Bummer

The Northeast is getting hammered with a blizzard. The storm didn’t move west enough to affect us. I awoke to just a tiny bit of drizzle on the ground. That’s it.

This makes three winters without a big snow. Not good for my soul, not good for my boys, not good for my allergies, and not good for our gardening. It must be something about our location in Northern Virginia. We are not getting enough precipitation, which means a possible drought this summer. And yet, in neighboring counties, more than 2 inches of snow last night.

I remember the year I was newly pregnant with our first, and we got the big blizzard of Valentine’s Day and President’s Day. It was wonderful and perfect timing to have my husband home and taking care of me. A big snow makes people stop, slow down and spend time with family. It’s cozy. It’s beautiful. It’s a change from the dry bleak and gray days.

I could use that little break before spring arrives. Pretty please? Who is the patron saint of snowstorms? I mean, the saint that brings snow, not keeps it away.

Impending Spring

I have to believe the groundhog.

I found this in our yard this week…in the midst of sub-freezing temperatures:

Daffodil

First Daffodil

To me it’s definitely an indicator I need to plant earlier this year. I have a tendency to put in my garden rather late. Last year the squash bugs completely decimated my zucchini. My tomatoes were late in bearing fruit. I need to push forward and start earlier!!!!!

But I’ll think about that tomorrow. My concern right now is stocking my bare pantry and fridge.

Announcing: Natural Science Through the Seasons

Now available for Pre-order!!!! Margot at Hillside Education has reprinted a most wonderful nature study book, Natural Science Through the Seasons: 100 Teaching Units written by James A. Partridge. Originally printed in Canada in 1946, this book is a treasure!

I learned about this book from a 2007 Dewey’s Treehouse blog post. The monthly calendar and activity pages by D. Farwell are particularly enticing.

I borrowed the book a few times through InterLibrary Loan, but finally found a copy for $50. The book is wonderful. Although it is labeled as “teaching” ideas, it fits beautifully into a Charlotte Mason education with nature study in mind. As shared by Margot, the introduction explains:

The teacher must be prepared to discard the time-worn beliefs that learning must take place within the four walls of a classroom, that book facts have some mystically increased value over first-hand experiences with nature, that there is some uniform body of knowledge of natural phenomena that should become the heritage of all, or that pupils must be taught by question and answer, by blackboard summaries, or even by the teacher. Let us go forth with our pupils ‘into the child’s natural laboratory’ where, together, we may find ‘the birds and insects of the air, the living animals of field and wood, the trees and flowers and shrubs, the water and the earth,’ the sun and other stars’ ‘things which will attract and hold the child’s eye, arouse his wonder, stimulate his inquiries, and give him opportunities for discovery.’ In these places let nature answer the constant flow of questions that spring up in the minds of curious youth. Let us concede that though we be teachers, we must still be learners and can share the joy of discovery with our pupils.

This has been a highly sought book, with copies selling for over $150!! But now you can buy a reprint for under $40 — how thrilling! If you pre-order, you will also “receive a copy of each monthly calendar and activity suggestions printed on card stock to display in your home school. (Ten cards with calendar on the front and activities on the back.)” What a great deal! (There are ten because there are no calendar pages for July and August, only the school months, August through June.)

I’m really excited about this reprint, and plan on using the book for our nature study in our local homeschool group. I cannot wait!

Update: Jen Mackintosh wrote a terrific post about the book right after I did…if I had known I would have just sent you over there! I also have copied the calendar pages and Activity pages for our own bulletin board, and they are just wonderful!

Programs, Ugh!

I didn’t plan on writing so much on the previous post, but I realized I wanted to draw out the quotes from Charlotte Mason so I could really have them to compare with the article.

Do read the article. I have been thinking about it quite a bit because of our last field trip. Friday we had a “program experience” with our homeschool group. I’m still so angry and disappointed. We were gypped. We were going to tour a honey bee farm, at least that’s what we were told. We were going to tour a greenhouse, get planting experience, see pollination, learn about bees.

I think we read into the description. I think we all did. Talk about a controlled, dumbed-down, behind the glass experience. I live in the suburbs. If I travel an hour to see a farm, I am not going there to have “school” or a controlled environment, and yet, that’s what it was. It was a citified farm, with all the unnatural manmade pleasures, even a jumping place.

Sigh. I despise the Organized Pumpkin Patches of the world.

Our greenhouse tour consisted of walking through (30 second walk) an empty greenhouse, without any explanation, and grab a peat pot and fill it with dirt. And then after we all made a hole, the demonstrator planted the sunflower seeds. The children didn’t even get to look or touch the seed!!!!!

