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    Lessons from Charlotte: Life Out-of-Doors {Part II}

    June 11, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]C[/dropcap]harlotte Mason believed that children under nine should spend four to six hours outside on every nice day. Yesterday, we discussed why she thought this should be done. Today, we’re going to talk about what she expected to be done during that long period of time, especially since she also says, “no books.” She equates going outside to going to a carnival or other attraction — would you take a book and read when there is so much going on around you?


    Lessons from Charlotte: Life Out-of-Doors {Part II}


    First, Charlotte says that the children will engage in rigorous play for at least an hour, if not two. {Methinks Mommy should definitely bring a book if this is the case. Never let a good playtime go to waste!} So now we are down to only two to four hours to fill.

    At least some of this will take care of itself.

    Charlotte gives us a whole bunch of ideas:

    • Sight-seeing games. The mother offers needed direction:

      [S]he 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 something I did with my oldest when he was about four. If you require from them increasing precision and exactness of description, so much the better. We are told not to underestimate this, even though the children view it as a game:

      [T]he 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.

      They also make memories. Charlotte believed that many of our memories of childhood are blurry and fuzzy because we weren’t really seeing our surroundings in the first place. She hopes that this method also strengthens pleasant memories, giving our children a gift when they are old.

    • Mental photography games. Teach them to look at a landscape and recreate it exactly in their minds with their eyes closed, and then describe it precisely. The mother can learn to do this herself and show them an example or two. Charlotte does say that this should be done infrequently as it requires much mental effort and can be tiresome.
    • Identifying growing things. Children should be intimate with their surroundings. If you live in the country, or are able to go regularly to the country:

      If there are farm-lands within reach, they should know meadow and pasture, clover, turnip, and corn field, under every aspect, from the ploughing of the land to the getting in of the crops.

      They should know the names of the wild flowers growing in their area, and be able to

      …describe the leaf — its shape, size, growing from the root or from the stem; the manner of flowering — a head of flowers, a single flower, a spike, etc. And … they should examine the spot where they find it, so that they will know for the future in what sort of ground to look for such and such a flower.

      She suggests collecting said flowers and pressing them and recording the details about it. Or, the children can try and do a simple brush painting of the flowers. The same goes for the trees in the neighborhood:

      Children should be made early intimate with the trees … should pick out half a dozen trees, oak, elm, ash, beech, in their winter nakedness, and take these to be their year-long friends.

    • Keep a calendar. This is a nature calendar {though, naturally, it’d be a real calendar with days and months and years}. The children can fill it in as days go by:

      [K]eep a calendar — the first oak-leaf, the first tadpole, the first cowslip, the first catkin, the first ripe blackberries, where seen, and when. The next year they will know when and where to look out for their favourites, and will, every year, be in a condition to add new observations.

      I am considering making calendars up for everyone but little O. {who would likely eat his if he had one}.

    • Nature-diaries. This reminds me of a nature journal, but I can’t recall whether it is the same thing or not. She says an entry could be made for each day’s walk:

      …three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground … While he is quite young {five or six}, he should begin to illustrate his notes freely with brush-drawings.

    • Study living creatures. Catch a tadpole, take it home, and raise it. Build or buy an ant farm. Teach them to watch the creatures they come across during their romps outside — bees, ladybugs, frogs, cats, dogs, rabbits, whatever is there. For us, birding was a wonderful way to learn to be in tune with the creatures around us. Even in cities, there are birds for the watching. If you need a frog, come to my house. We have an extra hundred or so living in that clover I planted. {Who knew I was planting a habitat?}
    • Set the example … the mother must know. Charlotte reminds us that the great naturalists — such as Audubon — were raised by parents who themselves knew. Something I keep coming back to in my studies is that Mason insisted that the mother must know. She should be able to teach these things to her children as they walk along the way. I, unfortunately, don’t know a whole lot. But, I know a whole lot more since our first round of kindergarten! I can’t tell you the birds we became acquainted with that year! If mother does not know, the very least she could do is own the proper resources and know how to use them. If we can’t set the example in knowing, we can set the example in zest for learning new things! Also, we can include this in our summer study program:

      The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observation.

    • Rough classification. Mason believes we can overdo the botany lessons at these early lessons. However, she does say:

      For convenience in describing they should be able to name and distinguish petals, sepals, and so on; and they should be encouraged to make such rough classifications as they can with their slight knowledge of both animal and vegetable forms. Plants with heart-shaped or spoon-shaped leaves, with whole or divided leaves; leaves with criss-cross veins and leaves with straight veins; bell-shaped flowers and cross-shaped flowers; flowers with three petals, with four, with five; trees which keep their leaves all the year, and trees which lose them in the autumn; creatures that eat grass and creatures that eat flesh, and so on.

    • Collect samples. I am already thinking about how we can create an artful collection which might be displayed in our play nook for added beauty and interest for the children. Charlotte writes:

      To make collections of leaves and flowers, pressed and mounted, and arranged according to their form, affords much pleasure, and, what is better, valuable training in the noticing of differences and resemblances.

