Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: A Natural History Club

I have been reading through Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page slowly, thinking over her suggestions there and the wonderful snippets from the PNEU, the HEO, and Charlotte Mason herself in regards to the various notebooks Miss Mason recommended her students (and teachers) keep.  At one point, she provides the following quote from an article published in The Parents' Review called "Observation and Acquaintance with Nature," which in turn quotes a pamphlet from one of the PNEU's Natural History clubs:
The Union possesses a natural history club, from which each branch can receive pamphlets and books treating on nature lore and natural history.  Some branches have their own natural history clubs, the work of which has proved very satisfactory.  The club arranges rambles and exursions for its members on a systematic plan.  It edits a journal called The Children's Quarterly. 
Every year, in May, during the annual conference, there is an exhibition of the works made by young members of the club, which consist in collections of dried plants, drawings of flowers, plants and insects, which are often accompanied by personal descriptions, remarks and observations of the young explorer.  Furthermore, it guides amateurs in giving Nature lessons, and recommends suitable text-books bearing on each section of natural history that is being taken up.  Let me read to you, from one of the Natural History Club pamphlets, some suggestions for children's work, Spring, 1899. 
For Members over ten years--
"No. 1--Make a list of the flowers in your garden, and another of the flowers you see in the hedges."
"No. 2--Watch the leaf buds as they open from day to day, and make notes of anything that strikes you in their various methods of opening."
"No. 3--Make a list of the dates when the fruit trees blossom."
"No. 4--Chryalises collected in autumn should be placed in dry moss in suitable breeding cages.  Drawings should be made of them, and notes taken of their colour, structure, etc.  Draw and describe the butterflies and moths that emerge."
For the children under ten the "suggestion" is:--
"Make sketches of six different kinds of spring flowers, and tell where you found the flower and when.  Don't forget the leaves." (quoted in Bestvater, page 24-5)
This is not your traditional inspiring-quote fare, but ever since I read this passage last week, I have quite inspired.  The way the club is described here shows careful direction on the part of the parents involved while still requiring real, intellectual work on the part of the children.  It's a delicate balance.  And  I love how, as Bestvater points out, the whole project belies "intentional practices that go far beyond simply providing students a notebook and some paints." (25)  These are the times I do wish I had a local community of like-minded families with which to put such a thought into practice.


  1. "These are the times I do wish I had a local community of like-minded families with which to put such a thought into practice."

    Yes! Me too.

  2. We do have a few moms like this in our area but I am more towards the end of my journey.

  3. What a great idea! I'm wondering now if I'd be able to pull such a thing together in our area when my boys are a little older. We don't have many Charlotte Mason type homeschoolers here, but I think such a thing may have a broader appeal.