The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

by Mrs. H. Perrin
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 522-526

Nothing can be prettier to see a family of girls and boys turned loose in the country for a summer holiday, with a sympathetic mother all anxious to answer their many questionings, and encourage that thirst for research and investigation so prominent in healthily brought up children.

We will imagine for our convenience a family where each child has a separate taste or hobby, in order that we may touch on a variety of different employments.

The eldest son (age 14) is anxious to make a collection of fossils, having lately paid a visit to the Natural History Museum. The eldest girl (age 12) can paint fairly well, and wants to sketch all the flowers she can find, in "Brush-work;" and also to collect mosses, having been fired by a friend's collection. The second son (age 10) has decided to make a collection of butterflies and moths. The second daughter (age 8) and her little brother (age 5) are particularly fond of "beasties," and have made up their minds to start a salt and fresh water aquarium.

The place chosen for the holiday is a quiet farm near Colwell Bay, Isle of Wight, where the children are surrounded with nature in its unadulterated form. I do not like a crowded sea-side resort, with nothing but bare scenery and a scorching cliffless coast. My heart sinks within me when I see the nurses all working and talking in groups, the mothers often engrossed in a novel, and the children, nicely disposed of, paddling under a blazing sun with hot heads and cold feet for hours together.

To return to our family. After an early breakfast, all go out into the garden to see the vegetables gathered and prepared for cooking. Charlie takes possession of the fork that he may see for himself how deep the potatoes grow below the surface. All hands are eager to help, even the baby can pick and shell the peas. The female blossoms of the vegetable marrows and cucumbers are watched with interest until ready for consumption. And the pear tree, which has been grafted three times, and therefore bears three different kinds of pears is a great curiosity to these town-bred children. They very soon are familiar with all the various vegetables, and anxious to try a few in their own London gardens.

The moods and habits of all the animals in the farm are duly observed and made note of.

These nature lessons over, our little friends would on some days make a general rush for the shore, each with his satchel or box to hold his finds--Charlie, the geologist with his hammer and wedge, Elsie, the moss and flower collector with her tin and knife, Johnnie with his butterfly net and collecting box, and Rosie and little Robin with a bottle (large pickle jar) and a magnifying glass. A happier little crew of excited explorers could not be found than tripped out of Colwell farm one sunny morning in August.

The road to the beach lay through a break in the hedge and clambered over the heathery down, when Charlie was the first to shout with delight at finding a nightjar's egg just lying on the plain earth left by the curious bird as it flew up at Charlie's approach. Several spiders' nests and ant hills were noticed, and one or two of the silvery little cocoons of the six-spot burnet were taken home for closer inspection. Flowers and butterflies were also collected but with due discretion and moderation, and every specimen was carefully preserved for the evening's arrangement.

The shore reached, all anxiously listened whilst their mother pointed out that some strata in the cliffs had been left by the sea and others were river formations as shown by the fossils. Collections were made from the oyster bed, and from the Freshwater Limestone, many specimens from the latter the children recognised as similar to the modern river shells. Further on they can to a little bed of blue sandy clay from which they carefully extracted some good specimens of the beautiful bivalve-cytherea [clam].

Eleven o'clock came round, and in another minute all were diving into the sea for a swim, Charlie having mastered, under his father's tuition, all the different strokes, did his best to teach the younger ones, who proved very good pupils. After a quick rub and dance along the shore, a favorite amusement besides castle building was to make miniature models of continents, the damp sand being raised to a level plateau the shape of the country with the water forming the ocean round, or partly round it. As many mountain ranges and rivers were put in as could be remembered and the chief towns marked with tiny white pebbles. More geography was learnt this way than in many a school-room lesson. When these models were finished, they would often compare and correct them from the atlas. Even the baby in a very short time was familiar with the look of an island, peninsular, strait, isthmus, and so forth.

Several "beasties' would be taken home in the bottle, their habits watched, and their portraits taken in "brush-work" the first wet day.

Another time, after a stormy night, search would be made among the seaweeds for some of the miniature animal forests--Sertularia or sea-oak coralline being very common. Miss Arabella Buckley in her delightful book, "Life and her Children," which should be almost known by heart by either the mother or children, or both, tells us in simple language all about this miniature world, and how so many of the forms can be easily kept in a sea-water aquarium and all their life history studied even without the help of a magnifying glass.

