How I Modify Mason’s Streams of Science (forms 3-6)

I mentioned in my last article, that I diverge from Charlotte Mason’s science plan, a bit, starting in form 3. I want to explain why and how I do that.

We Have More Common Information to Deal With

While it was most important to Mason that students come to feel a sense of wonder and admiration for the world, she also felt strongly that it was important for students to acquire scientific literacy – the common information. However, there is more common information to learn today than there was at the turn of the twentieth century. These days we vote on topics such as Stem Cell Research and GMO labeling. With this in mind, we might find some of the books Mason assigned are a little too light to carry us through all of the material we need to cover. We cannot turn to textbooks to cram more information, she was clear about that, but we probably can’t spend a whole year on a book such as The World of Sound by Bragg either. We are going to need to be very deliberate with our choice of books if we want to adhere to Mason’s page count (and word counts) per term but also manage to cover the common information of our day.

We Can’t Fire-Hose our Students with Four Heavy Science Subjects

With that said, I am hearing more and more reports from parents whose kids are feeling burned out by covering three or four difficult science topics each week. Mason assigned a variety of books each week, some light and some harder, but none equal to Chem 101. When we assign a day of each of the big four, we run the risk of overburdening our students.

Consider this example. In the same year that a form 3 students read The World of Sound, they also read half of The Study of Plant Life, a little less than half of Winners In Life’s Race, and three-quarters of The Fairyland of Science. That was all for the whole year! Compare that to four days of today’s physics, chemistry, biology, and earth science. I won’t even touch on the books you might use for those subjects because I don’t think it’s necessary to make the point.

The Popular Science Topics Have Changed

The topics of botany, geology, and astronomy were popular in the 1800s, and after Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species, natural selection, and evolution became popular as well. Mason included a bit of everything that was popular during her time, and I think we can accept that as a principle when deciding what topics we should cover in our schools. At the same time, even though chemistry, physics, formal biology, technology, and engineering are more popular than the earth sciences or general biology today, we still need to present our students with the whole feast. That’s a lot of subjects! We need a plan to adequately cover the common information in all of these subjects.

Students Can Attempt Experiments in Far More Subjects

After form 2, and Holden’s book The Sciences, the only experiments we see assigned to P.U.S. students were in the field of botany. These were quality experiments that crossed disciplines to some extent, so I do not mean to downplay their value. However, Mason was impressed by Holden and the experiments in his book, and she said, “The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords.” (A Philosophy of Education, 1925, p. 223) So why didn’t she assign experiments in other fields? My guess is that there were not many books besides Holden’s, written to students to guide them through the process. That is not so today. Our students can look up experiments in any scientific realm as easily as they can look up a recipe for no-bake cookies. But here is the catch, if we are studying several science topics each week, it can be hard to know which subject to draw our experiments from.

Biology is a Far More Robust Subject These Days

After Life and Her Children was completed in form 4 (grade 9,) the study of formal biology was dropped until form 6 (grade 12,) at which time a book about animals was added. Botany was continued until grade 11, and students were still expected to make special studies. That sounds nice, but frankly, there has been a lot of common information amassed in the realm of biology in the last 100 years, and much of it is the common information we are going to be required to know to vote. Therefore, I think we should continue one day a week with some study of biology. After a general survey of the subject, we can choose from any of the following topics: anatomy, biochemistry, health, neuroscience, cell biology, genetics, medical ethics, botany, ecology, evolution, paleontology, zoology and animal behavior, or marine biology. Our choice might be determined by what is important to the family or what is interesting to the student. Either way, after six years of studying various aspects of biology once a week, in addition to special studies, nature walks, and an occasional book of nature lore read during their free time, a student should have a good store of common information.

How I Schedule Science

Due to the above arguments, I limit our science studies to two subjects per term: biology and one other topic. Our experiments are pulled from the reading each week. Then, as each term ends, we switch to a new topic. My students are still studying four topics per year, so I feel good about the feast they are sampling from, but they don’t have all four subjects on their plates at the same time.

