Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: School Plans This Week

The first week of Term Three--a four-day week because of Easter Monday.  "Afternoon work" includes reading time (including poetry); all art lessons including drawing, calligraphy techniques, and picture study; composer study; time for composition; crafts and skills (including workshop time with Dad); outdoor time; work in ongoing notebooks or "people pages."  Swimming lessons are Monday nights.

The biggest change in this schedule is that almost all the read-aloud books (the "'fun" ones such as Fellowship of the Ring; the retelling of The Aeneid; and the poetry), plus writing (compositions) and fine arts subjects, are unscheduled and have to wait for the afternoons.  This is both a good and a bad thing:  good because it's flexible, but bad because we have to make sure they get done and that everybody doesn't go off to do something else.  I'm writing in a tentative plan for this week's afternoon work.

If this schedule doesn't work well, I'll re-integrate the afternoon subjects.


New Testament (20 minutes):  "The Journey Northward," two printed-out pages from Saviour of the World (photo:  Mount Hermon)

Arithmetic (30 minutes):  review work this week, because we won't have the new books (Key to Percents) until the conference this weekend.  We might use Clue Finders 5th Grade Adventures.

Natural history (30 minutes):  "A Piece of Coal"

Singing, break  (total 30 minutes)

Memory work  (10 minutes):  begin working on a poem

History (20 minutes):  Story of Greece, "The March of the Ten Thousand"

"Writing" (copywork) (10 minutes)

French (30 minutes or as decided)

Afternoon work:  Picture study; readalouds; written work;  outdoor time weather permitting


Natural history  (20 minutes):  Stars and Planets (read and narrate)

History (30 minutes):  Augustus Caesar's World, "Out of Persia," pg 170-174

Studied dictation (30 minutes allowed for study and then writing)

"Drill"  and break  (30 minutes allowed)

Memory work

Geography (20 minutes):  Study of Cornwall.  Map questions to be answered and places to be marked on outline map before reading.

Writing (copywork)


Afternoon work:   Volunteering at thrift store


Old Testament:  readings from The Book of Adam to Moses, "with necessary omissions"


Grammar (30 minutes allowed):  Continue with "Case closed," and maybe do a fun activity too

French songs, break  (30 minutes total)

Memory work

History (20 minutes):  Story of Greece

Writing (copywork)

Shakespeare play (30 minutes)

Afternoon work:  Composer study; readalouds;  introduction to calligraphy techniques


New Testament:  two printed-out pages from Saviour of the World


Cititzenship (30 minutes):  start book about Winston Churchill, Never Give In

"Drill", break (total 30 minutes)

Dictation  (unprepared--10 minutes allowed)

Grammar (20 minutes):  How to Speak Politely


Singing and Memory Work  (30 minutes total)

Afternoon work: Art time; readalouds; short calligraphy practice time; writing assignments; plus discussion of "weekend reading" and personal Bible study.


Mom goes off to play.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: of grief, loss, and flattened faith

I recently read a Globe and Mail essay that left me both aching for one hurting soul...and wondering how Jesus would respond to his pain. 

Basically the author is saying that although he believed that his Christian faith was solid, he got the wind so knocked out of him by the senseless death of his mentor that, within another year or so, he had "stopped" being a Christian.

I don't know this person, so I can't guess how deep his faith went, or the amount of grief he had to deal with.

But if the same logic applied to all Christian believers, then there would have been no Christian believers.  Ever.  Because that's exactly what happened on Good Friday.

Of course the disciples had the Resurrection to boost them up, a few days later, just as we have the promise of eternal life.  But all the same, would they ever forget the grief, failure, abandonment, betrayal that that Friday meant?  Yes, they saw Jesus alive--but did that end all their questions about the God who allowed His Son to suffer? 

If the same logic applied to me, my faith would probably either have been still-born...or killed off as well.  In some ways, it has died, more than once, through sin, stupidity, apathy, failure, disappointment, discouragement, betrayal.  (Sometimes other people's, sometimes mine.)  Every time we've had to make the decision to leave a church, some of my belief in God's people has been shaken.  I've seen Christians I trusted charged with criminal acts.  I've known others who should have been and weren't--which was worse.  I've seen Christian marriages, those that were an example to me, fall apart because of addictions; and ministries break apart over greed and power struggles.  I've often felt, like the author of the essay, that if we lose whatever or whoever most symbolizes Christ to us, then is there a point to continuing?

It seems that the body of Christ, once again, failed to see, to offer support and help where it was most needed...or maybe it was there, and this grieving Christian just didn't see it or couldn't receive it.  I don't know.  But even when the last friend has gone, the last mentor or reason to stay in the church has been taken--each Christian is still on his or her own journey.  Whether with welcome (or unwelcome) company, or alone for a stretch, the road is our own.  If that sounds like something from The Pilgrim's Progress, that's exactly what's on my mind, because that "Christian" had a mentor and best friend senselessly taken from him as well...and yet he continued on, I think, in part, to honour the memory of one he had loved.  And for a much greater reason: because it was his journey.
They therefore brought [Faithful] out to do with him according to their law; and first they scourged him, they they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that, they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords, and last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake.  Thus came Faithful to his end.

Now, I saw that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had dispatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds with sound of trumpet the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.  But as for Christian, he had some respite, and was remanded back to prison; so he there remained for a space.  But He who overrules all things, having the power of their rage in His own hand, so wrought it about that Christian for that time escaped them, and went his way.  And as he went, he sang, saying:

"Well, Faithful, thou has faithfully professed
Unto thy Lord, with whom thou shalt be blest.
When faithless ones, with all their vain delights,
Are crying out under their hellish plights.
Sing, Faithful, sing, and let thy name survive;
For, though they killed thee, thou art yet alive."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Exam responses: Bilbo's Party

Book studied:  The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien

1. Write about Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party!

Everyone in the Shire was going to come; it was going to be one of the biggest celebrations in years! Everybody loved Bilbo’s birthday parties; he always had the best games, decorations, food, and PRESENTS! And so, the day of the party came, all of the hundreds of guests were there (they wouldn’t miss it for the world), and they had lined up outside of Bilbo’s cozy little Hobbit hole. Bilbo came outside, and started distributing the presents. Several Hobbits kept coming back for more and more presents! And then the feasting started. And Bilbo stood up to make his speech. He said a few kind words, and then he said “Well, you were nice to know, bye!” and vanished! What he had really done was slipped on his ring with his “Bye!”, but everybody was chattering about it the whole evening!

Exam responses: Archimedes' War Machines

Book studied:  Archimedes and the Door of Science, by Jeanne Bendick

1. Tell all you know about Archimedes’ war machines.

Archimedes liked using science for nice purposes. He hated war. So when the king asked him to make war machines, he said he wouldn’t. Eventually they wore him down though. So Archimedes made war machines, and he taught men how to use them for several years. Then finally one day came when they were attacked. There was great pandemonium throughout the city. So Archimedes set up his machines, and put them to use. There was a claw that picked ships up and shook them around like they were toys, and so many more. So in that way the enemy retreated and the Syracusens were safe.

