Category Archives: Living Science Books

Science Textbooks – Why Not?

I frequently use the following quote when pleading that people not subject their child to science instruction by way of a textbook:

“The mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other.” (Towards A Philosophy Of Education, p. 218)

Sawdust. That should close the book on this question, right? But you might think your child can handle a bit of sawdust in their meal, as long as it comes with a side of real food. I hear this is the case with packaged grated cheese these days, after all. But Mason tells us not to bother because our kids’ minds will reject it:

“Again, we have made a rather strange discovery, that the mind refuses to know anything except what reaches it in more or less literary form.“ (Towards A Philosophy Of Education, p. 256)

I suspect it’s the same with the cheese. The manufacturers know it will just pass right on through us, and they assure us that it won’t hurt us, so how can it be a big deal? I suspect it’s a very big deal – both the wood coated cheese and the textbook.

Just in case you need convincing that Miss. Mason held this same opinion of science books, and not just the books in other subjects, she makes herself clear:

“Books dealing with science as with history, say, should be of a literary character, and we should probably be more scientific as a people if we scrapped all the text-books which swell publishers’ lists and nearly all the chalk expended so freely on our blackboards.” (Towards A Philosophy Of Education, p. 218)

Still, some people persist. Possibly because they cannot see how their students can gather all the facts needed to pass a test someday and secure their future if they only read living books. Mason eases these fears by confirming that our children will remember all the facts they need to:

“A first condition of this vitalising teaching is that all the thought we offer to our children shall be living thought; no mere dry summaries of facts will do; given the vitalising idea, children will readily hang the mere facts upon the idea as upon a peg capable of sustaining all that it is needful to retain.” (Parents and Children, p. 277)

Charlotte Mason is so good at saying what she means to in so few words. In that single sentence, she tells us what we must do (only offer living thought,) what we must not do (offer dry summaries of facts,) and she settles our mind that the children will be able to gather the information they need. She gently appeals to us as loving and concerned parents. But in the next sentence she lays down the hammer:

“We begin by believing in the children as spiritual beings of unmeasured powers––intellectual, moral, spiritual––capable of receiving and constantly enjoying intuitions from the intimate converse of the Divine Spirit.” (Parents and Children, p. 277)

If you are like me, you needed to read that last sentence a few times. Our children, children of God, are capable of receiving intuitions from the Holy Spirit. Would we stand in the way of that? Charlotte Mason tells us that “to accept and invite the daily, hourly, incessant co-operation of the divine Spirit in…the schoolroom work of our children.” To do that we must recognize “that the Spirit is life; therefore, that which is dead, dry as dust, mere bare bones, can have no affinity with Him, can do no other than smother and deaden his vitalising influences.” (Parents and Children, p. 277)

If we cannot bring ourselves to quit the textbook because our children cannot mentally digest it, and will, in fact, refuse to digest it, and if we cannot quit just because Mason says so, maybe we can quit because the Holy Spirit, the Divine Educator of our children, is life. To stand in His way with that which is dead would be a terrible lack of cooperation on our part.

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.


How Old is Too Old for a Science Book

Charlotte Mason commented that she had few living science books written in English to choose from. (vol. 6, p. 275) I sometimes reflect on this as I agonize over which book to use for a subject. We have so many to choose from! But recently I began to wonder if Mason would approve of using some of the books I like, because of their age. Would she say a science book that is over 50 years old is too old?

I have some good reasons to use books from the early half of the twentieth century. Primarily, that the quality of books for young people has dramatically declined since the 1960s when the government started federally funding libraries. As more money was available, the quality went down. Think of it like this, if you have a limited book budget in your house, you will be careful as to what books you spend money on. You’ll be far less likely to buy twaddle, if you know you won’t have enough leftover to buy what you need for your kids’ school year.

This question led me to do some research on the books Mason used. I looked at the 14 most commonly used science books from the P.U.S. Programmes between 1921 and 1933, for forms 3 through 6 (middle school through high school). Continue reading

My Favorite Science Biographies (Some of Them)

This week Charlotte Mason Institute posted an article I wrote called “Living Science Through the Lives of Scientists“. I hope you will take a few minutes to go over there and read it.

