15 Aug 2013

See, think, and tell

I'm having trouble trying to decide what to do this morning.  Should I work on Living Science?  Update my blog?  Read my book?  Such decisions.

After much thought I'm going to combine the first two and tell you about my new Australian nature study book.  That way, I'll assuage my guilt over not working on the former, and be able to talk to you at the same time!  Now, before you click away, the post is more about nature study than Australia, if that makes any difference.

(If you want the sound track for my life, today I'm listening to this exquisitely beautiful thing, courtesy of one of the lovely mums on the AO forum. (Have you joined?  I'd love to see you over there!))

Anyhow, the book's called Australian Nature Studies by John Albert Leach, and it was first published in 1929 in the hope that "the non-expert, the nature-lover, the teacher, the scout-master and others interested in boys and girls will find such direction and assistance as will enable them to see and understand enough of nature about them to lay the foundation of the observing habit."

It's an unassuming little book.  Mine has no cover, and plain green boards.  It has simple line drawings. It is really not that exciting to look at, but one look at the prose makes you realise that Leach was passionate about nature study. The Australian Dictionary of Biography has this to say about him:

From 1904 Leach, as the Education Department's visiting teacher of nature study, was an inspiration to other teachers. His subject was soon accepted into the school curriculum and in February 1905 he became teacher of nature study and geography at the Melbourne Continuation (High) School and, in March, lecturer in nature study and botany at the Training College. He was appointed organizing inspector of nature study in 1907 and in 1911 and 1912 published a complete scheme for the teaching of the subject in the Education Gazette and Teachers' Aid. Leach led many field excursions and, although these were planned for small groups, attendance swelled and the trips soon became regular features of school life. In October 1909 Leach also helped to found the Gould League of Bird Lovers; its membership of 25,000 in its first year was a tribute to his organizing ability. He was made a senior inspector of schools in 1920, rising to assistant chief inspector in 1924.

The bulk of the book is similar to Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study with some Australian inclusions and additional simple experiments using homemade apparatus.  All is interesting, but the really inspiring bits are in the appendices.  The first is an essay entitled Nature-Study in Education.  Here are some delicious quotes:

The child has learnt much before entering school; he is interested in, and full of curiosity concerning things about him.  Nature-study aims at continuing his natural method of learning and developing further his interest and curiosity... As nature-study is so full of interest and is not an examination subject, it affords relief from more formal work and provides relaxation and pleasure.  In this subject at least, ...children may follow their interests.

The definition of nature-study best suited to our outlook is by Professor Lloyd Morgan:- "Nature-study is a process whereby the common things and events acquire a meaning."
The one main object of education is to produce a self-educating person.  Nature-study with its vast field for interest lays the foundation of this desirable habit for the observant child.  He develops power to extend this habit to other subjects.

Our aims in nature-study then are to continue the natural method of learning and enable a child to see and understand; he should see for himself, think his own thoughts, and enjoy the natural beauties and operations about him.  Incidentally, he develops power to express his thoughts in speech, drawing and writing.  Thus is attained the purpose of nature study...that a child shall "see, think and tell" for himself.

Nature-study also has an educational value.  The fourth R - reasoning - is important.  How many men with little of the three R's have become leaders among men?  They owe their success, not to their knowledge of the three R's, but to their power of reasoning facts, forming correct judgements, and depending on these judgements.  They can see and think for themselves.  Nature-study concerned with seeing and thinking, assists in developing that reasoning power.

Nature-study...helps other subjects.  Composition, oral and written, is assisted directly.  The children, having much to tell, develop the power to express thoughts suitably.  Drawing is also assisted; new things are studied and expressed by drawing, which implies accurate observation of form and structure. Geography is helped largely; just where physical geography ends and nature-study begins is not easy to say; each helps the other.

How different the nature study...of mountain, shore and forest regions or of mining or orchard districts! Profit and pleasure await all in the study of their environment; there is freedom in this subject at least. 

A love of truth will surely result from nature-study, which helps to develop the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and the understanding heart.  In nature-study, reliability is the keynote.  It helps produce the citizen the Empire needs, reliable, resourceful, experimenting, observant, mindful of the rights of others, standing firm to the right and true, and not misled by glitter or appearance.

The second appendix is called Nature-Study as a School Subject. It's filled with pearls of wisdom also, this time of a more practical bent.  I hope you're not bored yet.

The...aim in nature-study is that the child should "see what he looks at," think about what he sees, and then express his thoughts suitably. The aim is expressed simply in three words - see, think, and tell.

Dead specimens are unnecessary, and, in fact, are often nearly useless.  It is the living, working organism that is beautiful.  Nature-study develops a regard for the rights of others, and a respect for the life of both animals and plants.  A dead specimen means generally a dead lesson.

While each...develops the branch in which he is most interested, he should not confine his course to that branch.  Some love birds; others, flowers; some, rocks; others are keen on the glories of the sky - nature's picture book.  All should receive stimulus and introduction.

There are two distinct steps in any nature-study.  The child first examines the material for himself, forms his own ideas about it, and becomes accustomed to movements and structures.  A lesson during this stage is pleasant or profitable neither to teacher nor pupil... In the second stage, the child desires to tell what he has observed and to hear what others have discovered.  A lesson, now that he is ready for it, is a pleasure.

