Category Archives: Outdoor Life

Physical Geography for Elementary School Students

learning by-the-wayWe talked about geography recently over at A Delectable Education podcast, but as we try to limit each episode to a reasonable bite-sized morsel, there are times when we have to leave something out that one of us really wanted to focus on.  For me, and my ever-present science focus, it was the details Mason provided us regarding physical geography for elementary students.

It seems to me a sine quâ non of a living education that all school children of whatever grade should have one half-day in the week, throughout the year, in the fields. There are few towns where country of some sort is not accessible, and every child should have the opportunity of watching from week to week, the procession of the seasons.

Geography, geology, the course of the sun, the behaviour of the clouds, weather signs, all that the ‘open’ has to offer, are made use of in these walks; but all is incidental, easy, and things are noticed as they occur.” (vol 3 p. 237)

Mason points out that geography for the young child should mostly be taught by-the-way. Instead of treating geography solely as a book subject at this age, we should be outside looking at a little creek and then comparing it to the great rivers of the world, or looking at a hill and comparing it to the great mountain ranges. She called this pictorial geography, which was just a way to use something accessible to us to foster the child’s imagination about other things in the world which they couldn’t see. She even said that, “There are certain ideas which children must get from within a walking radius of their own home if ever they are to have a real understanding of maps and of geographical terms.” (vol 1 p. 73)

Mason outlines the order in which each concept should be covered, and interestingly, each idea builds on another until the abstract ideas of direction, weather, and distance come together in a very tangible way for children. The following list is in the order she suggests presenting these ideas to our children:

  • The position of the sun in the sky as the day goes by, and how it helps us know what time of day it is. They can even note, in their nature journals, the time and location of sunrise and sunset over the course of a year, to see how it changes. They can be made to notice that when the sun is high in the sky on a summer day, it’s much warmer than when the sun is low in the sky in the middle of a winter afternoon. They may also notice the difference these things make for their shadow.
  • They can even learn a little about the size of the sun and the earth and the fact that the earth moves around the sun. Mason explains that these concepts, while abstract, can be of interest to a child who has a great deal of imagination and faith in seemly impossible things. (I just love that.)
  • They can learn basic information about the weather as it is experienced, again noting it in their nature journal.
  • They can learn about distance, by measuring the steps it takes to walk a certain path near your home. By measuring how many feet are covered by one of their steps, they can calculate the distance of a certain walk just by counting their steps.
  • Once they understand the concept of distance they can learn the time it takes to cover a certain distance, and they can calculate the distance of a walk based on how long it took.
  • Once they understand the progress of the sun, and a little about distance, the concept of direction-north, south, east and west-can be introduced, by coaching the child to stand with his right arm out toward the east (where the sun rises,) his left to the west (where the sun sets,) and his face pointed toward the north. Of course, then south is behind him. Then he can determine things like which side of his house faces south.
  • After this, they will be ready to notice which direction the wind is blowing, by noticing which way the smoke from a chimney is going, or even which way a bit of dirt or grass falls when tossed in the air. You can tell them that the same way we are labeled by where we come from, (American’s come from America,) the wind is labeled by where it comes from. So for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the “North wind doth blow” from the north, bringing with it cold air, and the south wind brings warmer air.
  • Following this basic understanding about directions, they can be introduced to the compass, and learn to use it to find direction.
  • At this point they can use their understanding of direction to accurately describe boundaries. They can say, our property is bordered by a corn field on the north side and main street is the south boundary of our yard.
  • All the while they should be noticing what kinds of crops grow nearby, what animals are raised locally, and what kinds of rocks and trees can be found in the neighborhood.
  • This culminates in the child drawing maps of various areas studied. They don’t have to draw them on paper, at least not at first, but rather they can be drawn in the dirt with a stick. They can note the boundaries and various structures, or where there is tree cover or a meadow. They can also note where north, south, east and west is on their map. They may find it hard to draw their map to scale at first, but eventually they will learn about to pace off a boundary and allow an inch for 10 feet or some such.