We never saw any beehives. We never saw anything related to beekeeping except a gathering around two signs, some Q&A, plastic magnifying glass to walk through a garden to see pollen, a demonstration of a beekeeper’s hat, and a quick 30 second flash of an old dusty cobweb-covered honeycomb (I couldn’t even get a picture.). Everything was moved along in factory precision and timing because the “next group” was coming.

The highlight was having a tractor ride to pick blackberries, which was part of the “Deluxe Tour”. I’m so glad we did that, because it was the only time we didn’t feel like we were being pushed along and in controlled environment.

Down with educational programs! Both my sons questioned as we were leaving, “When are we going to see the bees?” was sad and yet comical! What a summary of what was lacking on this trip!

If the boys were disappointed, I can’t tell you how disappointed I was. We got a 2 oz bottle of honey. Big deal. We had local Civil War events we could have been visiting. Grrrrr.

So, it’s still on my list to find a local beekeeper so we can truly have some experience. Where is Mister Rogers when you need him?

“Look, Don’t Touch!”

Have you read this article yet? Look, Don’t Touch: The Problem with Environmental Education by David Sobel.

I’ve been pondering over this for a while. How much of Charlotte Mason’s encouragement of nature study and time outdoors is echoed here!

I love the quote from John Muir that he uses throughout the article:

The sudden plash into pure wildness—baptism in Nature’s warm heart—how utterly happy it made us! Nature streaming into us, wooingly teaching her wonderful glowing lessons, so unlike the dismal grammar ashes and cinders so long thrashed into us. . . . Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the winds and the streams and the sparkling lake, all wildly, gladly rejoicing together!

That should be my measuring stick for outdoor time. Is this encouraging my children to be “wildly, gladly rejoicing together”? I fear I fail in so many ways. Both my husband and I talk about the long hours we spent outdoors. He did build forts, wallpapered with baseball cards — it’s one of his favorite memories.

You’re thinking: environmental education is supposed to connect children with nature, to get them started on a lifetime of loving and wanting to protect the natural world. Yes—that’s what is supposed to happen. But somewhere along the way, much of environmental education lost its magic, its “wildly, gladly rejoicing together.” Instead, it’s become didactic and staid, restrictive and rule bound. A creeping focus on cognition has replaced the goal of exhilaration that once motivated educators to take children outside.

Much of environmental education today has taken on a museum mentality, where nature is a composed exhibit on the other side of the glass. Children can look at it and study it, but they can’t do anything with it. The message is: Nature is fragile. Look, but don’t touch. Ironically, this “take only photographs, leave only footprints” mindset crops up in the policies and programs of many organizations trying to preserve the natural world and cultivate children’s relationships to it.

Ugh. How true, but how easily to get sucked into this thinking. Any parks or paths we take I feel restricted, like someone is watching you, making sure you don’t veer from the path or disturb any vegetation. Is it really wrong to pick up the acorns or walnuts? I think not, but as the adult, I’ve been burdened with guilt. I do NOT want to pass that on to my children.

And the rules. I’m learning to just relax, but it’s taking much longer than I hoped. I try not to give warnings all the time, but then I hear myself talking.

Between the ages of six and twelve, children have an innate desire to explore the woods, build forts, make potions from wild berries, dig to China, and each of these activities is an organic, natural way for them to develop environmental values and behaviors. Instead, the “look but don’t touch” approach cuts kids off from nature, teaching them that nature is boring and fraught with danger. Inadvertently, these messages send children back inside to the dynamic interactivity of computer games. Could it be that our fear of litigation and our puritanical concerns for protecting each and every blade of grass are hampering the development of the very stewardship values and behaviors that we environmental educators all say we’re trying to foster? I believe so.

Ah, digging to China! I think we all wanted to do it!

Wilson, Muir, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold all had such down-and-dirty experiences in childhood. Wilson didn’t just look at butterflies, he collected them. He didn’t take only photographs and leave only footprints, he caught ants and put them in jars to observe them. He was a collector, not a photographer, and he was allowed to indulge his curiosity without the scolding finger of an interfering adult. Generalizing from his own biographic experience, he summarizes, “Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming.”

Emphasis added by me. This sums it up what nature study should be. I think instead of viewing as “environmental education” we are helping them become naturalists. And by golly, naturalists are collectors. Viewing my jars of bugs on the counter at any different kind, I do think I’m encouraging that aspect. I save the jars, because you never know what critter you might find. (The Eyed Click Beetle was a recent one, and I can’t say I really enjoy fixing dinner around him.)

Children are in tune with their senses, more keenly than adults. The learning is tied in with the senses. My oldest is one who needs to touch everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. My youngest needs to smell everything to assess.

