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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Children's Museums

by G. M. Bernau
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 603-605


We all know how fond children are of collecting anything, even if it be nothing better than bits of paper, used envelopes, advertisements, or little pieces of ribbon, etc. There seems born in all a desire for possession. In children this may be turned to good account by forming a museum in which they may collect any natural object, refraining as far as is possible from taking life. This adds new zest to their walks, as they are always on the look-out for "treasures." At first, many have to be refused admission, but they soon learn to discover what will make a good addition to the museum.

If possible, it is advisable to have a room at a little distance, any outhouse will do, provided it is not damp. When this is not feasible, a large cupboard or bookcase with class doors will sufficiently answer the purpose. I have helped in forming five different children's museums, and found the most successful was that for which we had a disused coachman's bedroom (conveniently near the house, and yet far enough away for us to be free to make unsavoury messes!) We made ourselves responsible for its cleanliness, and we had periodical spring cleanings, when the carpet was shaken, the floor scrubbed, and everything re-arranged by ourselves. Many a happy wet afternoon we spent there! WE had quite a small beginning, but in two years we had formed a museum which was often visited by outside friends, the curator proudly piloting them. It may be useful to any who wish to start such a museum, to give a general idea of the kind of objects we collected, and where we found them.

I. ANIMAL KINGDOM.

1. Skeletons and Bones of Animals.--These are very often to be found on the sea-shore or hill-side, ready bleached. In this way I have found skulls of a pony, mountain-sheep, rabbit, dog, rook and duck. Sometimes a whole animal may be found. If too far gone to be stuffed, it can be boiled and the skeleton taken.

2. Stuffed Specimens of Mammals and Birds.--We had many presents of stuffed birds, etc., but our own attempts always stood higher in our affections. We found a weasel which had been badly injured in a trap. Considering it more humane to kill it outright, we appropriated it, for our museum and stuffed it--not very satisfactorily certainly, as its legs would wander off in different directions--still, on the whole we felt rather proud of our first attempt. We also, stuffed one of the numerous field-mice which are to be found lying dead in fields or by the roadside. One day, to our great joy, we found a razorbill which had just died, lying on the beach. We carried it off in triumph to a bird stuffer, as, being away from home, we could not do it ourselves.

3. Soft-bodied Animals in Spirits.--When we did not wish to stuff or skeletonise our finds, we put them in spirits of wine, in closely corked bottles. This was rather a costly method, as spirits of wine are expensive and the object must be will immersed.

4. Feathers of Birds.--These are often to be found lying about in fields, etc., and they look very well sewn on cardboard, classified and hung up on the walls of the museum. It is as well to occasionally paint them over with benzine, as they are often attacked by mites.

5. Various Objects of the Sea-shore.--For example, egg-cases, shells, corals, etc.

6. Deserted Birds' Nests.

7. Galls.--These may be found on many trees and plants.

8. Snail Shells, land and water.--The empty shells are to be found in the hedges during the winger months.

9. Empty Pupa Cases.

We also started a collection of beetles, but this necessitated the taking of life and so was not encouraged.

II. VEGETABLE KINGDOM.

1. Classified Herbarium of Wild Flowers.--Botanical pressing paper may be obtained at a moderate price from most naturalists. (Watkins & Doncaster, in the Strand, W.C., slose to the S.E.R. Station, supply it). A handy press may be made in the following manner:--Cut the paper the size required and place it between two boards--ordinary deal ones will do--and pass round them a double strap with a handle. One can vary the size of one's presses according to one's needs.

2. Twigs of Forest and Fruit Trees in their winter garb.--These should be mounted and named like the feathers.

3. Sea Weeds.

4. Mosses.

5. Ferns.

6. Grasses.

7. Various Seeds and Seed Cases.

8. Medicinal Bums, Roots, etc.--These can be bought in small quantities (a pennyworth of each) at any chemist's.

9. Pressed Leaves to illustrate the various shapes and margins.

II. MINERAL KINGDOM.

1. Minerals.

2. Fossils.

IV. VARIOUS.

1. Models from other countries to illustrate the different customs.--For example: shoes, means of locomotion (jinriksha, sedan chair, Irish jaunting car, etc.), dressed models to show costumes, etc.

2. Models to illustrate passages in the Bible.--For example: a sheep-fold, sling, etc.

3. Coins.

4. Processes of Manufactures.--For example: needles, cocoa, pencils, etc. These may sometimes be obtained from the large firms.

5. Postage Stamps.

6. Good Photographs of Animals, Places, etc.

Of course all belonging to this last class are not Natural History objects, still they are educational.

There are many other things that may be collected, and they will soon present themselves to the eye of an observant seeker.

The children should also keep a flower list, i.e., a diary of when each flower has been first seen in the year; a tree list, saying when each tree comes into leaf and into flower; a bird list, stating when the bird is first seen, etc.; and these lists should be kept and compared year by year.

A useful and simple little cabinet for holding shells, seeds, coins, etc., may be made in the following manner: Collect several match boxes (the larger size is preferable), cover one end of the boxes with white paper and place a small paper fastener in the middle of the end. Gum the covers of the match boxes together--one above the other--and fit them into a wooden cigar box, stood on end. The paper fasteners act as knobs to the drawers.

In each case where I have started a children's museum I have found that it has helped to increase the children's interest in nature and to make them observant. They seldom go for a nature ramble without coming home with some treasure to add to the collection. Then again, it cultivates habits of method and tidiness. The museum has to be periodically cleaned and re-arranged--an excellent occupation for a rainy afternoon.

I have found it a good plan to keep a classified catalogue. Of course every object should be neatly labeled with its name and where it was found. When one is able to have a special room for the museum, one should have aquaria--both sea and fresh water, if possible.

There are many very helpful handbooks, but those mentioned below have been found the most useful. Warne's or any other large Natural History; Furneaux' Out-of-Door World (very useful to beginners, as it tells how and where to collect); Wood's Common Objects of the Country; Wood's Common Objects of the Seashore (Geo. Routledge & Sones, 3/6, coloured plates; or 1/-); any of the Natural History Rambles Series (S.P.C.K., 2/6); Geike's Geology (Macmillan, 3/6); John's Flowers of the Field (S.P.C.K., 7/6).