Science and CM

Qite often our education system, and those of us influenced by that system whether we know it or not, reduce education, especially science education, down to something utilitarian.  It is only important insofar as we can ‘use’ it, for school, for jobs, and of late, sometimes for political battering rams.  We don’t care about the wonders, about making connections, about being amazed.   In a Charlotte Mason education, the first question is never, “When will my child need to know that?”

You might as well ask, “When will my child need to experience wonder and beauty, marvel at a sunset, be delighted by the blue of an indigo bunting, or delight in the combination of vinegar and baking soda?” or “What is the point and purpose of beauty?”

If the child is simply something like a prize pig, being educated in order to produce income later in life, and perhaps to dazzle us at the educational fair of SAT scores and grades, he never needs to know anything that won’t have an immediate return in rewards at school or work.  But if the child is a precious human being with a unique personality and a capacity for love, compassion, joy, delight, awe, wonder, happiness and heart-ache, there are more iimportant questions to ask.

“Science provides the child with knowledge not just of nature but of the
workings of common things around him, so even while doing manual labor his
mind can be happily employed to dwell on this knowledge. It provides a
pleasant diversion while completing the tedious daily tasks of life.”

WHY: “Science shows us the Mighty Work of God”

The highest value of scientific training, unrecognized by schools today,
which separate the Creator from the Created, science shows us the
awesomeness of God as the Creator.

To neglect scientific training in our curriculum, we might be sending our
children out into the world ill-equipped. But to teach them scientific
principles and methods while also preparing their consciences, they will
serve God mightily and well.

How do we do that?

Principles.  Ideas.  There are specifics you will need to make sure the students understand, but if they understand but don’t care about it at all, that is a failure – and also, it won’t help any future careers.  Apathy is not motivator for success in any field.

The thing about the specifics is that our information changes daily, and in the mean time, a lot of messy mistakes get made.  That’s part of science, but the problem comes when we distill curent knowledge as absolute writ in stone, unchangable fact.  While this is true for a few things, in a lot of cases current knowledge is flatly wrong, and in others, it’s not exactly wrong, but there will be additions to what we know, some of which will require some revision to what we thought we knew.

Our goal is to present them with things to wonder about and to *feel* that sense of wonder about.  We want to warm their interest and spark curiosity.  We want to teach them to observe- this is the purpose, or one of them, for nature notebooks.  Education is the science of relationships, connections, affinities.

Charlotte Mason’s idea about the “science of relationships” is that the children have and have a right to:
relationships with God, with each other, and with matter — where the
children learn to regard others with proper respect and to serve “an object
outside of themselves” (Vol. 6, pg. 133). We must help our children enter
fully into those three relationships and to learn to think scientifically.


More from the source (and I owe a debt of gratitude to whoever wrote this site:

“Charlotte Mason suggests the job of the parent in scientific training is
to “afford abundant and varied opportunities and to direct his observations
so that, knowing little of the principles of scientific classification, he
is, unconsciously, furnishing himself with the materials for such
classification…the future of the man or woman depends largely on the
store of knowledge gathered, and the habits of intelligent observation
acquired, by the child” (vol. 1, pg. 265)

“…there is no part of a child’s education more important than that he
should lay, by his own observation, a wide basis of facts towards
scientific knowledge in the future…he must be accustomed to as “WHY?” and
do not hurry to answer his questions for him; let him think his
difficulties out so far as his small experience will carry him.”

“…Do not embarrass him with too much scientific nomenclature. If he
discover for himself that some animals have backbones and others have not,
it is less important that he should learn the terms vertebrate and
invertebrate than that he should class the animals he meets according to
this difference” (Vol 1 pp. 264-265)

Take a moment to read those quotes and make a list of some specifics for teaching.  Also keep in mind that volume 1 is for children 9 and under, so when she speaks of the minor value of learning the terms vertebrate adn invertebrate and so on, she’s not necessarily going to say the same thing applies to older students.

When you think about nature study and how to appoach it, keep in mind that this is a discipline and hobby we hope the children are building forall their school years:

“The study of natural history and botany with bird lists and plant
lists continues throughout school life, while other branches are taken term
by term.”

This also should be, we hope, an interest that ccontinues for life.

The website above tells us that “at the Thirty First Annual Conference the notes of a discussion led byA. T. L. Hickson*, M.S. (Joint-Principal, Oldfeld School, Swanage) entitled “Science: Nature Study” was also handed out.

In this, a break down for each Form was given. This is a direct quote from
the article:

Form I: children six to eight are given an elementary knowledge of what
they can find out of doors or in the Zoo, animals, birds, plants and trees,
insects, fishes, sea creatures and star legends.