Exam responses: Antony, Cleopatra, and Herod

From Dollygirl's spring exams (as written, uncorrected).  Book studied:  Augustus Caesar's World, by Genevieve Foster.

1. Tell the story of Antony’s meeting with Cleopatra.

One day Cleopatra sailed over to see Antony. She invited him to dinner. So he came sailing over, and found that she had prepared a feast for him! So after he had come over a couple times he came one night and found a feast like no other! During that feast Cleopatra took a pearl off of her necklace and dropped it in her golden goblet of wine. It melted, and Antony and all of the other guests stared at her. Antony thought it was amazing that she could be so rich!

2. Tell what you know of Herod.

When Antony left, Herod came rushing into Cleopatra house, “I must see Antony!” he cried. “What is the matter?” Cleopatra asked, “Antony’s gone!” Herod was very upset. So he told Cleopatra his story. His land had been invaded and the high priest’s ear had been cut off. He had to see Antony! So finally after much traveling he came running into where Antony was staying. “Herod, what in the world are you doing here?” asked Antony in bewilderment. Herod hurriedly told Antony his situation. Antony finally told him that he could rule over Judea.

Up in a tree: Dollygirl's exam response

This is Dollygirl's illustration (done in Paint) of Miss Dunbar, the tree-climbing governess in Crystal Mountain.  Right now she is doing some deep thinking with her hat over her face.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter things to make (food and crafts)

Well, at the Treehouse there are always Kiffle.

And maybe Coconut Chicks, though probably not this year.

I like the Easter Cross Centerpieces at Mad in Crafts.

We got cream cheese on a great sale last week (if you're near a Food Basics in Ontario, they should still have it on sale--Lactantia brand for $1.44 a box), so we might make Cream Cheese Mints.  I like the shape of these ones--it reminded me that we have a couple of small plastic cookie stamps, Easter/spring-themed, and I bet they'd work on candy.  On Easter morning we have a coffee-and-baked-stuff time before the church service, and these would be good for that.

On the vegan end...we will also be at a potluck Sunday night that includes vegan relatives, so I'm thinking Pizza Cake, made with a no-eggs-or-dairy white cake as the base.  I usually make pizza cake in the large-sized foil pizza pans from the grocery store, because the foil pans actually have sides to hold the cake batter in (unlike our regular flat pizza pans). 

And, not so much to make...but last year we started kind of a new tradition here.  Instead of having individual Easter baskets or chocolate bunnies, last year we all went to the European grocery and picked out chocolate, cookies and other things for everyone to share.  It was a nice change, and I think we're going to do that again.

You know why Charlotte Mason preferred North's Plutarch? (or, don't eat your fingers) (Updated)

Which edition and/or translation of Plutarch's Lives is the best? 

Charlotte Mason voted for North's translation-of-a-translation, in this (Blackie) edition and this (Cambridge University Press) edition (Google Books preview.  Google Books has it labelled wrong: it says it's Dryden/Clough, but it's not, it's selected Lives translated by North and edited by P. Giles.)  (Actually, with the Blackie edition--I think they may have even bought the individual Lives each term, as in this one.  It seems to make sense, especially since the Programmes state that the books cost only a shilling each.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
UPDATE ON THAT:  I figured it out, based on the few Programmes that we do have online.  It's even simpler than it first appeared.  After I saw that Brutus and Coriolanus booklet, I couldn't figure out why there weren't more--once you start looking for the Picture Study booklets, for example, they're all over the place, terms and terms of them.  But the only other individual Blackie title I found was Julius Caesar.  And the other funny thing is that the P. Giles book only contains a few Lives:  Timoleon, Paulus Aemilius, Agis and Cleomenes, Tiberius and Caius Gracchi.  That's it.

So it was a case, I think, of using exactly what was available!  In Programme 90 (spring 1921), they did Timoleon.  Programme 91, Paulus Aemilius (big surprise).  Programme 92, Form III did Julius Caesar (it fit their history) and Form IV did Agis and Cleomenes.  Programme 93, Form III did Coriolanus, Form IV did Tiberius and Caius Gracchi.  Programme 94, everybody did Brutus.   And that's as far as we have.

(2015 update: you might like to know that Oxford's P. Giles Selections is being reprinted!)
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The sentence below shows you why

But the Carthaginians who were left in Rhegium perceiving, when the assembly was dissolved, that Timoleon had given them the go-by, were not a little vexed to see themselves out-witted, much to the amusement of the Rhegians, who could not but smile to find Phoenicians complain of being cheated.

Loeb Classical Library, 1920, by Bernadotte Perrin:
But the Carthaginians in Rhegium, after Timoleon had put to sea and the assembly had been dissolved, were indignant, and in their discomfiture afforded amusement to the Rhegians, seeing that, though Phoenicians, they were not pleased with what was effected by deceit.

But the captains of the Carthaginians, that were in Rhegium, when they knew that Timoleon was under sail and gone, after that the assembly of the Council was broken up, they were ready to eat their fingers for spite to see themselves thus finely mocked and deceived.

Quote for the day: In defense of reluctant writers

From Youth: Its Education, Regimen, and Hygiene (1906), by G. Stanley Hall, , Ph.D., LL.D., President of Clark University and Professor of Psychology And Pedagogy 
Closely connected with this, and perhaps psychologically worse, is the substitution of the pen and the scribbling fingers for the mouth and tongue. Speech is directly to and from the soul. Writing, the deliberation of which fits age better than youth, slows down its impetuosity many fold, and is in every way farther removed from vocal utterance than is the eye from the ear. Never have there been so many pounds of paper, so many pencils, and such excessive scribbling as in the calamopapyrus [Pen-paper] pedagogy of to-day and in this country.  Not only has the daily theme spread as infection, but the daily lesson is now extracted through the point of a pencil instead of from the mouth. The tongue rests and the curve of writer's cramp takes a sharp turn upward, as if we were making scribes, reporters, and proof-readers. In some schools, teachers seem to be conducting correspondence classes with their own pupils. It all makes excellent busy work, keeps the pupils quiet and orderly, and allows the school output to be quantified, and some of it gives time for more care in the choice of words. But is it a gain to substitute a letter for a visit, to try to give written precedence over spoken forms? Here again we violate the great law that the child repeats the history of the race, and that, from the larger historic standpoint, writing as a mode of utterance is only the latest fashion.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sigurd the Volsung and Charlotte Mason

Sometimes a book is not all in its title.  Ask any homeschool parent who's tried to find a good copy of Heidi, or an unbutchered version of Robinson Crusoe, or who has muddled through the various translations of Pinocchio.

I mean, this is Cinderella.  Right?
This is Peter Pan.
And this is Ambleside Online's recommended edition of Pinocchio.

Or maybe this?
All right, let's be serious.

