The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
P.N.E.U. Conference: Natural History Club

by Mrs. Perrin, Miss Hart-Davis, Miss Barnett
Volume 8, 1897, pg. 462-476

MRS. PERRIN read: I have been asked as an enthusiastic member of the Natural History Club to say something about the working of the Club in London. Others will tell us later about our country Branches.

Before speaking in detail of our plan of work and our resources, I should like (though I feel it is hardly necessary) to justify our existence as an important factor in the scheme laid down by the Parents' National Educational Union. First, I think no one will dissent from our objects which are mentioned on the first page of our report, viz.:--(1) To promote the systematic study of Natural History; (2) To stimulate and guide amateurs in giving Nature lessons.

But people may put the query, "Do we need correspondence teaching when there are so many good and cheap books to our hand, even in our own lending library?"

I should like to answer emphatically, "Yes." It is the very abundance of good literature that brings in the need for busy mothers (who may even in some cases be pretty well versed in the subjects themselves) to have a well thought-out systematic and graduated course of instruction sifted and placed in a form suitable for their children. On the other hand, mothers may have but little or no knowledge of the subjects, and very little time in which to prepare adequately the weekly Nature lesson which they often like to give themselves. It is to these, especially, that Mr. [Francis] Rowbotham's letters are so useful, and I think we cannot speak too highly of their worth. They come to us monthly and have in them enough matter for four Nature lessons. These letters are intended to serve only as guides to parents and teachers, to be told and not read to the little ones.

Like all good teachers, Mr. Rowbotham is most anxious that we should first draw out from the children what they themselves notice about the animal, flower, or stone under consideration, and afterwards correct, if necessary, their observations and amplify from the letters. Thus we help the children, in the first place, to use their eye, to observe and to think about what they see, and secondly to acquire some simple, but well-ordered knowledge about what they have themselves noticed.

Children are encouraged to draw what they observe whenever possible, and Mr. Rowbotham, at the conclusion of his letters, gives some hints as to the preparation work of this sort to be done by the children between the lessons.

It was thought that at the end of a two years' course, less detailed and therefore less expensive letters would suffice. Therefore, this year Mr. Rowbotham refers us to certain pages in certain books, when we can for ourselves fill in the skeleton laid down by him.

Each course of letters is now 10s, instead of as before 18s., the subjects being : 1st, Botany; 2nd, Lessons from our Walks; 3rd, Natural History in house, garden and field. Members who join now are first advised to take in last year's letters, which they can have at the reduced rate, viz., 10s. each course.

The number of subscribers this year for the Botany course is 23; for Lessons from our Walks, 6; for Natural History in house, garden and field, 17. We hope before this week is over these numbers will be doubled.

We hope our country Branches will more often take in these letters as they have their unique value, even if the Branches mark out their own course of study, lectures, etc. People also who are not members of the Union we cordially invite to join us.

It may interest our friends to hear the lines upon which we have run on each subject during the past year.

The Botany pupils have studied:--The seed and how it begins to grow; the food of the seedling plant--how it is stored, and how the young plant uses it; the organs of the seedling plant; the seed leaves, leaf-bud and the root; form and structure of the leaves, leaf-bud and the root; form and structure of the leaves, how they are built up; how plants and trees are shaped; various forms of roots and stems; how plants feed, breathe, and keep themselves fresh and cool; the flower and its structure; how the seed is produced and how the plant sows its seed; why some flowers attract some insects and keep others away; and one whole letter was devoted to the flower of the spotted orchis.

Then we had the structure and classification of fruits.

The two last letters of the year contained a summary of instruction given in flower-structure, and an explanation of the terms used in describing flowers.

In "Lessons from our Walks," members have been led to study the effects of frost and cold; the life of frogs; the habits of worms, of the aphis, of spiders, cockroaches, wasps, caterpillars, and creatures that may be seen in town walks. One letter dealt with the interests of the sea-shore and others gave instructions for keeping a fresh-water aquarium.