Form II: children about nine to eleven. Very elementary physics, natural
phenomena, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, physiography, including some
detailed chapters on the work of water, ice, volcanoes, etc. A detailed
study of the lower forms of animal life. Botany, only outdoor studies.

Form III: children twelve to thirteen. A continued course of animal life
(higher forms), a detailed course of botany, physical geography; in
addition, either astronomy or some general scientific principles connected
with their discoverers.

Form IV: children about fourteen. The course in animal life is continued,
the more detailed course is followed in physiography and
geology. Physiology is added and a book on the underlying principles of

Form V: age about 14 to 16. A student’s course in botany, geology,
astronomy, more advanced physics with some chemistry.

Form VI: The work varies as books offer; there is always some more
advanced biology and physiology. Modern astronomy and modern physics vary
from year to year.”

An interesting thing to note here, perhaps a bit of a side-track, is that Hickson’s school, which was started by his mother, was one of a very few schools which offered the full range of forms, all the way up for Form VI.  Most schools stopped in form three or four, a few went to five, but information from schools that went to form VI is very hard to find.

This is just a quick overview, as long as it is.  You’ll want other ideas and tips from other CM parents and teachers. You’ll want some other resources.

Comstock’s nature guide, of course, if for no other reason but the preface (if your volume has it), especially the first 27 pages, and then skim over a few of the sections on some specific topic or species and get an idea about what sort of things to help your students notice, how to draw their attention to closer details.  This is NOT a book to take with you out on the field.  You could use it for specific nature study at your kitchen table- bring home a violet or grow a marigold in a pot, set out a fish bowl with a tree frog, turtle or a toad to examine, bring in a baby chick or a twig of oak and acorn- get out the Comstock, open it to that page and *only* read aloud the questions, one by one, and then collectively attempt to answer them through first hand observation.

A field guide to your area.

blank journals and pencils or paints

Some drawing instruction- this is the single issue for most people who give up on nature study.  You want some very basic drawing instruction which will help you learn how to draw what you actually see, not what you think is there, and will help you see what is really there instead of what you assume is there.  If this sounds confusing or overwhelming, you really want one of these books (there may be others as good or better, but this is what I have found most helpful to me):

The Drawing Lesson, a graphic novel that teaches you how to draw, by Mark Crilley- this is an instruction book in story form, using a graphic novel format. It’s excellent.  It is ostensibly written for children, but personally, when I want to learn something new, I always start with children’s books.

You Can Draw in 30 Days, by Mark Kistler (I have found Kistler extremely helpful, not just this book, but videos and other books as well). The style is cartoon, but you can apply the same principles to drawing other things, and frankly, if you’re as hopeless at this as I am, it’s quite a confidence booster to be able to draw even something as simple as asmall stack of cans successfully, looking 3 dimensional.

Drawing : the only drawing book you’ll ever need to be the artist you’ve always wanted to be, by Kathryn Temple  I do not find this the *only* book I ever needed, but it’s useful.  Often I find in a subject like drawing, or picking up a second language, using at least two different resources really helps.
Did these books turn me into an artist?  Not really.  Partly I didn’t use them diligently.  Partly, when I draw I give up too soon.  What they did do for me was make me FAR LESS frustrated with what I draw.  They are also short enough, laid out simply enough, and enjoyable enough that I don’t mind returning to them and trying again.  They are also laid out easily enough that all I have to do is pick up my pencil and any blank paper and start.  If I am going to have flip around from page to page and create my own lesson plans and fuss and bother, I’m not going to do it.  These books pretty much are open and go, although you probably want to read the introdcutions.

My drawings today still look lopsided and childish, but they don’t make me want to scream in frustration. They don’t make me feel stupid and worthless.  I feel like improvement is possible, which other books have not done for me.




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  1. Posted November 5, 2020 at 8:39 pm | Permalink


    I absolutely love your CM posts and need them! I feel so overwhelmed and under-performing trying to implement CM. Large family, lots of forms, I feel like we just drop the balls constantly.

  2. Posted November 6, 2020 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    ” including some detailed chapters on the work of water, ice, volcanoes, etc”: obviously referring to Madam How and Lady Why.

    “the lower forms of life”: Arabella Buckley.

    It sounds better on paper when you don’t just say “we’re reading such and such books,” doesn’t it?

    • Headmistress
      Posted November 7, 2020 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, to both. A description of continents also helps more than an unfamiliar title, although I would add more about the philosophy behind MHLW.

  3. Anne-Marie
    Posted November 25, 2020 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    The book that made all the difference to my drawing is the workbook version of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I’ve also used it successfully as a drawing course for my high schoolers. It gives clear explanations and detailed instructions for a sequence of exercises, and those of us who start out frustrated at not being able to draw realistically are deeply satisfied by our improvement.

    • Headmistress
      Posted November 28, 2020 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      I could never make sense of that one.

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