But it's not even as simple as going to the other extreme--looking for the longest, most authentic, smallest-print edition out there.  Sometimes--just sometimes--what the Parents' Union School used is a surprise.  Here's one example:  In Programme 92 (first term of 1922), the Form III students (middle school-ish) were asked to read "Sigurd the Volsung* by W. Morris (Longmans, 2/-)."  W. Morris is William Morris, that William Morris.
Okay.  Sigurd the Volsung is not something I'm familiar with, so I looked it up on Wikipedia.  Some connections there--yes, I do know something about the German version of the story--Wagner, Siegfried, the opera Rush went to see in The Saturdays, the big dragon and all that.  I looked closer at the summary of Sigurd, and...well, my goodness, besides sounding very long, there is also a lot of rather earthy stuff in there.  This is what seventh graders in 1922 were supposed to read?

I browsed through some book listings for sale, new and used; looked up William Morris's books on Project Gutenberg; found it all a bit intimidating.  The idea of reading Sigurd for school did not appear to have much to recommend it.

Then I looked at the Longman's edition on  It's from a series called Longman's Class-Books of English Literature.  The title page explains it all:  "With portions condensed into prose by Winifred Turner, B.A., and Helen Scott, M.A."

So that's  how they did it.  It's like a version of Shakespeare that includes a lot of the original text, but summarizes scenes here and there.  The text is still 126 pages long, but I assume that's somewhat shorter than the original.  There's a glossary at the end too.

All right--that we could do.

And that's why, sometimes, knowing a little detail like the publisher of a book can make all the difference.
They are gone — the lovely, the mighty, the hope of the ancient Earth :
It shall labour and bear the burden as before that day of their birth.
                    *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
Ye have heard of Sigurd aforetime, how the foes of God he slew ;
How forth from the darksome desert the Gold of the Waters he drew ;
How he wakened Love on the Mountain, and wakened Brynhild the

And dwelt upon Earth for a season and shone in all men's sight.
Ye have heard of the Cloudy People, and the dimming of the day,
And the latter world's confusion, and Sigurd gone away.

Dante Quote for the Day

From The Divine Comedy: III. Paradise, Canto V, translated by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds.  Beatrice describes two cases of misguided men (Jepthah, in the Old Testament, and Agamemnon) who, by keeping their vows, caused grief.  She warns, "Keep your oath / But not with stubborn wall-eyed foolishness."  Then she goes on to say:

Christians, be steadier in what you do,
Not blown like feathers at the wind's discretion,
Nor think that every water cleanses you;

You have both Testaments in your possession,
You have the Shepherd of the Church for guide;
So let these things suffice for your salvation...

Behave like men, and not like witless sheep...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Some weekend thinking: from Dante's Paradise

From Dorothy L. Sayers' translation of The Divine Comedy, III: Paradise, Canto IV.  Dante has been questioning Beatrice, his conductress through the heavenly realm, about some of the things he has seen so far.  Sudddenly it makes sense to him, and he bursts into thanks.

My love's whole store is too diminutive,
Too poor in thanks to give back grace for grace;
May He that sees, and has the power, so give!

That nothing save the light of truth allays
Our intellect's disquiet I now see plain--
God's truth, which holds all truth within its rays.

Intellect, like a wild thing in its den,
When it has run and reached it, there can rest,
As reach it must, else all desire were vain.

Hence, at the foot of truth, the undying quest
Springs like a shoot, and doubt is still the lure
That speeds us toward the height from crest to crest.

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Term Two exam questions

Bible and Christian Studies

1. Say or sing as much of the Apostles’ Creed as you can. What does it mean to say that God is “our Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth?”
2. God’s Smuggler: Tell about a) the time that Brother Andrew met with a pastor in Eastern Europe but had no interpreter, or b) one of his other adventures.

Dictation (unprepared): to be assigned.


A) Choose one of the following scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring and write an account of it for one character’s diary—your choice whose.
1. Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party.
2. The reunion of Bilbo and Frodo at Rivendell
3. The meeting with Tom Bombadil

B) Crystal Mountain: Describe, in written form OR as an illustration, one of the scenes featuring Miss Dunbar.


B)  The Pushcart War:  Describe, in written form OR as an illustration, one of the scenes featuring Frank the Flower.

English Grammar

1. How many cases does English have? Give two examples of the nominative case (write sentences and mark the words in the nominative case).
2. Explain what is wrong with: “The two of us, Abby and me, were born on the same day.”


1. Tell a) the story of Themistocles’ meeting with King Artaxerxes, or b) Antony’s meeting (holiday) with Cleopatra.
2. Tell what you know of a) Herod, b) the Aeneid.
3.  You are a Spartan visiting Athens, during the Golden Age.  What things about this city (what it looks like, how people live) are different from your own?  Which would you prefer?

Natural History and General Science

1. Tell all you know about a) Archimedes’ war machines (used to defend Syracuse against the Romans), or b) how Archimedes solved the question of King Hiero’s crown.
2. Tell what you know of a) the uses of a hydrometer, b) the center of gravity (e.g. of a long board or a spoon).
3. Tell all you know of the life story of a primrose. Include as many parts of the plant as you can.


1. How did most people traditionally make a living? What was the “prosperous employee model,” and how did it change peoples’ lives? OR, What are some things you need to study or learn about if you want to have a successful business someday?


1. Find the average of 87, 76, 91, and 79, rounded off to the nearest whole number.
2. Write in scientific notation: a) 3,200,000 b) 0.0871
3. Crissy bought 4 posters for $13.50. Find the cost of each poster, to the nearest cent.

French (oral)

1. Give the French for a donkey, the horse, the fish, a long neck.
2. Use in sentences: “je veux,” le cavalier, le train.
3. Explain this sentence from Le Voyage de Monsieur Perrichon: “C'est toujours comme ça quand elle n'a pas pris son café.”


You have been assigned a paper-flower-making table at VBS. What supplies will you need? What steps will the flower-makers need to follow?

Sheila Burnford Quote for the Day (last one): No Little People?

From The Fields of Noon, by Sheila Burnford, 1964.  In "Pas Devant le Chien," Sheila and her daughter inadvertently convinced their dog (really, just don't ask) that there was a little man living inside the workroom heater, and this has turned into a problem--the dog is obsessed, can't sleep, seems to be waiting for whatever he thought they put into the heater to come back out.. 
...This made me think...of a friend who is a retired psychiatrist and has a pack of decidedly neurotic poodles   I rang him up, long distance too, and explained our problem.  Very, very interesting, he said, after a long expensive pause, it was a classic case of Canine Fixation.  The patient's suspense must be relieved....In other words, he explained in bright, kindly tones, murdering little male thermostats meant nothing to a dog, we must install instead a real little tenant in our heater.  He said that he was sorry, sizewise, that he was not able to move in himself, it sounded cosy; but he thought that there must be plenty of tenant material at the Bottom of the Garden if we inquired around, or knocked on the doors of a few toadstools--with this present cold spell as an added inducement there must be many who would be only too delighted to move into a heated apartment.  We might consider Lilliput too.... 
 Spoiler coming--how did they finally solve the problem?  Sheila's daughter disappears in the car for an hour, then returns, "modestly triumphant." 
Ten minutes later he lurched through the doorway, heading blearily for the heater.  I unscrewed the back, and he watched with polite interest.  Then Jonny inserted her hand and slowly drew out a fat, placid hamster, clutching a peanut in its pink hand....The dog was enchanted.  In a quivering ecstasy he watched Jonny open the door of a neat green cage with a kind of treadwheel inside....It curled up in a corner in a snug ball, yawned hugely, and fell asleep.  A minute later there was another cavernous yawn, and the dog slowly folded into a vast inanimate heap under the table.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: School for Friday

The last day of the term!

