I read something when I was very new in my homeschooling journey that struck me to my core, and has stayed with me ever since. It was Charlotte Mason’s list of a what a six year-old should know. Here are a few of the things it included:
- to know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows
- to describe the boundaries of their own home
- to describe any lake, river, pond, island etc. within easy reach
- to be able to describe 3 walks and 3 views
- to mount in a scrap book a dozen common wildflowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them
- to do the same with leaves and flowers of 6 forest trees
- to know 6 birds by song, color and shape
If my mind wasn’t already made up about wanting a Charlotte Mason-inspired education for my daughters by then, it certainly was after I read that list. The idea that these precious early years should focus on time in nature, and deliberate attention to our intimate surroundings in particular, resonates with everything I believe as a mother, as well as a former preschool and kindergarten teacher.
When I read this list, I wasn’t so sure that I, myself could do those things. I wasn’t sure I even knew which way the wind blew, the names of a dozen local wildflowers, or how to identify six birds or six trees outside my home. In my defense, we had just moved to Maui from Colorado six months prior. I was still getting used to the fact that play-dough left out by accident would be right as rain the next morning. But as soon as I read that list, I started to pay attention.
I listened to the myna birds outside my kitchen window, memorized their song. I learned the wildflowers that grew along our tangled, verdant hillside–ginger, hibiscus, and the curious blooms on the octopus tree. I memorized the trees, paid close attention to how they changed, and when, and why. I wandered off the list and learned the subtle seasonal shifts of our island home–crab spiders and roaring surf in the winter, drier days and more exposed tide pools in the summer. I found myself falling into a rhythm, found myself a part of a bigger whole. I noticed patterns, cause-and-effect, and began to feel the storms hours before they came.
When I wrote Blossom and Root Early Years Vol. 2, I had the “list for a six year-old” in my heart. What did I want my daughters to learn before they turned six? What foundation did I want to build? What did I want them to carry in their inner toolbox, the way I had begun to carry stories about the perfectly symmetrical pods that fell out of the autograph tree down the road, and the sudden flash of the red-crested cardinal through the trees in the morning? Charlotte Mason’s list had all of the answers.
The nature study prompts in Blossom and Root Early Years, Vol. 2, are heavily inspired by her beautiful suggestions: learning the landmarks around the child’s home that they can use to anchor themselves against the points of the compass, learning their local trees and birds and wildflowers by heart, noticing the seasonal shifts and rhythms of the world outside their door. They are meant to bring their attention to the unique, intricate tapestry within walking distance of their home, to find the patterns and notice the changes.
The first time I went through the program, it was with my oldest and we were still on Maui. I remember, specifically, the day she became mesmerized by the Ae’o–the Hawaiian stilt that we spotted again and again at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge on various outings. She made painting after painting in her nature journal of this peculiar bird, asked me questions, and begged to visit again. Nearly two years, and three-thousand miles later, she still remembers its name and can describe it perfectly.
My youngest is in the midst of Vol. 2 now. She’s learning entirely different creatures and plants: ponderosa pines, Steller’s Jays, and columbines–the treasures of my own childhood. We are going slowly. We are savoring every moment. I am relearning everything right alongside her–running my hand along the miniature canyons on the cottonwood bark as I hold up paper for her to make rubbings, listening for the call of the magpie at the top of a spruce tree, and searching the meadows for Black-Eyed Susans. She has learned that the creek is north of our home, and the mountains rise to the west. She’s learning that she is part of a whole, part of a rhythm, and that she has her whole life ahead of her to learn it all, no matter where she may wander as she grows.
She is learning the beautiful familiar.
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