AmblesideOnline AO Parents' Review Articles

The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Uses of Books in Geography

by Miss C.N. Heath
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 930-936

This is probably referring to the five-volume geography series that Charlotte Mason wrote for use in her schools, called The Ambleside Geography Books, written between 1880-1892:
    I. Elementary Geography Book I for Standard II (1881) view page images
    II. The British Empire and the Great Divisions of the Globe Book II for Standard III (1882) view page images
    III. The Counties of England Book III for Standard IV (1881) view page images here
    IV. The Countries of Europe Their Scenery and Peoples Book IV for Standard V (1883) view page images
    V. The Old and New World: Asia, Africa, America, Australia Book V (1884) view page images

Miss C.N. Heath (Ex-Student of the House of Education) then read her paper on The Uses of Books in Geography

In former days, geography, at any rate as taught in schools, was a mere matter of memory; so many names and facts to be learnt by rote from text-books and repeated the next day, with occasionally a few maps laboriously copied from an atlas. In this way the pupil, at the end of a term, had gained no more real idea of places outside his personal knowledge than he possessed before.

This can hardly be considered an educative or intelligent method of using a book, nor in all likelihood were the books themselves educative or intelligent. From the beginning it must be realized that all outline or text-books are to be avoided as in no way tending to realize our aims of intelligence and education, which we should always bear in mind.

What then, we may ask, should be the aim and end of a geography book? It should be to give children living ideas connected with the world around them, enabling them to understand by the aid of books, the scenery, climate industries, and manners and customs of lands other than their own. To accomplish this we see at once that the outline book will not suffice, but that a "Reader," more or less in the style of a book of travels, is required; such a Reader should be as the padding to the framework, serving the double purpose of welding the structure together and rendering the dry facts easier of remembrance. It is of Readers thus written, which are used in the practicing school, that I would say something to-night. The Readers are five in number, the first one dealing with the elementary facts of geography, such as the shape of the earth, its movements, the use of maps and how to make them. Before the book can be made use of, however, the children must have thoroughly mastered, by means of oral lessons and practical demonstration on the part of the teacher, the methods adopted in making a map, and what is meant by drawing a map to scale. This they easily understand if they are taught to make plans for themselves, beginning, say, with a simple one of their own schoolroom, then one of the house, and so on till they can even draw a map of the local district. In like manner the teacher must demonstrate the movements of the earth, the causes of day and night, or the seasons, till difficulties are overcome and the pupils ready to study the Reader for themselves.

It must be borne in mind that the oral lessons are not to take the place of the Reader or to remove all need for mental effort on the part of the child, but should be used to prepare the mind so that it is ready to digest the mental food in its new form; then to continue our former metaphor, having firmly fixed the framework it is possible to put on the padding.

Readers II to V are devoted to accounts of our own and foreign countries; and here we notice that before the reading is begun the map questions at the end of a chapter must be dealt with first. This may seem a backward proceeding but the principle that applies to the oral lessons holds good here, the map questions in this case representing the framework. These questions are, of course, put by the teacher (who must if necessary invent them herself), and should be answered by the pupils from the map only. As an example of the style of questions, I will read you a few on the maps of Holland and Belgium:—

(1) Describe carefully the situation of Holland and Belgium,—between what parallels they lie; in what part of Europe; surrounded by what lands and what seas? (2) Holland is much broken into by the sea,—name the openings. Name the largest of the chain of islands which hems in the Zuider Zee. (3) North Holland forms a peninsula,—what is its northern point? What opening nearly cuts it off from the mainland? Name two towns upon this opening. How is the Y connected with the North Sea? (4) Holland is the delta of the Rhine,—into how many branches does this river divide in its course through Holland? Name any of these. In company with what other two rivers does the Rhine discharge its waters? From what country does each of these three rivers enter Holland? (5) What province is formed by the islands of the delta? Name half-a-dozen towns in the south of Holland.