In Natural History lessons in home, garden and field we have had:--The discernment and foresight shown by insects in selecting suitable spots in which to deposit their eggs; various forms of galls; behavior of larvae when they are hatched; habits of various moths; leaf-mining grubs; the sculpture work of the bark-beetles; grubs in apples and other fruits; ichneumon flies; the structure of some of our familiar insects; the comparison of wings of various insects.

For the Geology course, Mr. Rowbotham begins at home, with the stones in our house, garden, and road;--Observations out of doors; Nature's tools for breaking up the rocks; how soil is made and what is going on beneath our feet; the origin of springs; the work of the sea, its floor and how built up; various rocks and how deposited; fossils and what they have to tell us; the work of glaciers and volcanoes. In short, how we learn the past history of our earth from the story of the rocks.

I am very sorry to say that this year we have no subscribers for the Geology letters. I feel this to be a great pity, as I think children are always interested in the physical forces at work on our earth, and by Mr. Rowbotham's interesting way of combining the present operation with past results, things are made very real to them. If children be taken to a fossiliferous district, great excitement is experienced and the results of the search give a greater variety to our exhibitions, which are becoming too botanical.

Our annual exhibitions afford a profitable and pleasant meeting-ground for the London and country Branches, and we hope the latter will help us with suggestions for future exhibits. The present one is on view all this week at 30, Porchester Terrace, by kind permission of Mrs. Franklin, who is always so ready to do her utmost to promote the interests of the Club.

In future it is intended to hold the exhibition at the time of the annual meeting, viz., in May or June, as so many of our country enthusiasts are then in town. We have now had four exhibitions, which have been distinctly appreciated, judging from the increased attendance each year and the marked improvement in the collections, shown both from an artistic and scientific point of view. Several adults, including House of Education Students, kindly lend their more perfect work to give additional interest to the exhibition.

At the examination a year-and-a-half ago, Miss Whitley, B. Sc., kindly judged the exhibits, and her tull[?] and excellent report appeared later.

Last autumn we have to thank Miss Hall, who is the Curator of the Whitechapel Museum for her truly careful criticism and suggestive remarks in the report before us.

Mr. Henry Walker, F.G.S., Editor of the Bayswater Chronicle, visited our last exhibition, and gave its young exhibitors the benefit of his own criticisms and encouragement. One cannot, I think, lay too much stress on the point that quality, not quantity or bulk, should form the chief characteristic of our juvenile collections. Scientific arrangement with written observations make the exhibit more living to both collector and visitor, and as the collections are afterwards removed to Whitechapel to encourage our poorer brothers and sisters to observe and care for Nature, it is desirable that the materials used in mounting or otherwise showing off the specimens should be home-made, showing ingenuity and not money-value.

Collections by Dorothy and May Sprye, Muriel Baumann, Maud Rendell, Gerturde Harrison and others are good examples of what I mean. Also the collections by the younger children of the Mary-le-bone Poor Law Schools, Southall, where the teachers take in our Review and are very interested in our work.

It is most important to discourage the rooting up of rare plants. In the Selborne Society is doing good work, and has thought it its duty to warn us and almost accuse us of fostering a love of grabbing at Nautre when arranging for the Poor Children's Country Holiday Fund. Let us show them that with wise and well-ordered collecting, we are more likely to create in poor and rich children alike the true reverential and scientific spirit. Many useful hints for future collecting have been supplied by Mr. Rowbotham, Miss Hall and Miss Whitley.

During the spring months of May, June and July, we have arranged as last year Natural History excursions. These will be on Wednesday afternoons, and will be conducted by Miss Whitley, B. Sc. The class will be taken to localities not more than an hour's distance from London, and by a train leaving London at two and returning about six. We have now our printed programme ready to hand to friends, who we trust will make the excursions known to others. Children then find flowers and fossils for themselves, and Miss Whitley gives them instruction on the Natural History of objects found. The fee for ten excursions will be 10s. Arrangements will be make for reduced railway fares. The advantages to town children, especially, of these excursions must be apparent to all. Further particulars can be obtained from our Secretary, Miss Blogg.

