Category Archives: Special Studies

Object Lessons

Charlotte Mason tells us that the young child is “full of vivid interest. He has a thousand questions to ask, he wants to know about everything; he has, in fact, an inordinate appetite for knowledge.” Unfortunately, we soon cure him of all of that by “occupying him with books instead of things…and we succeed in bringing up the unobservant man (and more unobservant woman) who discerns no difference between an elm, a poplar and a lime tree, and misses very much of the joy of living.” (Parents and Children, p. 181-182)

If we are determined to follow Mason’s lead down a better path, we must remember that while books are an essential part of a Mason education, things can be very instructive as well, and the more we find a balance between the two, the more intelligent and observant our children will become.

Object lessons are a wonderful way to gently guide a child to carefully examine a given object (a thing) in order to find out all he can about it through the use of his five senses. In fact, when the child’s senses have been exercised and his interest aroused, he can most effectively retain what he is discovering. Continue reading

Nature Study and Science Lingo

Does the science “lingo” used in Mason’s volumes and around the CM community confuse you at times? I thought I would take a few minutes to clarify some of the nature study and science terms that get tossed around.

Natural History was the blanket covering for all things science on the PNEU programs. Under this heading, we find a variety of activities and books, including nature lore, special studies, nature study notebooks, and resources for these topics. We also see typical science topics listed, such as chemistry, physics, the earth sciences, and botany.

Sometimes we also see the heading “Natural Science” or “General Science“, but the topics covered under these titles were listed under the general heading of “Natural History” at other times.

Nature Lore is essentially the use of naturalists’ books to open the students’ eyes and pique their interest regarding what is to be seen outside. This is seen on the PUS schedules at least once a week through form 2 (grade 6), but I feel like it should still be included for older children if they have not been homeschooled using the Charlotte Mason method for several years.

Some examples for form 1 students are:
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children by James Herriot
Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers by John Burroughs
Wild Life in Woods and Fields by Arabella Buckley

Some examples for form 2 students are:
The Storybook of Science by Jean Henri Fabre
The Secret of Everyday Things by Jean Henri Fabre (381 pp.)
Insect Adventures by Jean Henri Fabre (298 pp.)
The Lay of the Land by Dallas Lore Sharp, 214 pages

Some examples for form 3+ students are:
The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell
Anatomy Of A Rose: Exploring The Secret Life Of Flowers by Sharman Apt Russell
A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

You can find many examples of these kinds of books on my Nature Lore page.

Special Studies are an opportunity to focus on an individual topic in the area of botany, biology or earth science. They are usually seasonally based, and although they can be done as a family, older students can pursue particular interests of their own. Typically time is scheduled during the morning hours to read books pertaining to the topic, and then during afternoon nature study the topic can be looked at more closely by way of observation or an object lesson. Read more about implementing special studies.

Object Lessons are usually done during nature study time, as a compliment to your special study topic. The Handbook of Nature Study is a great resource for this as it contains many short lessons divided by topic. The idea is that you take about 10 minutes to look much closer at something specific, even directing a few “casual” questions to the children to help them notice something they may not see without prompting. This activity should only take about 10 minutes. Read more about the use of object lessons in my article on implementing special studies.

Nature Study is done every afternoon when the child is young, but even as they get older they should have a minimum of one full afternoon spent outside each week. Frequently a nature walk is done during this time, but it is not necessary. The goal is to spend time outside observing what there is to see, however, this is not a time for the teacher to teach, but rather should be child-led. Read more about what afternoon time looks like when you have young children.

Brush Drawing is a form of water color painting that requires very little water. It is a way for students to record their observations, even when they are still too young to write in their nature notebooks. Learn more about it in my article keeping a nature journal.

I hope this helps! Let me know if I missed one that you would like to know more about.

Opening Their Eyes

Early on in my family’s Charlotte Mason education, nature study time just meant going outside to see what we could see. There was no plan. I’m not knocking that way of doing nature study. In fact, it was an improvement over the “we’ll just skip it today” mantra that I had very early on.

A most memorable day of “seeing what we could see”, came when we walked outside and found a wee mushroom.

It was like a little gift to us! We each did a nature drawing, 
Can you see the mushroom down front and center?

we struggled through some identifications,

we read a short book,

and we made some spore prints.

The kids’ surprised faces are priceless!
Some spore prints are light colored and some are dark, hence our use of black and white paper.

This was so fun that we decided we would try to find more mushrooms somewhere else. My sister has a large piece of property with a fun creek, where we spent several days a week playing. That seemed like the best place to start our mushroom search. Would we find any? We had been over there recently and hadn’t seen any.

As we walked around we noticed hundreds – no thousands – of mushrooms! They were everywhere!!

What happened? Had they all popped up overnight?  No, our eyes were just opened.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we had done a special study. We had spent a little time finding out about one particular thing, fungi, and our eyes were opened. What a joy!

We took it a little further after that, looking closer and making more detailed observations. (Because who could help themselves!?)

We made some spore prints on a glass microscope slide and took a closer look,

and there were many drawings made.

All because our eyes were opened one day when we went out to see what we could see. 😀


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

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

Grow [LARGE] Alum Crystals

A quick search on the internet provided me with several sets of instructions for growing alum crystals, but none of them worked the way we had hoped. We kept ending up with big clusters of crystals, but not a single big crystal. After a little trial and error, however, we figured out how to grow some big ones!

What You Need:
alum (from the spice isle of your grocery store)
2 jars

What You Do:

  1. Pour 1/2 cup of hot tap water into a clean jar.
  2. Slowly stir in 2 1/2 tablespoons of alum, a little at a time, until it stops dissolving. You likely won’t need the whole amount – just enough to saturate the water.
  3. Loosely cover the jar with a coffee filter or paper towel to keep dust out. 
  4. Allow the jar to sit undisturbed overnight, or even for a couple days.


  1. The next day (or a couple days later,) pour off the alum solution from the first jar into another clean jar. (Do not pour the tiny crystals in with the liquid, yet.)
  2. You will see several small alum crystals at the bottom of the jar and along the sides. These are the ‘seed’ crystals which you will use to grow big crystals.
  3. Pick 1-3 of the largest ‘seed’ crystals and place them in the bottom of your fresh jar of alum solution.


  1. Repeat part 2, moving your growing seed crystals to the fresh jar. 
  2. Pick off any tiny crystal that have affixed themselves to your big crystal.
  3. If the alum water gets too low, make more solution and add it to the jar. (Wait until it cools.)
  4. Don’t be concerned if it seems like your crystal is not growing properly on one side – just turn it over and it will repair itself. 

When it is the size you want, store it in an airtight container.

You can see the size difference between our tiny seed crystal (left), and our finished crystal (right).

These crystals have gotten cloudy due to being exposed to the air for a couple months.

I hope you try this out and let me know how it worked!

Special Study – Minerals
Natural History Rotation