“Every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigor, and to the lengthening of life itself. They who know what it is to have fevered skin and throbbing brain deliciously soothed by the cool touch of the air are inclined to make a new rule of life, Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” -Charlotte Mason
It would be an understatement to say that a very important part of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy was the study of nature and outdoors. She believed that often being among nature was as important as breathing. She compelled mothers to allow children to play not an hour or two a day, but four or five hours a day outside, often attending them and directing them to study, drink in and immerse themselves in the marvels of creation.
“Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.” -CM
She suggests that while children need a great deal of time to be left alone, the mother also needs to be actively and deliberately helping to train their eyes and senses through the classroom of nature.
“They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this––that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder––and grow. At the same time, here is the mother’s opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit, without further help or knowledge of hers.” -Charlotte Mason
Most Charlotte Mason homeschoolers use the term “Nature Study” to define that part of their curriculum that employs the study of the outdoors. A nature study is the practice of taking the children out to observe the outdoors. The children either take along a sketch book (better if it’s designated specifically for this exercise) or they bring back some part of nature or they try and remember an object they wish to illustrate. Using their best memory of details, they sketch a selected object (leaf and bark of tree, bird, acorn, grass, flower, etc.) Some description of the object is then written on the page, although sometimes a poem or quote can be written. A field guide is helpful in writing descriptions.
But like all of the CM philosophy, this aspect goes deeper than just checking off an activity. The mother must understand and embrace the depth and value of this practice. Charlotte Mason gave some practical guidelines a mother can follow if she wishes to make nature study an integral part of her child’s education (more are discussed in the referenced link at the end of the post):
Education of Sight-seeing
“…she sends them off on an exploring expedition–who can see the most, and tell the most, about yonder hillock or brook, hedge, or copse. This is an exercise that delights children, and may be endlessly varied, carried on in the spirit of a game, and yet with the exactness and carefulness of a lesson….
This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment,––when they ask, ‘What is it?’ and ‘What is it for?’ And she is training her children in truthful habits, by making them careful to see the fact and to state it exactly, without omission or exaggeration. The child who describes, ‘A tall tree, going up into a point, with rather roundish leaves; not a pleasant tree for shade, because the branches all go up,’ deserves to learn the name of the tree, and anything her mother has to tell her about it. But the little bungler, who fails to make it clear whether he is describing an elm or a beech, should get no encouragement; not a foot should his mother move to see his tree, no coaxing should draw her into talk about it, until, in despair, he goes off, and comes back with some more certain note––rough or smooth bark, rough or smooth leaves,––then the mother considers, pronounces, and, full of glee, he carries her off to see for himself.” -CM
Reading about Miss Mason’s passion for nature is contagious! But even more is her conviction that a mother holds the power to lead her children to a higher awareness than we are accustomed to believing can be obtained. And perhaps never more in the history of man must we fight against the deadening amusements that constantly pull our attention. I wonder what she would have to say if she could see the children in our day with all their hours of mindless video games and television.
“It is infinitely well worth of the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather to cherish in them, the love of investigation.” -CM
As I read Mason’s explanation of the educational value of the nature study, I am reminded how we complicate things so much. It’s ironic that our educational system boasts of more money, more books, more technology and more resources than ever in history, and yet a simple browsing through a text book from 100 years ago will reveal the unmistakable fact that we are less educated now than ever. Let it be a reminder to us then, that it doesn’t take more teachers, more classes, more advancements to raise intelligent, insightful children. Do you feel pressured to “keep up with the system”? Consider that there is a wealth of education and opportunity at our disposal–let’s use it!
“Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun––the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for? Besides, life is s0 interesting to him, that he has no time for the faults of temper which generally have their source in ennui (boredom); there is no reason why he should be peevish or sulky or obstinate when he is always kept well amused.” -CM