Some authorities object to "sipping," and want "systematic" work following the order of science.  That is impossible, and even if possible, is undesirable.  Few, if any, elementary school teachers know the scientific order of the several sciences drawn on, few can find the material to illustrate the scientific order, and few localities provide that material...   Nature "has a brook and plant and toads, and bugs, and the weather all together."  Though man would treat these under different sciences, yet in nature-study this is the natural grouping.  To the child, there is but one science, one nature.

Some...desire much apparatus.  There is, however, abundance of naked-eye material... The child should acquire the habit of noting unconsciously what is going on.  He hears the-singing lark while those not interested hear nothing.  He enjoys the beauty of the sky and spring flowers while walking...  If he has the nature study habit only when fully equipped with apparatus and in a special locality, then nature-study has failed.  Wayside plant and lonely road should have interest and meaning as well as the school garden, which will not be neglected in nature-study.

Lessons should always be fully illustrated; there should be a consistent appeal to the thing itself to confirm or correct each point.  Observation and study must be based on reality.

A simple test of the success of nature-study is this:  If the work is a pleasure to all concerned, it cannot be wrong; if not a pleasure, it cannot be right, though much time and trouble be taken to provide abundant material and to give good lessons.

If you've stuck with me until now, the third Appendix is the one that has relevance to Living Science, and it is the one that has me most excited, for in this Appendix Leach includes a whole eight year Course of Study for children ages 5-14!  Oh my!

 It appears that back in 1929, children took nature study in primary school, which was replaced by science in the higher grades.  Miss Mason, on the other hand carried nature study right through the secondary years as well.  What was this more advanced nature-study like?  We know that Nature-Lore in her schools included knowledge of  natural objects—wild flowers and fruits, trees, birds and insect life.  It included field work in botany, natural history, geography and geology and the keeping of a Nature-diary. It introduced students to the pursuits of field naturalists. (Is this field naturism? field nature? Dunno.  Aren't naturists people who like gong outside with no clothes on?  Blush.) Anyhow, what we don't know much about is how nature study in CM's schools evolved as the pupils aged.  What did field work in botany and the rest actually look like?  Leach's Course of Study, perhaps gives us some ideas.

The Course of Study, as I mentioned covers 8 years, but I'd like to just look at year 6 if I may, since that is Jemimah's year.  Lessons marked with an asterisk were considered most important.  Here they are in season order:

Year Six Age 11


  • Seed scattering
  • Water and life, Transpiration
  • Mosquitoes (two lessons) - life history, structure, distribution, blood-sucking apparatus and coagulation, malaria and yellow fever hosting, breeding and suppression
  • Equinox, sunrise, sunset
  • Germination
  • Seed leaves and uses
  • Plant feeding
  • Leaf arrangement
  • Leaf shape and edges
  • Plant respiration
  • Roots
  • Stem
  • Plants feel
  • Solstice, place and time of sunrise, sunset
  • Deposits and flood plains
  • Rives and lakes
  • Clouds
  • Southern Cross or N & S Line
  • Wattle Tree

  • Asparagus
  • Potato or iris
  • Feathers
  • District birds in orders
  • Beaks and necks
  • Scarlet geranium
  • Nasturtium or sage
  • Strawberries
  • Cereals or climbing plants

As you see, it is full, varied, and advanced.  It covers botany, geology and physical geography.  It moves on from the macro study of earlier years into the micro study.  It is achievable without too much effort and without expensive equipment. I am quite excited about this course of study.  It inspires me to see nature study more as observational science, worthy in its own right to be included in the secondary curriculum.

Nothing in Charlotte Mason's philosophy is done for no reason, especially not something with the time commitment of nature study.  Leach's book inspires me to keep doing nature study well in to secondary school, and to do it well.  The rewards, as with everything else in Mason's method, will surely follow.  See, think, and tell.  It's that simple.


  1. have this book:) Lovely book, 3rd Ed. Now I can't find the 8yrs course study in my book??

  2. I think you and I, Leach, Furneaux, and Haines are having tea somewhere, mind-to-mind, in the science of relations! Yes, yes, and YES to all those quotes. I can't help but feel that there is understanding here that is growing bright gazing on many truths. Now just how to quantify it and make it accessible...

  3. Hi Jeanne,
    Thought I would chime in. Sounds like you've been having a lovely time lately. Good on you.

    Thanks for posting about that book. It sounds inspirational. I will buy it to add to my collection. When I was in primary school, there was a pamphlet called 'Nature Notes'. It came out on a regular basis probably from the dept. I suppose. Anyway I remember it with great fondness as I have always loved nature. It is one of the few clear memories I have of primary school. I wonder if anyone else has heard of it?
    Anyway thanks for telling about this book.

  4. Louise! I was thinking of you! We visited Eloise at The Plaza in NY. Thanks for introducing us.

  5. Okay, so we don't run around naked in secondary school then?

  6. I like your blog and loved it on blogionaire.com

  7. Hi Jeanne, I like the course of study; Is your copy a 1920 ish one? Maybe later editions didn't put the study outline in which is a shame.
    Did you know he has a bird book also? http://archive.org/stream/australianbird00leac#page/n5/mode/2up.

  8. My book is the 1944 edition.

    I have the bird book as well. :) If you buy that one you need a copy that has the famous 'essay' in a separate section. That is the bit that is most useful.


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