6 May 2010

A magnifying glass on Japan

The whole tendency of modern Geography, as taught in our schools, is to strip the unfortunate planet which has been assigned to us as our abode and environment of every trace of mystery and beauty. There is no longer anything to admire or to wonder at in this sweet world of ours. We can no longer say with Jasper Petulengro, - "Sun, moon and stars are sweet things, brother; there is likewise the wind on the heath." No, the questions which Geography has to solve henceforth are confined to how and under what conditions is the earth's surface profitable to man and desirable for his habitation. No more may children conceive themselves climbing Mont Blanc or Mount Everest, skating on the Fiords of Norway or swimming in a gondola at Venice. These are not the things that matter, but only how and where and why is money to be made under local conditions on the earth's surface. It is doubtful whether this kind of teaching is even lucrative because the mind works on great ideas, and, upon these, works to great ends. Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value.

Perhaps no knowledge is more delightful than such an intimacy with the earth's surface, region by region, as should enable the map of any region to unfold a panorama of delight, disclosing not only mountains, rivers, frontiers, the great features we know as 'Geography,' but associations, occupations, some parts of the past and much of the present, of every part of this beautiful earth.

Charlotte Mason, Towards A Philosophy of Education, p224
I have written before of my daughter's privilege in having an intimate and personal knowledge of many regions of our beautiful earth. She has travelled extensively and often, and her knowledge has broadened in so many areas as a consequence, just as Charlotte Mason says it should.

The freedom of travel that we know now was unheard of amongst the children of Victorian England, and so we find no instructions in Miss Mason's educational tomes on how to prepare our children for travelling; what books to read; and whether it is, in fact appropriate to alter a set curriculum to include an in depth study of the region to be visited, but I feel quite sure that she would find preparation for travel appropriate and indeed desirable.
The panoramic method (of geography) unrolls the landscape of the world, region by region, before the eyes of the scholar with in every region its own conditions of climate, its productions, its people, their industries and their history. This way of teaching the most delightful of all subjects has the effect of giving to a map of a country or region the brilliancy of colour and the wealth of detail which a panorama might afford, together with a sense of proportion and a knowledge of general principles.

Charlotte Mason, Towards A Philosophy of Education, p228
But how? How do we kindle the imagination? What ingredients can we provide to allow the child to create the connection without placing ourselves right in the way of that happening? How can we prevent our study becoming the type of amusing farce of a unit study that Miss Mason describes so amusingly in Towards a Philosophy of Education (p 115)?
The conscientious, ingenious and laborious teachers who produce these 'concentration series' are little aware that each such lesson is an act of lese majesté. The children who are capable of and eager for a wide range of knowledge and literary expression are reduced to inanities; a lifelong ennui is set up; every approach to knowledge suggests avenues for boredom, and the children's minds sicken and perish long before their school-days come to an end.
These are the questions I ponder before each voyage to distant climes. Should I do something different? Should I do nothing at all?

Over the years, over the trips abroad I have tried a number of different methods of introducing a region of the world prior to our departure. Some were more successful than others. None are failures though, because the travel alone with no intervention by me is the best teacher of all. But can I help?

Miss Mason makes much of this idea of a child forming the connections between ideas himself without interference from the teacher. She disliked forced connections very much. She did, however link certain subjects in her schools:
The co-ordination of studies is carefully regulated without any reference to the clash of ideas on the threshold or their combination into apperception masses; but solely with reference to the natural and inevitable co-ordination of certain subjects. Thus, in readings on the period of the Armada, we should not devote the contemporary arithmetic lessons to calculations as to the amount of food necessary to sustain the Spanish fleet, because this is an arbitrary and not an inherent connection; but we should read such history, travels, and literature as would make the Spanish Armada live in the mind.

Our aim in education is to give children vital interests in as many directions as possible - to set their feet in a large room (Psalm 31:8) -because the crying evil of the day is, it seems to me, intellectual inanition.

Charlotte Mason, School Education p231
Okay, to extrapolate then: A study of Japan should involve readings in history, literature, geography and the arts, to enhance the imagination and make Japan live in my daughter's mind, giving her as many directions as possible, but allowing her to create her own connections in her own mind.

So to our plan.

Map Drill

We've focused our map drill around Japan, identifying other Asian countries in the region, the names of seas and islands and major cities. We've discussed a little of the politics and the border disputes with Russia, China, Korea and Taiwan because of their proximity.

We've also mapped the Tōkaidō Highway, important in our art study below.


I discussed our Picture study here. We're looking at the woodcuts of Andō Hiroshige 安藤広重, and hope to see some of his work during our visit. We're locating the various staging posts on our map as well.

Folk Songs

We've learned the lovely Japanese folk song, Toko No Tsuki (but our version is written for kids and is from The Sing! Collectors' Edition 1995-1984.) Have a listen to this version though - it is beautiful.