Below is a sample schedule for a week of science for students in forms 3-6 (grades 7-12).

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
40 min.
other science
40 min.
other science
40 min.
40 min.
another book
20 min.
(12th grade only)
Men, Microscopes, and Living Things For the Love of Physics For the Love of Physics cont. physics experiment Letters to a Young Scientist
(12th grade only)

If you would like to see how this looks across several years, take a look at the following pages:

Forms 3 (grades 7-8) Two-Year Plan
Forms 4-6 (High School) Four-Year Plan

Mason’s Streams of Science

You may know that Charlotte Mason assigned her children multiple streams of history each term, but did you know that she assigned them several streams of science as well?

Form 1 (grades 1-3)

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 2.04.01 PM

Form 1 students did not do any formal science yet. All of their science education fell under the category of nature lore. However, they already had various streams presented to them. They were always reading (or being read to,) from two different science books. One fell under a category I would term general, meaning it focused on a region, such as Plant Life in Field & Garden by Buckley. This also included regions that were far off, such as Animal Life in Africa by Duncan or Tommy Smith’s Again at the Zoo by Selous. The other was about a specific plant or animal group, such as Birdland’s Little People by Pike or Trees and Shrubs by Buckley.

Form 2 (grades 4-6)

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 2.04.25 PM

Form 2 students continued reading one nature lore book. Across 39 terms of programmes (from 1921 to 1933,) P.U.S. students were always assigned one of two nature lore books: Life and Her Children by Buckley or Madam How and Lady Why by Kingsley. I’ve read some interesting articles attesting to the fact that Buckley and Kingsley were two of the only science writers for children of their day who stood by their faith, however, they both believed in the theory of evolution. Unfortunately, neither one of these books would be my pick today. Despite Buckley’s faith

Unfortunately, neither one of these books would be my pick today. Despite Buckley’s faith, Life and Her Children is essentially a catalog of evolutionary biology, which might not be the best fit for every family, and I have a love-hate relationship with Madam How and Lady Why. I really think everyone should read it at some point in their lives, but because we are so limited in the number of books we can fit into our children’s science education feast, while still adhering to Mason’s page counts, I prefer to use The Story Book of Science by Fabre. It is not quite like either of the two books listed above, but neither are they like each other. On the schedules, Mason specifies a time of reading “nature lore”, so I feel like that is the common principle.  The Story Book of Science is definitely nature lore, while still teaching an ample amount of science, in a wide variety of subject areas.

A formal science book was added at this time as well. Students spent two years reading The Sciences by Holden and then third-year students read An Introduction to Elementary Botany by Laurie. The Sciences includes sections on astronomy, physics, chemistry, weather, geology, so students were getting a good sampling of all of the formal science subjects. Most of the subjects were taken over a single term. Today I do not use The Sciences, but rather several small books that are a bit more up to date.

Form 3-5 (grades 7-11)Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 2.07.01 PM

Form 3 and 4 students continued to read one nature lore book, Winner’s in Life’s Race by Buckley. This was the sequel to her book Life and Her Children, where she dealt with backboned animals. While I think it is important to use a book with literary power in this spot, I also think it is important four our students to take up the study of biology in earnest at this point.  Hence, I suggest the book Men, Microscopes, and Living Things by Shippen, which offers an overall survey of the field of biology, while maintaining a beautiful narrative style.

In the first half of the 38 programmes I studied, students in form 3 were reading two different science books, but I noticed that in the last half of those programmes, the first year students (grade 7,) had dropped back to two science books most of the time. (Three if you count their nature lore.)  These extra two or three books covered subjects such as botany using The Study of Plant Life by Stopes, general science using Fairyland of Science by Buckley, earth science using Geikie’s Physical Geography Primer, or a book about one specific topic such as The World of Sound by Bragg.