It is unnecessary here to go into details or to ennumerate all the forms of life which may be observed by children, as reference can so easily be made to books, some of which I mention at the end of this article; but my great wish is to try to impress the need of a mother's or governess's co-operation in the children's holiday time, when the grand opportunity occurs of being able to open up some of God's wonders which are spread in plenty before them, awaiting intelligent observation and interpretation.

On some days our happy family would choose to ramble over hill and dale and fish for fresh-water "beasties" in some pond or stream by the way. In case some of our little readers may wish to do the same, a few hints on a fresh-water aquarium may not be out of place.

Into a bell glass, covered with perforated zinc, put a little sand and gravel--(sand should never be put into a sea-water aquarium), a few water-weeds to give out oxygen , such as duck-weed, water-crowfoot, American water-weed and water-lily. The balance between animal and vegetable life should be maintained in order that the water be kept pure. If air bubbles are seen to cover the plants, it will prove there is sufficient quantity of plant life. One or two mussels and water-snails are good as scavengers. The water then will not want changing unless it smells badly.

The following "beasties" will live peacefully together:--Newts, frogs in the tadpole stage, sticklebacks, caddis worms, water scorpions, whirligig beetles, and if one can be found, a water spider with its diving bell is an interesting addition.

The dragon fly larvae, minnows, and leeches are voracious "beasties," and should not be admitted.

Gnats, grubs, and a few ants' eggs may be given as food once or twice a week for those creatures who are not content with water plants.

Charlie labels his fossils. Johnnie set his butterflies on the fixing boards before they get too stiff, and Elsie lays her mosses separately on visiting cards, sewing them on with neat stitches instead of using gum, having heard that the former way best preserves the colour. They may be slightly damp, but not enough to warp the cards. Pressure should be used immediately they are fixed. In one corner of the room are placed on a tray several wide mouthed bottles filled to the brim with water, and pieces of flannel are stretched across the tops. Upon one is sprinkled some mustard-seed, on another linseed, on another wheat, and so on, and the children watch the whole process of germination. Little Robin is intent, when the autumn comes, upon growing a little oak tree, when he will proceed to hang an acorn by a piece of cotton into a bottle partly filled with water, so that the acorn has its lower half submerged. His mother tells him that soon little roots will develop downwards into the water, and that a stem and rudiments of leaves will grow upwards, and that in several weeks he may expect to see a baby tree.

Classification and scientific details can be added later in life, the first thing to be done is to train a child to observe a plant or animal as a whole, the perfection and use of its parts, it general form and beauty of outlines and colour, and, above all, its fitness for the work it has to do.

"How many of us must plead guilty to 'having eyes and seeing not'; for an inexorable law of science is the degeneration of unused faculty. Let us reverently recognize our responsibility in becoming parents or teachers of little children, and gladly take upon ourselves the duty of keeping their innocent eyes open that they may read the manuscripts of God.' Children instinctively love natural history. The living, moving world appeals to them from infancy, and arouses interest before the inanimate. Yet, ignoring this, we keep our children for the greater part of their school life dealing with dead and inanimate matter; with words and books instead of with things and experience. Then we wonder why the majority of them afterwards show so little intelligent interest in the world around them, and why the spare time of many of them is so often filled up in an aimless and perhaps even harmful manner."

Books recommended for reference: Arabella Buckley's "The Fairy Land of Science"; "Life and her Children. George Henslow's "Botany for Children." [Asa] Gray's "How Plants Grow." Ruskin's "Proserpine." Miss [Julia MacNair] Wright's "Nature Readers," [Sea-side and Way-side] 1/3; published by the Educational Supply Association, is charmingly written. Also "Leaves and Flowers," by Mary A. Spear, 1/3, published by Isbister & Co. "Child Life Almanack," 1/-. "Nature and her Servants," S.P.C.K., is a very useful and comprehensive work. [Kirby's] "British Butterflies," [published] by Sonnenschein, 1/-; also his "Hand-book of Mosses" [by J. Bagnall]. "Manual of Geology," by [Joseph Beetes] Jukes, 1/6; and [Archibald] Geikie's "Primer on Geology." [Science Primers series]

Many other books might be added, but these are a few with which to start a nursery or school-room library.

Proofread by LNL, June, 2023