minds to grow and blossom on their own in the secret chambers of their imaginations. In addition to increasing their powers of observation, children should spend an hour or two in free, active playing, and a lesson or two should be done.

No Story-Books

Once the mother and children have arrived in a pleasant, breezy area, it is not the mother's duty to entertain the children. No reading aloud or storytelling--in fact, there should be as little talking from her as possible, and what little there is should have a definite purpose. After all, who worries about entertaining children with story books during a puppet show, or at the circus?? And the great outdoors has lots more to offer than either of those. A wise mother, upon arriving at their spot, first sends the children off to run wild and play and make as much noise as they want. No difference needs to be made between big and little kids. In fact, the little ones tend to copy the older kids in lessons, playing, and picking up anyway. As for the baby, when he is put down, he will kick and crawl and grab at the grass, loving every minute of his freedom as he takes in nature in his own way. He should be dressed in something comfortable that can handle a bit of dirt and play.


Soon the children return to their mother, and, while they are still fresh and alert, she sends them on an exploring expedition to see who can spot the most, and tell the most, about a farther hill or brook or thicket. This game delights children and endless variations can be used. It's a fun way to teach exactness and attention to detail.

How to See

The mother looks herself at what she's sent them to look at while they're gone. When the children come back, they will excitedly tell what they saw: 'There's a beehive.' 'Lots of bees were going in it.' 'There's a long garden.' 'It had sunflowers.' 'And daisies and pansies.' 'There were lots of pretty blue flowers with rough leaves; what do think those were, Mom?' 'Probably borage, it's an herb that attracts bees.' 'Oh, and there were apple trees and pear trees on one side, and a path in the middle.' 'Which side were the trees on?' 'The right. No, the left, wait, which hand do I write with? Yes, the right.' 'The apple tree had a million apples on it!' 'A million??' 'Well, maybe not a million, but a whole lot!' And so on, so that the mother gets the complete details little by little.

Educational Uses of Sight-Seeing

This is just a game to the children, but the mother is actually doing some very valuable teaching, training the children's powers of observation and their ability to articulate precise details. She is increasing their vocabulary by giving them the name of the thing they need at the right moment, when they ask, 'What was that?' She is also training them to be accurately truthful by seeing that they tell exactly what they saw without leaving out any details or exaggerating. A child who gives lots of details in his description such as, 'A tall tree ending in a point with roundish leaves; it wouldn't be good for shade because all the branches go up,' deserves to be told the name of the tree and any facts about it that the mother knows. But a careless observer who doesn't even know whether the tree was an elm or beech shouldn't get any reward. The mother shouldn't move an inch to even look at it or allow herself to be drawn into talking about it until the child becomes discouraged and goes off to inspect and report more accurate detail, such as whether the bark is rough or smooth and how the leaves are shaped. Then the mother can show more interest and allow the child to lead her to see it.

Discriminating Observation

Little by little, the children are learning to pick out important details about every feature of the landscape around them. Imagine what a treasure they will find when, years later, they're able to pull out memories etched in full detail of the beautiful scenery from their childhood home! The sad thing about most peoples' childhood memories is that they are too vague and blurry to bring much enjoyment. Why? Not because they were forgotten, but because the details of the scene were never thoroughly seen. Even at the time, the memory was only a hazy impression that certain main objects were there. So, naturally, after decades, not much can be recalled because the child wasn't paying enough attention to record the memory well at the time.


The Method of Picture Painting

The ability to take a mental picture of the beauties of nature is so fulfilling that it is well worth teaching our children how to do it. Keep in mind that children tend to focus on what's right in front of them and have to be coaxed to notice what's more distant. Have children look thoroughly at some landscape, then ask them to close their eyes and bring up the image in their minds. If any part of their image isn't clear, then they should take another look at the actual landscape to fill in details, and then try again. When their mental image is complete, have them describe it, like this: 'I see a pond, it's shallow on the side closest to me but deeper on the other side. There are trees along the water on the deep side and you can see a reflection of the green leaves and branches so clearly that it looks like there's a woods under the water. Almost touching the trees in the water is some blue sky with a soft white cloud. When you look up, you can see the same white cloud but there's more sky because there are no trees up there. There are also beautiful water lilies in the far edge of the pond and two or three of the leaves are turned up so that they look like sails. Near where I am, three cows have come to get a drink. One is already in the water nearly up to her neck,' etc.

Strain on the Attention

Mental picture painting is a game that children enjoy, although it takes a good bit of concentrated attention and is therefore tiring. It should only be done once in a while. Still, it's good to have children memorize some scenic landscape images because, while making the memory requires effort, the habit of looking more closely at detail is learned as an unconscious by-product when children are asked to make detailed mental images every now and then.

Seeing Fully and in Detail

In the beginning, children will need help to get them started. So the mother might show how it's done by saying, 'Look at the trees reflected in the water. What do the leaves standing up remind you of?' until children notice the main details. She should memorize a couple of mental images and impress her children by closing her eyes and describing it from memory. Children are such little mimics that they will copy her example, even using variations of her own minute details in their own versions.

Children will enjoy this game even more if the mother introduces it by describing 'a wonderful gallery I've seen,' and then she goes on to describe individual pictures of different landscapes, children playing, an old lady sewing--and then she explains that these pictures don't have frames and aren't painted on canvas. This gallery goes with her everywhere inside her mind, and, every time she sees a pretty picture, she studies it until she can make a mental image to add to her collection. So now, these pictures are hers forever, wherever she goes, to look at anytime she wants.

A Means of Solace and Refreshment

The habit of storing mental images can't be overrated. It can comfort us and refresh us. Even in our busiest times, we can stop and take a mini-vacation in our own piece of nature to be refreshed and gladdened by 'the silence and calm of things that can't speak or feel.'

This kind of break is available to everyone, but not everyone is able to carry away an impression strong enough to last. Only some can revisit scenes from memory that have enough detail to stir the blood, feel in the heart and bring peace. Yet this isn't the gift of a few special poets; anyone who tries hard to really see can have it, and parents can train their children to do this.

However, mothers must be careful not to spoil the child's innocent delight in making mental pictures by showing him off in front of the neighbors or Dad and making him perform from memory. She would be better not to say anything to anyone, even if the child has a poetic knack for it, at least not when the child can hear.

IV. Flowers and Trees

Children Should Know Local Field Crops

While doing the mental image exercises, opportunities will come up to make children familiar with rural tools and jobs. If there are farms around, they should learn about meadows, pastures and crops like alfalfa, potatoes and corn, in every stage from plowing the field to harvesting the crops.

Wildflowers and the Life-Cycles of Plants

Myrtle, jewelweed, black-eyed Susan, every wildflower that grows in the neighborhood should be well-known to children. They should be able to describe the shape, size and placements of their leaves and whether the flowers have a single blossom or a head of them. When they know the flower so well that they could recognze it anywhere, they should take a look at the area it grew in so that they'll know what kind of terrain to look for it again in the future. 'We should be able to find wild thyme here!' 'This is just the kind of place marigolds grow in; we must come back here in spring to see if there are any!' If the mother lacks a knowledge of plants, a good field guide will be indispensable, especially if she can find one that includes little facts and fun things about the plants. To collect flowers, press them and glue them to cardboard with the name in English, what kind of habitat it grows in, and when it was found. This is fun and educational. Even better is to have children make careful watercolor paintings of their favorite flowers, or of the whole plant.

The Study of Trees

Children should also become familiar with trees at an early age. They should pick about six in the winter when the leaves are gone, perhaps an elm, a maple, a beech, etc, and watch them during the year. In the winter they will see the color of the bark, the way the branches grow and the thickness of its build. They don't need to learn the name of each tree yet, that can wait until leaves appear. They may notice that the branches get stiffer and more alive-looking as spring approaches and life stirs in the leaf buds. They can watch as the leaves unfold, revealing many waterproof layers. Each species has its own unique way of wrapping its leaves. The lime tree's buds are reddish, the ash bud resembles a deer's foot and is not green but black. Tennyson's poem, The Gardener's Daughter, refers to eyes 'more black than ashbuds at the beginning of March.'

Seasonal Changes Should be Followed

So many wonders appear in spring that it's hard to keep up. There are dangling flowers, and red-centered flowers on the hazel--both clusters of flowers on the same tree! There are the festive leaves bursting out on all the trees, learning the shapes of the leaves, the names of each tree, and learning to recognize them by observing differences in them. And then come the flowers, each enclosed in a pretty little bed of a bud, wrapped as intricately as the leaves but less carefully guarded since they wait to come out until the ground is warmer and the sun is out to welcome them.

Leigh Hunt on Flowers

Leigh Hunt said to imagine: What if we had never seen flowers, and they were sent to us as a reward for our goodness? Imagine how carefully we'd watch the growth of the stem and every unfolding of each leaf in wonder. And then imagine our astonishment when a bud appeared, and began to unfold in all its delicate, colorful beauty. Well, we have been seeing flowers for years--but our children haven't. Flowers are still new and wonderful to them., and it's the fault of grown-ups if every new flower they see ceases to delight them.

And what about those six trees that the children were watching since winter? Now children will see that they also flower, although those flowers may be as green as the leaves. Some trees don't get their leaves until the flowers have blossomed and fallen off. Soon there is fruit, and children witness first-hand that every plant bears 'fruit and seed after his kind.' This is old news to grown-ups, but a good teacher will present all knowledge as new and exciting by imagining himself in the place of the child and being amazed with him. Every small miracle that ceases to amaze us is like a new discovery to our children, as exciting as the discovery of gravity to Newton.


It's a great idea to have children keep a calendar to record when and where they saw the first oak leaf, the first tadpole, the first primrose, the first ripe blackberries. Then next year they can pull out the calendar and know when to anticipate seeing these things again, and they can note new discoveries. Imagine how this will add enthusiasm for daily walks and nature hikes! A day won't go by when something isn't seen to excite them.

Nature Journals

As soon as a child is old enough, he should keep his own nature notebook for his enjoyment. Every day's walk will give something interesting to add--three squirrels playing in a tree, a bluejay flying across a field, a caterpillar crawling up a bush, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider suddenly dropping from a thread to the ground, where he found ivy and how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, and how ivy manages to climb.

An intelligent child will think of millions of little things to record in his nature notebook. At age 5 or 6, he can illustrate his notes with watercolors. At first he may need a little help with knowing how to work the medium in general terms, but he should be left to figure out the rest in whatever way he wants. If he asks how to make purple, we can tell him to use red and blue, but he should be allowed to mix it in the proportions he wants to get the right shade. The skill of drawing may be addressed in some other way, but not in his nature notebook, that should be for him to fill as he sees fit. A six year old will add pictures of dandelions, poppies and irises with enthusiasm and accuracy for no other reason than because he wants to record what he sees.

An exercise book with a stiff cover can be used as a nature notebook, but the paper inside should be suitable for both watercolor and drawing.

