I have a confession to make.
Last year, my oldest daughter's "second grade" year, we used a science textbook. I know, that's very un-Charlotte-Mason of me. Don't get me wrong. We did nature study too – one of our best years of nature study yet. We read the living books suggested on the Ambleside Online reading lists. And we took the text slowly so as not to crowd out these other good things in our schedule. But the bottom line is that I gave into that fear that somehow nature study and living books wasn't enough. I gave into that fear that told me I needed a textbook written by an expert and experiments too.
This is a pretty common fear among homeschoolers, I think. It's a pretty frequent topic of discussion over at the Forum, and especially in recent weeks as the first stage of the new 'living science' suggestions for the upper years of the Ambleside curriculum have been rolled out. (Check out the new suggestions in Year 6 and Year 7.) Over and over again, the patient 'science ladies' have explained what CM's goals are for science: To love it. To learn to observe and think. To care. Can a textbook help us to reach that goal? It's a good question to ask. Silvia shares Kathy's thoughts on that question here. It's worth the time to click over and read.
All this talk on the forum lately got me thinking that maybe I didn't need that science text after all. But then again, we hadn't finished it yet. (I hate not finishing what I start.) And Michelle thought the experiments were a lot of fun. So why not just keep on sneaking it in there?
Around that same time that all this talk was going around the forum, I realized that it's not just a Charlotte Mason thing to say that nature study is enough. In talks I've listened to recently from the classical world, Andrew Kern and Christopher Perrin have both said that they believe that nature study is not only ENOUGH for science in the elementary grades, but is really an essential foundation for any later upper-level work in the sciences. Nature study builds that foundation of wonder and keen observation skills. Can a textbook do that? I started wrestling with myself again. Could I really shelve that textbook?
Finally came end-of-term exam time. I asked Michelle to explain one of the science experiments she had done and what she had learned from it. And do you know what I realized? She hadn't really learned anything from it. Sure, she had fun. Sure, she could tell me what we did and how it was kind of cool. But the concept that the experiment was supposed to teach her? Gone. On the other hand, she told me in lively and enthusiastic detail about the life cycle of the mango tree we've been keeping an eye on in the yard. Not only did she do this at exam time, but she did it again during prayer time when she thanked God for making the tree to blossom and produce fruit over and over and over again. She told me in detail about the habits of our mice, and can correctly identify just about every flowering plant in our neighborhood. She has taken a fascination with rocks and the interesting bits that can be found amongst 'ordinary' gravel. I can scarcely keep up with her questions.
All of a sudden it hit me: the time we spent with that textbook last year? It was pretty useless. She didn't really even learn any nifty facts, let alone gain a greater sense of awe or wonder. She had fun doing the experiments, but she didn't love what she was learning. But she loves that tree. She loves the mice, the flowers, the rocks. She has a relationship with those things, and she's starting to see the glory of the God who is behind it all. This is what nature study does that a text just can't.
So I got brave. I went ahead and shelved the textbook. We'll use the time we might have spent with the text delving more deeply into nature study next year.
I'm pretty sure that it will be time well spent.