When these have been satisfactorily mastered the pupils then study the Reader until they are able to describe the landscape, the industries, etc., of that country, whilst filling in the towns, rivers, etc., on blank map sketched on the blackboard.

It is not only necessary to give frequent oral lessons on the fundamental principle facts of geography, such as the direction of mountain chains, the courses of the rivers, etc., but also a strict watch must be kept against any possible relapse into ignorance: otherwise the children will inevitably fall into such errors as making tributaries flow from the streams they join, the rivers to flow from the sea, or confusing the left and right banks of a stream. The information contained in these Readers should again be supplemented by lessons on such subjects as will help maintain the interest of the pupils in geography, to give them general principles and to increase their knowledge of the country in question. The book studied for Physical Geography in Class III of the practising school is Geikie's volume in the Science Primer series. In dealing with this book the scientific principle that must guide us throughout, is that the knowledge to be acquired must be gained by the experiences and discoveries of the children themselves. Therefore, here also, the reading must be accompanied by practical lessons, these being founded on the features of the surrounding district; for this, out-door geography is most necessary; the children during their daily outings should observe for themselves the action of wind, frost, and rain, the alteration caused to the landscape by a flood.

Let a child once see for himself the action of ice on the rocks, how the windings of a stream are due to the peculiarities of the land, that the formation of a lake is similar to that of a roadside puddle, and there will be no more difficulty in learning or remembering the scientific terms which at the outset seemed hard. Moreover, instead of being dependent on their book for diagrams, the children will be able to draw these from their own observations, thus assuring full comprehension of the subject studied. Another branch of geography that must not be forgotten is the knowledge to be gained from a study of the daily papers; it is most important that children should know something of the various places of interest mentioned in the newspapers, that they should be able to follow the great trade routes, the march of our army, or the progress of any explorer, on the map, and in fact take an intelligent interest in the events of the present day. How necessary it is not to neglect this branch of geography is shown by the fact that lads of seventeen to eighteen, asked in a general knowledge paper to state where and what was the Yukon, gave such replies as-a port in China-a river in Japan; and this too in the year when the rush to the Yukon after gold was at its height. An education that allows such ignorance of daily affairs as this to exist, seems indeed faulty, and one might almost say useless.

I will now give as an example of the information and style to be found in the Readers, a resume of a chapter on Switzerland, from Reader II, studied by the second class. The information given may seem somewhat limited, but it must be remembered that the Reader is designed for use in the lower classes, and that the same ground is gone over and amplified in a more advanced book. The pupil is supposed to be well acquainted with the map of Switzerland and to be taking a journey through the country, starting from Basle, where we have a graphic description of the Rhine scenery and of the town itself with the storks' nests on certain house-tops. From thence the traveller passes on to Geneva, with its watch trade (may I add that my watch was looked at with deep interest on account of its being "a real Swiss one"?) its wonderful blue lake, and the Mont Blanc always towering in the distance. Next came Lucerne, including an ascent of the Rigi, in order to see the famous sunrise, which enabled us to learn the names of a few Alpine peaks. The beautiful mountain flowers, the glaciers, the terrible avalanches, the cows with their tinkling bells, are all described in a bright manner rendering it impossible to be uninterested or to forget the facts thus learnt. It added greatly to the children's interest in the lesson that I had myself been to Switzerland, had seen the wonders described, and had also many photographs to show them.

This study of map and book was followed by an oral lesson, recently published in The Parents' Review, on "The Lake Dwellers of Switzerland," and the lesson was excellently received, proving of great interest to the class, and not only maintaining the children's interest in that country, but also arousing a new interest in the phenomena of the home district, the particulars of which were used to illustrate the lesson.

The lesson consisted mainly of information about the subject merged buildings, their position in the lake, the objects found embedded in the mud, the methods used in building, and the materials, the whole being illustrated by diagrams and a map on the blackboard.