In conclusion I would repeat [Charles] Kingsley's works quoted by Lady Isabel Margesson in her interesting pamphlet:-- "Happy, truly, is the naturalist. He has no time for melancholy dreaming. The earth becomes to him transparent, everywhere he sees significances, harmonies, laws, chains of cause and effect endlessly interlinked, which draw him out of the narrow sphere of self-interest and self-pleasing into a pure and wholesome region of solemn joy and wonder."

Books recommended for lessons in house, garden and field:--

[John] Lubbock's Chapters in Popular Natural History, (published London Natural Society's Depository, Westminster). [Frederick] Theobald's Insect Life (Methuen, London, 2/6).

For Botany:--

A Year's Botany, by Mrs. [Frances Anna] Kitchener (Rivington, 5/-). Miss [Arabella] Buckley's Botanical Table (Stanford, Charing Cross 1/6).

MRS. ROWNTREE, of Scarborough, read a paper on "The Children's Natural History Club at Scarborough, P.N.E.U."

In the autumn of last year a very simple remark from a mother of five boys and two girls led to the formation of a "Children's Natural History Club" at Scarborough.

Keen to note the first wish to do "something to interest the children," the suggestion was quickly taken up, and a holiday programme sketched out. Leave was granted by the Committee to form a club, and a secretary was appointed to work it. The mother who raised the first now has proved herself most efficient to fill this office, and we owe her a debt of thanks for the enthusiasm she threw into the work.

A most happy suggestion was to enlist the help of members of the "Field Naturalist Society," amongst whom there are most gifted scientists in various branches. Cordial help was offered, and a programme for marine work for the Christmas holidays was drawn up. This consisted of four excursions along the beach at low water, with four lectures, a lecture following each excursion, to which specimens were brought by the children. Each child had space for his or her treasures on a table, and all faced the lecturer and the blackboard. So charming was the idea that they numbers soon grew to over eighty members. At one excursion, the numbers exceeded fifty, whilst at the lectures seventy and upwards attended.

Picture a happy group of forty children and caretakers (for all were attended by either mother, governess or nursemaid) assembled on the sands on a bright January morning. Each little student, armed with basket and specimen tin, protected with waders or strong boots. Little trots of five and seven, and big boys home from school, Rugby, Haileybury and elsewhere, setting off with a learned conchologist in search of shells. How eager were the voices, what screams of delight, as we were told what to look for, and where to look! Treasures were gathered and brought home, and the next day the Museum Lecture Room was crowded with eager comers to learn the names of specimens found, and to hear more about the parts of the shells, their habits and life-history, and how to clean and preserve them.

Again, another excursion for seaweeds, followed by a delightful lecture from the President of the Field Naturalist Society this year.

Then two more excursions for marine animals. The naturalist taking up, first--the lower forms of life, anemones, star-fish and sea urchins--and in the second lecture, crabs and fishes.

Oh, the joy of finding, and, just as great, the joy of learning the life-history of these wonderful creatures. Sectional drawings on the blackboard were a great help, and at the end of the lecture, twenty or thirty lantern slides were shown to cover the ground again and fix the details in the children's minds. Happy were those days, both for children and parents, but happier still the lasting interest they have given; the many journeys for fresh treasures; the setting up of sea aquaria; the joy of watching at home; the keeping of the tide table, and watching for opportunities of getting fresh treasures. You may have only to interest children to keep them happy and contented, and who knows what impetus may be given to some future genius, what hobbies started, what hours of happy employment given. Children are keen to see the beautiful and to appreciate Nature in all her moods; and it is easy when their little minds are full of these new wonders to lead them one step higher--to the Maker of all in Nature's rich world.

