This week’s Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival is on the section of her sixth book dealing with science. It’s exact title is “Knowledge of the Universe: Science” which shows us that we have made a shift here from all the subjects which were under the heading “the Knowledge of Man” to a new group of subjects. Here we are learning not about our fellow man (and ourselves), at least not directly, but about the universe and, I would add, about its Creator as well. Charlotte does not say so in this section (though I flatter myself that she would agree with me) but the reason to study science is to know about the One who made the universe and set its laws in motion (and actively maintains it all, of course).
But how do we study science in a CM way? I put that little question mark in parentheses in the title of tis post because I am as much asking as telling. I have a few thoughts but I would love more input, especially as we enter the dreaded high school years.
In the early years, CM science is pretty easy. It is mostly nature walks with nature journals. We may fret about teaching them physics and chemistry even in the elementary years but the truth is most of what we need is to build the skills a scientists needs. The emphasis should be on inciting their interest and training their observational skills. Little more is needed. The addition of some living books on science and nature can help to fill out the schedule and especially help with months (like winter here in New England) that make it hard to get out for many nature walks.
This is all Charlotte says is needed for science:
“The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords.” (p. 223)
And it may be easy to trust this system in the early years. But as time goes on, there is more and more pressure to use a pre-packaged curriculum and to get “serious” about science. Part of this pressure is real; part we put upon ourselves, I think. Charlotte goes on a bit about the fact that science education should really just lay a general foundation, an introduction to all branches of knowledge and should not be too, well, academic. But these days most of our kids do go to college and we want that door at least open for them should they choose to go. And colleges like to see a lab class or two as well as a few years of specific sciences (or so I am told). Ours is a very scientific, technological society and we put a lot of emphasis on such things. I have talked about this a lot in other posts: how we have abandoned things like history and art which teach about about our own natures to our own detriment. The pursuit of science these days, I am sad to say, often seems to be more about what is profitable and allows us as individuals and a nation to “get ahead” and less about understanding our Creator through His works.
But we still need to work with the system we are given so what is a CM-style homeschooler to do? This is where I would like some help with the answers. My own plan for now is to try to stick as much as possible with a living science curriculum but to supplement where possible with some lab-based classes. This year my oldest child is in 8th grade so I view it as my last chance to do things how we want exclusively without worrying about what goes on his transcript. We are studying weather and geology this year and we are using living books to do it. We are also doing lots of observation and hopefully lots of field trips and nature walks to look at rocks and the like. My plan for the future is to pick a broad topic each year (biology, physics, chemistry, perhaps others like anatomy or botany if the kids show an interest in them) and to continue as a family to read living books but to sign the older kids up for lab classes that someone else teaches as we find good ones in our area. I do not want to have to do this every year but if I can find good labs for them twice in their high school careers I would be happy.
How about you? How have you or do you plan to approach science as your kids get older?