'I Can't Stop Thinking'

One little girl said, 'I can't stop thinking, I can't make my mind sit down!' She speaks for many children. And we adults have very little imagination; we think that a child's mind will rest when we send him out to the yard to play after his lessons. But a child's mind is constantly busy with ideas coming in and out, like a millstone turning and turning that, if it has nothing to grind, will begin to gring up itself.

A child should be given work to do to provide something for his mind to grind, but he should be given things rather than abstract symbols, real things from nature in their true habitat--in the meadows and woods and shorelines.

V. Living Creatures

Nature is A Field of Interest and Fun

Live animals are always interesting to children. Pets become beloved friends even to children who live too far from the country to see squirrels and wild rabbits. And usually one can find a pond nearby, even if it takes a car drive to get to, where children can catch tadpoles, carry them home and watch them change as their fins disappear, their tails get shorter and disappear, and the tadpole is suddenly a frog. Turning over any rock can reveal ants. Everyone knows how wise it is to consider the ways of ants. If you need more persuasion, read ant specialist Lord Avebury's account of a twelve-year-old ant. Bees are also interesting. One teacher was giving a lesson based on the poem that begins, 'How doth the busy little bee,' but the children weren't interested because none of them had ever seen a bee! A child who has never known a bee or birds or flowers is missing a lot, but children living in slums may be so unfamiliar with nature that they wouldn't know a wasp from a honey bee!

Children Should be Encouraged to Watch Nature

Children should be encouraged to quietly and patiently watch the bee, spider, ant, caterpillar or other wildlife that crosses their path. If this seems dull to them, they just need to watch more closely, because their alert eyes can catch the smallest ways of insects in ways that grown-ups can't without magnifiers. Ants can be watched at home by making [or buying] an ant farm. Take twelve ants from an ant-hill (not red ants, they may bite!), some eggs and a queen. The queen is easy to spot because she's bigger than the other ants. Take some dirt from the ant hill and put it into the ant farm with the ants. Leave a hole in a top corner plugged but accessible. The ants may be restless for a couple of days, but will then begin to resettle and start arranging the dirt. Once a week, remove the stopper and put 2 or 3 drops of honey on it. Every 3 weeks, add 10 drops of water. In the winter, the ants hibernate and won't need food or water. An ant farm can last for years.

If children are terrified of bugs, it's usually because they caught the fear of adults around them. Charles Kingsley's children ran after him carrying creatures such as 'a lovely toad' or 'sweet beetle' in their bare hands. Yet even Kingsley was horrified by spiders. A child who spends an hour watching a grub won't be scared of it. Everything he learns should be added to his nature notebook by him or, if he's too little to write, his mother. He can include where he saw it, what it was doing, its color, how many legs, etc. Someday he will hear its scientific name and it will seem like an old friend.

The Power of Impression in the Home

Some children are born naturalists, but even those who weren't were born with natural curiosity about the world should be encouraged to observe nature. Most children are influenced by the opinions of those around them and if their parents don't care about nature, or are disgusted by little creatures, they will pick up that attitude and all the wonders of nature will pass them by. The book The Natural History of Selborne would not exist if Gilbert White's father had not taken him on daily discovery walks in Selborne. John Audubon said that as soon as he began walking and talking, his father constantly pointed out objects in nature. His father would bring him birds and flowers and show him details such as the birds' elegant movement, or the softness of the feathers, or how they showed fear or pleasure, or their perfect form. He would talk about their seasonal migrations, where they lived and how they would change. It was this early influence that excited Audubon and inspired him to make birds his life's work and think about the God who created them.

What Town Children Can Do

Children who live in town can watch sparrows by leaving them breadcrumbs. There are lots of fun things to be done with sparrows. A man in the garden of Tuileries tamed them to eat from his hands and come when he called a specific individual bird, even though most people couldn't tell them apart.

A child who can't tell the difference between a thrush, a swallow, a blackbird or a skylark is as sad as those children who had never seen a bee. A nice first acquaintance with a critter is to find a furry caterpillar shuffling along looking for a quiet place to rest. He can be put in a box covered with netting that can be seen through. He won't need food because he'll soon spin a cocoon, split his skin, and enter the cocoon, where he'll stay for months. At last, he will break out of the cocoon as a butterfly. Most six-year-olds have done this type of science project. It isn't just fun, it's more educational than a whole science book, or lessons in geography or Latin. It's no good when children get their knowledge of science from books. They get so used to reading about marvels of nature and never seeing it for themselves that nothing interests them. The way to cure this is to let them alone for awhile and then start something totally different. It's not the children's fault that nature bores them; they are naturally curious and eager to explore the world and everything in it. There's a poem that says that the person who can best appreciate God is the one who is familiar with the natural world He made.

Nature Knowledge is Most Important for Young Children

Adults should realize that the most valuable thing children can learn is what they discover themselves about the world they live in. Once they experience first-hand the wonder of nature, they will want to make nature observation a life-long habit. All people are supposed to be observers of nature and there's no excuse for living in a world so full of amazing plants and animals and not be interested in them.

Mental Training of a Child Naturalist

Besides appreciating the world, observing nature develops other mental powers--ability to focus, to tell things apart, to patiently seek answers. These things are useful in every facet of life. And, for the person who observes nature, life is so interesting that there's no time to develop mischievous characteristics that come from being bored. How can a person be irritable or sullen or stubborn when he's always preoccupied with nature?

Nature Observation Especially Valuable for Girls

Nature study is even more important for girls because girls are more apt to fall into ugly moods because they have so much time on their hands. Girls have less mental challenges and therefore need an absorbing passion to keep their minds on. Their weaker bodies need the strengthening of the great outdoors. Also, girls and women tend to be self-centered and spend all their time thinking about petty matters and worthless admirations, and nature study can lift their thoughts onto bigger things. It's good to get girls thinking of something outside of themselves since they're the ones who will be raising and teaching the next generation.

VI.--Field-Lore and Naturalists' Books

Reverence for Life

Should children study biology, botany and zoology by dissecting and taking things apart? Not usually; a child younger than 6 or 8 years old shouldn't be pulling flowers apart to study them at a time when they should be learning to revere and protect life rather than destroy it (mosquitoes and other pests excepted!) An awe for the precious gift of a life that can be destroyed by a cruel child, but can never be brought back, is an important lesson for children. A poem says that we should grow in knowledge, but it's more important to grow in reverence.

The child who sees his mother reverently and softly kiss a snowdrop flower is learning something that no book can teach him. When they are older, they will understand that all science is merely a study of God's creation and that sometimes sacrifices must be made in the name of knowledge for the good of others. Then, all the things they have seen, and all the facts they have collected will form a great foundation for studying science. Until then, let them 'consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.'

Rough Classification Should be Made First Hand

Children should know the correct name for parts of things, such as petals, sepals, etc, to help them describe what they see. They should be encouraged to group things together by leaf shape, or leaf vein pattern, or number of flower petals, or whether they keep their leaves all year, or animals that have a backbone, or animals that eat grass or eat meat, etc. Collecting and sorting plant specimens is fun and good practice in noticing similarities and differences in things. Any beginning book of botany should be helpful in classifying leaves and flowers.

The ability to group things together by type and find differences is one of the higher orders of intellect, and every opportunity to use it first-hand should be encouraged. Learning classifications from a book takes no mental power, except maybe rote memory. If the skill of rote memory is deemed necessary, then the child might just as well memorize some phrases in a foreign language to satisfy that requirement!

Naturalist Books

If children don't need to learn Latin names of things, then does that mean they don't need books about nature? No, but their nature books should be the kind that reveal the wonder of nature and inspire in children a wish to make their own nature discoveries. Some examples of these are books by Arabella Buckley, Thomas Seton and William J Long. Although some of them are written by highly educated scientists, they are fun to read and can be understood by laypeople.

Mothers and Teachers Should Know about Nature

A mother should read these kinds of books herself, not just to collect little bits of knowledge to pass on to her children as they come across things she's read about, but so that she can learn enough to answer their questions and help the children with their observations. Not only mothers, but anyone who spends time with children should learn about nature. Children will love a person who knows the things they want to find out about and such a person may influence a young mind to have a passion for nature that will be retained for life, and might even make a discovery that will benefit the whole world.

VII.--The Child Gets Knowledge By Means Of His Senses

Nature's Lessons

A child watching something totally new to him, such as a farm plow at work, is as intently focused as a nursing baby. In fact, he is taking in nourishment--the kind of mind food that his brain needs. A young child uses all of his senses to find out every facet of knowledge he can about everything new that comes his way. Everyone has seen how a baby, given a spoon to keep him quiet, will look at it, feel it, put it in his mouth, and finally bang it to see what kind of noise it will make. This is like school for him, and he learns at a surprisingly fast rate when you consider how much there is just in the act of seeing alone to a baby who still doesn't know the difference between a flat object and a round one. Everything is new to him and some concepts, such as flat and round, can only be learned by experience.

At first, a tiny baby will grasp at the air until it makes contact with an object. That's how he learns where things are, since direction means nothing to him yet. And the moon looks close enough to grab. He has no idea that a horse or a housefly aren't toys--far and near are foreign concepts to him, and it takes trial and error to understand the relationship between what he sees and where things are. But he learns naturally at his own pace, never tiring, and slowly learning just what he needs to know about the world around him.

And this is exactly what a child should be doing for the first few years. He should be getting familiar with the real things in his own environment. Some day he will read about things he can't see; how will he conceive of them without the knowledge of common objects in his experience to relate them to? Some day he will reflect, contemplate, reason. What will he have to think about without a file of knowledge collected and stored in his memory? A child who has witnessed the sun high in the sky on a summer's day at noon, and how much lower it is at noon in the winter, will understand why a vertical sun makes the tropics hot, and how the latitude of the horizon effects climate.

Too Much Pressure

Many people worry about putting young children under pressure and stress with too many lessons. It is true that formal lessons may be too much for a very young child because that's not what his mind is ready to handle yet. It would be like expecting a toddler to bench press a hundred pounds. But his mind is alert and active and has no problem handling what Nature intended. Children never get tired of finding out, in their own way, about new things. This is just the kind of thing they hunger for because that's what their minds need to grow on.

Object Lessons

Young children crave knowledge about new things. But how do we satisfy their hunger? Preschools and kindergartens use object lessons, which are as meager as trying to feed a hungry horse on one bean a day. A child going about his daily routine at home comes across lots of new things, although with less formality than a school might schedule. Yet neither schools nor most homes make a point of exposing the child to the kind of feast his eyes crave.

A Child Learns from Real Things

Grown-ups are more mature and have been educated at school to get most knowledge from words--either conversation or reading. But when we try to make a child learn that way, he is slow to catch on because he doesn't have enough life experiences to attach real meanings to very many words. Most words are like the vocabulary of a foreign language, known only by hearsay. But put a real object in front of a child, and he knows more about it than most grown-ups. His mind is made to absorb that kind of knowledge. As his experience with real things grows, his knowledge of words grows because language is mankind's attempt to express what we know. This is why children ask endless questions. They aren't trying to learn about objects; they are trying to learn the words with which to express what they already know. How sad that any child, with such a drive to learn, should be confined within the walls of a house or humdrum streets of his neighborhood. Even a child allowed to run free in the country won't learn as much as he might if he just gets random observations with no plan or direction. All that potential is wasted.