Each of these things, the sun, weather, distance, direction and boundaries, is covered by-the-way. There is no specific curriculum to follow, but you can see that by taking them generally in the order outlined above, one idea will lay the groundwork for the understanding of another idea. The only requirement is that you do need to spend ample time outside with your children, and that you are deliberate about noticing all there is to notice about the geography of where you are at. Each day you and your children will find something new to notice. One day the wind is blowing, but from which direction? And then the next day it’s snowing. The western boundary of trees blocks some of the snow, but the meadow is covered evenly. The sun comes out the next day, making the snow sparkle, but it is low in the sky, and therefore does not produce enough heat to melt the snow. And on and on it goes. All of this lays the foundation for learning the geography of other places later on by the use of maps.

Physical Geography Books:

Form I (grades 1-3,) has 10 minutes, twice a week allocated on the morning schedule to book work for geography, and form II (grades 4-6,) has 20 minutes, twice a week. I would use one of those two time slots for a physical geography book. You could certainly use Mason’s first geography book (online), or you could use several short books on various topics. You might even want to see if your library has them available. Some of my favorites are below:

What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Bulla (LRFO 1)
What Makes Day and Night by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 1)
Sun Up, Sun Down by Gail Gibbons
Energy from the Sun by Melvin Berger (LRFO)
Follow the Sunset by Herman and Nina Schneider
The Moon Seems to Change by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
North, South, East, and West by Franklyn Mansfield Branley (LRFO)

The Planets in Our Solar System by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
What the Moon is Like by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
The Sky Is Full of Stars by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
The Sun: Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)

On the Same Day in March: A Tour of the World’s Weather by Marilyn Singer
Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here by Jean Craighead George
Sunshine Makes the Seasons by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
What Will the Weather Be? by Lynda DeWitt (LRFO 2)

Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale by Peter Malone
Feel the Wind by Arthur Dorros (LRFO 2)

Clouds by Anne Rockwell (LRFO 1)
Not only for ducks: The story of rain by Glenn Orlando Blough
Rain and Hail by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO)
Flash, Crash, Rumble, and Roll by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
Down Comes the Rain by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
A Drop Of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
AND Snowflakes in Photographs by W. A. Bentley (a book of Bentley’s photographs)
The Big Storm by Bruce Hiscock
Snow by Thelma Harrington Bell
Snow Is Falling by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 1)

How Mountains Are Made by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld (LRFO 2)
Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean by Arthur Dorros (LRFO 2)
How a Rock Came to be in a Fence on a Road Near a Town by Hy Ruchlis


For Reference or further reading on this subject, read Mason’s own words in Home Education (vol 1), part 2, ch 9: Out-Of-Door Geography, pp. 71-78

Summer is a Good Time to Practice

My family owns a lake house that is only fifteen minutes from my house, and it is by far our favorite place to spend our summers. Some days it’s just our immediate family, and other times the whole extended family shows up, including guests, and it becomes a party!

There is a standing rule for dinner: each family brings their own meat to barbecue and a side dish that is enough to feed their own family. This way, if we end up being the only ones out there on a particular night, we have enough to eat. But if more families show up, we share our side dishes and have a potluck.

In order to facilitate this summer lifestyle, some planning has to take place, because once I leave the house with the kids, I do not return until bedtime. This can be a good thing if I’m prepared, or a bad thing if I’m not.

I get up in the morning and make dinner first thing. This may include throwing some things in the crock-pot (my absolute favorite kitchen tool,) or it may mean I just do all the prep work for dinner. I have to think of every detail, because I don’t want to end up out at the lake with my salad, but no dressing. Furthermore, I do not want to end up at the lake needing to do a bunch of prep work. I will not be very happy with myself if everyone is having fun swimming and I need to cut vegetables.

