“The child who does not know the portly form and spotted breast of the thrush, the graceful flight of the swallow, the yellow bill of the blackbird, the gush of song which the skylark pours from above is nearly as much to be pitied as those London children who 'had never seen a bee.' A pleasant acquaintance, easy to pick up, is the hairy caterpillar… Most children of six have had this taste of a naturalist's experience, and it is worth speaking of only because, instead of being merely a harmless amusement, it is a valuable piece of education, of more use to the child than the reading of a whole book of natural history, or much geography, and Latin. For the evil is, that children get their knowledge of natural history, like all their knowledge, at second hand. They are so sated with wonders, that nothing surprises them; and they are so little used to see for themselves, that nothing interests them.” -Charlotte Mason vol1
One reason I chose to implement Charlotte Mason’s ideas of education was her emphasis on a liberal education rather than a utilitarian one. One of the goals of a liberal education is to give the child the knowledge and skills necessary to live a rich life of many interests. To have a broad knowledge of many subjects makes one’s life richer and hopefully, happier. We all want to be happy because God created this desire within us. We also thirst for beauty as a means of finding fulfillment and happiness in life. Nature study is just one more avenue towards fulfilling that desire with another bonus—-experiencing the presence and glory of God in his creation enabling sweeter communion and rest for the soul.
Often, we don’t realize how lovely a blessing is in our life until it is taken away. I was raised in northern Canada in a beautiful place of unspoiled rivers, pristine mountains and uncharted forests. Ten years ago, we moved to a metropolis of several million people. We were surrounded by concrete, pollution and trash. It was a depressing place and I did everything I could to find green places for my children and I to enjoy. We did some pretty desperate things, too!—sneaked over fences into forbidden fields, saved tadpoles from sewage-filled waters and raised them to frogs, caught every live insect we could find, kept a bird and turtles as pets, drove 1 ½ hours every month to escape the city, and filled our tiny balcony on the thirteenth floor of our apartment building with flowers, flowers, flowers. Ahh… bliss. It was JUST LIKE water quenching my thirst.
Now that we have left that city and live in a village, our life is more difficult in many ways-no sewer system, erratic electricity, a water shortage, a house full of mildew, only a small coal stove as a source of heat. Hmmm… those are just a few of many…BUT the view is spectacular and my children roam the green valley with joy. They have very few friends, but they don’t care. This is almost heaven for them compared to where we were. If you think that your children would care, then maybe you have not awakened their love for nature. It is the mother’s job to do it within herself first then for her children. Show me a mother who has no interest in God’s green world and it will be almost certain that she is not a very happy woman. We were made to enjoy creation. People fulfill that need in various ways; some are ‘green thumbs’ and practically live outside in their garden, others are homebodies, but thrive by keeping flowers about them or look out a window on a beautiful scene to quench their thirst and take the occasional walk in the morning or evening, but NO one is exempt from this “nature-thirst.”
Overstimulation can be a hindrance to enjoying nature. If we allow our children’s lives to be filled with activities outside the home allowing no time to be left alone and reflect, and if we allow their senses to become dulled by the constant flow of pictures and sound from technology, then the natural world, itself may become mundane and ‘boring.’ It takes a strong mother to resist these temptations in our busy world for the good of her children. Finding and maintaining balance is a spiritual matter.
In the next post, I will be more practical and explain methods and ideas we have used successfully over the years in our nature studies and provide illustrations. I will particularly focus on the nature journal.