The Sense of Beauty Comes From Early Contact with Nature

Children can learn an unlimited amount of things that they'll never forget before even beginning school. A child is ten times better off if he knows where to find the prettiest birch trees, or the four best ash trees in his neighborhood, than a boy who doesn't even know the difference between an elm and an oak. He  is not only likely to be more successful, but happier, too, because the beauty of nature affects our feelings. Dr. Carpenter said that, when our minds have contact with nature, our sense of sublime beauty and order is touched. Dr. Morrell said that people who have learned to appreciate form and beauty credit exposure to beauty in their infancy, before they could even talk.

Most Grown-ups Lose the Habit of Observation

Mary Ann Evans (pen name George Eliot) owes her father for letting her go on long business drives through the country with him. She would stand between his knees, quietly observing everything. She used her memories of those beautiful rural scenes when she wrote Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss. Wordsworth grew up on the mountains and wrote poems about nature. Tennyson used imagery from his childhood. Dickens, speaking philosophically in David Copperfield, said that he was a very observant child. Before children can even speak, they're able to form images from their surrounding. The ability to remember details comes naturally to children; a few retain that skill as adults and keep a sense of freshness and contentedness as well.

VIII.--The Child Should Be Made Familiar With Natural Objects

An Observant Child Should be Exposed to Things Worth Observing

What good is it to be observant if nobody bothers to make sure there are things around to observe? And here is the difference between town streets and the rich atmosphere of the country. Towns have lots of things to see, and children who live in town get street-smart, to be sure. But the kind of knowledge one gets of the streets are bits and pieces that don't relate to anything else in the wide world and are a dead end of information. Knowing one's way around town might be convenient, but a person isn't really larger-minded for knowing which side of the street Walmart is on, and how to get to the grocery store.

Every Object in Nature is a Member of a Set

But take any object from nature, and it relates to others like it, variations in a species or group. Whatever you learn about it can be applied to the science of all the others like it. If you break off a twig in the spring, you'll see a ring of wood around the pithy center, and you have witnessed right there one of the distinguishing characteristics of many plants. Or, pick up a pebble and note that it's smooth and rounded from being worn by the weather and water--and you have witnessed the concept of erosion, which is responsible for most beautiful landscapes--valleys, canyons, and hills. A child who spends time with nature doesn't need to have erosion or dicotyledonous [two-leafed plants] described to him; he sees it for himself. Difficult abstract ideas that he might not have come face to face with will be easily illustrated to him by their effects on very familiar objects.

Power will Increasingly Pass into the Hands of Scientific Men

Mothers are obligated to make sure their children spend time with nature and to help them develop the love of investigation. Charles Kingsley said that those who understood science would rule the world because nature would have taught them their own true ignorance in light of the vastness of the universe. And familiarity with the laws of nature would be knowledge that would help them act wisely.

Intimacy with Nature Encourages Personal Well-being

But preparing them for a place in society is only one benefit of early nature study. A child who loves nature will have an interest that will enrich his life forever and keep him healthy. Kingsley also said that he knew of some uncontrollably wild and reckless people whose thirst for adventure was channeled into constructive pursuits such as hunting for wild birds' eggs. A girl can escape the vanity of silly, trivial luxury by keeping her mind occupied on collecting shells, fossils and flowers. Thus, her mind and soul are protected from worldliness by 'considering the lilies of the field, how they grow.'

IX.--Out-Of-Door Geography

Small Things May Illustrate Bigger Things

We detoured from our topic to impress on mothers how important it is to inspire a love of nature in their children. A passion for natural objects can be like a wellspring of refreshment to a dry heart. Meanwhile, what about that mother from a few chapters back, who has been outdoors with her children? What is she to do next? She mustn't neglect teaching topography in her attempt to get children outside, as one teacher did, who when asked how she had time to fit it all in, said, 'Oh, I leave out subjects of no educational value; I do not teach geography, for instance.'

Pictorial Geography

But a mother knows better. She will find lots of ways to sneak in geography lessons. A duck pond can illustrate a big lake. A small brook can be like the Nile River. A little hill can be the Swiss Alps. A copse of trees can be the Amazon rainforest. A reedy swamp might be the rice fields of China. A meadow could be like the western prairies. A field of purple flowers might be the cotton fields of the south. Every kind of geographical type can be illustrated casually this way. The concept of maps can be taught in later years.

The Position of the Sun

Children should also learn to tell the time by the sun's position in the sky. They will undoubtedly ask if the sun ever gets tired, and then the mother can talk about the relative sizes of the sun and earth and about the orbits of bodies in the heavens.

Clouds, Rain, Snow, and Hail

Clouds, rain, snow, hail, wind and fog are all wonders of God that mothers will be asked to explain to their children in simple terms. If children are to understand any concepts of maps and geography at all, they will have to begin by learning about what's right in their own environment.

Distance is something that children must first learn at home, and it's fun for them to learn it. A child's pace [one step] can be measured and compared to the paces of his siblings. Then he can count how many steps it takes to walk to a certain point and multiply to get the distance--so many steps equals so many yards distance. Various walks around the home can be measured in this way. The time it takes to walk one hundred steps can be calculated and used as a reference to estimate other distances walked. If it takes two minutes for him to walk one hundred yards, he can calculate how far he's gone after walking for 30 minutes or 35 minutes, and he can figure out how long he has to walk to go one mile. The longer the legs of a person, the bigger their pace. That's why most grown-ups can walk a mile in just twenty minutes.


After the child is comfortable with calculating distance, the concept of direction can be introduced. The first step is making him aware of the progress of the sun. If he observes where the sun rises and sets in the sky during the year, he will have already learned something. He should be made aware of how the sun's light reflects in different windows in morning and evening, the differences in shadows at various times of day, how shadows are made by playing with a figure between a screen and a flashlight [or perhaps by making hand shadows!] He should be made aware of the heat when the sun is at its highest in the sky, and how the sun being lower in the sky results in cooler temperatures. He can be reminded how he feels warmer in a room while standing close to the source of the heat rather than in a far-off corner. When he is familiar with all of these observations related to the sun, he will be ready for the concept of direction, since that depends entirely on the sun.

East and West

The first ideas to learn are that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Just by knowing this he'll be able to tell in which direction nearby streets and buildings are from his house or the town where he lives. Have him stand so that east is towards his right where the sun rises and west is towards his left, where the sun sets. Everything straight in front of him is north, everything behind him is south. If he is in a certain place and wants to know in which direction a certain road goes but he has never seen the sun rise or set there, he can observe where his shadow falls at noon. At noon, all shadows fall a little north. Then he just has to face north so that east is on his right side and west is on his left side to tell which direction the road goes.

Practice in Finding Direction

Here's a way to learn something about the names of England's great railways. With a little practice, telling direction by the sun will get easier. Let him practice by looking out windows at home or school to observe which direction they face, or which direction rows of houses or church walls face. Soon he'll be able to tell the direction of the wind by observing smoke blowing from a chimney or branches or fields blowing in the breeze. If the wind blows in from the north, it means colder weather and perhaps some snow. If it's a west wind (from the west), it may mean rain. Children should understand that a wind is named for where it came from, not where it's blowing to. In the same way, he is English because he's from England. He doesn't become French because he's going to France. Now the concepts of distance and direction can be combined. A certain building might be judged to be 200 yards east of the gate, or a town might be two miles to the west. The child will soon find that not everything is exactly north or south or east or west. Let him figure out his own way of solving that difficulty: 'It's more east than west,' or 'It's sort of east but not quite,' or 'It's halfway between east and west.' He will appreciate the value of exact expression when he comes across a need for it on his own.

Later he can have a compass and observe how it marks all four directions. The compass will display the in-between names for all those difficult-to-pin-down directions he came across before.

Compass Drill

Then he can do compass exercises like this: Have him stand so that the compass points north. Then have him turn towards the east and observe how the needle moves in a different direction. However he turns, the needle follows with a movement of its own. How does the compass know when he moves? Have him walk straight in any direction and note that the needle isn't perfectly still, because, no matter how hard he tries, he can't help walking a little to the right or to the left. Have him move in a complete circle very slowly and watch the needle also make a complete circle in the opposite direction as it tries to stay pointed towards the north.


Once children understand the concept of direction, the concept of boundaries comes easily. A certain field, for example, is bounded by a road on the south, by a fenced field on the south-east, a hedge on the north-east, etc. By this, children come to understand that boundaries are no more than a space marked out by whatever touches it. A field may touch another without having any visible line between them, but it's still a boundary. Children should have a clear understanding of this because, later, they will come across countries in their geography lessons that are 'bounded by such and such.' Whether a space is a village, town, pond or field, children should be made to observe what kinds of crops grow in their area and why the land was used for those crops, or pasturing sheep, and what kinds of rocks are in the ground, and how many different kinds of trees grow there. For every field or space they examine, they should sketch it out in the dirt, drawing a rough outline of the shape and lettering N, S, E and W.

Drawing Plans

Once they have drawn a few of these rough plans of outdoor spaces, they can sometimes pace the length of a field and draw a kind of map to scale, allowing one inch for every five or ten yards. Then they can sketch the lay-out of the garden or barn or house.

Local Geography

A child's own area may provide opportunities to learn what a hill is, or a dale, pool, brook, watershed, current, bed, bank, tributary, and the relative position of nearby towns. He should be able to sketch this roughly with chalk or a rock or even a stick in the dirt, estimating the distances of all those things.

X.--The Child And Mother-Nature

The Mother Must Resist Too Much Talking

Does such an ambitious plan sound overwhelming for the mother? Does she imagine herself having to talk for 6 hours and still not able to get through all that's expected of her? On the contrary, the less talking she does, the better. As for the amount of work to be done, remember the fable of the pendulum. Yes, there are countless tocks to be ticked, but there will always be a second of time to tick in, and no more than one tick is expected in any one second.

Something New Every Day

Children are quick. In 15 minutes, they will have finished with their sight-seeing exercise or imaginary picture painting. Other than that, an occasional discovery that the mother shows them with a name and maybe a dozen words about it at just the right time are all that's needed; the children will have formed an interest in something they can continue on their own. Just one or two of these discoveries should happen in any given day.

And the day still has lots of time to play. The hardest part for the mother will be to keep from filling the time with her talking, and keeping the children from spending their day listening to her instead of going off on their own. Children love pleasant times chatting with their mother, but communing with their greater Mother (earth) is more important, and they should be left to themselves to do it. It should be a peaceful time--the mother can read her book or write a letter, resisting the impulse to chatter; the child stares up at a tree or down at a flower, doing nothing in particular and thinking nothing in particular. Or else the child pretends to be a bird in a tree, or just runs in joyful abandon, as children like to do. And all the time, Nature is doing its part to influence the child, vowing to do what Wordsworth's poem says--to take the child as its own and make him a child of Nature.