About this time my kids are starting to wake up, so I make breakfast. I want to be sure they have a good breakfast, because I know they will be expending a lot of energy during this day.

Once breakfast is finished, we all work together to pack a lunch and any snacks that we will want that afternoon.

With all of the meals for the day complete, the kitchen gets cleaned fully, to be left until the following day. Really! All kitchen work is done for the day, and we are all still in our PJs!

In our family everyone has a set of morning routines and afternoon routines. Basically it’s a list of everyone’s chores. These routines include personal hygiene, care of pets, including food pets, and housework. Because we will be gone all day at the lake, both sets of routines have to be completed before we leave the house.

Lastly, everyone makes sure they pack what they need for the day. Each child is responsible for themselves. This includes a swimsuit, dry clothes, and even a sweatshirt in case the evening is cool. They may choose to pack something like a sketchbook and paints, or a book.

And out the door we go! Our meals are done or prepared, (we take it all with us,) our chores are done, our house is clean, and we can have fun, with peace of mind, for the rest of the day.

I hope you made it this far, even if you don’t have a lake house to go to, because I suspect there is someplace you can go. Charlotte Mason said that, “A journey of twenty minutes by rail or omnibus, and a luncheon basket, will make a day in the country possible to most town dwellers; and if one day, why not many, even every suitable day?” CM vol 1 pg 44

Why not have a routine for the summer: Mondays at one park, Tuesdays at another, visit me on Wednesdays ;-), swim in the neighbors pool on Thursday, and spend Fridays in your own backyard. But don’t neglect the new morning routine just because you are staying “home” that last day. Do it all, and enjoy your day outside without worrying about what needs to be done inside.

“…make a new rule of life, Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” CM vol 1 pg 44

I have several friends who say they will continue school this summer after taking just a short break. I think this is a fine idea, but if the actual reason is because they don’t want to lose their school momentum, and because they don’t want to get bored with nothing to do this summer, then I would make a suggestion. What if this summer were used to practice what Charlotte Mason says about being outside? What if you added a lesson to the morning routine I described above, and then as you got better at this new habit of preparing for your afternoon out, you added another lesson? Eventually you might find that you can do a couple of hours of school in the morning before you headed out for your afternoon in the fields.

You could use this summer as a time to practice. 

Imagine if you started the next school year as a professional-morning-routine-mom! Instead of kissing goodbye to summer, instead of gathering around the table to start another school year with an attitude of doom and gloom, you would be able to tell your kids, “Let’s keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing, with just a couple more hours thrown in for school.” In fact, as the heat of August sets in, you could just up the school hours by a half hour per week, and no one would feel the pain of the end of summer.

In the PNEU schools all students started at 9:00am. Students in grades 1-3 finished school at 11:30, grades 4-6 finished at noon, and the rest finished at 1:00. Afternoon hours were free from bookwork, and were supposed to be spent doing nature work, taking walks and playing games.

In order to pull off a schedule like this, two things must be in place: 1) a school schedule that you adhere to, and 2) a morning routine that frees up the rest of your day.

So think about what I’m suggesting. Think about using this summer to practice doing what needs to be done in order to implement a true Charlotte Mason education method in your home.

Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them” – Charlotte Mason, vol 1, pg 43

Good Morning Sunshine!
Out-Of-Door Life – An Outline

Out-Of-Door Life – An Outline

Charlotte Mason’s first volume focuses on the child up to 9 years old, but we must remember the time period in which it was written. Children went off to school after this, so this was the time a mother had her child at home with her. Once the PNEU schools were formed, outdoor time was scheduled every day, starting between 11:30 and 1:00, (depending on the level of the student,) until about 3:45.

