Most modern books written on scientific topics for children these days are full of fact-filled sidebars, colorful photographs, and prose similar to that of a textbook. Gone are the days of gentle, literature-based explorations of natural phenomenon that weave factual observation within an enjoyable story—living science books. In the spirit of recapturing these treasures, Simply Charlotte Mason has reprinted Margaret P. Boyle’s Outdoor Secrets, originally published in 1903.
Available as both an e-book and a printed version, the slender volume consists of 17 short, whimsical tales, each the perfect length for a brief literature-based science lesson. In each, children are guided on a journey through nature’s “secrets” through stories told from the perspective of plants, animals, observant children, and parents.
The short stories often include a gentle moral lesson as well, which is never preachy or heavy-handed. In “The Selfish Salvia” two flowering sisters are compared, one generous with her nectar, the other stingy. The reward of the generous Salvia is a heavy, fertile crop of seeds following the pollination process that is explained for children in the natural flow of the story. The selfish Salvia however, produces only infertile seeds due to her refusal to welcome the honeybee.
Life sciences concepts such as: seed germination, the growth of cherry tree roots, the song of robins, the nest-building habits of flicker birds, the unique properties of the horse chestnut tree, and so forth are related in similar fashion. Written from an American point of view, many of the plants and animals discussed will be familiar, though some of the plants are limited to certain geographic areas and may not be instantly recognizable to children. The table of contents is included in the free downloadable sample file available from SimplyCharlotteMason.com for a complete list of the plants and animals explored.
The text is accompanied by the charmingly simple, original black and white line drawings of illustrator Augusta T. Tappan. An excellent supplement to the book is a quick visit to Google images along with each story in order to provide full-color pictures of the plants and animals described.
The e-book version is somewhat unusual as far as pdf versions of books go. It has not been reformatted to the standard 8 ½” x 11” page, resulting in very large margins and some degree of wasted space. Also, some parents will wish to be aware that the animals and plants often talk amongst each other in the stories, and that the mythical character of Mother Nature is often employed as the organizing and instructive force at work in the natural world.
Outdoor Secrets is a delightful find for families embracing the Charlotte Mason or Waldorf educational method of presenting factual information to children within the context of living literature. This collection of stories can be used as a gentle stand-alone science text for young students over the course of a month or so if two stories are read each week. It can also be put to work as a supplementary text to a formal study of biology to enliven the study or serve as a launching pad into a unit study, notebook, or lapbook.
This title boasts the earmarks of a captivating read for all young students, from preschoolers up until the end of elementary school at least. My little ones hushed immediately as I began reading from its pages, whether happily modeling with clay, cuddled up on the couch, or lying in bed. Written from a perspective that values on-going natural observation, Boyle’s work will foster an ongoing appreciation for nature study and encourage personal interaction with the world around us in order to discover additional outdoor secrets