Our schoolroom shelves are lovingly adorned with several Memoria Press items. We have enjoyed using their curriculum for History, Literature and Latin in the last year alone, so you could imagine our delight when receiving a copy of Nature’s Beautiful Order to review.
We received three books: the textbook, student guide and teacher key. The books are laid out in the same fashion that we have already grown familiar with. There is something unique about Memoria Press textbooks, as their softcover books are made with a paper that feels almost like a velvety sateen. It may seem odd to mention it here, but I just have to confess that it is not unusual to find myself smoothing my hand over the cover of their textbooks. I have a longstanding affinity for books, and books that feel like something you want to touch just makes it all the easier to delve into.
And delve in we did. Bookworm Beauty and I immediately sat down to peruse the books together and go over our expectations for the program. Since she is finishing 6th grade, we decided to have her complete four of the eighteen chapters before taking our break for summer and then resuming further studies again in the fall. She made notes in her planner and took the books to her desk. It was only the next day that she informed me that she could not do Nature’s Beautiful Order, stating that she read it and reread it and still found herself lost. Simply put, she was having a difficult time understanding what she was reading.
Initially I wondered if she was manipulating and trying to get out of doing more work before summertime, which would be unlike her. I could not fathom her having difficulty as she is a seasoned reader, reading well beyond her age level. We talked about her trying again and making sure there were no distractions, all to no avail. After setting time aside, we worked through the first chapter together. I have to admit that I was really surprised that this program is suggested for grades 6-8. While the content, itself, is appropriate for the age, we found the writing style to be more advanced and difficult to follow. Although I could follow along just fine, I still found it difficult to read without taking the time to ponder and reflect upon the words to gain a deeper understanding of what was meant. For my daughter, however, it was a frustration when she was expected to read it alone. When we read the text together and took time for discussion along the way, she was able to get through the studies just fine.
One of the benefits of homeschooling a child in middle school is that they have typically advanced to the point of being better able to be successful at independent study in several areas. Although there are many things that we still work through together, I expected this program to be one done independently. Needing to work through the program at a slower pace, with me for discussion, was not what I was anticipating.
The book itself is well written, drawing from writers such as Mivart, Audobon, Fabre to provide a classical experience of studying science through observation of nature itself. It seems to read a bit more like a philosophy book as opposed to a science textbook – one that spends more time observing nature, pondering what is seen and using that observation to gain an understanding of science as opposed to a textbook teaching about the details of animals. This was a refreshing aspect of the book that I really appreciated; I liked that it focused on understanding animals from the perspective of observation as opposed to textbook sketches and lists of details. Observation is something that we, as readers, have our own experience to draw from, making learning even more real.
My overall opinion is that this is a wonderful study on animals from a naturalist perspective for an older student. I feel that it is not a suitable product as a 6th grade independent study. However, a younger middle school student may benefit from working through it a little slower than expected, possibly alongside an adult or older student, while allowing plenty of time for discussion.