Friday, November 19, 2010

Camellia Nature Study

The Camellia by Honore de Balzac
In Nature's poem flowers have each their word
The rose of love and beauty sings alone;
The violet's soul exhales in tenderest tone;
The lily's one pure simple note heard.
The cold Camellia only, stiff and white,
Rose without perfume, lily without grace,
When chilling winter shows his icy face,
Blooms for a world that vainly seeks delight.
Yet, in a theatre, or ball-room light,
I gladly see Camellias shining bright
Above some stately woman's raven hair,
Whose noble form fufils the heart's desire,
Like Grecian marbles warmed by Phidian fire.

We have several camellia shrubs in our yard. My favorite sign of fall is the camellia sasanqua, a native of the evergreen coastal forests of southern Japan, with its delicate white flowers with pink scalloped edges. We believe the people who built our house in 1910 must have planted it in the backyard. What started out as a shrub fools people into thinking it's a tree, nearly as tall as our two-story house! It shelters birds and feeds the insects. The last bloom emerges at the beginning of winter when the magenta camellia that houses our bird feeding station starts. All winter long camellias on either side of the house cheer me up and the one that borders the yard with the neighbor sustains the Baltimore orioles. Camellias lovingly remind me that spring is just around the corner.

Until last year, our nature study efforts occurred in fits and starts (I knew enough to share some great resources but lacked consistent application). This year, we have studied painted lady butterflies, lady bugs, pears, webworms, and wasps (blog to follow once winter kills off the wasps so we can study their nests). We have never studied flowers intensely enough to name the parts of the flowers and study their seed production cycle. I chose camellias because we have several varieties in our yard and can study them off and on during the winter. Another advantage is that, at any given moment, we can see every stage of seed production: bud, blossom, flower, browning, and fruit (nut) on one shrub.

The ideal way to teach the parts of a flower is simply to talk about them as you and your child study flowers, discuss what you observe, and make drawings. Anna Comstock, who wrote Handbook of Nature Study, explained, "All the names should be taught gradually by constant unemphasized use on the part of the teacher; and if the child does not learn the names naturally then do not make him do it unnaturally” (Page 456). However, Pamela doesn't learn the names of most things naturally because of her aphasia: she requires new words to go through multiple channels: saying, hearing, reading, writing, etc. We began our study by taking apart a flower and doing some whole-part thinking (i.e., stamen = anther + filament). We focused on using the vocabulary words in sentences (rather than memorizing and drilling them). It will probably take a few months for Pamela to remember these words.

When I first tried using Handbook of Nature Study, I felt lost when I could not find things studied in the book. Barb over at Handbook of Nature Study blog helped me realize I could adapt lessons from the book. Since camellias are shrubs, I adapted Lesson 191 about another shrub (the mountain laurel) and developed my own lessons, which took about two weeks to complete. Because the camellia is a bug magnet, this lesson dovetailed nicely with the insects we have studied during the fall.

Pamela made an interesting discovery that many of us overlook. Beauty aside, what is the purpose of a flower? The picture to the left provides a clue. When asked what had happened to the flower, Pamela told me it had died. I corrected her and pointed out that the flower was getting ready to make seeds for new plants to grow. Something Charlotte Mason wrote about flowers has stuck with me all these years, "Presently they have the delight of discovering that the great trees have flowers, too, flowers very often of the same hue as their leaves, and that some trees have put off having their leaves until their flowers have come and gone. By-and-by there is the fruit, and the discovery that every tree––with exceptions which they need not learn yet––and every plant bears fruit, 'fruit and seed after his kind'" (Page 54).

Nature study crosses many disciplines. Besides improving attention span and the powers of observation, you can squeeze the grass between your toes on a gorgeous fall day. Pamela drew many beautiful pictures (art) and wrote many sentences (language arts) about what she saw. She is adding new botanical words to her vocabulary (science). Nature study is all that and a breath of fresh air!

We even incorporated math! Besides easy things like counting (except for fifty-four golden stamen), I designed a lesson in which we estimated the height. I took a picture of Pamela standing next to the shrub. I printed out a copy of the picture and we measured how tall Pamela and the shrub were: 1.6 inches and 6.4 inches. That means the shrub is four times as tall as Pamela. We estimated the height to be twenty feet by multiplying four times sixty-four and converted the result to feet.

My Favorite Picture


Barb said...

That is a really tall camellia bush! Wow, I don't think I have ever seen one so tall the way you determined the approx. height. Your daughter always does such a careful job on her journals and I agree that she sees many things in a unique way.

Great study and I appreciate that you are sharing it with the OHC. Thanks.

Bonnie said...

Love that poem and this post!
Reminds me of my grandmother's house who had planted flowering shrubs for every season. They also will leave a beautiful carpet ~~~ like the Autumn leaves.

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful! Your years using the association method and graphic organizers helped with adapting the lesson. That is what makes you such a good teacher for Pamela! Thanks for sharing this. Sincerely yours, Diane G.