That which has become the dominant idea of one person’s life, if it be launched suddenly at another, conveys no very great depth or weight of meaning to the second person — he wants to get at it by degrees, to see the steps by which the other has traveled.” (Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p.97).

Biographies hold so much value when teaching science. I’ve seen it over and over again with my own kids. (They have been the guinea pigs for all of my science study.) It never failswe can use a rather hard biography, like Crucibles, and years later they will remember every scientific principle that was presented, while they can’t remember anything from the “list-of-facts book” two hours later. There are several reasons why I think this is the case, which I explain in my article.

In light of that article, I thought I would take a few minutes today to share some of my very favorite science biographies. Continue reading

Special Study – Minerals

Natural bodies are divided into three kingdomes of nature: viz. the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms. Minerals grow, Plants grow and live, Animals grow, live, and have feeling. — Carolus Linnaeus, (1735)

Where to look for books in your library: J 552 primarily

True Book of Rocks and Minerals by Illa Podendorf (48 p.)
Rocks and Minerals by Lou Williams Page (32 p.)
The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky (IP, PB, gr. 3-6, 48 p.)
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky (IP, gr. 9+, 496 p.)
Salt by Augusta Goldin (LRFO)

Field Guide:
A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals by Frederick H. Pough

Teacher background: HoNS*
Rocks and Minerals, p. 743-744
Minerals, p. 750-759

Object Lessons, choose from the following:

  1. Grow [LARGE]Alum crystals over the whole term. (Here’s how we did it.)
  2. HoNS 
    1. Lesson 211, Crystal Growth, p. 752
    2. Lesson 212, Salt, p. 753
    3. Lesson 213, Quarts, p. 755
    4. Lesson 214, Feldspar, p. 758
    5. Lesson 215, Mica, p. 758
  3. Janice VanCleave’s Earth Science for Every Kid by Janice VanCleave (chapter 2 only.) The following specific lessons would be good:
    1. Lesson 8. Salty, p. 24: To determine how salt beds are formed.
    2. Lesson 9. Needles, p. 26: To demonstrate how crystals form.
    3. Lesson 10. Deposits, p. 28: To demonstrate the formation of caliche deposits
    4. Lesson 11. Dripper, p. 30: To demonstrate the formation of stalagmites and stalactites.
    5. Lesson 12. Bubbles, p. 32: To demonstrate a positive test for limestone.
    6. Lesson 13. Spoon Pen, p. 34: To demonstrate a mineral streak test.
    7. Lesson 14. Crunch, p. 36: To demonstrate the formation of metamorphic rocks.
  4. Mineral Investigation Labs (for MS or HS)
  5. Adventures with Rocks and Minerals: Geology experiments for young people by Lloyd Barrow
  6. Break Your Own Geode *Is a geode a rock or a mineral?
  7. Make your own rock candy
  8. Place a small drop of various mineral solutions on microscope slides, then look at them through a microscope when they have crystalized. (see pictures below)

Other Resources: – the world’s largest public database of mineral information with an army of worldwide volunteers adding and verifying new information daily. (Click on Advanced Search and then enter your state or county to search your “locality”.)

Rock and Mineral Playing Cards

*Note: HoNS = Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock

**Note: When you are studying “earth science” you will encounter more explanations of the evolutionary theory than when you are studying botany or elephants, for example. Older books have less inclusion of this perspective usually. My guiding line is that they not mock or attack the young earth view point. We can have a conversation about “millions of years”.

The following resources might be useful: – Engineer Goes Back to School: Don Batten chats with geologist Dr Tas Walker (Flood model solves geological puzzles)
Answers In Genesis – Radioactive and Radiocarbon Dating (video)
Dr. Ron Carlson – Origins (video, covers carbon dating)
  Dinosaurs, Flood Pt 1
  Dinosaurs, Flood Pt 2

Natural History Rotation
Natural History: Implementing Special Studies (full explanation)
Implementing Special Studies – An Outline