    "And thus our life, exempt from public haunt,
    Finds tongues in trees, books and in the running brooks,
    Sermons in stones, and good in everything."

People find out we are intensely practical through this club (a fact they had not realized before), and the result is that twenty-one new members have been enrolled this session. The club is worked with a small subscription of 6d. for each child, and 1s for adults. The programme for the spring has just commenced, and botany will be taken as the study, carried out in a similar way, with rather longer intervals during term time.

THE CHAIRMAN: I have, with great regret, to retire, and I ask Rev. Sir Peile Thompson to take my place during the next quarter of an hour.


MISS HART DAVIS, of Reading, who read a paper on "The Reading Branch of the Natural History Club," and finally showed an object card for children and the motto of the Club.

I am speaking to you to-day because I want to tell you something about the Reading Natural History Club, and also because I know something (and I hope to go on to know more) of the delight both of learning and of teaching Natural History.

Our club was started in the spring of 1896, and now contains 140 members, consisting of parents, teachers, and children. Quite a number of naturalists in the town have interested themselves in our work, and the willing co-operation and untiring energy of our members have made the organization of the club a most pleasant task. We have had letters from the parents of some of our children who say how much they appreciate the Nature work which they have begun since they joined the club. One mother said: "I never used to take any interest in flowers, but since we have joined the club and my little boy has been collecting, I have become quite enthusiastic about them, and enjoy the work as much as he does."

We have had five lectures or Nature talks to children during the winter months, and five excursions in the summer. Our greatest number on an excursion was 81; we always have a paid naturalist with us, he is a working man and an entomologist, usually three or four other naturalists volunteer to lead the rest of the party.

We held an exhibition last autumn to which 48 exhibitors sent 55 exhibits. There were pressed flowers, sedges and sea-weeds, growing plants, drawings, note books, moths, butterflies, fossils, eggs and snail shells. Each exhibit received a written criticism from the naturalist best acquainted with its subject.

Last winter we issued two "Nature Letters" dealing with the plants, birds, and insects of the season. The letters were written by members of the club.

Next month we are going to make a new departure and hold a meeting for the adult members only, when Mrs. Hart Davis will address them.

There is one point in our rules which I believe differs from those of the other clubs. We allow collections of insects to be exhibited, and provide instruction and help in the collecting and mounting of specimens. We have carefully considered the matter, and I think I am right in saying that we all agree in thinking it right to allow insect collection among the older children, of whom we have a number who work most intelligently.

We heard of a boy the other day (not a member of our club) who delighted in destroying as many as 30 butterflies of one sort, for the sole object of arranging them in a design in a collecting case. It was just ignorance which allowed him to do this. He admired the colours of the beautiful little creatures and thought they would make a pretty pattern. It is sad to see this love of beauty, which might be such a rich possibility, directed into the wrong channel. As a contrast to this ignorant cruelty, we know of boys in our own club who have been taught to collect eggs, watch them through their stages until the butterflies emerge, when it is their delight to watch them take their liberty, reserving perhaps one for the collection.

Among young children, and among all those whose feelings would be hurt by the taking of life, we think it undoubtedly right to discourage insect collection; but we feel that to forbid it to those who have enthusiasm for the study would be a great pity, and to those who are inclined to be thoughtlessly destructive of life, we feel that the more knowledge and guidance we give them, the more hope there is that they will learn to love the study of the beautiful creatures they are collecting. The great point, after all, is not that the children should become botanists or entomologists, but that their feelings of love and reverence for beauty and truth as expressed in Nature should grow and deepen. We want them to--

    "Wander away and away
    With Nature, the dear old nurse,
    Who will sing to them night and day
    The rhymes of the universe."

MISS BARNETT read the following paper:--

The Natural History Club in connection with our Bedford Branch of the P.N.E.U. has not been very long in existence, but it has grown rapidly, and is, I believe, doing good work among the young people.

