For the Beauty of the Earth

A Science Supplement for Catholic Elementary Schools
James Leek et al.
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Like many Catholic Home schooling families, providing a Catholic education was number one on the list of reasons my husband and I wanted to home school. In addition, we wanted a rigorous education, and one that emphasized the beauties of truth and love. Translating these goals into a curriculum is an on-going challenge. Sometimes the books that do a good job presenting a particular subject do it without the light of the Faith. Other times, books that are "solidly Catholic" are also unattractive and uninspiring. We have had to compromise in a lot of areas.

Two that we have not had to compromise in are science and history, and this is largely due to the Catholic school supplements produced by James Leek. These two are among the most excellent resources I have come across in home schooling. They include interesting material for study and careful explanation of an approach to education that is beautifully in keeping with our holy faith. In themselves, these explanations are worth reading and incorporating into your teaching.

In science, for example, Mr. Leek explains the integrating principles for a Catholic science education. Ultimately, our aim is to better know the Creator of everything. Science study also has remote ends: that we develop a respect for God's creation, and learn to contemplate and reflect on it, and that we exercise our minds to improve life and serve our fellow men. At the same time, science has its proximate and immediate ends: to learn how the world works and to take in sensory data of the physical reality around us.

These principles are very well realized in Leek's science supplement. For the Beauty of the Earth includes a textbook with literary selections organized around the common subject matter of science. The lyrics of the beautiful hymn from which this program draws its title provide the organizing system. In addition to "the beauty of the earth" (weather, metals, energy), we have chapters on "the glory of the skies" (stars, the sun), "hill and vale and tree and flower" "the mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight" (insects, spiders, mammals), and "the joy of human love" (the senses, emotions, the will.)

The corresponding teacher's guide builds on the readings with questions and activities that take the student from considering the text, to observing the natural world, to admiring God's handiwork, and finally, to the religious analogy. An example to illustrate this progression would be the reading of "Phaeton and Apollo." After the selection is read, the student is asked a series of questions on the text: Who was Phaeton? Describe the court of the sun, etc. Next, students are asked to make some observations about the sun: Where does it rise and set? Does it actually move? What makes it appear to move? Then they are asked to consider the sun's role in life on our planet, and finally, to how the sun is like God, how its marvelous working points to the existence of God.

Questions and activities are broken into grade levels so that this program can be used throughout the elementary years. My first reaction when I looked at For the Beauty of the Earth was to think that this was a liberal arts soft-pedaling of the hard subject of science. But after I carefully read the author's introduction, I decided it could be so much more than that, and it more than met those expectations. We used it alternately with our regular science text, allowing the literary selections and projects to set the tone for our textbook's coverage. Along with enjoying some good stories, memorizing poems and scriptures, doing some fun projects (like building a humane mousetrap), I found that the sense of wonder created through the program carried into the rest of our textbook consideration of each topic. The course is cross-referenced with many of the most popular school science text series from the time it was published (early 1980s).

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