O Canada

Flower Fairy poems

Life of a Primrose, final lesson, including some talk about cowslips and oxlips

"The Lucky Bag," by Alison Uttley, a story about two girls, Tom Thumb, and a lucky oxlip

Break time!

Finished Key to Decimals, Book 4.

Finished Archimedes and the Door of Science.

Did the second grammar lesson in "Case Closed."  Discussed why it sounds funny when you say "It is I."

Cleaned out a miscellaneous box of who-knows-what.

Went to visit a friend who is home because her school got  two weeks of March Break.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

We're supposed to like school? (Philosophy of Education)

Well, if not school, at least learning.

"...they never got so far as to learn that knowledge is delightful because one likes it; and that no effort at self-education can do anything until one has found out this supreme delightfulness of knowledge."  ~~ Charlotte Mason, "Too Wide a Mesh," epilogue to Towards a Philosophy of Education

And in that sense, according to Charlotte Mason, the education of the Grenfell twins was a failure.

Check that off your list of standards.

Sheila Burnford Quote for the Day: Don't try this in a crowded place.

From The Fields of Noon, by Sheila Burnford, 1964.  In this essay, Ms. Burnford recalls her attempt to imitate the vocalizations of various forms of Saskatchewan wildlife. 
At last, listening one morning to the tantalizing clamour overhead, I realized where I had gone wrong.  I had tried to be a chorus of geese.  I had been attempting something like singing all four parts of a quartet simultaneously.  Now I listened carefully and isolated a contralto of about my range in the flock, who kept up an obliging steady honking.  I threw back my head, to make my neck as long and gooselike as possible; opened my throat as though I were about to pour something down it, then fooled it at the last moment by howling like a lovelorn wolf--and out came a perfect yelping honk.  My contralto friend answered, an echelon of her relatives joined in, so did the dog; and as I crouched there, howling my heart out, wingless but ecstatic, the long V wavered, then turned, and our unlovely duet rose and mingled at last in the wild harmony above as they flew directly over us.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Playing around with Charlotte's geography books

For those of you who read us by reader (and you all have noted that Google Reader is ending soon, right?), you won't have noticed the page I put up recently labelled Cornwall and Devon.  No, this is not a real vacation we're planning--don't I wish.  It's next term's geography study for Dollygirl, an experimental updating of two chapters in Charlotte Mason's Geographical Reader Book Three.  Because, honestly, there's no point in saying that a town is full of cottagers making lace, if its economy has now turned to computer chips or whatever.  And some of the newer facts I came up with are as interesting as Charlotte's old ones, I think.  Did you know that Christopher Robin Milne used to run a bookshop in Dartmouth?  Have you ever heard of the "Tinners' Hounds" in the town of Redruth, made from miners' old boots?

Anyway, as the disclaimer says:  I've never been there.  If you have, and if I've messed up, I'd be happy to fix whatever it is.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Life of a Primrose, Part 7: The Golden Crown (end)

These lessons are adapted from "The Life of a Primrose" in Fairy-Land of Science, by Arabella B. Buckley.  You might start today by reviewing the parts of a flower, e.g. stigma, stamens.  There will be a general review at the end of the lesson.
But why should the primroses have such golden crowns? Plain green ones would protect the seed quite as well. Ah! now we come to a secret well worth knowing.
1, Primrose with long pistil, and stamens in the tube. 2, Primrose with short pistil, and stamens at mouth of tube. (Diagram from Fairy-Land of Science)  See also diagram here (scroll down to Primrose) and the photos and diagrams in this really good post about primroses and cowslips.
Look at the two primrose flowers, 1 and 2, and tell me how you think the dust (pollen) gets on to the top of the sticky knob or stigma.
No. 2 seems easy enough to explain, for it looks as if the pollen could fall down easily from the stamens on to the knob, but it cannot fall up, as it would have to do in No. 1.

Now the curious truth is, as Mr. Darwin has shown, that neither of these flowers can get the dust easily for themselves, but of the two No. 1 has the least difficulty.

Look at a withered primrose, and see how it holds its head down, and after a little while the yellow crown falls off. It is just about as it is falling that the anthers or bags of the stamens burst open, and then, in No. 1, they are dragged over the knob and some of the grains stick there. But in the other form of primrose, No. 2, when the flower falls off, the stamens do not come near the knob, so it has no chance of getting any pollen; and while the primrose is upright the tube is so narrow that the dust does not easily fall.

But, as I have said, neither kind gets it very easily, nor is it good for them if they do. The seeds are much stronger and better if the dust or pollen of one flower is carried away and left on the knob or stigma of another flower; and the only way this can be done is by insects flying from one flower to another and carrying the dust on their legs and bodies.

If you suck the end of the tube of the primrose flower you will find it tastes sweet, because a drop of honey has been lying there. When the insects go in to get this honey, they brush themselves against the yellow dust-bags, and some of the dust sticks to them, and then when they go to the next flower they rub it off on to its sticky knob. Look at No. 1 and No. 2  and you will see at once that if an insect goes into No. 1 and the pollen sticks to him, when he goes into No. 2 just that part of his body on which the pollen is will touch the knob; and so the flowers become what we call "crossed," that is, the pollen-dust of the one feeds the ovule of the other. And just the same thing will happen if he flies from No. 2 to No. 1. There the dust will be just in the position to touch the knob which sticks out of the flower.

Therefore, we can see clearly that it is good for the primrose that bees and other insects should come to it, and anything it can do to entice them will be useful.
Now, do you not think that when an insect once knew that the pale-yellow crown showed where honey was to be found, he would soon spy these crowns out as he flew along? or if they were behind a hedge, and he could not see them, would not the sweet scent tell him where to come and look for them? And so we see that the pretty sweet-scented corolla is not only delightful for us to look at and to smell, but it is really very useful in helping the primrose to make strong healthy seeds out of which the young plants are to grow next year.
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie
~~William Shakespeare, The Tempest
This is a good place for narration.
And now let us see what we have learned.  We began with a tiny seed, though we did not then know how this seed had been made.
We saw the plantlet buried in it, and learned how it fed at first on prepared food, but soon began to make living matter for itself out of gases taken from the water and the air. How ingeniously it pumped up the water through the cells to its stomach—the leaves!
At this point we might have gone further, and studied how the fibres and all the different vessels of the plant are formed, and a wondrous history it would have been. But it was too long for one hour's lecture (or seven natural-history lessons), and you must read it for yourselves in books on botany.
We had to pass on to the flower, and learn the use of the covering leaves, the gaily colored crown  attracting the insects, the dust-bags holding the pollen, the little ovules each with the germ of a new plantlet, lying hidden in the seed-vessel, waiting for the pollen-grains to grow down to them. Lastly, when the pollen crept in at the tiny opening we learned that the ovule had now all it wanted to grow into a perfect seed.
And so we came back to a primrose seed, the point from which we started; and we have a history of our primrose from its birth to the day when its leaves and flowers wither away and it dies down for the winter.
(Photo found here--read the blog post too!)

