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The Love And Study Of Nature

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

[Granville Stanley Hall, LL. D., the President of Clark University, and Professor of Psychology, is the foremost authority on child psychology; he. has written and lectured much on this important subject, and all that he says or writes on educational matters is worthy of most careful attention, for he speaks with authority.]

FLOWERS have a language all their own. The rose speaks of love, the violet of modesty, the lily of kingly beauty, the poppy of sleep, the lady's-slipper, honey-suckle, dew-drop, harebell, tulip, marigold, dandelion, hollyhock, jasmine, hyacinth, clover, buttercup, daisy,—all suggest at least, if we turn to their etymologies, how warm and close about the human heart flowers have always lain.

They have moral qualities, and illustrate psychological characteristics, brighten the earth and, therefore, the heart of man. Their fragrance suggests incense, the miracle of their relations to birds and insects, and their perfumes are the creators of special sentiments, and the best of all language of some and reflections of others.

The seer who plucked the flower from the crannied wall realized that, could he but know what it was, root and all, leaf and all, he would know what God and man were. While the human clodhopper is he for whom, as for Peter Bell, "the cowslip by the river's brim, a yellow cowslip is to him," and it is nothing more. The great kindergarten apostle lay one day, he knew not how long, gazing into the calyx of a yellow flower with black spots, and arose from his hypnotism by it a new man. Flower lore reflects all this childish stage, and teaches us how to begin instruction in this field, rather than, as is often done, to dull the apprehension and spontaneous childish interest by the technical methods and names of adult botany.

For the child the trees literally talk, as their leaves murmur in the wind. They hear and repeat the words by which they call the birds to alight on them, eat their fruit, build their nests in them, sing, scold, invite them to climb to their branches, etc. It is painfully cruel to trim trees and shrubs, and often punishment to flowers to pluck them, and murder to pull them up. All this animism is a placenta by which nascent interest in nature is nourished and stimulated to grow toward maturity. While great care to furnish abundant pabulum in this direction should be taken, interference is mutilation of the budding soul.

So, too, with animals. The child's soul sees no chasm between pets and other human beings. The dog, cat, horse, and often all the rest of the animals within its ken, perceive, feel and think as the child does ; are responsive to all its intentions and endeavors, and speak a language essentially different, but some-times with plenty of human words in it ; have souls that go to the animal if not to the human heaven; are perhaps even more companionable than parents or playmates ; love, hate, fear, feel revenge, are good or naughty, quick or stupid to learn or understand, tired like the doll when the child is tired, eat, sleep and walk like, and sometimes with, their little human owners or companions, love to be dressed, to be carried, to ride, to have their toilets carefully made, to be decorated with ornaments, etc.

Indeed, we might almost define the animal world as consisting of human qualities broken up and widely scattered throughout nature, and having their highest utility in teaching the child psychology by a true pedagogical method.

The pig, to a child who knows its habits and what piggishness means, is a symbol of impetuous greed and gross selfishness not only in eating, but also in other matters of filth and untidiness, which gives the child with this familiarity a better conception, and a truer reaction to, all that these qualities mean in the world of man.

To say of a woman, she is a butterfly or a peacock, describes traits which it would take a whole chapter to explain to one who was not familiar with these forms of animal life.

In the same way, the goose, the fox, the eel, the lion, bulls and bears, the eagle, the dove, the jay, the cuckoo, the hawk, the pelican, the crow, the serpent, the gazelle, the cormorant, the badger, wolf, tiger, elephant, alligator, fish, chrysalis and its metamorphoses, the bee, ant, wasp, the sloth, insect, the ape, hibernation, migration, nest-building and scores of others are psychological categories or qualities embodied and exaggerated so that we see them writ large and taught object-lesson-wise, to those who live at a stage when character is being moulded and influenced pro or con in each of these directions.

We might add a long list of more or less mythic animals or popular misconceptions of animal traits. The leviathan, the phoenix, the albatross, the tadpole, the frog, the centaur, the children's fancy in creating impossible new animals, is almost as fecund as nature herself.

Therefore we plead for menageries, for collections of animals in every public park, pets, a familiarity with stable, school museums of stuffed specimens, the flora and fauna of the neighborhood in every schoolhouse, to say nothing of instruction in every school concerning insects, birds, and animals which are noxious, and those which are helpful to vegetation, fruit and agriculture generally.

The story of the gypsy moth; the phylloxera; the cater-pillar ; the tobacco worm ; the life-history and habits of other parasites in the bark or on the leaf, in seed or pulp, the marvelous habits of the botfly; the angle worm, through whose body all our vegetable mould has so often passed; the common house fly with its interesting and less ephemeral story than we would have thought; the grub; the wire worm; moth and bat; the food fishes; weeds; sorghum; ginseng; grasses; potato beetle; hemp; peach-tree borer; the apple aphis; the tent makers; and many other fascinating living creatures which have been so carefully studied of late in our agricultural colleges, have a moral as well as a scientific interest to childhood, and make a kind of knowledge which has an educational to say nothing of an economic value, and which must be ranked as one of the very highest.

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