We lament that children spend most of their time inside. We weep that their main form of occupation, and in some cases, interaction with others, comes from screens. We wonder what the world will look like when a whole generation has floated through their days, half-asleep, seemingly unaware of a sunset or insect.
So what is to be done about it?
We train children to see, to find joy and delight in the world around them.
"We all need to be trained to see, and to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in the this beautiful life." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pg. 43
From the time our children are infants, we have the opportunity to help them look closely at what's before them: their rattle, the family pet, a butterfly... During our children's early years, these are some of the most important lessons we can implement.
When I originally wrote this post several years ago, I focused on the educational aspects: understanding of textures, ability to differentiate colors and shapes, sensory input of touching different objects. Now, from a different spot in the parenting journey, I see that the benefits are not solely educational. The most considerable gain is that we will raise children who are engaged in the world around them and who can take joy in the delights of Creation.
This training to see of the early years occurs through nature play and living life undistracted, but Charlotte Mason specifically described object lessons for young children. Object lessons, now interpreted mostly as tools for Sunday schools, are in this case opportunities to present our children with something interesting, allow them to explore it with their senses, and discuss what they're experiencing.
Object Lessons With Young Children
The baby is a wonderful teacher in this matter of object-lessons. To be sure, his single pupil is his own small self; but his progress is amazing. At first he does not see any difference between a picture of a cow and the living animal; big and little, far and near, hard and soft, hot and cold, are all alike to him; he wishes to hold the moon in his pinafore, to sit on the pond, to poke his finger into the candle, not because he is a foolish little person, but because he is profoundly ignorant of the nature of the contents of this unintelligible world. But how he works! he bangs his spoon to try if it produces sound; he sucks it to try its flavor; he fumbles it all over and no doubt finds out whether it is hard or soft, hot or cold, rough or smooth; he gazes at it with the long gaze of infancy, so that he may learn the look of it; it is an old friend and an object of desire when he sees it again, for he has found out that there is much joy in a spoon.” Parents and Children, page 181
"...so much joy in a spoon." So much joy in anything interesting, as long as we are willing to look! Anytime your child experiences an object like this, they are participating in object lessons.
Things Worth Observing
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 endeavor of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with nature and Natural objects.” Home Education, page 96
Most of these "things worth observing" with our children will be found outside. Yes, there are some interesting items inside, but imagine the exercise our sense get when we are shifting our focus from the pinecone in our hand to the sunset on the horizon, or we feel the wind on our skin while water laps around our ankles. These experiences are far more limited in doors, where the wall is our farthest sight and our skin remains untouched in the never-changing climate of our home.
He has a thousand questions to ask, he wants to know about everything; he has, in fact, an inordinate appetite for knowledge. We soon cure all that; we occupy him with books instead of things; we evoke other desires in place of the desire to know; 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 the joy of living.”
Parents and Children, pages 181-182
More to Explore With Object Lessons
- The lessons can either be purposeful or casual (180).
- The child will use his senses to find out all he can about an object (page 181).
- Lessons should occur daily (page 180).
- Vocabulary should be introduced if your child asks, but don’t throw difficult words in their just for the sake of it (189).
- Encourage the child to observe using all of their senses by modeling observation (page 192).
- Discuss a quality or two of the object, but don’t do an “exhaustive” object lesson (page 183).