A fun followup:  The Magic School Bus, Episode 11: "The Magic School Bus Goes to Seed," (available as a book as well)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Life of a Primrose, Part 6 (Natural History Lesson)

Adapted from "The Life of a Primrose" in The Fairy-Land of Science, by Arabella B. Buckley.  Those who have read Charlotte Mason's first volume, Home Education, may remember vaguely that she did not seem to approve of pulling flowers apart for study.  This is what she actually says:  "Is it advisable, then, to teach the children the elements of natural science, of biology, botany, zoology? on the whole, no: the dissection even of a flower is painful to a sensitive child, and, 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; much less should they be permitted to injure or destroy any (not noxious) form of animal life."  But we will assume that the students following these lessons were over the age of eight. 

You may want to begin by looking at a rough diagram of the parts of a flower--any of these images may help.  Do your students already know the names of the parts?  Even better:  find some real flowers of this type to examine. 
We have now seen how a plant springs up, feeds itself, grows, stores up food, withers, and dies; but we have said nothing yet about its beautiful flowers or how it forms its seeds.

If we look down close to the bottom of the leaves in a primrose root in spring-time, we shall always find three or four little green buds nestling in among the leaves, and day by day we may see the stalk of these buds lengthening till they reach up into the open sunshine, and then the flower opens and shows its beautiful pale-yellow crown.

We all know that seeds are formed in the flower, and that the seeds are necessary to grow into new plants. But do we know the history of how they are formed, or what is the use of the different parts of the bud? Let us examine them all, and then I think you will agree with me that this is not the least wonderful part of the plant.

Remember that the seed is the one important thing and then notice how the flower protects it. First, look at the outside green covering, which we call the calyx. See how closely it fits in the bud, so that no insect can creep in to gnaw the flower, nor any harm come to it from cold or blight.

Then, when the calyx opens, notice that the yellow leaves which form the crown or corolla (ignore the Toyota, scroll down to the plant version), are each placed alternately with one of the calyx leaves, so that anything which got past the first covering would be stopped by the second.

Lastly, when the delicate corolla has opened out, look at those curious yellow bags just at the top of the tube (top flower on the right). What is their use?

But I fancy I see two or three little questioning faces which seem to say, "I see no yellow bags at the top of the tube."
Well, I cannot tell whether you can or not in the specimen you have in your hand; for one of the most curious things about primrose flowers is, that some of them have these yellow bags at the top of the tube and some of them hidden down right in the middle.  (Fantastic photos here) (Note to teacher: if you are examining some other kind of flower--since we don't have English primroses here--this will probably not apply.  Primroses are a distylous species; others are named here.)
But this I can tell you: those of you who have got no yellow bags at the top will have a round knob there (see the flower on the left), and will find the yellow bags buried in the tube. Those, on the other hand, who have the yellow bags at the top will find the knob half way down the tube.
Now for the use of these yellow bags, which are called the anthers of the stamens, the stalk on which they grow being called the filament or thread. If you can manage to split them open you will find that they have a yellow powder in them, called pollen, the same as the powder which sticks to your nose when you put it into a lily; and if you look with a magnifying glass at the little green knob in the centre of the flower, you will probably see some of this yellow dust sticking on it. We will leave it there for a time.
  Students to narrate at this point.
Now we will examine the body called the pistil, to which the knob belongs.
Pull off the yellow corolla (which will come off quite easily), and turn back the green leaves. You will then see that the knob stands on the top of a column, and at the bottom of this column there is a round ball, which is a vessel for holding the seeds.  In the middle of the ball, in a cluster, there are a number of round transparent little bodies, looking something like round green orange-cells full of juice. They are really cells full of protoplasm, with one little dark spot in each of them, which by-and-by is to make our little plantlet that we found in the seed. (Do they look a bit like the inside of a cucumber?)  
"These, then, are seeds," you will say. Not yet; they are only ovules, or little bodies which may become seeds. If they are left as they are they would all wither and die. But those little grains of pollen, which we saw sticking to the knob at the top, are coming down to help them. As soon as these yellow grains touch the sticky knob or stigma, as it is called, they throw out tubes, which grow down the column until they reach the ovules. In each one of these they find a tiny hole, and into this they creep, and then they pour into the ovule all the protoplasm from the pollen grain which is sticking above, and this enables it to grow into a real seed, with a tiny plantlet inside. This is how the plant forms its seed to bring up new little ones next year, while the leaves and the roots are at work preparing the necessary food.

Think sometimes when you walk in the woods, how hard at work the little plants and big trees are all around you. You breathe in the nice fresh oxygen they have been throwing out, and little think that it is they who are making the country so fresh and pleasant, and that while they look as if they were doing nothing but enjoying the bright sunshine, they are really fulfilling their part in the world by the help of this sunshine; earning their food from the ground; working it up; turning their leaves where they can best get light (and in this it is chiefly the violet sun-waves that help them), growing even at night, by making new cells out of the food they have taken in the day; storing up for the winter; putting out their flowers and making their seeds, and all the while smiling so pleasantly in quiet nooks and sunny dells that it makes us glad to see them.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Life of a Primrose, Part 5 (Natural History Lesson)

Lessons adapted from Fairy-Land of Science, by Arabella B. Buckley.


What can you tell about germination, about osmosis, and about photosynthesis? Do you remember what protoplasm is?  Protoplasm comes from Greek words that mean "first made."  In older books like Fairy-Land of Science, the meaning of protoplasm can sometimes be confusing.  This is what you need to know:  Protoplasm is the whole content of a cell enclosed within the cell membrane, including both the cytoplasm and nucleus.  Cytoplasm is the content of the cell except for the nucleus, and you will probably hear more about cytoplasm if you look at newer books and websites.  They both mean the living contents of a cell that is surrounded by a plasma membrane; that is, most of the stuff inside a cell.  What is cytoplasm made of and what does it look like? It is a thick liquid or gel, made up of about 70% to 90% water, and usually colorless.  What is it for?  It is within the cytoplasm that most cellular activities occur, including processes such as cell division, which is what makes the plant grow.

If you can't imagine that, look at any diagram of what's inside a plant cell.  The cytoplasm is the stuff that all those other little things are floating in.  Making Jell-O simulations of this has become a popular science-class activity (photo below from that link)--do you want to try it?
So, cytoplasm, protoplasm--at this point in the lesson, we're pretty much talking about the same thing.

One other question--do you know what ammonia smells like?  Sniffing ammonia is dangerous, so I'm not going to tell you to go smell some; but if you have any glass cleaner around, maybe you could sort of smell it at at a safe distance.  Ammonia may be dangerous for us, but it's good for the plants...well, actually what they need is nitrogen, but they get that from ammonia..