Shortly after the section on Out-of-door Life in volume one, Charlotte Mason says that, “The consideration of out-of-door life, in developing a method of education, comes second in order; because my object is to show that the chief function of the child––his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life––is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavour of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects; that, in fact, the intellectual education of the young child should lie in the free exercise of perceptive power, because the first stages of mental effort are marked by the extreme activity of this power; and the wisdom of the educator is to follow the lead of Nature in the evolution of the complete human being.” (pg 96-97)

Here Mason specifies that outdoor life is second in order in the means of a child’s education, but it becomes the FIRST thing that we parents can DO to facilitate their education. That is weighty.

However, in reading Out-Of-Door Life For The Children I found it frustrating that Mason jumps around so much. I understand the importance of embracing the philosophy and resisting making this a curriculum of check lists, but I still wanted the idea organized in my mind. Even she says, “Supposing we have got them, what is to be done with these golden hours, so that every one shall be delightful? They must be spent with some method, or the mother will be taxed and the children bored.” (pg 44) That is why I put together this outline of what a day outside should look like based on Mason’s ideas.

Volume I, Part II, Out-Of-Door Life For The Children


  1. Never be indoors when you can be without (pg 42)
  2. 4-6 hours on every tolerably find day, from April till October (pg 44)
  3. 2-3 hours every day in the open air all through winter, say an hour and a half in the morning and as long in the afternoon. (pg 85)
  4. All that has been said about ‘sight-seeing’ and ‘picture painting,’ the little French talk, and observations to be noted in the (pg 86) family diary, belongs just as much to winter weather as to summer.


  1. A journey of twenty minutes by rail or omnibus, and a luncheon basket, will make a day in the country possible…and if one day, why not many, even every suitable day? (pg 44)
  2. Children should be dressed [approprietly] for their little excursions (pg 84)


  1. First send the children to let off their spirits in a wild scamper (pg 45) → 1-2 hours (pg 45)
  2. Sight-seeing: send them off on an exploring expedition (pg 45) → 15 minutes or so (pg 78) OR
  3. Picture-Painting: taking mental photographs, exact images, of the beauties of Nature; landscapes (pg 48)→ should only be employed now and then (pg 49)
  4. Nature Study/Object Lessons: (pg 51) → an occasional ‘Look!’ an attentive examination of the object on the mother’s own part, a name given, a remark––a dozen words long…and not more than one or two such presentations should occur in a single day (pg 78-79)
    • Field crops
    • Field flowers and the life history of plants (flower pressing, collection, classification)
    • The study of trees
    • Seasons should be followed
    • Calendars (book of firsts)
    • Nature Diaries/Journal (brush drawing) also recording observations in a family diary is noted (pg 85-86)
    • Living Creatures
  5. Geography: → teach geography “by the way” (pg 72)
    • Physical geography
    • Position of sun
    • Weather
    • Distance
    • Direction, inc East and West
    • Compass
    • Boundaries
    • Draw plans
  6. French Lesson (or other foreign language) → a little lesson, ten minutes long (pg 80)
  7. Games → after lunch (pg 81) an hour or two (pg 80)
    • Rondes
    • Skipping-rope and Shuttlecock
    • Climbing
  8. Babies can sleep in the sweet air (pg 81)


  1. Do not send them; if it is at all possible, take them; (pg 43)
  2. They must be kept in a joyous temper all the time (pg 44)
  3. They must be let alone [masterly inactivity] (pg 44)
  4. Mother reads her book or knits her sock, checking all attempts to make talk (pg 79)
  5. Once a week or once a month, with look and gesture of delight point out to the child some touch of especial loveliness in colouring or grouping in the landscape or the heavens (pg 79)
  6. Very rarely, and with tender filial reverence point to some lovely flower or gracious tree, not only as a beautiful but a beautiful thought of God (pg 80)


  1. It is not mom’s business to entertain the little people (pg 45)
  2. During the first six or eight years of life, I would not teach them any botany which should necessitate the pulling of flowers to bits (pg 62)
  3. The Mother must refrain from too much talk (pg 78)

It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.” (pg 61)