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Natural Object Lessons

When I hear the phrase “object lesson,” I think of several little presentations that I watched when I was a child. In those presentations the speaker would perform some kind of attention-grabbing trick with an object and then use that trick as an illustration to teach a moral lesson.

Let’s make it perfectly clear right away: that is not the kind of object lesson that Charlotte Mason advocated!

When Charlotte encouraged us to use object lessons to supplement nature study, she was talking about noticing a natural object in its natural setting and challenging your child to focus on one particular aspect of it in order to sharpen his senses.

Charlotte’s kind of object lessons were almost like games that cultivated the habit of observation. For example, a mother out in the woods with her children might ask, “What sounds do you hear? Close your eyes and see if you can mention them in order from loudest to quietest.” A father on a walk with his child might stumble upon a snake’s skin and challenge the child to tell all he can about what he sees in that skin.

Here are some of Charlotte’s key comments on object lessons.

  1. Occasionally draw your child’s attention to one aspect of a natural object in order to sharpen his senses and skills of observation.

    “We supplement this direct ‘nature walk’ by occasional object-lessons, as, on the hairs of plants, on diversity of wings” (Vol. 3, pp. 237, 238).

  2. Object lessons should be incidental and spontaneous as objects and opportunities occur.

    “Object-lessons should be incidental; and this is where the family enjoys so great an advantage over the school. It is almost impossible that the school should give any but set lessons; but this sort of teaching in the family falls in with the occurrence of the object. The child who finds that wonderful and beautiful object, a ‘paper’ wasp’s nest, attached to a larch-twig, has his object-lesson on the spot from father or mother” (Vol. 2, pp. 182, 183).

  3. The way to secure your child’s interest is to be interested in the object yourself.

    “Our constant care must be to secure that they do look, and listen, touch, and smell; and the way to this is by sympathetic action on our part: what we look at they will look at; the odours we perceive, they, too, will get” (Vol. 2, pp. 192, 193).

  4. Focus on one quality per object lesson, rather than everything you can think of about that object.

    “It is unnecessary in the family to give an exhaustive examination to every object; one quality might be discussed in this, another quality in that” (Vol. 2, p. 183).

    For example, you could practice

    • making mental comparisons and contrasts,
    • measuring by sight,
    • distinguishing sounds,
    • identifying odors,
    • describing flavors.
  5. A child whose senses have been trained through object lessons will observe and learn more during nature study.

    “An acquaintance with Nature and natural objects is another thing, and is to be approached in a slightly different way. A boy who is observing a beetle does not consciously apply his several senses to the beetle, but lets the beetle take the initiative, which the boy reverently follows: but the boy who is in the habit of doing sensory daily gymnastics will learn a great deal more about the beetle than he who is not so trained” (Vol. 2, p. 189).

What kinds of objects have you discovered and used for spontaneous object lessons? They can be a great way to supplement nature study!

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3 Responses to “Natural Object Lessons”

  1. Mary in KY August 30, 2007 at 6:48 am #

    Natural Object Lessons

    We recently found a black widow spider sitting (alive, but not very) on the bottom of our pool. We scooped it out and observed the red hourglass markings, abdomen shape, the glossy blackness and discussed how they like to hide in dark niches.

    The next day, my son discovered one on our doorstoop. Boy was I glad we had taken the time to really look at it the day before. He knew not to get too close and could identify it.

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