Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Charlotte Mason - The Out Of Door Life

Charlotte Mason's chapter on the out of door life for school at home is a hugely substantial one. It is over 50 pages long and covers a lot of details.

A good portion of the chapter is spent discussing the physical benefits of being out-of-doors in a way that is now out of date. Charlotte talks about blood chemistry in a manner unfamiliar to us and we now understand she is talking about vitamin D. She talks about light and we know that light on our eyes is necessary to keep us from being depressed. She talks about fresh air and oxygen. Certainly, we can see that a jaunt into the country is healthy, not just because of the scenery, the chance to unwind, the vitamin D, and the light; but because we breathe fresh, oxygen rich air mostly free from exhaust and other such city issues.

I've read about many a city dweller talk about nature study and mention that while they aren't able to observe this or that because they aren't in the country...but, that they get in their own nature study - studying birds and flowers and grasses and local trees. Truly, this is a great start. And something that Charlotte encouraged, as she encouraged us to have our children be familiar with every tree in every season within their neighborhood. But, somehow, many think that Charlotte was writing to a time where nature was more prevalent and available. I think on the contrary. This chapter is full of references about traveling away from the city to give your children opportunity to roam and to observe nature fully.

4-6 Hrs Outside A Day During Good Weather

Another surprise in this chapter is how much nature study and how little formal study Charlotte Mason believed our children should have (at least in the younger years - which goes up to at least the age of seven). In the spring & summer months (or all days when the weather is tolerable) Charlotte encourages us to give our children four, five, even six hours DAILY to romp outside. Not just "free time in the back yard" when you are finished with school, but as a type of school itself.

2-3 Hrs Outside A Day During Poor Weather

In the winter months (or I would say for some southern dwellers perhaps in the summer months - as 100 plus degree weather is definitely not tolerable for four, five, or six hours), Charlotte tells us our children should have two to three hours outside per day - divided into one to one and a half hours in the morning, and one to one and a half hours in the evening.

What Are We To Do Outside

We are to:

  • Train our children to observe things
  • Let our children have a substantial time left to themselves
  • Make sure our children play vigorously for an hour or two
  • Get detailed descriptions of things our children see and hear from our children
  • Make sure our children tell us about things with a full and exact vocabulary - rewarding the child by listening to them and praising them when they describe things clearly
  • Get the children to look at something - then close their eyes and recall what they have seen with detail
  • Teach our children names of field crops and all aspects of their farming
  • Teach them about the flower and plants they see and their history
  • Expect our children to know the name of every wildflower in their neighborhood
  • Have them collect flowers - press them, learn their latin and english name and habitat
  • Have them identify trees - in Winter, in Spring, in Summer
  • Teach them about plant reproduction - pointing out the seeds
  • Have them track FIRSTS of the season - where seen and when
  • When able to write, have them keep their own NATURE JOURNAL
  • As young as five or six have our children paint pictures of nature
  • Have our children hold and observe bugs and other critters from a young age
  • Collect a caterpillar and/or a tadpole, bring them home and watch their development
  • Have our children notice differences between plants and animals and make note of them
  • Have our children take up natural objects (sticks, rocks, etc.) and examine them - reasoning how they came to be the way they are
  • To familiarize our children with local geography and geographical terminology
  • Have our children notice the position of the sun and it's effects on shadows and light
  • Have our children note the weather
  • Have our children notice distance - first with feet, then yards, then 100 yards. Have them notice how long it takes to walk a mile.
  • Teach our children about direction and landmarks using the sun and shadows and landmarks and later a compass (maybe now...even later geo-caching)
  • Once a week or less we should point out colors or some loveliness of the landscape
  • Have the children play, sing songs, play games, play tag, skip rope, do sports, and generally be as loud as they wish to be - she mentions swimming to be a good outlet
  • Keep a FAMILY DIARY of things the family notices - or guesses about, which they come across
  • Charlotte appears to encourage war games (which she refers to as scouting)
  • Silently and with all attention "sneak" up on wildlife in order to watch them in their natural behavior (she refers to this as bird-stalking)
  • To follow the sounds of birds and learn (starting in the winter months) the sounds of the birds and how to differentiate them

We are not to:

  • Entertain our children
  • Make learning too bookish or too pressured
  • Talk too much

I thought this an excellent quote from the chapter:

"The power to classify, discriminate, distinguish between things that differ, is amongst the highest faculties of the human intellect, and no opportunity to cultivate it should be let slip; but a classification got out of books, that the child does not make himself and is not able to verify for himself, cultivates no power but that of verbal memory,"

Another point I thought well worth mentioning is:

"Watch a child standing at gaze at some sight new to him - a plough at work, for instance--...he is, in fact, taking in the intellectual food which the working facultry of his brain at this period requires. In his early years the child is all eyes; he observes, or more truly, he perceives, calling sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing to this aid, that he may learn all that is discoverable by him about every new thing that comes under his notice."

The only mention of a "real lesson" in this chapter is the mention of a ten minute French Lesson - of which Charlotte mentions that the mother should have contact with real French speakers so that her accent is good. Charlotte emphasizes learning a living, practical language.

If you are following Charlotte Mason's principles in your homeschool and this chapter applies to you in some way and want to make a link to your blog post, please do so below. Of course, you are always welcome to leave a comment as well.

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