The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
How to Interest Children in the Outdoor World.

by Miss C. A. Rooper.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 732-735

[Catherine Agnes Rooper was the sister of Thomas Godolphin Rooper (1846-1903). She was interested in botany. She died in 1918.]

A paper read before the Bournemouth and Boscombe Branch, April, 1902.

"Little children, enjoy the beauties of nature; when the beautiful butterfly flutters over your heads, when the caterpillar crawls at your feet, when the stone glitters before your eyes, when the flower expands in your sight, make them your own and treasure them and be happy that God has made nature so lovely, and that you are capable of understanding and enjoying it." Thus spoke the famous educationalist, Pestalozzi, to his young pupils. But is there not much in those words most suggestive to all those who are concerned in the "up-bringing" of children? We were told at our last meeting by Miss Buckton (the Vice Principal of the Sesame School), that the right foundation for the education of girls--and surely it might well be extended to boys--is to bring them in touch with Life. Now, there is life external and life internal, and to be brought in touch with both ought to be the aim of every teacher. But what does this mean? It means that book learning, theoretical knowledge, text books for examinations--even games--are all in their several ways useful educationally, but they are not sufficient, as they are without a living contact with life in its varied forms. To understand life so that it may be of real value, the child must be taught to know it practically, and not merely to learn all about it from books. For this reason a child ought from its earliest years to be trained to observe, love, and cherish natural objects, and thereby secure a firm foundation for knowledge in its human course. Froebel thus lays stress on the importance of bringing up children in touch with this life in Nature. "The chief purpose of all child-life," he says; "parents and family should give the child as much acquaintance as possible with Nature and her bright calm objects." The reason he gives is, that "we believe that the Spirit of the Almighty lives in and is shown in Nature and her works. We take pains to learn all about the spirit, the life, and all about Human Art and her works, and we do well; but how much more should we exert ourselves to know God's work--Nature--and to make ourselves acquainted with His works in Nature."

By such quotations is shown the great importance of these two celebrated educationalists attached to the study of nature. But in order to carry out their maxim successfully, the first thing is to create in the children a real interest in the subject. In order to do this (for children will not do so spontaneously) the parent must lead the way. The parent must first take a lively interest in the subject, and make it, if possible, a kind of "hobby," and then the children will easily be induced to follow. "The parent and the child," as Froebel says, "must walk together in the one common endeavour to take pleasure in Nature." Now this can be done in three ways, viz., in the outside world, in the garden, and in the home. I will first deal with the outside world, in the garden, and in the home. I will first deal with the outside world, and for that purpose nothing answers so well as a walk, the too often despised walk. And yet a walk can be made most attractive as well as useful. It should be arranged with a definite object, and the route chosen with a special end in view. For example: to study nature in some wood, where the timber trees may be identified, their respective growths examined and compared with specimens grown in the open. In the same way the birds, with their cries and songs, the mosses, lichens, insects, snails, etc., may be observed, watched and studied and compared. This method will not permit of a hurried rush after a quantity of specimens nor of a record number of them found, but it will give, which is far more interesting, a thorough knowledge and real acquaintance with a few, and the children will learn from it the beauties, charms, curious adaptations and peculiar habits of certain objects in nature from which knowledge and interest in all will be developed. Another walk may be taken to the top of the highest hill in the neighbourhood, and here a rough sketch map may be made of the landscape spread out below: the towns, villages, streams, which are visible, dotted down, and the effect of cloud and sunshine, and consequent light and shade noticed, with the additional interest and beauty they give to the scenery. Here, too, the birds and flowers of the "uplands" ought to be studied and compared with those of the wood. The object of another walk might be to study nature along the banks of some stream. Here the first thing to be studied is the surface of the water itself, with its reflections, ripples, currents, colour; and then the vegetable life growing in it or floating on it, many kinds of which exhibit most curious habits and adaptations; the birds and insects peculiar to water; the grasses and rushes which flourish in moist places; whilst the various fishes and water animals provide objects of no little interest. Indeed, of all places for nature study, perhaps a stroll beside water meadows, commons, heaths, each possessing special features and giving occasion to the development of the knowledge of life in most varied forms. We may now consider the study of nature in the garden. Every child should have some plot of ground, however small, or a window box, or even one single plant to cultivate and cherish itself. But then the child should be properly taught, and on a right system, how to cultivate its plants, and encouraged to persevere, otherwise there is no result: the failure is disastrous. On the other hand, the child is proud and delighted when its toils are rewarded by making nosegays of its own flowers, or eating its own grown vegetables. To arrange flowers prettily for decoration cannot be studied too early, and the often natural gift for it carefully developed. With regard to the study of animal life in a garden the means are abundant. Birds are easily attracted by crumbs thrown for them out of the window, places and boxes can be arranged where they can be induced to build; whilst pets of all sorts can be kept, not merely as playthings, but as objects to be observed, and their ways and habits carefully noticed, and perhaps recorded. For example, when a certain bird builds its nest, when it laid its first egg, etc. Then the arrival of the migratory birds, or the behaviour of birds and animals with reference to weather, temperature, and surroundings, is a most interesting observation. In the garden, too, the growth and development of animal and vegetable life can be watched to the best advantage: the plant from the seedling to its full growth, the bird from the egg to when it is fledged. The idea of possession is a very predominant one with children, therefore, to increase their interest in this study, it is certainly a help to encourage children to make their own requirements for their pets--to build their own rabbit hutches, to make their own boxes for their collections or for birds to build in suspended on trees--so that the child may be able to say, "the bird is building in my box," "look at the hutch I made," etc. It gives an individual interest which is scarcely to be attained in any other way.

An objection is often raised that children soon tire of this kind of study: that as it is neither exactly holiday nor exactly lessons, children--capricious little mortals as they are after the first enthusiasm--tire and lose all interest in it. The answer to it is that much may be done by habit. The members of the Bournemouth and Boscombe branch had the privilege of listening to a very valuable lecture on the force and use of "Habit" for children; and so with regard to Nature study, it ought to be made a sort of habit, and then the children will take to it as a matter of course, and the interest in it will not be questioned. This maxim may also be applied to the study of life in nature at home, which embraces brushwork from the real objects, modelling, collections carefully arranged, and Nature note books. Many a pleasant moment might be spent in leisure time over such pursuits. Indeed, by copying carefully from the real object, the wonderful secrets of its structure will be learnt and really known, and thus the outside world will be come a real interest to the child, and not a mere thing of course--a thing without meaning, but a part of its life, and a happy part, and it will appreciate the truth that there are--

    "Tongues in trees, sermons in stones,
    Books in running brooks, and
    Good in everything."

Typed by happi, Dec. 2020; Proofread by LNL, Apr. 2021