About this Course
Welcome! An indispensable part of a Charlotte Mason education is a relationship with the natural world. But in a world of concrete and screens, many of us find it difficult to both get our children and students outside and to help them notice the world around them when they are. As we lead children outdoors and help them develop a strong relationship with nature, our own relationship with the world and ability to navigate in it is of vital importance. Children catch enthusiasm from their teachers and parents, and they will wonder and see more in the natural world around them in proportion to their guides’ ability to not only display curiosity and enthusiasm but demonstrate real knowledge of local flora and fauna and the processes of life.
To this end—that every parent and teacher would grow as an inspirer and guide—this course cultivates the understanding of nature. As David Lahti, the designer of this course writes:
That is what natural history is, at its root— the project of understanding nature, both as a unified phenomenon and in every particular component or instance. Any course must cut its subject matter into bits that are presented one after the other over time, like the singing of a song. In fact, here we will explore natural history as though nature were music, concentrating at any one time on a specific element or theme, but always realizing that the whole involves everything going on at once.
Natural history is partly about science, the methods we use to discover facts about the world. Science is incredibly important to our understanding of nature—in fact, science grew out of natural history in the first place. However, the naturalist does not understand nature in a vacuum, from a disembodied perspective, but rather as a whole human being. All of our senses and feelings and thoughts are involved. This means that our natural history is partly a contemplative, interpretive exercise as well. Not only science but also art meets nature in natural history. Thus, in addition to a good deal of science in this course, we will get a bit from the arts as well. But, most central of all, for any naturalist, will be personal observation—our individual encounters with nature.
This is a self-study course designed to take one semester and worth about 3 college credits (6-9 hours/week of study). It was developed along with several other courses as part of a Templeton grant to better integrate science and faith within a Mason curriculum.* As we finish out this grant, we would appreciate your feedback on this course through a pre-course survey which you take now and a post-course survey upon completion. Thank you for your participation.
This guide contains information and instruction on materials, assignments (readings, videos, and audios), poems, nature study suggestions, and more. Each week focuses around a different topic, though some projects are ongoing. Some weeks will be easier than others depending on your environment, the season, etc. and do not have to happen in the exact order listed.
Though local requirements differ, we hope many can use this course toward Professional Development hours or Continuing Education Credits.** We are grateful to David Lahti for developing this course for us and hope it will inspire this generation of teachers and parents to observe carefully, think deeply, and wonder at the God who created the earth and all that is in it.
The Charlotte Mason Institute
*This project was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. or the Charlotte Mason Institute.
Oh! whisper not that music dwells alone
In gorgeous palace, or in sculptured hall;
Say not that harmony’s entrancing tone
Is breathed but by the syrens that enthral
The charmèd spirit with their notes, that fall
Divinely sweet upon the listening ear:
For there is music in the wild-bird’s call
Unrivalled, as with joyous warblings clear
He pours his untaught lay when day’s bright beams appear.
Go to the cloistered roof, and hear the sound
Of the full organ’s rich and pealing tone;
Then, on the sea-girt shore, mark ocean bound,
And hear his music—it is Nature’s own.
No vaulted aisle could echo that low moan—
That cadence wild— the requiem of the brave
Who sleep beneath, unnoted and alone:—
And magic sounds are in that flowing wave,
Which sings itself to rest in hollow—answering cave.
Yes, harmony is Nature’s child, and dwells
In all her fashionings;—the viewless breeze,
With lute-like, silvery sound, can boast its spells,
As on its soft and floating wings, it flees
Unfettered on—till the green, shady trees
Invite its music, and with leaf-wrought chain
Awhile confine it, seeking to appease
Its wild, melodious anger—but in vain—
It thrills a cadence through them, and is free again.
And sweetest sounds are in the fountain’s play,
Borne on the glittering drops, as sparkling high
They greet the sunbeams—and a mournful lay,
Sad as Æolian harp touched by a sigh,
Is breathed from river-wave, whose soft notes die
Upon the water-lily’s snow-white breast;
And sweetly the green rushes make reply,
As the night-breezes lull them to their rest,
And thus the wavy grass makes melody its guest.
All, all is harmony! the deep, blue seas,
The purling rivulets sweet murmuring,
The lamb’s low bleat, the busy hum of bees,
The bird that soars on heaven-directed wing,
All taught by Nature, Nature’s music sing:
And to the heart this simple melody
A tide of rapturous thought and joy must bring;
For who but with a grateful soul would cry—
By Nature’s voice we know that Nature’s God is nigh!
-Anne Beale (1837