In March of last year, I was requested by the Executive Committee of the Branch to form a Natural History Club, and be the Hon. Secretary for it. After receiving a few suggestions from Mrs. Franklin and others, I drew up a short set of rules, arranged the amount of the yearly subscriptions, and these having been approved by the Executive Committee of the Branch, I issued them to our P.N.E.U. members and others, along with a notice of the desire expressed for the formation of the Club. Names of members soon began to flow in, and I received promises of help from several scientific friends, one of whom promised to conduct two Botanical, another two Geological rambles, and a third one for Natural History specimens. Before long the parents wished something to be arranged for the boys also, so at half-term I opened a division for boys, managing to get weekly rambles for them whenever possible. One of my chief difficulties are the year has been to make the hours of rambles and lectures fit in with the lessons and compulsory games, but I generally find that, though the girls can go fairly early on Saturday afternoons, the boys' best hours are after 5:30 p.m. Our work last year in Botany was simply confined to elementary field-work in getting acquainted with the more usual flowers of the neighborhood. Before each ramble, a certain place was appointed for meeting, and then the children gathered all the specimens they could find, and every now and then we were called together and our botanist friend would name the specimens, mentioning interesting fact concerning them. After the ramble, a list of the flowers found was made out and sent round to such as desired it.

The Geological rambles, too, were very popular with the young people, and though only the elders ones could carry away the particulars of various formations given to us, all down to the yourgest were eager to find fossils and other things; great was the delight when some lucky person found a black fish-tooth of ancient days sticking out of some stone, which had to be promptly hammered to pieces to get out the treasure. In one clay cutting, we got some fine specimens. In the autumn and winter, we have been able to have monthly lectures for the members, who now number about sixty, and for their friends. One of these lectures was on "Forest Trees," the oak being fully described; another was on Snakes, and entitled "Ugly Customers, or A Chat on the Lower Forms of Life"; another, "A Chat About the Animals in the Zoo." Another contributor gave us one on "Thomas Edward, Scotch Cobbler and Naturalist." The last lecture was given in April, and was entitled "Fable, Nonsense, and Common Sense," and was based on Aesop's Fables connected with animal life.

This summer, the fortnightly rambles are again taking place, and those who took the girls last year undertake the boys this time. I pass round to each child a paper containing the chief points I have wished them to notice, also a list of the flowers they can find during the month. We are hoping to have a small exhibition in October, the exhibits to consist of pressed flowers and ferns, seeds and seed-vessels, sea shells and seaweeds, grasses, mosses, Natural History diaries, paintings and drawings of separate flowers (mounted), fossils and other geological specimens. Prizes will be offered for the best collections etc., and, of these, several have been promised already, as well as a collection of stones and flint implements, minerals, etc. A good many of our members take in the delightful botanical magazine called the "Minute-book" kept by elder children, which first came out in the form of a quarterly magazine in March last, edited by Miss P. Allen. I should like to take this opportunity of recommending it to all here who wish to make Botany a real delight to children. It contains a series of papers by an Oxford M.A. on "Our Public Botanical Gardens," and another series on "Botany with the Microscope," by Dr. Godfrey.

I look forward to a year of good work in our Bedford Natural History Club, and if the boys and girls can be led to see "that nothing walks with aimless feet," to know something at least of the works of the great Creator in His Universe as taught by this fair world of ours, our highest wishes will be satisfied.

MISS SIMPSON read a paper on "Local Clubs."

MRS. E. L. FRANKLIN, Hon. Sec. for the Hyde Park and Bayswater Branch of the P.N.E.U., said: We hope everyone who has been interested in these papers will come early to-morrow morning, and try to follow out our programme.

THE CHAIRMAN proposed that a vote of thanks be given to the ladies who had read papers, which was carried by acclamation.

Typed by Sara Dalton, Mar 2015, Proofread by LNL, July 2020