As wonderful as Charlotte Mason-style nature study is, it does have its limits. Charlotte was aware of those limits, and she did not use natural study exclusively. As we researched her comments about nature study, we discovered that she supplemented that foundation with three things: living science books, object lessons, and nature projects.
We’ll focus on living science books this time, then address the other two activities in the coming weeks.
How to Use Living Science Books
Living books should supplement, not replace, nature study.
“Now the knowledge of Nature which we get out of books is not real knowledge; the use of books is, to help the young student to verify facts he has already seen for himself” (Vol. 2, p. 261).
Use living books for planned, structured studies, while still doing nature study spontaneously.
“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” (Vol. 6, p. 220).
“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” (Vol. 3, p. 237).
What to Look For in a Living Science Book
Avoid textbooks and teacher-explanations that present facts without living ideas.
“The child who learns his science from a text-book, though he go to Nature for illustrations, and he who gets his information from object-lessons, has no chance of forming relations with things as they are, because his kindly obtrusive teacher makes him believe that to know about things is the same thing as knowing them personally” (Vol. 3, p. 66).
A living science book should put the reader in the position of the original observer.
“The children are put in the position of the original observer of biological and other phenomena. They learn what to observe, and make discoveries for themselves, original so far as they are concerned. They are put in the right attitude of mind for scientific observations and deductions, and their keen interest is awakened” (Vol. 3, p. 238).
Use books that have literary value.
“Of Natural Science, too, we have to learn that the way into the secrets of nature is not through the barbed wire entanglements of science as she is taught but through field work or other immediate channel, illustrated and illuminated by books of literary value” (Vol. 6, p. 256).
Some living science books that we have enjoyed include:
The Burgess Bird Book by Thornton Burgess (for younger children)
Pagoo by Holling C. Holling (for middle grades)
Paddy: A Naturalist’s Story of an Orphan Beaver by R. D. Lawrence (for older children, with a little editing for evolutionary content)
You can also search for Charlotte Mason-style science books in our CM Bookfinder.
What living science books have you and your children enjoyed? Which ones would you recommend to fellow CMers? Let us know!