Two Things a Mother May Do

There is one thing the mother is allowed to do to come between Nature and her children, but only once a week or once a month. And even then, it isn't with lots of lecturing talk, but with a look and comment of delight as she notices and draws the child's attention to some especially beautiful color  in the landscape or cloud formation. There is one other thing she may do, but only rarely and with tender reverence. She might do this as a prayer, since that is a softer and less direct way for the child to hear something. She might point out some beautiful flower or especially grand tree as something that isn't just a thing of beauty, but a beautiful thought of God that He delights in and loves to see us enjoy. This kind of sympathetic comment touches a child more than many sermons about divinity.

XI.--Out-Of-Door Games, etc.

The day's obligations aren't over yet. There still needs to be an hour or two of games in the afternoon and at least one lesson completed. Just thinking about lessons may seem dull, but it only has to be a short lesson, maybe ten minutes long. In fact, shorter is better, and the little break and focused attention will give renewed zest to the playtime after that.

The French Lesson

The lesson to be squeezed in during the ten minute break is French. Children should learn French orally, by hearing and repeating French phrases. They should begin when they're young enough that the difference in accent doesn't sound so striking and unfamiliar, when they're young and uninhibited enough not to be embarrassed to try saying the words. They should learn a few new French words every day, maybe 2-6 words. Words they've already learned should be kept in use so they don't forget them. It is important to keep their tongues and ears accustomed to French words, so the lessons should be done every day without fail. It might be easier to fit it in with whatever is happening on that day's excursions--the new French words might be leaves, branches, or trunk of a tree. Or they might be the colors of flowers, ways a bird gets around, clouds, animals, children. In fact, the new words should be just one more way for the child to express the things that are in his mind.

Noisy Games

Afternoon games after lunch are important for older children, although the younger ones will probably be worn out by then from the activity of the morning, which is so good for their muscles. They can take a nap in the open air and wake up refreshed. Meanwhile, the older children can play. The more active they are, the better for their health. This is one reason why the places they go should be a bit secluded--they can yell as loud as they want and not bother anyone. People rarely think of the muscles of the internal organs, but the yelling and shouting that children love so much, is nature's way of exercising their internal organs so that they grow and develop properly. People complain about weak lungs or weak chest, and it never occurs to anyone that strong lungs and a strong chest come like everything else--by exercise and hard work. Still, children's yelling can be made to sound more pleasant by encouraging them to make musical and rhythmic noise, like the French children who dance and sing in their play. These kinds of games were probably played at weddings and funerals, like the games children played in Jerusalem long ago.

Singing Rhymes and Rounds

Before the Puritans made people more serious, people of all ages used to dance out little dramas on the village green while they sang little rhymes like the ones French children still sing. Some of them still exist and can be heard when children play--There came three dukes a-riding, Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clemons, Here we come gathering nuts in May, etc. There are lots of these little sing-songy rhymes that get the feet to tapping. And with topics like dukes, oranges, nuts--who can resist?

Kindergarten teachers teach little educational rhymes to children, but theirs are usually pointless and don't grab the children's attention and get passed down from one generation of children to the next in the same way that the old ones have, even though they've never been written down in books.

Jumping-rope and Badminton

Baseball, tennis, and soccer are great games when children are old enough for them. They help develop the muscles and teach children the discipline of  playing by the rules. But our mother with her small group of children under nine won't be up for such organized games. They will more likely be playing tag, follow the leader, racing, chasing and all kinds of fun games that they'll make up. Even better is a hoop, a ball, a racquet, or a jump rope. The best kind of jump rope is a single skipping rope. Jumping backwards through it is even healthier than forward because the chest expands more. Badminton is a good game, providing an opportunity to excel. It is worth noting that Jane Austen was so good at shuttlecock (a game like badminton) that she impressed her nieces and nephews. In badminton, practicing in order to get good exercises many muscles and develops grace. It can be played indoors or out. The best practice is to keep the birdie in the air with a racquet in each hand to develop both arm muscles. But for me to arbitrarily assign one game over another is pointless since games tend to change in fashionable popularity as much as clothing styles.


Mothers don't like their children to climb very much. Ripped clothes, scraped knees, and toes making holes in shoes (and even worse accidents!) make it a risky amusement. Yet it really is great exercise. Few skills use so many muscle groups and yet develop grace. And the bravery and resourcefulness it demands are so beneficial that even girls should be encouraged to try it. Children learn to heed caution, too, which makes them less prone to take foolish dares. Remember not to panic if a child looks precarious--don't startle the child by yelling out 'Get down from there!' or 'You'll break your neck!' because that could actually make the child fall. Town children can also go boating or swimming by taking a trip to the sea or the lake on a vacation. Or, they can use swimming pools in town. Most children should learn to swim at age seven, not just because it could keep them safe in the water, but because it's a fun way to use their muscles.


Children should be dressed appropriately for their outings, preferably in wool, serge or flannel. Wool is better than cotton and linen because it helps retain some body heat but doesn't attract the sun's heat. So a child wearing wool who is hot from playing won't get a sudden chill from losing heat too quickly like a child wearing linen. And he stays cooler in the sun and warmer in the shade.

XII.--Walks In Bad Weather

Winter Walks are as Necessary as Summer Walks

So far, everything here has been for summer weather, but it's not summer in our part of the world all year. But how to get fresh air and exercise in wet or cold weather is more important since most people don't need any encouragement to be outside when the weather is nice. The best thing is for children to be outside in the winter for 2 or 3 hours a day, maybe broken up so that they're out for a while in the morning and then again in the afternoon.

Pleasures of Walks in Frost and Snow

When there's frost or snow on the ground, children have fun sliding, throwing snowballs and building from snow. But even when the snow is slushy and dirty, or the sky is gray, they should have interesting things to do outside so that their hearts are cheerful even when the day is cold and dreary.

Observations in Winter

Everything that's already been mentioned about looking for sights, and painting imaginary landscapes in the mind, and French lessons and discoveries to be noted in the nature notebook can be done in the winter as well as summer, and there is plenty to see then. A tree bare of leaves may be guessed to be an oak by its trunk shape. That can be recorded in the nature notebook, and then, when spring comes, the children can look at the leaves and see if their guess was right. Birds driven to search for food are abundant in the winter.

Various poems talk about observations that can be made in winter. Cattle are still out, behind fences. The sun still rises and sets. Long shadows can be seen from plants and trees. Sparrows come out of their shelters. Robins [robins in England are not the same as the American robin] sing and flit from twig to twig, shaking snow from tree branches.

There is enough to see outside in winter to satisfy any poet. In fact, winter may be even better because there aren't so many things going on in nature that they crowd each other out. It's easier to notice what's there.

Habit of Attention

Winter walks, whether in town or in the country, afford many opportunities to develop the child's habit of paying attention. The French magician Robert Houdin said that he and his son used to play a game where they would pass by a shop only long enough to get one good look at the shop window. Then they'd go a few steps away and pull out paper and pencil and start listing to see who could remember more items from the shop window. Houdin was surprised at his son's quick memory. His son could often remember 40 objects, while Houdin could only remember 30. When they went back to check their lists, his son was rarely wrong. This is one idea you might try on your own winter walks.

Walks in Wet Weather

But what about rainy weather? Rain, unless it's really heavy, doesn't harm children if they're dressed properly. They shouldn't wear waterproof clothes because, although the rain will stay out, the skin won't be able to breathe and being able to get rid of waste through the dampness of the skin is a good way to ward off disease.

Outer Garments

Children should wear coarse woolen clothes that they can change as soon as they get home so they don't catch a cold. This should be common sense. Wet cloths are put on the forehead of someone with a fever to evaporate heat from his body. But removing heat by evaporation is not what you want to do when coming in from the rain. Being wet is no more risky than taking a bath if the wet clothes aren't allowed to stay on as they dry, because  the drying process takes body heat with it as it evaporates. It's the loss of body heat, not the wetness itself, that causes colds.

If a child is active and having fun, then a little rain won't hurt him. But if the child already has a cold, then activity might increase any inflammation, so the child should stay in.

Richter [presumably Jean Paul Richter, the poet who wrote Hesperus] said that spring rain was like an electric bath and very healthy. Whether that's true or not, rain does clear the air, which is healthy for the air of dirty cities. And, in any case, rain won't hurt anyone. Lots of exercise in the open air is so healthy that rain shouldn't stop children from going outside unless they're sick. A wet walk tramping through rain is fun. Even the rain beating down feels good. Jogging and running in the rain is excellent as long children don't overtire themselves.


Although being out in the rain is fine, children shouldn't sit around in wet clothes. If they're going on a visit or to school or church where they won't have a chance to change, they should use waterproof wraps to keep their clothes dry.

XIII.––'Red Indian' Life


Baden Powell's book Scouting inspired hundreds of families to take to the great outdoors on scouting expeditions.

One of the exercises that can be fun is for four people to decide on a place to ambush. The other team sends out a scout who must find the ambush and then alert his comrades without being detected. Every family should have a copy of Scouting to help recapture the kind of Indian skills that we've lost by our civilized modern lives. It's good to know how to be alert and able in the wild.


Stalking birds for the purpose of watching them in their native environment is much more challenging and exciting than stalking nests to collect the eggs. It's also more humane. Being a good scout is useful in stalking birds because it enables you to creep as silently as a shadow behind the bushes on hands and knees without disturbing even a twig or pebble, until you're almost face to face with a pair of sandpipers and you can watch them run daintily, and hear their call. If children practice familiarizing themselves with local bird calls in the winter, when birds are fewer in number, it will be easier to recognize specific calls in summer. There are so many bird calls in June that it can be bewildering trying to isolate them. But if one song that is recognizable from the winter can be singled out, and then another, it will be easier. The key to recognizing birds is knowing their call, and the only way to learn new ones is to single out and listen to one that's new to you. There is a joy that is remembered forever from tracking a bird call to its source and finally locating the bird itself.

But there are rules for bird-stalking. Not only must you be quiet so the birds aren't scared away, but you can't even think the thoughts you can't say. If you let yourself start thinking about anything else, then you will be distracted and miss the birds. You might not even catch their calls.

Here are two experiences from one bird lover:

'We heard a note something like a copper finch, only slower. We looked up into the branches of an ash tree to see if we could track the bird by following the movement of twigs. We went up to a higher path where we were almost level to the tree tops and then we saw it--a shy little willow warbler looking for food. A bubbling bird call drew us to the next tree, where we spotted a wood wren and watched him sing.'

'A joyful burst of song came from a nearby bush. We crept on and found a blackcap warbler turning excitedly around and around, singing. We watched, and then followed him to his next station by watching the branches move lightly. A hoarse screech from another tree told us that a green-finch was nearby. We chased him for a long time before catching a glimpse of him. He came to a twig where we could see him, and then he started to sing. I would never have matched him to his song if I hadn't seen him myself. Then we heard a squeaky call along another tree, and found a brown wren running up and around an ash while uttering his single note.