Now on to the lesson.
Look at my plant again, and tell me if we have not already found a curious history? Fancy that you see the water creeping in at the roots, oozing up from cell to cell till it reaches the leaves, and there meeting the carbon which has just come out of the air, and being worked up with it by the sun-waves into starch, or sugar, or oils. So we have hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon all meeting up in the plant.

But meanwhile, how is new protoplasm to be formed? for without this active substance none of the work can go on. Here comes into use a lazy gas we spoke of in an earlier chapter. There we thought that nitrogen was of no use except to float oxygen in the air, but here we shall find it very useful. So far as we know, plants cannot take up nitrogen out of the air, but they can get it out of the ammonia which the water brings in at their roots.

Ammonia, you will remember, is a strong-smelling gas, made of hydrogen and nitrogen, and which is often almost stifling near a manure-heap. When you manure a plant you help it to get this ammonia, but at any time it gets some from the soil and also from the rain-drops which bring it down in the air. Out of this ammonia the plant takes the nitrogen and works it up with the three elements, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, to make the substances called albuminoids, which form a large part of the food of the plant, and it is these albuminoids which go to make protoplasm. You will notice that while the starch and other substances are only made of three elements, the active protoplasm is made of these three added to a fourth, nitrogen, and it also contains phosphorus and sulphur.

And so hour after hour and day after day our primrose goes on pumping up water and ammonia from its roots to its leaves, drinking in carbon dioxide from the air, and using the sun-waves to work them all up into food to be sent to all parts of its body. In this way these leaves act, you see, as the stomach of the plant, and digest its food.
Narration to follow.


When Arabella Buckley talks about things like "little mouths" on plants, you might think that she is just doing more Victorian fairies-of-science talk.  But in this case she's quite right:  the leaves of plants do have openings that are very much like little mouths.  If you don't believe it, look at this close-up of a lavender leaf.  Makes you almost afraid to go out in the garden. 
Sometimes more water is drawn up into the leaves than can be used, and then the leaf opens thousands of little mouths in the skin of its under surface, which let the drops out just as drops of perspiration ooze through our skin when we are overheated. These little mouths, which are called stomates (or stomata) are made of two flattened cells, fitting against each other. When the air is damp and the plant has too much water these lie open and let it out, but when the air is dry, and the plant wants to keep as much water as it can, then they are closely shut. There are as many as a hundred thousand of these mouths under one apple-leaf, so you may imagine how small they often are.
Plants which only live one year, such as mignonette, the sweet pea, and the poppy, take in just enough food to supply their daily wants and to make the seeds we shall speak of presently. Then, as soon as their seeds are ripe their roots begin to shrivel, and water is no longer carried up. The green cells can no longer get food to digest, and they themselves are broken up by the sunbeams and turn yellow, and the plant dies.  But many plants are more industrious than the stock and mignonette, and lay by store for another year, and our primrose is one of these. Look at this thick solid mass below the primrose leaves, out of which the roots spring. This is really the stem of the primrose hidden underground, and all the starch, albuminoids, etc., which the plant can spare as it grows, are sent down into this underground stem and stored up there, to lie quietly in the ground through the long winter, and then when the warm spring comes this stem begins to send out leaves for a new plant.
Narration to follow
(Primrose Flower Fairy doll found here.)

Friday, March 08, 2013

Tools of an old homeschool mom: "Key To" Math and more

Tomorrow night is our homeschool support group's annual curriculum show-and-tell; parents talk about new (or old) materials they're using, or just put it out on tables for others to look at.  It's kind of a lead-in to spring conference-and-catalogue season.

Remember how a couple of years ago I was wearing my "dinosaur t-shirt" over the discovery that Cuisenaire Rods were no longer such a hot curriculum item?  Well, tomorrow night I'll be wearing it again, I guess: I'm doing a five-minute talk on Miquon Math's big brother, the Key-To series, which has been around, seemingly unchanged, since 1971.  I heard about these worktexts when we started homeschooling, but we got into other post-Miquon math programs and didn't have a use for them until about three years ago, when Ponytails got to middle-school age and Mr. Fixit was teaching her math.  Since then I've also used parts of Key To Fractions and Key to Decimals with Dollygirl, and I'm thinking of ordering Key to Percents--one of the only ones we don't have.

So for show-and-tell night...other years I've brought the materials for a typical year of Ambleside Online (whatever year(s) we were doing at the time), or things we received during the year we were on the Review Crew.  This year I was thinking of bringing some stuff to celebrate our "veteran" status...this may also have something to do with the fact that I have a birthday sometime soon, and although it's not a particularly significant one, it's still edging me closer to that big double-digit. 

What would you bring to prove that you were homeschooling during the '90's...or the '80's?  What are the dead giveaways?

1.  Your set of Calculadders is not via download, not on CD-Rom, but stored in a file folder (unless you still have the cardboard box, like Carol).  (I plead guilty, although I have to say that we've only used them off-and-on.)

2.  Your Timetables of History goes up to only 1990.  (Guilty as well...but that's because I bought ours at Goodwill.)

3.  Your Timechart History of the World goes up to only 1998.  (And when I bought that one, it was new.)

4.  Your Saxon math books are all hardcovers.  (We have just one: Algebra 1/2).

5.  You have a set of Powerglide French stashed away...all on cassettes.  (Yes.  We do.  We got it used, The Apprentice used it, and I let her write right in the workbooks since I got such a good deal on it.  Now, of course...I can't get any more of them.)

6.  When you started buying books at friends-of-the-library sales, they were still clearing out books from the '50's and '60's (or even before).  (This is true...although I didn't have kids yet.)

7.  You still have some of those books.

8.  You still use some of those books.

9.  Your copy of For the Children's Sake looks like this:
10.  Or maybe like this.

How about you?

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Little Green Cells, Part Four (Natural History Lesson)

Adapted from "The Life of a Primrose" in The Fairy-Land of Science, by Arabella B. Buckley. 
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Part One:

Can you tell the life story so far of the imaginary primrose plant?  Do you remember how the water gets "pumped up" into the leaves?  What is the name for that process? 

Before we read the first part of today's lesson, we need to talk about (or review) some ideas about the way we see colours.  In an earlier chapter of the book, the author says this:
Reflected light-waves not only make us see things, but they make us see them in different colors. What, you will ask, is this too the work of the sunbeams? Certainly; for if the color we see depends on the size of the waves which come back to us, then we must see things colored differently according to the waves they send back. For instance, imagine a sunbeam playing on a leaf: part of its waves bound straight back from it to our eye and make us see the surface of the leaf, but the rest go right into the leaf itself, and there some of them are used up and kept prisoners. The red, orange, yellow, blue, and violet waves are all useful to the leaf, and it does not let them go again. But it cannot absorb the green waves, and so it throws them back, and they travel to your eye and make you see a green color. 
 There's another good explanation of how we see colours at Art Smarts 4 Kids.  Then should we have a musical interlude with Harry Chapin?