This is where I diverge from Charlotte Mason’s plan, a bit. I have my reason, which I will explain in my next article.

Form 6 (grades 12)

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 2.07.16 PM

Form 6 students were assigned an additional title, making their total five books. They read The Study of Animal Life by Thomson, The Romance of the Human Body by Macfie, a general science book, a geology book, and an astronomy book. An interesting discovery I made is that she used a textbook for 12th-grade geology – gasp! 😀 I’ll talk more about that another time. Suffice it to say that the textbooks of her time didn’t look anything like the textbooks we talk about today.

I mentioned above that I diverge from Mason’s plan for students in form 3 through form 6. This article was getting so long already, that I thought it would be better to move that explanation to a separate article.

My First Elementary Study Guide!

EL Astronomy-400From the beginning of this venture I knew that I wanted to create study guides for all three levels of science, but I wasn’t sure how that would look for elementary science. There are several parts and pieces involved in a CM elementary science curriculum, that it doesn’t feel like a cohesive plan of study. Not to mention the terminology, which seems to change when you are not looking.

I’m happy to tell you that in the end, it all came together. The various parts and pieces have found their home in this guide: nature lore, science, activities/experiments, objects lessons, special studies, exams and some good old encouragement for the teacher as well. It’s all in here. When you have finished this term, you will have finished what Mason counted as a solid term of elementary science.

I hope you and your children enjoy it!

Astronomy: Elementary Living Science Study Guide

By-and-by he passes from acquaintance, the pleasant recognition of friendly faces, to knowledge, the sort of knowledge we call science. He begins to notice that there are resemblances between wild-rose and apple blossom, between buttercup and wood-anemone, between the large rhododendron blossom and the tiny heath floret. A suggestion will make him find out accurately what these resemblances are, and he gets the new and delightful idea of families of plants. His little bit of knowledge is real science, because he gets it at first-hand; in his small way he is another Linnæus.” (Mason, School Education, 1904, p. 77)

Men, Microscopes, and Living Things is Now Available

I am delighted to announce that Living Books Library has republished my favorite living science book: Men, Microscopes, and Living Things by Katherine Shippen. As you probably know, these ladies are my co-hosts on A Delectable Education, but they also run a private lending library with over 17,000 living books, most of which were published before 1970. It has been a long time dream for them to republish some of their favorite old living books so more families can enjoy them, and I am elated that the first book republished through this new venture, Living Library Press, is a LIVING SCIENCE BOOK!

Men, Microscopes, and Living Things

Get your copy of Men, Microscopes, and Living Things now at Living Books Press for $13.95 (plus $3.50 shipping,) and then come back and get a copy of the study guide I designed to introduce middle school and early high school students to biology through the pages of this lovely book.


Form 3 Astronomy Study Guide Now Available

My Form 3 (gr. 7-8) study guide for Astronomy is finally available! It uses the book The Planets by Dava Sobel (2006), which is a beautifully written book. I’ve had so much fun writing this guide and hope it is just as much fun for your students to use.


I think this will work well for your form 4 (gr. 9) students as well, in case you are looking for something for them, and my form 2 (gr. 4-6) astronomy study guide will be available by the beginning of August, so maybe your whole family can dive into the same science topic this fall. I’ll be using the book Finding the Constellations by H. A. Rey for the form 2 guide in case you want to get a copy of that now.


Science, a Vast and Joyous Region.––Science is one of these provinces. Here, the stars are measured, the ocean sounded, and the wind made the servant of man; here, every flower that blooms reveals the secret of its growth, and every grain of sand recounts its history. This is a vast and joyous realm; for the people who walk therein are always discovering new things, and each new thing is a delight, because the things are not a medley, but each is a part of the great whole. So immense is the realm of Science that one of the wisest and greatest travelers therein, who had discovered many things, said, when he was an old man, that he was only like a little child playing with pebbles on the beach. -Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 35