In order to draw as much as possible from the children themselves, the deductive method was employed in questioning, the local lakes and floods serving as a basis on which to build their answers.

Naturally, material for a lesson of this sort will hardly be found in ordinary geography Readers, but it is merely an indirect method of using books for the study of geography, requiring a wide reading acquaintance on the part of the teacher as well as discretion in making use of her knowledge. Thus the greater part of the information given in the foregoing lesson was gained from the volume on Switzerland, in the series entitled "Stories of the Nations."

Much of the matter in their geography books requires no more than attentive and intelligent reading on the part of the class, as for example the following passage:—

"More frightful source of danger than all the rest, much of Holland lies below the high-water level of the sea! Along part of the coast there is a bulwark-the only natural defence which Holland enjoys-the 'dunes' or sandbanks, which extend along the coast from Dunkirk to the Helder. These vary in breadth from one to three miles, and rise sometimes to a height of forty or fifty feet, and they are formed entirely by the action of the wind blowing up the sand on the seashore. These dunes are sowed, year by year, with a kind of a reed grass, whose roots spread and hold fast the shifting sands."

"But, elsewhere, it has been necessary to raise tremendous granite walls and dykes; for the west wind drives the sea against Holland, and it is hard for any works of man to stand against it. Think of it; think of standing inside such a sea-wall and hearing the sea roar without, high above your head, with nothing but the strength of the sea-wall between you and death!"

To explain or illustrate what is so easily within comprehension of the children would be an educational error. Let them describe fully without the help of questions how Holland keeps out the sea, themselves drawing a diagrammatic map on the blackboard to show the sea-defences.

But here is a passage from the same volume, Reader IV, quoted from Ruskin:—

"The longer I stayed among the Alps, and the more closely I examined them, the more I was struck by the one broad fact of there being a vast Alpine plateau, or mass of elevated land, upon which nearly all the highest peaks stood, like children set upon a table, removed, in most cases, far back from the edge of the plateau, as if for fear of their falling. And the result of this arrangement is a kind of division of the whole of Switzerland into an upper and lower mountain-world; the lower world consisting of steep, wooded banks of mountain, more or less divided by ravines, through which glimpses are caught of the higher Alps; the upper world, reached after the first steep banks of 3,000 to 4,000 feet in height have been surmounted, consisting of comparatively level but most desolate traces of moor and rock, half covered by glacier, and stretching to the feet of the true pinnacles of the chain.

"It can hardly be necessary to point out the perfect wisdom and kindness of this arrangement as a provision for the safety of the inhabitants of the high mountain regions. If the great peaks rose at once from the deepest valleys, every stone which was struck from the pinnacles, and every snow-wreath which slipped from their ledges, would descend at once upon the inhabitable ground, over which no year would pass without recording some calamity of earth-slip or avalanche. Besides this, the masses of snow cast down at once into the warmer air, would all melt rapidly in the spring, causing furious inundations of every great river for a month or six weeks."

This passage, on the contrary, will require much illustration by sketches on the blackboard with careful diagrams.

It would be well to let the class show their comprehension of this passage by making a clay model illustrating what they have read.

I need not dwell on the necessity of reading extracts from books of travel to the pupils, amplifying their knowledge of the country or region they are at work upon.

I would suggest, in conclusion, that much use may be made of photographs, or even the picture postcards so easily obtained nowadays, to interest the children in their studies. There are few of us who have no friends in foreign parts, and think of the added joy of a lesson when there are the new cards to be looked at, the places they illustrate to be searched for on the map, and the description of the same to be read in the book. The "Perry Pictures" too are useful for this purpose, and might be distributed among the class at the finish of the lesson, thus encouraging the children to form art collections as well as helping them in studying geography. I feel that it has been a difficult task in the limited time at my disposal to do full justice to the subject of my paper, but I trust I have been able to set forth a little of the teaching methods of the House of Education, and to indicate the Use of Books in Teaching Geography.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, August 2008