More from Arabella Buckley: 
If you have ever tried to grow a plant in a cellar, you will know that in the dark its leaves remain white and sickly. It is only in the sunlight that a beautiful delicate green tint is given to them, and you will remember that this green tint shows that the leaf has used all the sun-waves except those which make you see green; but why should it do this only when it has grown up in the sunshine?

The reason is this: when the sunbeam darts into the leaf and sets all its particles quivering, it divides the protoplasm into two kinds, collected into different cells. One of these remains white, but the other kind, near the surface, is altered by the sunlight and by the help of the iron brought in by the water. This particular kind of protoplasm, which is called "chlorophyll," will have nothing to do with the green waves and throws them back, so that every little grain of this protoplasm looks green and gives the leaf its green color.

It is these little green cells that by the help of the sun-waves digest the food of the plant and turn the water and gases into useful sap and juices. 
When this book was first published in 1888, the name for this process didn't exist; it was first used by American botanist Charles Barnes in 1893.  Maybe you already know its proper name.  If you don't, see this page.  (Link fixed.)

Narration to follow.

Part Two:

What is carbon?  Where do you ever hear that word?  Do you know what a carbon copy is?  What are the bubbles in gingerale?  Look at this page about carbon at the Chem4Kids website.  Did you know that humans are about 18% carbon? 
When we breathe in air, we use up the oxygen in it and send back out of our mouths carbon dioxide, which is a gas made of oxygen and carbon.   Now, every living thing wants carbon to feed upon, but plants cannot take it in by itself, because carbon is solid (the graphite in your pencils is pure carbon), and a plant cannot eat, it can only drink in fluids and gases. Here the little green cells help it out of its difficulty. They take in or absorb out of the air carbon dioxide gas which we have given out of our mouths and then by the help of the sun-waves they tear the carbon and oxygen apart. Most of the oxygen they throw back into the air for us to use, but the carbon they keep.

If you will take some fresh laurel leaves and put them into a tumbler of water turned upside-down in a saucer of water, and set the tumbler in the sunshine, you will soon see little bright bubbles rising up and clinging to the glass. These are bubbles of oxygen gas, and they tell you that they have been set free by the green cells which have torn from them the carbon of the carbon dioxide in the water.

But what becomes of the carbon? And what use is made of the water which we have kept waiting all this time in the leaves? Water, you already know, is made of hydrogen and oxygen, but perhaps you will be surprised when I tell you that starch, sugar, and oil, which we get from plants, are nothing more than hydrogen and oxygen in different quantities joined to carbon. 
In the "don't try this at home" category:  the teacher proves that when you take the water out of a plant, what's left is mostly carbon.
It is very difficult at first to picture such a black thing as carbon making part of delicate leaves and beautiful flowers, and still more of pure white sugar. But we can make an experiment by which we can draw the hydrogen and oxygen out of sugar, and then you will see the carbon stand out in all its blackness. I have here a plate with a heap of white sugar in it. I pour upon it first some hot water to melt and warm it, and then some strong sulphuric acid. This acid does nothing more than simply draw the hydrogen and oxygen out. See! in a few moments a black mass of carbon begins to rise, all of which has come out of the white sugar you saw just now. You see, then, that from the whitest substance in plants we can get this black carbon; and in truth, one-half of the dry part of every plant is composed of it.

Now look at my plant again, and tell me if we have not already found a curious history? Fancy that you see the water creeping in at the roots, oozing up from cell to cell till it reaches the leaves, and there meeting the carbon which has just come out of the air, and being worked up with it by the sun-waves into starch, or sugar, or oils.
Narration to follow.  Have a good weekend!  Keep your beans moist!

Thursday, March 07, 2013


Overheard in the doll corner:  "We are dolls! We do all kinds of things!  We go sailing, we go through tesseracts, and then we dress up and have tea parties."

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Life of a Primrose, Part Three (Natural History Lesson)

Text is from Fairy-Land of Science, by Arabella B. Buckley.
Tell what you have learned so far about germination.  How are the sprouting beans doing?  What do the roots look like?  How long do you think it will take for the original bean to be used up?  Imagine that the primrose seed has been planted in soil, and that its roots are now developed enough for it to take in food from the ground. 
And now the plant can no longer afford to be idle and live on prepared food. It must work for itself. Until now it has been taking in the same kind of food that you and I do; for we too find many seeds very pleasant to eat and useful to nourish us. But now this store is exhausted. Upon what then is the plant to live? It is cleverer than we are in this, for while we cannot live unless we have food which has once been alive, plants can feed upon gases and water and mineral matter only. Think over the substances you can eat or drink, and you will find they are nearly all made of things which have been alive: meat, vegetables, bread, beer, wine, milk; all these are made from living matter, and though you do take in such things as water and salt, and even iron and phosphorus, these would be quite useless if you did not eat and drink prepared food which your body can work into living matter.

But the plant, as soon as it has roots and leaves, begins to make living matter out of matter that has never been alive. Through all the little hairs of its roots it sucks in water, and in this water are dissolved more or less of the salts of ammonia, phosphorus, sulphur, iron, lime, magnesia, and even silica, or flint. In all kinds of earth there is some iron, and we shall see presently that this is very important to the plant.
 Here's a science experiment for you to try. Take a glass of water, and put a straw in it. Put your mouth on the straw, but don't do anything else. How much of a drink did you get? Why didn't the water just come up through the straw? Of course you have to suck on the straw to make the water rise. Well, since plants can't suck water from the ground in that way, how can the water get up into the plant? Today we are going to do an experiment to show how osmosis works. 
Suppose, then, that our primrose has begun to drink in water at its roots. How is it to get this water up into the stem and leaves, seeing that the whole plant is made of closed bags or cells? It does it in a very curious way, which you can prove for yourselves. Whenever two fluids, one thicker than the other, such as treacle (molasses, syrup) and water for example, are only separated by a skin or any porous substance, they will always mix, the thinner one oozing through the skin into the thicker one. This is called osmosis.
At this point in the book, the teacher proposes an experiment involving a piece of bladder and some treacle, neither of which we have. However, The Little Giant Book of Science Experiments, by H.J. Press, suggests a similar experiment (“#253, Rising Sap”) that uses a carrot and other more easily obtainable supplies; you can read the directions on Google Books. 
Now, the saps and juices of plants are thicker than water, so, directly the water enters the cells at the root it oozes up into the cells above, and mixes with the sap. Then the matter in those cells becomes thinner than in the cells above, so it too oozes up, and in this way cell by cell the water is pumped up into the leaves.
Narration to follow ("explain osmosis").

You may also want to check out this article:  "Osmosis Experiments with Gummy Bears."

Monday, March 04, 2013

Want to run on up to the City with Charlotte Mason?

Or maybe drive around solving crimes with Lord Peter...The most amazing colour film footage of London in the 1920's and '30's.  Am I the only person who has trouble imagining the past in anything but black-and-white?

Life of a Primrose, Part Two (Natural History Lesson)

Part One is here.  Adapted from Fairy-Land of Science, by Arabella B. Buckley.