Jemimah is reading the terribly sad but enormously thought provoking Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. As the legend goes in Japan, if you fold one thousand paper cranes, your wish will be granted. It was Sadako's friends who managed to fold the remaining cranes to make up the thousand she needed, but we've been folding them too. Only we don't fold for luck - we fold for peace.

We're also reading The Big Wave and One Bright Day by Pearl S Buck. It was books from this wonderful author that first kindled my own interest in Asia. I'm hoping she might do the same for Jemimah.

One of our family read alouds is The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice by Allen Say, and based on Allen's own boyhood in Japan. Grandfather's Journey is one of our family's favourite picture books, and this novel is proving every bit as good so far. I would own every one of this man's books if I could.

Other things

There's other stuff too. We've used the excellent book Tokyo Friends by Betty Reynolds as a gentle introduction to the language, culture and etiquette of Japan. Studies of this type are much more fun when you're going to be there imminently!!

We've learned the kanji for telling the men's toilet room from the women's. Highly important stuff, this. Critical even.

We've learned life skills, like packing neatly in a suitcase. Colour matching clothes has been an interesting one as well!!

Education is part of life, isn't it? It's hard to say now what else we're learning because we don't think of it as education - it is just part of preparing for our holiday. Our grand and exciting adventure to Japan.

I've done my bit. We've made adequate preparation. The rest now is up to Jemimah. I'm packing our nature notebooks though. Miss Mason tells us that they're excellent travelling companions!
But the peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures. Herein lies the educational value of geography.

Charlotte Mason Home Education p 272


  1. I am incredibly jealous! I would love to take our kids to foreign lands!!! We make do with the stories and the maps and the books that give us glimpses of other ways of living. Kaytie wants to be a missionary, and I'm not entirely certain that isn't merely born of a desire to wander the earth. :)
    She wishes Jemimah a fun trip to Japan and especially Disneyland!

  2. Apart from echoing Spesamor academy's feelings :), I want to say that you must have read my mind as I was pondering this very topic today - I want to read Alison Lester's Are we there yet to Rebekah this year for Aussie geography and I was trying to work out what to do without turning it into a unit study:) so, this post helps clarify it for me, so a big thank you and Bon voyage (or the equivalent in Japanese) to you and your family!

  3. Is there any wonder why your geography posts are my absolute favorite?!! I love CM's reference to Psalm 31 and will wallow about in it today. You have done a great job!

    The connections our children make may not be immediately evident but when the Lord gives us the privilege of seeing one made...oh, what sweetness.

    I remember those beautiful wood carvings. Are you coming back with one of those? ;)

    We just read Erika-San a few days ago. Max is liking Allen Say more as he gets older. I got to see an exhibit of his work at the Eric Carle Museum and was happy to have not read all of his books (yet) as it made for an interesting experience to see the illustrations apart from the words.

    Well, enough. Off to bathe in a Psalm.


  4. My kids cried over Sadako--then had wars with the origami birds they made! Have you read Hatchico Waits? It's also sad, but a wonderful story of a dog--sort of the Japanese "Balto". [FYI--the Balto exhibit was in Cleveland when I was there, but no time!] Book link:

  5. Jeanne, as I read the first part of your post, it sounded so "today" and then I realized, ahhh, I'm reading Miss Mason. She was so intuitive and ahead of her time.

    I wish we could travel, but we'll have to just get our travels from books. I love reading your thoughts on Charlotte Mason's teachings. You're a good resource! :)


  6. Jeanne, thanks for bringing this pieces of Miss Mason, and disclosing how they look in your home and how you set to accomplish that what CM so beautifully expresses. (Every sentences I read I want to say "YES, WELL SAID, YES, GREAT", and how you made your conclusions and bring that to Jemimah is fabulous.
    You'll have a FANTASTIC journey that will no doubt provoke a journey inwards.

  7. "these pieces"...argh, not being a native English writer exasperates me.

  8. One of the many things I love about books is that I can travel the world without leaving my comfy chair and hot chocolate. Sometimes it is difficult to tell which is better - the real life of travel or the wonderful books.

    We have found our nature notebooks to be wonderful travelling companions as well. I never leave on a holiday without them now.

  9. I thought the same as Lynn. I just loved this entire post. It is so inspiring! Your daughter is receiving the best education! Thanks for sharing all of your insights.

  10. Jeanne, what could be better described as a 'living education' than to actually go in person than to read a 'living book'? I'm sure that whatever Miss Mason purports is really only what she deems as second best to actually going to a place and learning first hand?
    When we decided to home educate our children, the first thing that came to my mind was which country we would take them to, not which book to get next, lol. If we only had ever done the travel thing (oh, alright with a bit of maths and english thrown in ;)) I would have been quite content with the education they would've received.
    I am still planning the ultimate field trip, ie trip around the world with whole family! Ambitious, I know, but it gets more realistic all the time since the older the dc are the more able they will be to pay their own airfares! OK, some call me a dreamer, but I prefer to call myself a futurist ;)

    Have an immensely wonderful trip to Japan with your family! xx


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...