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Illustrating Science Lessons is Another Form of Narration

By Karen Andreola
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #16, 1997.

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Karen Andreola


A few years ago we moved to Maryland, where the school authorities require a portfolio rather than an achievement test. I wanted my children's portfolios to look impressive. My idea was for my children's compositions and written narrations to be illustrated. Knowing how much they like to draw, I thought I would incorporate drawing into their curriculum.

At first I thought my idea was doomed to failure, for illustrating history fell by the wayside. My idea of envisioning pictures showing style of dress, artifacts and architecture of the time period never materialized. The children's compositions, written narrations each covering various chapters they were reading for history, were neatly written, but strangely the drawing part was "put off." "I suppose we'll have time tomorrow," I'd say. But when that time came around, the children seemed to lose interest. I concluded that perhaps drawing people and fashions in style was too complicated or interpretive for them.

Surprise, Surprise

Well, all was not lost. There is often a surprise of some sort around each bend in the road of our home education journey, and the children and I eventually bumped into a good one. Illustrating science lessons suggested themselves to me, and they have proved to be both a more appealing idea and a manageable project. My children happily latched onto the idea of accurately drawing what they see in books about science. For example, when studying the human body we took turns reading aloud from The Story of Blood by Edith Lucie Weart. At the end of our study the girls drew a diagram of the human heart and labeled its chambers and other parts. The book's diagram is black and white, so I advised them to define the chambers with the appropriate blue and red coding.

When studying ocean life, an array of undersea creatures were drawn, influenced by Pago's adventures in a book by Holling Clancy Honing, and a book by Jacques Cousteau. A diagram of the tides was copied out of a textbook showing the bulging effect of moon and sun on the waters of our blue planet.

One week, I asked the children to record Newton's three laws of motion using a picture book called Eureka! It's an Airplane by Jeanne Bendick. (I had originally taken this out of the library to satisfy my son's large appetite for airplane knowledge.) They drew an airplane and diagrammed the flow of air over the wing, labeling the difference of air pressure from below and above the wing. A short oral narration was given by one of my children describing why the wing is shaped the way it is and how this provides lift. This little picture book went into more detail on the subject of airplanes than did our textbook's chapter on machines and motion (upper elementary material). Eureka! It's an Airplane might be called a "living book" - the term coined by Charlotte Mason. It certainly did liven up the subject a bit.

Still on the subject of motion, my eldest daughter decided to use water-color paints and a fine brush on her drawing of the four stages of a cylinder in a combustion engine. Although not exactly the kind of water-color drawing one would find on a greeting card, I noticed it did add a subtle feminine touch to a somewhat masculine subject.

Because we had been trying to follow Charlotte Mason's method of narration and living books, apart from math there were few tests and workbook pages in our portfolios. (I sprinkled in some of these to satisfy expectations of the examiner). I was anxious about how impressive (and somewhat schoolish) we could make our portfolios appear and yet still be in keeping with Charlotte's philosophy. But my anxiety was eliminated when the examiner leafed through our pages with praise on his lips for the "wonderful pictures." He didn't take much time to read all our carefully done writing. I suppose he was thinking that since it was there in quantity and neatly done, it must mean my children were doing what was required. He particularly liked my daughter's cylinder diagram.

Nature Drawing

Instead of coloring birds, flowers, insects, animals, etc., in sophisticated coloring books, over the years my children have drawn freehand what they find in nature. This is preferred in the Charlotte Mason method. [See Karen Andreola's article on keeping a nature notebook, PHS #2, p. 8 - ed.] Since I wanted to include these nature drawings in our portfolios, the children no longer drew in a nature notebook but on loose paper. These nature-notebook-style pages were more easily included in the portfolios.

A gold and mauve moth was discovered by the back porch light one morning. lt lay still long enough for the children to draw it as accurately as they could, color it and mark the date and time it was found. Just after it was measured (more like tickled) with a centimeter ruler, it flew away.

I've found drawings of life cycles to be very useful demonstrations. These personally-drawn diagrams have a way of sticking in the memory. I can still remember drawing the life cycle of a mosquito in third grade. Which one did you draw - the frog or the butterfly? The cycle of water is another possibility. Local geography may even be used in the diagram to show what the molecules of the world's water are doing in your own home town.

Congenial Companions

lt really should be no surprise that science and drawing go well together. Leonardo Da Vinci thought the pair made congenial companions, as did James Audubon and many other curious, observant people. Drawing, besides speaking and writing, is another form of Charlotte Mason's important use of narration. It is another way that children can intelligently express what has impressed them. Would your children welcome an opportunity to accurately draw and label what they see or what they are reading about in science? How can formal drawing accompany a subject in your home schoolroom? I've provided these suggestions in hopes that similar drawing projects will suggest themselves as your children observe, read, and write about science in their homeschool. Let us not underestimate the power of the pencil, the crayon, and the paintbrush as tools for learning. They are not just the learning tools of yesteryear.


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