Tell what you have learned so far about primroses.  What would you see if you could look inside the seed of a primrose?  Today we will talk about germination, or what happens when seeds sprout. (Examine one of the diagrams at that link.)
When a seed falls into the ground, so long as the earth is cold and dry, it lies like a person in a trance, as if it were dead; but as soon as the warm, damp spring comes, and the busy little sun-waves pierce down into the earth, they wake up the plantlet and make it bestir itself. They agitate to and fro the particles of matter in this tiny body, and cause them to seek out for other particles to seize and join to themselves.

But these new particles cannot come in at the roots, for the seed has none; nor through the leaves, for they have not yet grown up; and so the plantlet begins by helping itself to the store of food laid up in the thick seed-leaves in which it is buried. Here it finds starch, oils, sugar, and substances called albuminoids. My note: This matter is a protein that is fibrous and insoluble in water, serving a protective or supportive function in the body; in other words, as well as being food for the new plant, it's also the stuff that holds the seed together, that gives it its shape. 

This food is all ready for the plantlet to use, and it sucks it in, and works itself into a young plant with tiny roots at one end, and a growing shoot, with leaves, at the other.
Narration to follow here.

Do you know what pith is?  It often refers to the soft, spongy centre that you will find in some plant stems, such as young trees.  Generally it just means soft, spongy tissue or plant material.  When I was little, I remember being given an orange to eat and my parents telling me, "don't eat the pith."  They meant the white stuff inside the peel and around each section of orange.  By a strange coincidence, the next part of the lesson also requires an orange.  
But how does it grow? What makes it become larger? To answer this you must look at the second thing I asked you to bring—a piece of orange. If you take the skin off a piece of orange, you will see inside a number of long-shaped transparent bags, full of juice. These we call cells, and the flesh of all plants and animals is made up of cells like these, only of various shapes. In the pith of elder (see photos) they are round, large, and easily seen; in the stalks of plants they are long, and lap over each other, so as to give the stalk strength to stand upright. Sometimes many cells growing one on the top of the other break into one tube and make vessels. But whether large or small, they are all bags growing one against the other. The cells of the seed are not empty; they are filled with something we call protoplasm, which is 90% water but which has a number of other important things in it as well. 

Now we are prepared to explain how our plant grows. Imagine the tiny primrose plantlet to be made up of cells filled with active living protoplasm, which drinks in starch and other food from the seed-leaves. In this way each cell will grow too full for its skin, and then the protoplasm divides into two parts and builds up a wall between them, and so one cell becomes two. Each of these two cells again breaks up into two more, and so the plant grows larger and larger, till by the time it has used up all the food in the seed-leaves, it has sent roots covered with fine hairs downwards into the earth, and a shoot with beginnings of leaves up into the air.  Sometimes the seed-leaves themselves come above ground, as in the mustard-plant, and sometimes they are left empty behind, while the plantlet shoots through them.
Narration to follow.

How are your sprouting beans doing?

Something to think about:  do you eat sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds as a snack?  Why does it make sense that they are high in protein?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A natural history lesson: Primrose Seeds

Book studied:  "The Life of a Primrose," in The Fairy-Land of Science, by Arabella B. Buckley.  First part of the chapter only for today.

Have you ever seen any primroses? What do you think they look like? In England, they are one of the first wildflowers to come up in spring, in March when we still have snow on the ground here. They are not roses; they are in a family called the primulas, which also includes cowslips and pimpernels. Their name comes from the Italian words for “first thing.” The best-known English primroses have pale yellow flowers, with five heart-shaped petals and bright yellow-orange centres.  (Sometimes they are other colours.) They have been a very popular decoration on things like teacups.  Look at these photos and see if you can pick out the primroses. (An image search for "primroses embroidered" also brought up some great photos of all kinds of primroses--cookies, crocheted, stitched, and real.)

(Photo of Primula vulgaris found here)

We don’t have the same species of primroses in Canada, although we do have a bluish-purple wildflower in the same family called the Dwarf Canadian Primrose or Lake Mistassini Primrose. There is a really interesting story about how Louis the Sixteenth’s personal botanist discovered the Canadian primrose for him in 1786, but this lesson is about English primroses.

(Photo of Primula mistassinica found here)

The teacher giving this lesson had asked each student to bring a primrose flower, or a whole plant if they could find one. This is what she told them: 
WHEN the dreary days of winter and the early damp days of spring are passing away, and the warm bright sunshine has begun to pour down upon the grassy paths of the wood, who does not love to go out and bring home posies of violets, and bluebells, and primroses? We wander from one plant to another picking a flower here and a bud there, as they nestle among the green leaves, and we make our rooms sweet and gay with the tender and lovely blossoms. But tell me, did you ever stop to think, as you added flower after flower to your nosegay, how the plants which bear them have been building up their green leaves and their fragile buds during the last few weeks? If you had visited the same spot a month before, a few of last year's leaves, withered and dead, would have been all that you would have found. And now the whole wood is carpeted with delicate green leaves, with nodding bluebells, and pale-yellow primroses, as if a fairy had touched the ground and covered it with fresh young life. And our fairies have been at work here; the fairy "Life," of whom we know so little, though we love her so well and rejoice in the beautiful forms she can produce; the fairy sunbeams with their invisible influence kissing the tiny shoots and warming them into vigor and activity; the gentle rain-drops, the balmy air, all these have been working, while you or I passed heedlessly by; and now we come and gather the flowers they have made, and too often forget to wonder how these lovely forms have sprung up around us.

There is a beautiful little poem by Tennyson, which says—

"Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower; but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is."
Do you remember two years ago in school when we sprouted different kinds of birdseed in a shoebox? Do you remember examining the inside of seeds, seeing how everything was in there, ready to make the plant grow? Since flower seeds are too small to examine easily, the teacher here soaked almond-kernels for the students to split in half and examine. We will use dried beans from our garden.  This is what the teacher said:
If you peel the two skins off your seed, the two halves will slip apart quite easily. One of these halves will have a small dent at the pointed end, while in the other half you will see a little lump, which fitted into the dent when the two halves were joined. This little lump is a young plant, and the two halves of the almond are the seed-leaves which hold the plantlet, and feed it till it can feed itself. The rounded end of the plantlet sticking out of the almond, is the beginning of the root, while the other end will in time become the stem. If you look carefully, you will see two little points at this end, which are the tips of future leaves. Only think how minute this plantlet must be in a primrose, where the whole seed is scarcely larger than a grain of sand! Yet in this tiny plantlet lies hid the life of the future plant. 
Narration to follow.  In the next lesson we will talk about what happens to the primrose seed when it falls into the ground.  Here is some homework for you:  go and look in our dish cupboards, both the everyday dishes and the teacups, and see if you can find any decorations of primroses.

Note:  we decided to enhance this part of the study by taking some of the soaked beans and letting them sprout (glass jar with damp paper towels).  We've done that other times through the years, but it seemed like a good opportunity for hands-on review.

Linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival.