Curriculum, Nature Study, Philosophy, Practical Application, Science
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Ten Stages of Learning Science by Jennifer L. Gagnon

There is a natural progression of how children to get to know the universe around them.   Science can be integrated innocently as ‘education is a life’.  I have outlined ten stages that should be supported by living books that are appropriate to the age and stage of the child.

Science teaching should lead to ‘that attitude of reverence for science, reverence for God and openness of mind, which befits us for whom a life is a probation and a continual education.”(Mason, vol. 3, p 159-160)

We do not give a five year old child a dissection kit and ask him to look at the inner workings of a fetal pig.  Nor do we ask him to balance a chemical equation. We want our children to be curious about their universe and to begin a life time of caring and loving the beautiful and wonderful world God gave them.  Let them start with the big picture with which they have a personal relationship.  Have children see animals in their natural habitat and then introduce them to the classification from Kingdom through to Class and Family.  Let them marvel at the endless sea of stars before they are introduced to black holes and string theory.

A child that is pushed through these stages too quickly or miss one will not have time to appreciate the living thing as whole and where it fits into his world.  Every stage is important.  As you progress through to the minute details of a thing don’t forget to include the stages that came before.  As you prepare for a dissection, discuss what ecosystem the specimen came from, take time to describe what you see on the outside, make a sketch of it then do the dissection to see what is inside. The attitude of ‘reverence of science and for God’ is our goal.

10: The Big Picture:

See the world in big chunks.  Notice mountains, hills, fields, a river, a forest and maybe a town in the distance.  Look to the sky and notice the stars and moon at night and cloud formations by day.  Stay up late and watch the night sky. Look out the car window instead of watching movies or playing with electronic gadgets when going on a trip. On that same trip, stop once in a while, get out of the car and look at the new landscape. Go for walks in different areas to notice the different terrain. Take the opportunity when you are in an office building or hotel to look out at the world from that perspective.   Think about spending the fee to go to the top of tourist attractions like the Empire State Building, the London Eye or Eiffel Tower.  Even a Ferris wheel ride at local fair can give you a great view of your own town when you get to the top.

9. The Lists:

Make lists of trees, birds, animals.  I would have had a list of insects I saw because I loved them.  You start recognize the silhouette of the whole creature and certain birds or animals by the way it moves or its color.  You are able to identify a tree by the shape of its leaves and the color and texture of its trunk and branches.

8. The Senses: Hear Smell Touch Taste See.  Use all your five senses with caution.

Listen to the wind as it goes through the leaves of a poplar tree, it sounds like water.  Listen to a paper wasp scratching on a wood railing. Listen to the hum of bees as they swarm the rose bush.  Listen for the toads as they look for mates in the spring.

Smell the different flowers and flowering weeds, not all have a scent, not all smell good and wild phlox smell like grapes. Smell your fruits and vegetables before and after you cook them. Take note of the smell of the barns of different mammals and poultry. Really smell the air after a rain or when you get out of the city or go into the city.

Touch the bark of a tree, feel each side of its leaves, roll the different pine needles between your fingers. Close your eyes and explore your dog or cat with your fingers, the underbelly is softer, the ears are like silk, the whiskers are stiff and bendy at the same time and its muzzle is floppy and ohh, its breath stinks! Peaches are fuzzy and nectarines are not.  Feel for ripeness of fruit. Feel the skin of yourself, your parents then your grandparents.  Dip your hand over the side of the boat and feel the water.

Taste your tap water, well water, lake water, ocean water.  Taste a new food once a week or month.  Enjoy the local fare when you traveling.  Eat right out of a garden, chew on fresh herbs or suck on a lemon. Taste all the ingredients separately before you bake the cake or make lasagna.

Look carefully at what you see. Follow the ant as he carries a dead spider to his hill. Sit quietly and study how a bird takes a bath.  Park yourself beside a pond in the spring and watch the toads swim closer together as they call to each other, stay long enough and see them mate.  Walk to a construction site and watch.  Identify the differences of twins or siblings that seem to look alike so you can call them by the right name.

7. Nature Study:

Before you put paint to paper, your eyes not only see the specimen but start to notice minute details.  How many petals does this flower have, do both leaves come out from the same point on the stem.  Is the whole flower purple or does it fade to yellow in the centre.  Our black Labrador is actually reddish brown in the bright sunlight. The outline of the maple leaf is not symmetrical and the veins are not either.

Sketch a flower, leaf or spiders web. Draw a wild creature that is found dead or very obedient. Paint the family pet or an animal seen at a pet store, local zoo or aviary. Trap an insect temporarily while you sketch it.

6. Nature Study with a Hand Lens.

You still see most of the whole specimen but with a little more detail.  Still out in the field because the hand lens is an easy thing to have in your pocket.  See the three parts of the body of insects and where the wings and legs are attached. Notice the individual gold jewels on a monarch chrysalis.  See the legs emerging from the tadpole.  Look at the hair coming out of your own arm.

5: Nature Study with Magnification using Microscope or Telescope:

The specimen is separated into very small sections since only one bit can be seen at a time. Now you can see the barbs on the feather and on the leg of the grasshopper. Identify different pollens or microbes in pond water.  Find a local astronomy club and take part in their seasonal viewings of the stars.

4. The Dissection:

Dissection starts in high school. Use bought specimens, fresh road kill, organs from an abattoir, or flowers from your garden, field or nursery.  Get into the mechanics of the specimen.  How does it breathe, see, move blood through their bodies. What about the heart and lungs.  Is there really anything to see in a clam or starfish?  The nose, mouth and throat are connected.  You will know because you have seen.  Dissection is not looking at a picture in a book or online.  Your students must participate in an actual dissection with actual scalpel and pins on an actual specimen.  The experience cannot be faked.  It is like the difference between knowing what the Roman coliseum looks like without having experienced being there in Rome and truly seeing it.

3. The Experiments:

Some experiments are rudimentary and you might not recognize them as experiments.  Experiments like learning to swim, sailing, paddling a canoe or kayak, gardening, using Lego or K’nex, cooking or putting up a bird feeder. Students learn huge amounts of data about science without consciously knowing they have.

More formal experiments are exploring electricity, gravity, motion, or chemical reactions. Physics and chemistry experiments performed when the child is too young may do more harm than good.  Without the mathematic literacy to comprehend the revelation of the experiment the child may formulate a false conclusion that will wrongly influence how he interprets other scientific data.

2. The Formulas:

This is the math behind the science, dealing with the universe on a molecular level and harnessing the laws of the universe into comprehensible patterns. It is the mathematical equations that predict what will happen in physics and chemistry. There is a prerequisite algebra level for high school physics because of the detailed formulas that are used and manipulated.  This is where a lot of students decide that science is too hard.  If points 10 to 3 are carefully presented in order throughout the student’s education, the formulas will just be a natural progression of the exciting adventure of knowing their universe more intimately.

1. Scientific Ideas and New Discoveries.

Mason considered the development of scientific ideas and new discoveries to be a process of revelation whereby God revealed the ideas of nature to chosen minds, and thought of scientists as ‘mouthpieces of the truth as well as chosen and prepared servants of Him who is the truth.”  (Mason, vol. 3, p. 157)

© Jennifer L. Gagnon 2010


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.

1 Comment

  1. jmtulis says

    Jennifer, what a nice job of explaining how to begin nature study!

    Thank you for this.

    I am hoping to start lists with my 7 yo, something I never did with my older ones, mores the pity.

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