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The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden. This is a beautiful example of what a young adult can do as a Charlotte Mason Nature Notebook!
One day the neighbor's preschoolers came pounding urgently on my door. Their babysitter had sent them over, because there was something hatching on their patio and she thought I might know what it was. Hanging from a lower branch of their pear tree was a large chrysalis. I brought my "Golden Guide Butterflies and Moths" out, and with our half a dozen children we watched a Cynthia Moth emerge. We identified it and talked about the China silk industry (for this is a true silk moth, imported from China). I brought out a globe, and a silk Kimono from Japan, which the children tried on. The children drew pictures of the moth, and we were all amazed at it's incredible golden colors. We spent an hour or more watching every step of that hatching, cheering softly as the great wings unfurled and dried. When the beautiful thing finally took to the air the children followed it to the edge of the road and watched it out of sight. None of us were the least bit bored.
There, I think, was a perfect Charlotte Mason afternoon of Nature Study. The children had their questions answered. They learned how to use a guidebook to identify the beautiful thing. They learned a little geography, history and culture. They observed the details of anatomy, which they drew with great care. The 2 year old drew the great feathery antennae with more exactness than most adults could manage, because he really looked and wanted to draw them. Most of all, the children had TIME to do this, sitting on the patio in the golden Spring sunshine.
Time is the key to Nature Study. God told us in Proverbs 6:6 to "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise." He was not only giving us an example of industry, he was telling us to think. Thinking, considering, takes time! True Science involves observing and considering, noting relationships and details. The child who is watching ants in the backyard, or pigeons from the window, is doing the very best sort of science lesson available.
When I was a child we had pigeons nesting in our gutters. We used an upstairs sunporch as a spare bedroom and playroom. I could, and did, lie on the bed and watch the activity in the nests. My brother and I also spent a lot of time in the nearby University Museum, where we discovered a large collection of stuffed pigeons. We rapidly learned all the varieties of feathers, and from there went on to study eggs, nests, and other birds. Eventually we couldn't be stumped- show us an egg or a nest and we knew the bird. We were already keeping a bird book at home where we identified and kept the dates we saw various species. I still have this, and it is fun to look through and remember where we saw each kind. Some were on vacations, most on our birdfeeders. We lived in several States, so we saw a variety. Now I have passed that habit to my children, for I have kept a bird guide and a pair of binoculars under the seat of our car for years. My children can identify almost every bird they see, even from a brief glimpse or the outline on a tree branch. When we spot a new one, or a rare one, we often stop just to check or enjoy the sight. More than once we have not been able to identify one from our small guide, and have had to write down a description to look up at home.
As it is with the birds and the moths, so is the best Science in all areas. Science is a pattern of thought, of observation, correlation, theory, hypothesis, experimentation, and more thought. The methods of Science apply to all subjects. Therefor, it does not really matter where you begin to teach Science. Begin where you are- with the moth on the patio, the birds on your birdfeeder, the aquarium in the kitchen, the volcano in your cornfield. Spend the time needed to really look, and think. In Graduate microbiology classes, time was the most precious resource there was. I spent many long evenings staring through a microscope examining the characteristics of some bacteria or fungi. We went through complicated procedures to obtain electron microscope photographs, which we would blow up and hang where we could see them every time we raised our eyes. We had to, because they didn't come labeled- we had to think and identify each structure ourselves. The Science was not in the fancy equipment, it was in the time we spent thinking. We learned the names, we kept vocabulary notebooks (half of any subject is vocabulary), we wrote detailed lab reports. These were not the Sciences- the real work was our lab notebooks, where we kept our notes of what we saw, what happened, what we thought might happen. Lab notebooks are the personal property of the individual scientist, and are the most valuable part of his work.
A Charlotte Mason Nature Notebook is a lab notebook. Teach your children to write down everything they see. The illustrations should be as detailed as possible, the notes should never be removed. A young child may do better with loose-leaf paper, but a teen should learn to keep notes in a bound book where removing pages shows! If they make a mistake (such as in a math calculation) they may draw a line through it, but never obliterate. Obviously, different notebooks should be kept for each topic. Edith Holden did not keep her chemistry notes in her Diary. Her chemistry notebook would have held illustrations of her experiments, notes of colors and reactions, tables of data, titles and quotations applicable to the experiment, and her conclusions.