'Another day we hid behind a wall watching a field by a lake. We saw a green plover, with his dashing crest, running and pecking. We even caught sight of the red under his tail. Plovers camouflage themselves so well that they seem to disappear, but we watched, hoping for another look. But someone coughed and a dozen of them flew up with a cry that seemed to say, 'Why don't you leave us alone?' Their flight roused other birds. We saw a snipe fly upwards from the edge of the marsh in a zigzag pattern, make a circle in the sky, and land again near where it had been before. Then two sandpipers flew up along the water's edge, whistling the whole time. By a little ditch we watched a field wagtail. When he turned just right in the sun, we saw by his yellow breast that he was a yellow wagtail. We heard a loud, 'tiss-sick' from near the wall and spotted a black and white pied dishwasher with food in his beak for his babies. He was waiting for us to leave before giving away his nest. So we crept out of view behind a tree and, after a few minutes, we saw him go into his hole. An angry chatter that sounded like a broom on Venetian blinds directed our eyes to a little brown wren. In a minute, he disappeared over the side.'

From another bird lover:

'Now the children are more interested in seeing the birds than collecting eggs. Now, instead of asking what the eggs are like, they want to know what the bird is like. We've been using a field guide to identify birds and learn a few things about them.

'But now, about the birds we've seen. There are lots of stonechats [a thrush whose call resembles the sound of falling pebbles] who live on the moor. I got prickles all over my lower legs from standing in a patch of thorny shrub the first time I saw a stonechat. As I watched, I was rewarded by seeing at least four pairs at the same time! Do you know which birds I'm talking about? The males are so pretty, with a black head and face, white neck, reddish breast and dark back. They have a sweet little song, longer than a copper finch's, and they make a chit-chat cry when you disturb them. They don't make long flights, but can hover in the air like a flycatcher. There are also sand martins that make holes in the cliffs. We tried to see how deep they burrowed to make their nests. I put my arm in all the way up to my elbow in some deserted holes and still didn't reach the end! I think my favorites are the reed warblers. I know of at least four pairs, and when I could get both children to stop talking for a few minutes, we could see them hopping up and down the reeds and singing right in full view.'

These are the kinds of treasures that bird-stalkers find. How sad for children who never learn the gentle art of bird-stalking, which satisfies the eyes, discourages the greed of collecting, kills no living thing, and yet gives a wonderful possession to enjoy forever.

XIV.--Children Need Country Air

The Essential Proportion of Oxygen

Everyone knows that breathing air that has plenty of oxygen is the key to a strong life and healthy body. Also, anything that produces heat--living bodies, fireplace, candle, gas lamp--uses up some oxygen in the air. Think of the atmosphere as a savings bank and everything that breathes or burns air is drawing some oxygen out of the account. Where there are a lot of people and animals breathing, and fire burning, there may be such a drain on the oxygen that there's not enough to support life, and death occurs. Where the drain is less urgent, animals may be fine, but people survive in a weak state of health.

Excess of Carbon Dioxide

Also, everything that breathes or burns expels a harmful gas called carbonic acid. [I'm guessing that Charlotte Mason was thinking of carbon dioxide; carbonic acid is a weak acid formed when you dissolve carbon dioxide in water.] Even the purest air has a little bit of carbon dioxide, and that tiny bit is healthy. But if you increase it with furnaces, fires, and living beings, the air becomes unhealthy. The more carbon dioxide in the room, the worse the air is. If there's an unusually high amount of carbon dioxide, as there may be when too many people huddle together in an unventilated room, they may all quickly die of suffocation.

Fresh Oxygenated Air

That's why you can't enjoy fullness of life living in the city. For grown-ups, the stimulation and excitement of city life may compensate for the impure air in the same way that country people may trade off the advantages of a slow rural life for a lack of stimulation and mental sluggishness if they allow it. But for children who aren't just breathing but growing, and therefore require more oxygen than adults to keep their internal organs running, it is cruel to keep them from getting lots and lots of fresh, pure air every day, or at least, very frequently. This kind of air isn't found in town.

Solar Rays from Sunshine

This is only one reason why it's so important for children to spend long days in the country. Another reason is that they need sunshine. Country people have a healthy, rosy color. But miners who spend all day underground have a sickly yellow complexion. So do people who live in cellars and dark valleys. The reason is that the ruddiness of health comes from lots of red blood cells developing in the blood and that happens mostly in the abundance of sunlight. Scientists are also beginning to suspect that not only the visible rays of the sun by which we see colors, but also invisible heat rays and chemical rays [ultraviolet?] have some necessary effect on our health that we still don't understand.

An Ideal Physical Model for a Child

There was a cute picture in a recent Punch magazine of two little boys trying out their French on their mother's new maid. The boys were straight and tall, lean, bright-eyed, alert, their bodies energetic and full of bounce even while they were still. It was a delightful picture, even if only to illustrate what a healthy child should look like. Of course, children inherit many physical traits from their parents, but this shows what the proper bringing-up can do, with some limitations. Children are born with certain inherited tendencies and, depending on how the child is brought up, each tendency may become a weakness of character, or a strength and blessing. Even in regards to health, it's worthwhile to have an ideal to aim for. For example, it's a myth that a fat child is a healthy child. It's easy to get a child fat. But the bright eyes, open nature, bounce in the step, clear voice, coordinated, graceful movements that characterize a healthy child aren't just the result of feeding or even just physical health. They are the result of a sound, well mind and soul as well. They signify a child who has been trained to have a quick, alert mind and a morality that is accustomed to being happy and self controlled.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 264-271

XVI.--Natural Science

A Basis of Facts

As far as natural science, I will only repeat what I said in an earlier chapter. Nothing in a child's education is more important than laying a foundation of information from his own first-hand observation. All of his future scientific knowledge will be based on this. He needs to spend hours and hours in the open air, in the country, if at all possible. He needs to look and touch and listen. He needs to consciously notice every habit or structural aspect that sets apart each animal, bird, insect. He needs to take note of the way different plants grow and how they reproduce. He needs to develop the habit of asking why--Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And don't be too quick to answer all his questions for him. Let him try to think through the problem for himself as much as he's able. And, most important, when you do step in with the answer, make sure it isn't some dry information you got straight from a textbook or encyclopedia. Let him have as much insight as possible and, in most areas of science, he can be brought up-to-date with current modern thought. Don't overwhelm him with too many Latin names. If he discovers by himself (or with the help of a couple of leading questions) when comparing an oyster and his pet cat that some animals have backbones and some don't, it's not as crucial that he know the word 'invertebrate,' as that he can sort the animals he knows about according to that difference.

Eyes and No-Eyes

There's an illustration of how this kind of education works in Evenings at Home, where 'Eyes' and 'No-Eyes' go for a walk. No-Eyes comes home bored. He didn't see anything and found nothing to interest him. But Eyes is burning to tell all about a hundred interesting things he saw. As I've already tried to say, it's inherent in the child to find out things for himself by nature. It's up to the parent to give him many opportunities of all different kinds, and to provide guidance to encourage and direct his observations so that, even though he doesn't know the technical scientific principles of classification, yet he's collecting what he needs to make such classifications without even being aware of it. It's not necessary to repeat everything about this from the earlier part of this book, but it's true that a child's future depends largely on how much real knowledge he acquires and how much he observes intelligently. Herbert Spencer asked, 'Do you think that an ignorant, dull mind can appreciate the poetic beauty of a round rock with parallel scratches in the same way as a geologist who knows that a glacier slid over this rock millions of years ago, leaving the scratches? The truth is, people who have never become interested in science can never appreciate most of the beauty that surrounds them. Anyone who hasn't collected plants and insects as a child, can't even dream of all the interesting things he can see in the local lanes and shrubs.'


Related to this, I'd like to recommend The Sciences by American Edward Holden. This book is what I have in mind. It is a suitable way to reach the sensible and intelligent minds of children. This is what I mean by a 'first-hand' book. Mr. Holden knows his subject and he understands children, and he presents information in the form of simple conversations between children. There are about 300 topics covered: sand dunes, dredging, hurricanes, echoes, prisms, the diving-bell, the Milky Way, and more. What makes this book so wonderful is that it's friendly and takes time to explain each subject naturally. Topics are divided into groups according to which scientific principle they explain. There are many simple experiments that children can do themselves. This quote from the preface is an invitation to teachers:

'The goal of this book is to provide reading at home or school that will broaden children's minds in the area of science and show how science is relevant in art and everyday life. It is not a textbook, although it does teach the fundamental principles of science. Its purpose is to help children understand the physical world around them.

The Sciences Can Be Comprehended by Children

'Everything that happens in nature is orderly, governed by a scientific law, not some kind of magic. Real people understand these things; why can't the child himself be one of the people who understands them? A child can't understand every technical detail about locomotives, but he can understand the principles of how they work in a general way. If someone explains the well-understood general law behind it, the child can understand how a locomotive is just one application of it in practice. The purpose of the book is to awaken the child's imagination, to explain useful information, to open his mind to wisdom. Even more, its purpose is to inspire children to want to observe things and to have a real, life-long interest in the world around them.

'Astronomy, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and geography are explained as thoroughly as possible and enhanced with examples from familiar things. In astronomy, for example, emphasis is on things the child can actually witness himself, and he is told how to do this. The rising and setting of the stars, the phases of the moon, and how to use a telescope, are explained in simple words. These things seem mysterious to a child, but they are not magical. Instead, his attention is drawn to deeper mysteries. Scientific phenomena are shown to be cases of scientific laws in action. And this is done, not just for astronomy, but other sciences.

'Common phenomena, such as steam, shadows, reflected light, musical instruments, echoes, etc., are explained by what causes them. Where experiments would help, they are simple and fully described and illustrated. They work as well in a schoolroom as in a home. This book was written because I believe that a lot can be done to help children understand the world they live in, and I want to be part of that help.'

I'd also like to mention a Parents Review article from April 1904 by H. H. Moore about educational pioneer Richard Dawes (part 2 of that article is online here) In 1841, while he was a Rector at Kings Somborne parish, he worked with uneducated and debased agricultural villagers. The whole story is interesting, but our current topic is science, which his school focused on.

As Taught in a Village School

This was Mr. Dawes' goal: 'I wanted to teach what would be useful and interesting to these children, knowing what kind of lives they would most likely live. I wanted to teach them about common, everyday things. They were shown how many of the familiar things around them were interesting, and how knowing about them would help them understand principles that could be applied to other natural phenomena. Also, understanding how things work and are constructed could have a practical use later. A practical application was given to everything they learned, nothing they learned was useless to them.' A list of some of the subjects he taught will be the best commentary on Dawes' method:

'Some of the properties of air, explaining how its pressure enables them to pump up water, having fun with squirts and popguns, to suck up water through a straw; explaining the principles and construction of a barometer, the common pump, the diving-bell, a pair of bellows. That air expands by heat, shown by placing a half-blown balloon near the fire, when the wrinkles disappear. Why chimney-smoke sometimes rises easily in the air, sometimes doesn't; why there is a draught up the chimney, and under the door, and towards the fire. Air as a vehicle of sound, and why the flash of a distant gun fired is seen before the report is heard; how to calculate the distance of a thunderstorm; the difference in the speeds at which different materials conduct sound. Water and its properties, its solid, fluid, and vaporous state; why water-pipes are burst by frost; why ice forms and floats on the surface of ponds, and not at the bottom; why the kettle-lid jumps up when water is boiling on the fire; the uses to which the power of steam is applied; the gradual evolution of the steam-engine, shown by models and diagrams; how their clothes are dried, and why they feel cold sitting in damp clothes; why a damp bed is so dangerous; why one body floats in water, and another sinks; the different densities of sea and fresh water; why, on going into the school on a cold morning, they sometimes see moisture on the window, and why on the inside and not on the outside; why, on a frosty day, their breath is visible as vapor; the substances water holds in solution, and how their drinking water is affected by the kind of soil through which it has passed. Dew, its value, and the conditions necessary for its formation; placing equal portions of dry wool on gravel, glass, and the grass, and weighing them the next morning. Heat and its properties; how the blacksmith can fit iron hoops so firmly on the wheels of carts and barrows; what precautions have to be taken in laying the iron rails of railways and in building iron bridges, etc.; which materials are good, and which are bad, conductors of heat; why at the same temperature some feel colder to our touch than others; why a glass sometimes breaks when hot water is poured into it, and whether thick or thin glass would be more liable to crack; why water can be made to boil in a paper kettle or an eggshell without its being burned. The metals, their sources, properties, and uses; mode of separating from the ores. Light and its properties, illustrated by prisms, etc; adaptation of the eye; causes of long and short-sightedness. The mechanical principles of the tools more commonly used, the spade, the plough, the axe, the lever, etc.'

'It may be a surprise that those subjects could be taught to rural elementary-aged children. But it's true, they were taught in Kings Somborne School, and they were taught so successfully that the children were interested in what they learned and made good use of what they learned. When Mr. Dawes hears that young children can't understand such complex subjects in science, he says, "What distinguishes science is how simple it is. It may take a genius to discover nature's laws initially. But once the laws are discovered and understood by scientists, they are within the grasp of a child. The principles of science follow common sense. If these principles are taught in a simple, common-sense way, then children can understand them easily and readily. Students as old as ten or twelve can still be taught to develop habits of watching carefully and asking questions". This is important to remember for those who decide which subjects to include in a curriculum.'

When we read about Dawes' experiment, we wish we all had access to someone like Dawes to teach our children. But at least he has shown us what children should know, and Mr. Holden has provided us with a great resource. Some chapters in Holden's book may be too complex for a nine-year old, but most of the book will be within their ability to grasp. But remember to do the experiments included. If Joyce's Scientific Dialogues can still be found, it describes many simple experiments that children can do themselves.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 128

A Scientific Spirit

'Two things are necessary. First, we have to introduce the philosophic spirit and method into every scientific subject that's studied. The student needs to search for the most general principles and conclusions. Then we need to reduce the different sciences to their common similarities and unity by providing a healthy training in philosophy. Philosophy should be required of science students in the same way that it's required of literature students . . . Descartes said that scientific truths are battles that were won. We should describe the most important and most heroic of these battles to young students. That will get them interested in the scientific spirit because they'll be enthusiastic about the conquest of truth. They'll be able to see the power of reasoning, which is what led to such great discoveries in the past, and will lead to more in the future. Even arithmetic and geometry would seem interesting if students learned something of the history of their main theorems. Imagine if a child could feel like he was there during the efforts of Pythagoras, or Plato, or Euclid--or in more modern times, Viète, Descartes, Pascal, or Leibnitz. Great theories would no longer seem like lifeless, anonymous abstracts. They'd become human, living truths, each one with its own story, like a Michelangelo statue, or a Raphael painting.'

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 192-194

Outdoor Memories Should Be Stored

These few lines of Wordsworth's give many, many reasons why children's memories should be stored with lots of images of the outdoors that can provide them with reflected sensations that will bring them pleasure. We should be constantly diligent to help them look, listen, touch and smell. This is done by role modeling. If we look at something, they will, too. If we notice smells, they will smell them, too. The other day I heard about a little girl who traveled in Italy with her parents back in the days when people still used the dignified mode of family carriages for traveling. Her parents were conscientious and didn't want to waste a moment of time, so they didn't allow the travel time to be idle. The little girl and her governess had the interior of the coach to themselves and they packed all her schoolbooks. During the travel time, the little girl did her math, geography, probably learned the counties of England and everything else. No time was wasted on idle curiosity about trivial matters like what 'fair lands' they might be passing through. This anecdote shows that we're making progress, but we still don't fully recognize that our role in education should be subordinated with careful thought to Nature herself.

Delightful Memories Are a Source of Physical Well-Being and Mental Refreshment

Let's continue our study of Wordsworth's accurate and exquisitely beautiful psychological record. He goes on to write that the sweet sensations are 'felt in my blood and in my heart.' That statement is actually true to fact. An enjoyable sensation makes the tiny nerve fibers around the capillaries relax. The blood flows more freely, the heart beats quicker, there's a sense of well-being, joy and gladness take over, the gloom of a mundane day or the stress of the busy city melts away--delightful memories are like a healing potion of life. When they present themselves to us, they can instantly restore us to a condition of well-being.

But there's more. Wordsworth says that these memories 'passed into my purer mind and brought peaceful restoration.' His mind is purer in the sense that it's less physical than his body and less affected by physical conditions, yet still so closely related to the physical brain tissue that the condition of one will necessarily affect the other. Perhaps the mental mind and physical brain have both been exhausted by the unrelenting persistence of a particular line of thought. Then, suddenly, into the 'purer mind' flashes the awareness of a delightful image because of some reference of association to a distant memory. The current weary thought is diverted into delightful new channels, and weariness and brain fatigue are replaced with 'peaceful restoration.'

If mere sensations can do so much for our happiness, our mental refreshment, and our physical well-being, not just at the time we first experience them, but any number of times we relive the memory later, then it seems logical that an important part of our work as educators is to preserve the acuteness of children's perceptions, and to store their memories with delightful images.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 231

Nature Knowledge

With this in mind, our priority in nature knowledge should be to make sure that the child has a personal, vital familiarity with the things he sees in his environment. It's more important for him to know the difference between snakeweed and Lady's Thumb, or hawkweed and dandelion, and where to find this or that plant and what it looks like as it grows, than it is for him to be able to define terms like epigynous and hypogynous. There's nothing wrong with knowing scientific terminology, but that should come later, after the child has seen and studied the real thing in its own habitat, and tried to reproduce it in his nature notebook.

Object Lessons

It's the same with object lessons. We're in no hurry to develop his ability to make detailed observations about little parts of everything and have him label them as opaque, brittle, flexible, and so on. We don't want these kinds of exercises to dampen his curiosity. We'd rather leave him to be receptive and respectful so that he asks questions and discusses things with his parents like the lock in the river, or how a mower works, or why fields are plowed, and provides opportunities for his parents to talk. These are the kinds of concepts that provide seeds to the child's mind, and we don't want to make him a show-off who thinks he knows it all.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 261-262

Everyone is Interested in Science

At one of the previous meetings of the British Association, the President of the Association lamented that scientific progress is hindered because we no longer have field naturalists closely observing Nature as she is. A literary magazine printed an unfortunate comment in response. The writer said that everything is written in books, so we don't need to go to Nature herself anymore! But the knowledge we get about Nature from books isn't real knowledge. Let's make a passion for Nature our first priority. Intimate familiarity with every natural object he can reach is the first part of every child's education, and very possibly the best part. He benefits personally because, all his life, he'll be soothed by

'The living balm,
The silence and calm
Of quiet, non-living things.'

Children Should Be Trained to Observe

And, when it comes to science, he'll be in a position to do the very thing that's needed most. He'll be a close, loving, first-hand observer of Nature. He'll be storing up knowledge, and free from greedily hoarding lists of facts.

Volume 3, School Education Education, pg 156-158

Science: The Approved Teaching of Our Day

I think that the PNEU has the leaven that can leaven the whole lump of dough. Let's determine to work with a purpose and passion. Let's restore to the world that great scheme of unity in life that produced such great men and great works in the past, and let's enrich that with current knowledge. We don't need to be afraid that the kinds of ideas that will help education will oppose science. Many of us feel, for good reason, that science is the new teaching that's being emphasized in our age. That makes some people very happy. They see it as a sign that moral and religious struggles are about to be eliminated from life, and then life, for better or worse, will run along an easy inevitable path. Others are confused and are desperately looking for a middle ground where science and religion can be reconciled. Still others take refuge by rejecting the theory of evolution and all that goes with it. They hope to cling to religion by interpreting it more and more narrowly. Whichever group we fall into, we probably err by not having enough faith.

First of all, let's be convinced that, for a believer, science and religion can't possibly be at odds. Once we're assured of this, we might be able to see scientific evolution as a process of revelation that's brought about in every case as far as I know by a process described by Coleridge: 'Ideas about nature were given to men who were selected by a divine power even higher than nature herself. These ideas suddenly unfold in a prophetic kind of succession, these systematic views were destined to produce the most important revolutions in the state of man.' Huxley says that biology is useful because it 'helps to give the right ideas in this world. After all, this world is absolutely governed by ideas--and very often, by the wildest and most hypothetical ideas.' He goes on, 'people who refuse to go beyond the fact rarely get as far as the fact. Anyone who knows the history of science knows that almost every advance has been made by the anticipation of nature--in other words, by the invention of hypothesis.' Surely men of science will find the unifying principle they seek that Coleridge spoke of. If they did, then they would be able to distinguish themselves, not just as the proclaimers of truth that they're ready to take a stand for, but as servants of God who prepared themselves to receive revelation from God, who is the Truth.

Evolution is the Master-thought of the Age

Few of us can forget the mental image that Carlyle described of the Tiers etat [one of the branches of Parliament; the French nobles refused to treat their concerns seriously and this was a cause of the French Revolution of 1789] waiting for organization. 'Wise as serpents, harmless as doves. What a spectacle for France! Six hundred inhuman people who are needed to bring it back to life and save it, sit on their long benches, desperately wishing for life.' Coleridge wrote just as accurately about botany, although not as vividly. He said that botany, as it existed in his day, was waiting for a unifying idea that would organize it. He wrote, 'What is Botany right now? Not much more than an enormous collection of names, a huge catalog, meticulously arranged. Every year and every month, more names are added in various categories, and each has its own filing method and reference system. It's the innocent diversion, healthy hobby and impressive collection of amateurs. Botany still doesn't have the kind of energy and devotion that true philosophers would give it.' Our generation has been given the key word to interpret life, both animal and plant, but we don't know what to do with it.

Volume 3, School Education Education, pg 205-206

A Passion for Nature

Let's intrude on the bringing about of one more intimate interest. We've seen how already young Ruskin has been exposed to mountains. Now he's going to have his first view of the Alps. He, his parents and his cousin Mary went for a walk on the first Sunday evening after they arrived at the garden terrace of Schaffhausen.

'Suddenly--look! Over there! None of us had for a moment thought that they would be clouds. They were as clear as crystal, sharp against the pure horizon of sky, and already rose-tinted with the setting sun. It was infinitely beyond everything we'd ever thought or even dreamed. The walls of Eden, if we could have seen them, couldn't have been any more beautiful to us. Nothing could have been more powerful, like gazing around heaven, or at the sacred walls of death. For a child with my temperament, this was the most blessed entrance into life.'

What about Wordsworth? How shall we trace that pure, gracious, absorbing intimacy with Nature that was the master-light of all of Wordsworth's seeing? He reveals--

'The simple ways of my childhood
Are mostly what first caused me to love
Rivers, woods and fields. The passion was
Still in its infancy, sustained by chance
With nourishment that came
Even though I wasn't deliberately looking for it.'

We can't trace every step of Wordworth's growing delicate passion. We can only look at a phase here and there.

Volume 3, School Education Education, pg 234

Regarding curriculum, I'd like to emphasize what I said in an earlier chapter. Perhaps the main part of a child's education should be concerned with the great human relationships--history, literature, art, ancient and modern languages, travel. All of these are the records or expressions of people. Science is, too, when it's the history of discoveries or an account of someone's observations that can be read in books. But, for the most part, science is under the category of Education by Things. Science is actually too broad a subject to deal with here. But what's more important than all of these is Religion, which includes our relationships of love, loyalty, love and service to God. Maybe next in importance is the intimate, individual relationship with ourselves that's implied when we talk about things like self-knowledge and self-control. We owe children these kinds of knowledge because it seems to be the case that the limit of human intelligence directly corresponds to how limited a person's interests are. In other words, a normal person with deficient, narrow intelligence is that way because he was never exposed to the interests that were proper for him.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 236-238


In Science, or, actually, nature study, we place a high priority on recognition. We believe that the ability to recognize and know the name of a plant or rock or constellation requires some classifying, and includes a good bit of knowledge. To know a plant by the way it grows, where it lives, when and how it flowers and bears seeds, or to know a bird by the way it flies, its song, and when it arrives and leaves, to know when you might find a robin or a thrush, takes a lot of focused observation and the kind of knowledge that helps understand science. Students keep a dated record of what they see in their nature notebooks. They're allowed to manage these notebooks however they want; the books aren't graded or corrected. They take pride and pleasure in these notebooks and freely illustrate them with dry-brush work paintings of twigs, flowers, insects, etc. The knowledge it takes to make these nature records isn't taught from formal school lessons. One afternoon a week, the students in our 'Practicing School' [taught by the student teachers at Charlotte Mason's teacher's college] go for a 'nature walk' with their teacher. They notice things by themselves, and the teacher tells them the name or gives other information only if they ask for it. It's surprising how much knowledge about different things a child can gain by the time he's nine or ten years old. The teachers are careful not to turn these nature walks into an opportunity to give science lessons, because they want the children's attention to be focused on their own observations. They're allowed to notice things with very little direction from the teacher. By doing this, children accumulate a good collection of 'common knowledge.' Huxley thought that this kind of general knowledge should come before formal science teaching. Even more important, students learn to know and take pleasure in objects from nature like they do in the familiar faces of friends. The nature walk shouldn't be used as a chance to dispense miscellaneous tidbits of scientific facts. The study of science should be taught in an ordered sequence, and that's not possible or even desirable during a nature walk. I think that an essential aspect of any living education should be for all students of all ages to spend a half day every week throughout the entire year, outside in nature. In almost every town, there's some place where children can have the opportunity to observe the changing seasons from week to week.

Geography, geology, the sun's course through the sky, the way clouds behave, signs of the weather, everything that the open air has to offer, are utilized on these walks, but it's all casual and incidental, things are simply noticed as they happen to come up. In most areas there are probably naturalists who would be willing to help with these nature walks in one of the local schools.

This direct nature walk is supplemented with occasional object lessons, such as the different kinds of hairs on plants, or the diversity of wings, and all the things discussed in Professor [Bernard?] Miall's wonderful books. But we rely on books only as a subordinate supplement to outside observation. We use books by authors such as Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. Brightwen, Professor Lloyd Morgan, Professor Geikie, and, for students over fourteen, Professor Geddes and Thomson. With these books and others like them, the student is put in the position of being an original observer of biology or some other phenomena. They learn what to look for, and they make observations for themselves that are original, at least for them. They get into the right frame of mind to observe and make deductions, and their alert interest is awakened. We're extremely careful not to burden children's verbal memory with scientific names. They learn about pollen, antennae, and whatever, casually as these things appear to them and they need to know its name. Only those children who are curious about it should have the opportunity to see tiny structural wonders that come up in their reading or walks under a microscope. A good microscope lens is a great investment and almost indispensable in nature observation. I think there can be too much of a priority given to education by Things. Although that is tremendously valuable, a certain lack of atmosphere tends to result, as well as a tragic lack of any standard with which to make comparisons, and the principle of reverence for nature. The distinction of an education that relies only on Things and leaves out Books seems to be the kind of attitude that 'We're the only people who ever mattered!'

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 3-4

There has been a lot of talk about what caused the break-down in character and conduct in Germany [in WWI]. The terror of war was just one symptom, and the symptoms have been traced to the kinds of thoughts that the people had been taught to think for three or four generations. We've heard a lot about Nietzsche, Treitschke, Bernhardi and the rest [this online article may help to summarize popular thought in pre-WWI Germany], but Professor John Henry Muirhead helped us to see that it goes even deeper. Darwin's theories of natural selection, the survival of the fittest and the struggle for existence, came at the moment Germany was ripe for such an idea. The ideas of a super race, the super state, the right for the strongest country to disregard treaties and destroy weaker countries, and to recognize no law except what serves its own interests--these come from Darwinism as surely as a chicken comes from an egg. The concept that 'might makes right' actually predates even Darwin--Frederick the Great wrote, 'Let those who have power take, and whoever is strong enough to keep power is entitled to it.' Perhaps Darwin, an Englishman, gave Germany a logical reason to do what it wanted to do anyway. Human nature tends to prefer natural laws over spiritual laws and to get its code of ethics from science rather than God. And that's why the Germans took Darwin's theories as justification to be brutal.

Here are a few examples of how German philosophers add to what Darwin said: 'All natural and spiritual powers dwell in physical matter. Matter is the foundation of everything that is.' 'What we call spirit, thought or knowing, is merely natural forces in peculiar combinations.' Darwin himself protests against the idea that, in man's higher nature, the struggle for existence is the most driving force. He never intended to make education purely materialistic any more than Locke intended his essays to bring about the French Revolution. But men's thoughts have more power than they think. Darwin and Locke both directly influenced world-changing ideas. Germany had had 25 years of materialistic thought, so they accepted Darwin's ideas. His theories freed them so that they no longer felt limited by morals. Darwin's follower, Ernst Haeckel, thought that the concept of natural selection made it acceptable for Germany's lawless action [since they were merely a country struggling to survive] and led to the notion of a superman. 'The principle of natural selection is very elite.' Buchner also simplified Darwin's theories and made them more popular. 'All the things the brain does that we think of as physical activities are only functions of the physical brain. Thought is to the brain what gall is to the liver.'

However Germany has used Darwin's teaching, good or bad, wouldn't concern us (except for the war), except that Germany has influenced our educational thought with the fallacy that the brain has various faculties that need to be developed. English psychology hasn't come to any firm conclusions yet, but it has progressed far enough to deny the myth of brain faculties.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 50

Every child in the classroom is capable of being stirred by the wonders of science. Every child is interested in the stars of the winter sky. One teacher said, 'Child after child writes to say how much they loved reading about the stars.' An eleven-year-old girl says, 'Sometimes when we're walking at night, I tell my mother about the stars and planets and comets. She says she thinks that astronomy would be very interesting.'

But we take a fascinating topic like astronomy, and teach it by emphasizing heat and light, using devitalized text books, diagrams and experiments that seem like white magic to children. The invisible microscopic world fascinates children as much as the universe. They love learning about the behavior of atoms and ions as much as they enjoy fairy tales.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 92

The doctrine of equal opportunity for everyone is dangerous. From an intellectual standpoint, it means 'survival of the fittest,' and we've already seen how terrible that can be in practice. Those who have uneasy, ambitious spirits force their way to the top and monopolize all the opportunities. They dominate everyone else and think that no upheaval is too great a sacrifice to advance themselves and their desires. These are the kinds of people who come out at the top when exams are the standard of measurement. After ambition (and maybe greed) comes perseverance. Someone said about Louis XIV that these kinds of men promote what they do as if it was a great scientific theory, and set up their own character as if it should be the principle of government. But they're just psuedo-principles, they're not real, and they rouse the masses because they promise that every person will have power and position in the government. But if each man has power and position, then each position can't be very powerful. I suspect that our current labor unrest is somehow related to student habits of working for prizes and good grades. A student whose motivation at school is to be at the top of his class and get something out of it, is less likely to be a calm, well-ordered citizen who will help to unite society and do whatever work the government needs.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 110-111

'Descartes said that scientific truths are victories. If you tell students the key point in the victory, the most heroic battles in scientific discoveries, you'll get them interested in the end results of science. By getting them excited about the conquest of truth, you develop a scientific spirit in them. Imagine how fascinating math might be if we gave a short history of the major theorems of math. Imagine if the student felt like he'd witnessed the work of Pythagoras, or Plato or Euclid. Or imagine if he felt like he'd been there with modern intellects like Descartes, Pascal or Leibnitz. Great theories would no longer be lifeless, anonymous and abstract. They would become living truths, each with a thrilling history of its own, like a statue by Michelangelo, or a painting by Raphael.'

This is a way of applying Coleridge's 'captain idea' at the head of every train of thought. An idea shouldn't be some stark generalization that no child or adult could feed on. Ideas need to be clothed with both fact and story.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 218-230

SECTION III - The Knowledge of the Universe

(a) Science

Huxley liked to say that science education in the schools should be concerned with common information rather than being overwhelming by trying to teach everything. But we have found that children's minds are not designed to be limited to a body of knowledge that has been deemed as common knowledge. Their young minds are eager and want to know more. In science, just like history, books should be literary (i.e., told in story form). We'd probably all benefit and be more scientific people if we got rid of all science text-books and used less chalk outlining and summarizing. French people already know that science needs to be taught with literary books, the same as with all other subjects. They also understand that foundational scientific principles are so simple and so profound at the same time, and affect so many other things, that the way scientific principles are taught can elicit emotional reactions in people. So these principles are perfect opportunities to use a literary approach. But the technical details of how those principles are applied are so specialized that they aren't really general knowledge and, therefore, aren't necessary to be learned in school, unless they help to illustrate the principle. We don't have a lot of scientific literature in our English language, but we have enough for school. There's an American book called The Sciences. Its author (Edward Holden) seems to be a fairly good writer. This book does a good job of relating general universal principles with common incidents from daily life in a way that's interesting enough to hold a child's attention. This book can help any child learn the scientific principles that make an electric bell ring, where sound comes from, how a steam engine works, and many other matters that are explained very clearly. It has experiments to do that are easy to follow because of his wonderful diagrams and descriptions. With this book, children get their first notions of science without the confusing fog of too many complex words. Form IIA (grades 5/6) reads Life and Her Children by Arabella Buckley. Her book gives them a surprising amount of knowledge about earlier and lower life forms. Form IIB (grade 4) enjoys Charles Kingsley's Madame How and Lady Why. They also do some outdoor work every month as a way of observing the changing seasons during the year. They record their findings by adding notes and drawings to their Nature Notebooks, and they do special studies on their own every season, drawing and making notes in their Nature Notebooks.

In Form III (grade 7), a term's work helps children to -- 'Make a rough sketch of part of a ditch or hedge or seashore and include the names of the plants you would find there.' 'Write about the special study you did this term and include drawings.' 'What are calyx, corolla, stamen, pistil? In what different ways are flowers fertilized?' 'How would you find the North Star? Name six other stars and tell which constellations they're part of.' 'What's the difference between Early, Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic? Use drawings to explain.' These kinds of questions reveal a lot of field study as well as reading from a half dozen carefully selected books on nature, botany, architecture, and astronomy. The main idea to keep in mind is that children need to observe and to record their observations, but their observations should have some guidance.

Studying nature and botany with field guides continues through all their school years, but other fields of science are done term by term.

The exam questions for Form IV (grade 8/9) show how varied the science subjects are in nature, general science, hygiene and anatomy. In fact, the subjects are so diverse that it's difficult to figure out what to call them on the Programme schedules, as these samples show:

1. Write a little about Asia, including a roughly sketched map
2. Compare the Middle East's geography with the moors of Yorkshire. Describe the valleys of Jordan.
3. What does Isabella Bird say in Eothen about the Church of the Holy Sepulcher?

1. What do you know about
     a. manatees
     b. whale-bone whales (include a sketch of its skeleton)
1. Describe
     a. quartz rock crystals
     b. felspar
     c. mica
     d. horneblend
          In what rock do these occur?
2. What do you know about insectivorous plants? Name some you know about.
3. What do you notice about a walk in the summer?

General Science
1. What do these mean?
     a. electrical attraction
     b. electrical repulsion
     c. conductors
     d. insulators

2. How might you prove that we never see matter itself? How does sight give us knowledge?

Physiology (anatomy)
1. Describe the human ear.

Of the half-dozen books that our Form IV (grade 9) students are using now, Bishop Mercer's Some Wonders of Matter is probably the most inspiring. The following exam questions show how varied students' subjects are, and their answers demonstrate how wide and thorough their knowledge is. All of our PNEU students are usually ready to answer any of the questions about what they learned during the term.

In the same way, Forms V and VI (grades 10-12) cover a wide variety of subjects, as these term exam questions indicate:

Form VI. (grade 12)
1. Show how the discovery of the New World affected England as far as finances and war.
2. Life forms are distributed on the earth according to a general law. What is that law?
3. Describe Cortez's siege of Mexico, and its surrender.
Forms VI and V (grades 10-12)
4. How has WWI affected:
(a) Luxembourg
(b) eastern Belgium
(c) Antwerp and the Scheldt?
Form V (grades 10/11)
1. How did the Restoration affect the American colonies?
2. Explain how longitude is determined.
3. Give a sketch of the life and character of Montezuma.

Geology and Science
Form VI (grades 11/12)
1. Give a thorough explanation of
(a) what causes radioactivity
(b) what causes gravity
2. What can you tell about the scenery of the English Trias? Name a dozen fossils, sketching pictures of half of them
Form V (grades 10/11)
1. Explain color as fully as you can.
2. Describe what igneous rocks are composed of. Where are they found?

Biology and Botany
Form VI (grades 11/12)
1. What are the characteristics of animals without backbones? [spineless?] Describe six examples.

2. Describe the plant life and explain what conditions make it suited for its environment in the following locations:
(a) woods
(b) low desert
(c) swamp
(d) meadow
Form V (grades 10/11)
1. How can you classify animals by what they do? Give some examples.
2. Describe what kinds of plants grow along the seashore.
Forms VI and V (grades 10-12)
3. Describe and include drawings of the special study you did this term.

Form VI (grades 11/12)
1. What does 'precession' mean? Describe the precession and mutation of the earth's axis.
Form V (grades 10/11)
1. Write an essay about the planet Mercury.

If we need an excuse for giving children a wide, varied curriculum that introduces them to at least the areas of science that every common person should know something about, we might find it in these critical words of Sir Richard Gregory in his Presidential Address given in the Education Science Section of the British Association. He said that,

'Education might be defined as a deliberate attempt to manipulate a growing human being to make him adapt to his environment. How much and what he learns should be determined by how well it meets that criteria of adapting him to his environment. What was best for one culture in the past may not be best for another. The most basic mission of science education has been to prepare students for living in a civilized society. This has been done by revealing to them some of the beauty and power of the world they lived in, and introducing them to the methods used to increase our knowledge of the universe. Science education in schools was never intended to prepare students for science careers. It was intended to equip students for living in their culture. General science should be a part of general education. It should not be specialized and connected to college classes that a student might take later. Less than three percent of public school students went on to college, yet most public school science classes were based on university entrance exam curriculums! The needs of the many were sacrificed for the needs of a few.

'There was too much focus on what the child should have been finding out for himself by doing his own experiments and observations. The final test for graduation was testing students for things that were common sense to anyone with experience in a particular field of science, but nothing that would give students a broad knowledge of general principles to add to laboratory work.

'The number of students wanting to take entrance exams [for college science classes?] was evidence that general science education was almost nonexistent. The range of subjects taught was limited to what could only be taught in a laboratory. There was no attention given to learning all the different ways in which physical science was broadening man's ability to deal with his world, and no reading or learning for the sake of interest because those things didn't count on exams! Students desperately needed to be reminded that science wasn't all just about taking measurements, and taking measurements isn't always science.'

It's reassuring that the methods we've been advocating for over thirty years are confirmed by such an authority in science. The only rational way to teach science is with personal observation (field study) combined with lab work with a little bit of reading to add comments and clarification when possible. For example, John Ruskin's Ethics of the Dust gives children an enthusiasm for crystals that simple observation might not. In fact, much of our science education has suffered because of the unnecessary and harmful division between science and humanities.

Nature notebooks, which started with our P.U.S. (Parents Union Schools) have become like travel records and journals for students. They keep notes about all their finds: birds, flowers, fungus, mosses are described and sketched every season in the same way that Gilbert White did. A nature notebook can be kept by anyone anywhere. It can be used to record stars on their course in the heavens, or a fossil of an anemone on the beach at Whitby. These notebooks help to make science come alive and relate to the common man. Science should not be taught merely as a utilitarian means of preparing students for a career!

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 256

In teaching science, too, we need to realize that the way to the wonder of nature isn't through the confusion of science the way it's usually taught, but through field study or other personal observation, supplemented with literary reading.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 268

Students taught along these lines are familiar with a large number of books, many historical and literary persons, and quite a range of natural phenomena.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 275

We already discussed (in chapter ten) what we do for students as dwellers of a universe bound by natural laws. And here we have to disagree with some science teachers who think that students can only learn what they discover themselves by first-hand experience. The concept sounds good in theory, but in practice, it's disappointingly narrow and limited. The teacher got much of what he knows from books, so why shouldn't the student use books? Maybe because science textbooks are so dehydrated and empty that that the teacher hopes to make up for their lack of vitality with casual talks, such as Hydra being a creature able to make close friends, or a sea-anemone as a grandmotherly figure who lives a long time. In other words, side issues are used to create an interest in the subject. French scientists know better. They understand that, just as history has a beautiful essence that's like poetry, science also has a beauty that can be expressed in exquisite prose. There are a few of these kinds of books in English, and we use them along with field study and drawing. Drawing is great for promoting an enthusiasm for nature.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 289

Every youth should know something about the flowers in the field, the birds in the air, the stars in the heavens, the many fascinating wonders that happen every day. Every student should have some knowledge of physics, although chemistry can be reserved for the few students who are inclined that way or are headed for a career that needs it.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 317-318

But our intellectual life has a whole region that's sterile. Science refuses to mingle with literature, and insists on being the focus of our age. Whatever we study ends up stripped to the bone, and the principle of life goes out the window with the meat. History dies in the process, poetry lies buried, religion never wakes up. We sit down to study the dry bones of science and we think, This is knowledge, this is all there is to know!' One little girl answered an exam question asking what makes a leaf green, 'I think it's so wonderful.' She had found the principle of wonder and admiration that makes science come to life. Without that wonder, the value of science is strictly utilitarian, not spiritual. A person might as well collect matchbooks like the charming people in Anatole France's novels, instead of diatoms, if there's no wonder of the world in his soul. In the 1700's, science was alive, exciting, and it therefore was written about in literary language. We're still fascinated and emotional about people like Lister and Louis Pasteur. We feel like the scientists in one field are still passionate about humanity (scholars at the top of the field?) and are doing great work.

But, for the most part, science seems dull. The practical value of scientific discoveries doesn't excite the highest good in us, although it might make a strong appeal to our more sensory interests. But that's not science's fault. Science might be considered the vehicle God uses in our age to present revelation. It's the way we present it that's the problem. We use facts and figures and technical demonstrations that mean nothing to the general public. The wonder and the awe of the scientific law that it manifests is never shown. The Hebrew poet was glorifying life when he wrote, 'The grain is ground to make bread. People do not ruin it by crushing it forever. The farmer separates the wheat from the chaff with his cart, but he does not let his horses grind it. This lesson comes from the Lord All-Powerful, who gives wonderful advice' [Isaiah 28: 28, 29, NCV] Coleridge has revealed the deepest secret of both science and literature when he says, 'The concept of Nature is presented to selected minds by a Power that's higher than even Nature itself.' If a person would write about the true principle of wireless technology by saying what a discovery it was to find something that had been there all along, then we might be inspired and excited within our hearts. Yes, there are some scientists who are also humanities scholars, and there are some science books that are as inspiring as beautiful poems. But, for the most part, science is still waiting for its literature. In the meantime, we can't live in ignorance while we wait for it to be written. We have to use what's available. It's a shame that science is all too often taught in a way that leaves us sketchy about scientific thought, and narrow-minded.


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