    • Living geography lessons. First, they can learn the terminology — here is a mountain, here a river, a hill, a meadow, and so on. Then they can learn concepts which are necessary to understanding geography and its forms — for instance, their pace as a measure of distance. Also, time as a measurement by measuring how long it takes them to walk 20 paces. After this, she says to teach them direction {this is connected to watching the sun}. Have them practice identifying which way is north based on the position of the sun. Later, give them a compass and teach them to use it. Once they have perfected all of this pretty well, teach them boundaries and follow this up with basic cartography. Have them draw the plans for their own family’s property, for instance.
    • Weather lessons. Take them outside, she says, in inclement weather, that they might understand snow and rain and hail and so on. Teach them the position of the sun at different hours of the day, and that the sun moves through the day and through the seasons.
    • Language lessons. Charlotte would have us do these outside, teaching them words they can readily use — flower, field, house, run, sing, and so on. Teach them only orally at this age, and only a handful of words each week. Charlotte suggests French, which was the usual second-language for British families, but our family would most likely opt for Latin, since we are already studying it.
    • Let them make noise! Run, shout, and play loud, made-up games. Also, have them sing. Teach them little rounds and chants with which to amuse themselves.
    • Outside games. She suggests cricket and tennis. We here use basketball, lawn darts, bicycles. I’d like to add croquet. Shooting targets and archery are both fun outside. We throw balls at a homemade bull’s eye. Soccer. Swimming pools. Trampoline. I am becoming increasingly convinced that having outdoor toys might be more important than indoor toys. Does anyone know what “shuttlecock” is? She mentions it. Oh! Climbing. Find a park where boys, especially, can climb up high.
    • Take walks. Walks in winter. Walks in rain. Walks in new places. While walking, help the children practice paying attention to their surroundings.
    • Scouting. Find a book and learn to track. Also, learn to stalk birds, she says.

    Whew! That was quite a list.

    I really think of it as a treasure-trove of ideas, though. I am not a natural at this, so being armed with a list of ideas will help a person like me. No need to reinvent the wheel!

    If this sounds like a huge responsibility for the mother, I would say that it is … and it isn’t. Over and over, Charlotte emphasizes the mother simply offering this environment and then, for the most part, getting out of their way, other than making sure they stay safe. The mother is there to answer questions, not to give lectures. The children will wonder about what they are seeing or hearing, and they will come and ask, and that is the time for a small lesson or two. As far as taking command of the situation, Charlotte suggests that happen no more than perhaps once per week, even as rare as once per month. Most of their direct learning will come when they are ready for it, when they ask a question.

    I am thinking that if I can make myself available to them, and arm myself with a birding book, some field guides, and my Handbook of Nature Study {to use in the event of the inevitable questions}, we’ll do pretty well.

    My question today is: do I keep reading? Or, do I write down some ideas for this large portion of our kindergarten studies, and then get back to reading after I’ve got something on paper? Hmmm…


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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 14, 2010 at 10:15 pm


    Okay, if you and Mystie both like Keeping a Nature Journal, it sounds like I need to put it on The List. Good idea!

    I don’t know about you, but part of the reason my kids don’t know the names of things is because…I don’t know them!

    Time to study up, I guess! 🙂

    The Mangos,

    Thanks! 🙂 That totally makes sense…and actually, it sounds very appealing. Perhaps I need to add a badminton set to our outside collection. I remember enjoying that as a little girl.

  • Reply ~The Mangos~ June 14, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I believe that ‘shuttlecock’ is badmitten. The object you hit back and forth is called a shuttlecock. I am really enjoying your series and will work to incorporate more of these ideas into our home and schooling. Thanks for the blogposts.

  • Reply Kansas Mom June 12, 2010 at 1:13 am

    Oh, I love Keeping a Nature Journal. I’m nearing the end of it now and am very inspired. (Well, I’m inspired for the fall. Right now I’m tired.)

    We’re doing birding next year because Kansas Dad thought it would be more fun for the kids than something like trees, but we have a had a constant stream of wildflowers these past few months. I should take the opportunity to teach them (and learn) the terms. I’m already thinking we’ll do a Nature Study term next summer since there’s so so much to see! And it would get us out of the house for a while in the mornings before it gets hot. Next summer. When I have a nearly one year old, not a not-quite-birthed-baby.

    There are some “birding hot-spots” within driving distance. I think we’ll try to visit them every other month or so during next school year to see what we can see. We’ll also be spending some time watching our chickens and talking about eggs and feathers and such. I haven’t planned much beyond that, and might not even start it until October or so, depending on how the baby and I are feeling in September.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 11, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    I like your idea! I haven’t quite decided what I’m doing, but I already do 4-day weeks, so that just might work for me, too (though I do so like to throw in art museums, etc. during that fifth day).

    The main reason I chose birds the first time around was because my son was inordinately interested in them, and so I figured it was a good idea to go with the flow. I sort of wish I had chosen botany so that I could know more by now! I am considering buying that same botany book for this year.

    About your aversion: I seriously had (have??) one, too. But what I found was that if I could get myself to go, I really did enjoy it once we got started. And it was very satisfying to have the children so excited. This time around will be even more fun because there are so many more of them to be excited about everything. My fourth-born already screams at the farms he sees out the window of our car. He might be my most enthused student. 🙂

  • Reply Mystie June 11, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Ok, so inspiration hit me yesterday after reading your post. My plan for next year includes a 4-day week, with Mondays being a housework/get-things-under-control day; I was even planning on possibly relying on a video as a babysitter for an hour so I could have focused time.

    What if, then, after spending the morning school hours in housework, we packed up a picnic lunch and headed out on a nature excursion. Better yet: 1 different one each week of each 6-week term, cycling through, so we see each at every time of year!

    We’re going to start nature journals with inspiration from Apologia’s Botany and Keeping a Nature Journal and I chose Botany so that I will learn classification and terms. I think we’ll do birds next year. 🙂

    This is a weak area for me, but I think I am ready to tackle it and overcome my aversion. 🙂

    Thank you for helping me along this road. 🙂

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