Herein lie my two main points. First, environmental educators need to allow children to be “untutored savages” for a while. Nature programs should invite children to make mud pies, climb trees, catch frogs, paint their faces with charcoal, get their hands dirty and their feet wet. They should be allowed to go off the trail and have fun. Second, environmental educators need to focus way more on hands-on experience with children and way less on systematic knowledge. Or at least understand that systematic knowledge can emerge organically from lots of hands-on experience. Between the ages of six and twelve, learning about nature is less important than simply getting children out into nature.

The whole orientation is to encourage the kids to observe, wonder, see patterns, and make sense of things. Names and concepts, environmental knowledge, emerged organically out of these hands-on explorations.

Haven’t we heard similar plans unfolded by Miss Mason? This just really illustrates “Education is a Science of Relations”. We read in her own words from Volume One: Home Education, Part Two, Out of Door Life for Children:

It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.

The whole section is rich, and just echoes this whole article. This is for the younger children, but even for the older children (as David Sobel mentions 6-12), Miss Mason encourages the same observation but going deeper (see Volume 3: School Education, Chapter 21:

Science.––In Science, or rather, nature study, we attach great importance to recognition, believing that the power to recognise and name a plant or stone or constellation involves classification and includes a good deal of knowledge. To know a plant by its gesture and habitat, its time and its way of flowering and fruiting; a bird by its flight and song and its times of coming and going; to know when, year after year, you may come upon the redstart and the pied fly-catcher, means a good deal of interested observation, and of; at any rate, the material for science. The children keep a dated record of what they see in their nature note-books, which are left to their own management and are not corrected. These note-books are a source of pride and joy, and are freely illustrated by drawings (brushwork) of twig, flower, insect, etc. The knowledge necessary for these records is not given in the way of teaching. On one afternoon in the week, the children (of the Practising School) go for a ‘nature walk’ with their teachers. They notice for themselves, and the teacher gives a name or other information as it is asked for, and it is surprising what a range of knowledge a child of nine or ten acquires. The teachers are careful not to make these nature walks an opportunity for scientific instruction, as we wish the children’s attention to be given to observation with very little direction. In this way they lay up that store of ‘common information’ which Huxley considered should precede science teaching; and, what is much more important, they learn to know and delight in natural objects as in the familiar faces of friends. The nature-walk should not be made the occasion to impart a sort of Tit-Bits miscellany of scientific information. The study of science should be pursued in an ordered sequence, which is not possible or desirable in a walk. It seems to me a sine quâ non of a living education that all school children of whatever grade should have one half-day in the week, throughout the year, in the fields. There are few towns where country of some sort is not accessible, and every child should have the opportunity of watching from week to week, the procession of the seasons.

And this is all summarized in Volume 6: Towards a Philosophy of Education, Section III:

They are expected to do a great deal of out-of-door work in which they are assisted by The Changing Year, admirable month by month studies of what is to be seen out-of-doors. They keep records and drawings in a Nature Note Book and make special studies of their own for the particular season with drawings and notes.

The studies of Form III for one term enable children to––”Make a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put in the names of the plants you would expect to find.” “Write notes with drawings of the special study you have made this term,” “What do you understand by calyx, corolla, stamen, pistil? In what ways are flowers fertilised?” “How would you find the Pole Star? Mention six other stars and say in what constellations they occur.” “How would you distinguish between Early, Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic? Give drawings.” Questions like these, it will be seen, cover a good deal of field work, and the study of some half dozen carefully selected books on natural history, botany, architecture and astronomy, the principle being that children shall observe and chronicle, but shall not depend upon their own unassisted observation.

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

And in her final volume, Volume 6: Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 4, she has this lovely summary, which echoes John Muir:

We are doing something; we are trying to open the book of nature to children by the proper key––knowledge, acquaintance by look and name, if not more, with bird and flower and tree; we see, too, that the magic of poetry makes knowledge vital, and children and grown-ups quote a verse which shall add blackness to the ashbud, tender wonder to that “flower in the crannied wall,” a thrill to the song of the lark. As for the numerous field clubs of the northern towns, the members of which, weavers, miners, artisans, reveal themselves as accomplished botanists, birdmen, geologists, their Saturday rambles mean not only “life,” but splendid joy. It is to be hoped that the opportunities afforded in the schools will prepare women to take more part in these excursions; at present the work done is too thorough for their endurance and for their slight attainments.

Splendid Joy!!! Splendid!!!

I need to start requesting my library to carry David Sobel’s books! I really like his style of writing and his philosophy.

While not exactly inline with this discussion, I also wanted to highlight these commentaries by Jeff Mirus:
The Moral Downside of Climate Change
Climate Change and Moral Knowledge and
Scientific Disagreement about Climate Change

They all highlight the moral issue and man’s obligation on nature, which does dovetail when we talk about environmental education. I’m tired of the guilt.