When you take your child to visit the college for interviews, take along their most recent Notebooks. These lab notes will prove they are doing real lab Science, and will amaze the admissions officers!
Now, those who live in the country, on a farm, or even have many pets and room for experiments will find this easy. It is also possible to study Science the CM way in the city, even if you live in an apartment that doesn't allow pets. There are pigeons on the ledges, pet stores in the Malls, Universities and Zoos. My children and I have made notes of where we find unusual animals as we drive around. A partial list includes:
a friend who keeps snakes and lizards. She has more varieties than most Zoos, and is President of her city's Herpetology Club.
my mother's neighbor who hand-raises zoo orphans. They've had a lion, and monkeys.
a Vet who raises African Serval Cats for zoos.
a heating and plumbing contractor who has 2 Black bears and a Malay Sun Bear. He has pens at home, has built a Zoo-quality winter enclosure in his store, and they ride around in one of his company vans.
a local grain farmer who breeds rare deer, elk, and 12 other species for sale to zoos. Where else is a Midwest child going to see Bighorn Sheep, or caribou?
beekeepers. We've found them both in town and in the country.
several nearby farms have started raising Ostrich. One allowed us to come see the various sizes, and told us all the steps from egg to adult. From then on we made it a point to drive that way when we could, watching the babies grow and graduate from pen to pen.
The University Science buildings are a treasure trove. Ask the department secretary when there will be an open house. Visit the animal rooms, the student labs, and the professor's private labs. Make notes on who to contact to come back later, for a longer look. Our local University also has animals being rehabilitated by Graduate students, a greenhouse with a tropical room and a desert room, a prairie restoration area with walks laid out and identifying signs, a herb garden ditto. You can often get a Grad student or Professor to come give a presentation to your local group, too.
Many towns or Universities have beautiful Botanical Gardens. Some specialize in certain flowers, often roses. Find out what is available in your area. Don't forget your own garden- even if it's a terrarium in the kitchen window, or keeping African Violets. City park and Recreation departments often arrange speakers and programs. A nearby town offers these, and we have found they are happy to arrange special times for groups- such as homeschoolers.
If you are lucky enough to live near any Zoo, be sure to buy a membership and be a regular. Don't try to walk the whole zoo in a day. Take it one section at a time, and really look at the animals. Get a map of the zoo that shows where each species is, and plan your visits. Members are often offered special tours or classes on certain animals- be sure to take these. Go back at different times of the year. Spend a whole afternoon in the aviary, the snake house, the aquarium. Look at the different kinds of deer when you are reading "Bambi", and talk about how the different colorings and sizes are best for the areas where they live. This is the beginnings of ecology, learning how species live in geography. Ecology is the obvious answer to the Evolutionists, who try to describe the various eras of life by the species and habitats. The 20 kinds of deer in the zoo are not evolving into each other. Each is designed to live in a different area, yet they are all deer. An extra benefit of joining your local zoo or museum is that they often have a package membership arrangement- you get free or reduced rates at other museums and zoos when you travel, or even in the same town.
Parents seeking to teach their children Science at home are turning to the Internet. There are resources from simple data and information to complete courses. There is a problem with the paradigms of many of these resources . Universities (even many so-called Christian colleges) teach almost entirely from the evolutionist position. Many professors delight in destroying values taught at home. To allow the first exposure our children have to science to be at the hands on these experts is to throw our babies to the wolves!
And that is the reason homeschoolers need to be teaching our children science. Only when our children can face the college professors already knowing the traps, do we dare let them take college sciences.
It is easy to use the Internet to help you teach Science to your children. Here are a few activity sites, on-line tutoring, and sources for good materials.
by Lynn B Hocraffer, BS
all rights reserved, copyright 1997
(Part of this essay appears in the Illinois CHEC Connection, Volume 6, Issue 1, Jan-Feb 1998.)
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