Living Stones Academy

Educating by atmosphere, discipline, and life

The only curriculum

on July 2, 2013

“Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun — the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 61)

I was recently in a discussion (loosely called, in my opinion) about what I “should” be doing in my homeschool. This is probably the least irritant to most homeschooling mothers since many are drawn into “discussions” about how homeschool is bad for their children. I have been fortunate enough not to meet with direct comments on our decision. But instead I am being told . . .well “given suggestions”, about what I should be doing. Initially it was about co-ops, but as there aren’t any in the area that’s not something I can do. Then it was suggested I do 4-H. While I have thought about that, there aren’t any groups meeting near us (to me, in San Diego, near means less than 1/2 hour freeway time, one way). That steered it toward “Start your own group”. I tried explaining that organizing something of that nature–something, really, above and beyond (extracurricular) our planned schooling–is not something I want to do. I did not have an opportunity to explain that it drains me, distracts me, makes it hard for me to maintain a schedule, interrupts our days, etc. Yes, we do things like Play Well classes, swim lessons, we’re looking at dance lessons. But not only are those temporary enrichment and life skill classes . . .someone ELSE is in charge! If I’m going to be in charge of something, it needs to be directly related to our school work.

That’s when the funny happened. I said that I had been considering starting a weekly nature study group. I had literally only got out that exact sentence–“I’ve thought about starting a weekly nature study group”–when the question seemed to shoot out at me, “Do you have enough curriculum for 3 years worth of nature study?” I was so taken aback by it I could only say, “Yes, it’s nature study.”

I suppose it comes from not understanding the Charlotte Mason approach to nature study. How can anyone hope, in a lifetime, to learn all there is to know about the natural world around them? What curriculum is necessary but the tree outside your front door? We could spend an entire term observing the trees in the park down our street. The ants, the snails, the bees, the leaves, the roots, the soil, the bark of the tree itself . . . seasons, weather. We noticed that dry hot clear days do not bring out the snails, but cool or muggy days bring them out in abundance. We even saw snails mating one time, though I didn’t explain that’s what was happening. 🙂 And I had never seen a family of snails before in my life, but one day we saw a whole group, including babies, gathered around an iron pipe covering, of all things. What started as a 15 minute walk to our mini-mart became an hour (or longer) observation of snails–which trees them seemed to prefer, what colors, which way the spirals went, where they hid and why, how they blended into their surroundings at times, the slimy trails they left. All of my children–from the 3 yo to the 8 yo (and that’s 4 kids in that range, by the way)–couldn’t stop yelling, “MOMMY, ANOTHER SNAIL!!” When we returned home they dragged out their coloring pads and nature journals and practiced making spirals. We had found an abandoned snail shell once, and my oldest son used that as a model to draw his own. We read in Handbook of Nature Study about the snail and what he eats.

What more curriculum do we need? I know that so many people are so ingrained in how our education system works that they feel the need for workbooks and textbooks for everything. That’s natural (well, it’s become natural at any rate). But one thing I’ve learned from Charlotte–and I admit, even I have to keep relearning it so I don’t fall back onto old crutches–is that education is more than what some dry old scientist or historian put into a thick tome of meaningless words. Education truly is a life.

ImageThis is what my children did at every stop along the way on our recent road trip. They aimed for the trees, and either tried to climb them or find what secrets they held. My 3 year old, who only a month before liked squishing any bug he found just to make his older brother mad, now looks to his big brother to learn how to catch and hold and appreciate all the bugs he sees.

Image

This is the only textbook we need. The world around us. Oh of course we need reference books to understand it and answer our questions. But curriculum? Look out your window, there it is. We go out, we find something that sparks our interest. We look in our Handbook, we look in our field guides, we look online for pictures and videos. We draw in our nature journals, collect for our nature box, we do copy work. We read nature stories and biographies of naturalists. Then we go outside and find some more. I admit we have not made a scheduled weekly nature study priority in our school, but the desire has been there. Even when it wasn’t scheduled, though, we were doing it on every walk, every outing, every visit to the zoo. Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

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