Well, this turned out to be too long, and I had something else to share along these lines…so next post!

The Latest Crinkleroot

Our favorite nature books are the Crinkleroot series by Jim Arnosky. I have often mourned that they are mostly out-of-print, and that the series wouldn’t be continued. While I try to get our own copies, I continually check the books from the library to keep them in circulation.

Everyone nearby in my library turned and looked at me when I gave a little gleeful cry when I saw there’s a new Crinkleroot book: Crinkleroot’s Guide to Giving Back to Nature.

I was a little cautious, though. The title could imply strident environmentalism: loving Mother Earth so much that man is evil, to the point of worshipping nature, being super green and other ecological madness.

My fears were unfounded. The book unfolds different ways to be kind to nature, to restore in small ways to preserve nature so it can continue to provide such gifts for us. The suggestions follow the natural seasons of the year and are super practical, nothing radical. Some of the ideas won’t apply to someone who doesn’t live or visit forested areas.

One example was for fishing outings. He explains to not leave your discarded fishing line to tangle the birds, and don’t use lead sinkers, as the lost lead ones poison the fish. In the fall, use your raked leaves for composting in the garden instead of throwing them away. In the winter, feed the birds. He describes the different kinds of seeds that birds prefer.

See what I mean? Practical and not preachy.

And in the Crinkleroot/Arnosky style, the book is full of great detailed drawings, with some hidden images and also a page of winter birds to try and identify, with the answer on the back page.

The books flows as one story and engages the little ones with the wonderful illustrations. The text is a little long at times for shorter attention span and could be broken down by seasons.

I give it a two-thumbs up, because it’s not about saving the environment, but about Stewardship. It gives a picture of nature through the seasons, and illustrations of little ways that man can enjoy and give back a little.

Flower Arranging

One of my favorite “Practical Life” works in the atrium of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is flower arranging. The children love the combination of working with the beautiful flowers of nature, choosing vases, working with water, and beautifying the environment.

This past week I was working at our parish festival, which has both White Elephant and Used Book sales. I scored in finding lots of pretty little vases to use for the atrium, and for our home use.

I love that the season of May is brimming over with flowers — just perfect for presenting to Mary every day of the month. My youngest had found the store of vases in the china cabinet and decided to fill many of them with our wonderful flowers. I have bachelor buttons and 3 kinds of roses all blooming. (Pay no attention to the water spills. Water dries. Also my computer cord. I’m no photographer.)

He was so pleased with his work, that he continued on filling vases.

I did demonstrate clipping the roses, but I didn’t get too formal about all the steps of arranging. This was a moment to enjoy, and a beautiful gift to Mary and our family.

Must-See Family Movie

I have so many unwritten posts I want to write, but they are all in my head right now! But I had a moment before my spaghetti timer rings to mention a movie we are loving right now!

Dolphin Tale.

I know I’m so “last year” about recommending it. I was going to buy it, but then I won a copy at CatholicMom.com. And then the movie sat waiting for a family movie night.

Our brief little snow day two Saturdays ago was the perfect time. My husband and I were so pleased, and my boys were really inspired. Be forewarned, you’ll need a few tissues to watch this, for both sad and happy tears.

What impressed us most was how the movie featured family first. The movie unfolds how nature and personal interest makes a child grow and learn more than sitting in a classroom. I see this everyday, and I see how much of this echoes Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori and my other favorite educators.

We happen to have an aunt down near Clearwater, so we’re thinking up a plan to make sure we include a visit to see Winter, this amazing dolphin.

We realize some of the story was made for movie, but it doesn’t spoil it for us. And to have homeschooling mentioned in a positive light — fabulous!

Another movie, although older, that is a great companion to this one is the 1963 original version of Flipper. We usually watch it before our beach trips, so it’s so great to add another to our rotation.

There goes the buzzer! Can’t wait to share our calligraphy stories, but that will have to wait!

Whew!

Because today is Sunday, particularly Good Shepherd Sunday, the memorial of St. Isidore the Farmer is not celebrated except in special places that claim him as patron.

I wrote about this dear saint before, as he is one of my favorite saints.

It’s not an ideal goal, as I would like to start earlier, but my personal goal every year is to get my vegetable garden in before the feast of St. Isidore. This week it was accomplished. My husband remade my flower boxes on the deck, and those are filled with stunning color. *All* that is left for me to do is trim a bit in the front yard and plant some flower seeds for a “cottage garden” look. Unless I get everything done before family arrives this weekend for the First Holy Communion, I do think the front will have to wait.

But I’m thinking of praying to St. Isidore for a small window of time.