We Are Educated by Our Intimacies
I’ve been looking forward to sharing the following quotes by Miss Charlotte Mason with you.
While visiting my daughter I asked her, “Where’s your nature notebook . . . the one with the lupines in it?”
“It’s on the closet shelf,” she said. I opened her bedroom closet door ever-so-slowly to keep it from squeaking and waking baby Joseph who was sleeping soundly in his cradle two feet from the closet.
“Mom, he doesn’t wake up that easily.”
Ignoring her reply I whispered, “Here it is, oh, goodie. I’d like to show my readers some pages. I promise I’ll take care of it.”
After twelve years of trying her plan of bringing children up on Books and Things, Miss Charlotte Mason wrote:
“On the whole the results are pleasing. The average child studies with ‘delight.’ We do not say he will remember all he knows, but, to use a phrase of Jane Austen’s, he will have his ‘imagination warmed’ in many regions of knowledge.” School Education, page 243
Throughout School Education Miss Mason emphasizes bringing children up on a wide curriculum and first-hand experiences of various kinds. On the subject of science she outlines what educators typically do in schools.
“The boy learns up his text, listens to lectures, makes diagrams, watches demonstrations. Behold! he has learned science and is able to produce facts and figures for a time anyway, in connection with some one class of natural phenomena; but of tender intimacy with Nature herself, he has acquired none.” Pg 76
I remember when my daughter, Sophia was invited to the house of a brand new friend. This friend lived on a diary farm. Flowers, culinary herbs and vegetables grew just outside the doors of the old clapboard farmhouse but it was to the outskirts of the cow pasture that the girls walked. It was here that her new friend wished to show Sophia the dragonflies and red-winged blackbirds down by the creek, the yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, chicory and milkweed in the meadow.
Sophia told me that she was impressed that her friend knew the names of all these living things and especially how certain wild herbs were used as medicine in early America. Some plants were so small (like St. John’s Wort) how did she find them? “My mother taught me,” her friend answered.
This observant girl is a physician’s assistant today.
“[A young child’s] parents know that the first step in intimacy is recognition; and they will measure his education, not solely by his progress in ‘the three Rs’ but by the number of living and growing things he knows by look, name and habitat . . . He will note with eager interest the order of time in which the trees put on their leaves; will tell you whether to look in hedge, or meadow, or copse, for eyebright, wood-sorrel, ground-ivy; will not think that flowers were made to be plucked for
‘Its (his) faith that every flower –
Enjoys the air it breathes’ -
“He begins to notice that there are resemblances between wild-rose and apple blossom, between buttercup and wood-anemone, between rhododendron blossom and the tiny heath floret. A suggestion will make him find out accurately what these resemblances are, and he gets the new and delightful idea of families of plants. His little bit of knowledge is real science, because he gets it at first-hand; in his small way he is another Linnaeus.” Pages 76 and 77
What evidences are there that your child is having his imagination warmed by living books? Have you also pondered how experiences outside the classroom and nature appreciation play a part in storing curious impressions or beautiful imaginings in the life of a child?
The story Miss Rumphius is based on a real woman who had strewn lupines seeds along the wayside. It is a favorite of my girls. That first spring in Maine, my girls (who were older students then) without me making a single suggestion as to what they might consider entering into their nature notebooks, drew lupines.
Decorating this post are sundry photographs and some girlhood entries of Sophia’s nature notebook. Being cautious she chose a two-step method for making entries. When she was pleased with how a watercolor turned out she then pasted it into her notebook.
She took a fancy to painting old-fashioned figures into her notebook. They are apparently enjoying the outdoors. Would it be farfetched to suppose these persons could be reciting to themselves the words of the old-fashioned poems on the adjoining pages? (Click to enlarge.)
As her mother even Sophia’s short journal entries of the weather are interesting to me.
I photographed these notebook pages on our sunny front stoop because I didn’t want the flash to go off. (My knowledge of photography is slight.) I rested Sophia’s book on a hand woven mat sent to me by a friend.
It was good to hear that this friend has been able to find time to sit at her loom. Owning a loom has been an interest of hers (a dream) for some years. It shouldn’t surprise me how soon she began using her loom to make gifts. That’s Mother Culture for you. It spills over to those we have it in our hearts to bless.
It is clear in my memory, though it was more than twenty-two years ago, of my reading aloud to Sophia at bedtime from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet. It was one of few books we owned that were so sweetly illustrated by Tasha Tudor – a favorite illustrator of mine then and now. The Secret Garden is recommend on a list of living book examples in chapter two of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children Sake and I had taken note of this.
If this post is a longer one it is because I want to tie in Miss Mason’s message with the lovely example of a child’s joy of discovery in the story, The Secret Garden.
Orphaned in India, Mary Lennox is sent to Yorkshire, England to live in her uncle’s big house, Misselthwaite Manor. Nature is so different here - all new and interesting to her. But she is a sullen, cross and contrary girl because her parents had been uninvolved in her life. She was kept in the nursery and spoiled by a nanny. Mary’s uncle is a gloomy widower, is rarely home and keeps the door locked to his deceased wife’s walled garden. Even the gardener is not permitted to tend it.
Mary spends the chilly days of early spring jumping rope outdoors. She is entertained by the reappearances of a robin that flutters and tweets nearby. She meets the cheerful lad Dickon who introduces her to critters on the moor and the plants he is so familiar with.
As if lead by the daring robin she finds a key. It fits in the door of the walled garden. The author tells her readers, “. . . [Mary] was not a child who had been trained to ask permission or consult her elders about things.” All she thought about was entering the garden. And she did. She showed it to Dickon, too, who could indentify what was sprouting under the dead tangled vines and leaves.
“Are there flowers that look like bells,” [Mary] inquired.
“Lilies o’ th’ valley does,” [Dickon] answered, “digging away with the trowel. . .”
What might be a concern is the reference to nature being “magical.” This word describes, from a child’s point of view, the mysteries of nature and how working and playing outdoors, through the seasons builds muscle and fills lungs with fresh air for a vibrant, less sullen, way of living.
I omitted the children’s chanting at the end of the story and how the “magic” of this is meant to bring the uncle home. I find it interesting that the words of the Doxology are spoken impromptu brought forth from the children’s joy, although they admit to not understanding what these words of praising “God from whom all blessings flow” really mean. Therefore, the story tends to be pantheistic. Yet a Christian parent may easily clarify where the characters stray.
*(If you look up page 243 of School Education - and I like to encourage you to read my selected quotations in context - you’ll see the word “evolution” used. Miss Mason is referring to the general meaning of the word; “slow gradual change” not Darwin’s evolution of species.)
lupine out the kitchen door in cottage pink
patch of wild May apples – all parts except the fruit are toxic.
peeking underneath to spot last month’s May Apple in bloom.
wild mustard close up
red plumes of astilbe by the courtship rock
(astilbe is pronounced like: I'll still be your friend. )
my British robin figurine, book, and large antique key
lily of the valley by the side door
Discussion is Invited,