Character Building - Nature Study
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
NATURE-STUDY seems often thought of as a somewhat sentimental interest in birds and flowers and summer sunsets; but it is as broad as the whole range of the physical sciences, and must therefore include a study of the history and constitution of the earth, the atmosphere that surrounds it, the universe of which they are a part, and the laws that control the whole. But while parents should realize this, and bear it in mind, no one expects them to spread so great a task before the eyes of their children. They may, however, lead their minds toward it by simple explanations of some of the great facts, such as the way in which the clouds are formed, and rain and snow descends from them; and then how the running waters, carrying off the rainfall, bear with them earth and pulverized rock, wearing down the highlands in one place and filling up the lowlands in another. Here is an opening for the rudiments of geology and even the outlines of astronomy, which are quite within the grasp of a boy or girl in the grammar-school. All children enjoy tracing the constellations; are delighted with the revelations an opera-glass will make on a clear night; and listen with interest to an account of the moon. The movement of the winds is easily illustrated wherever there is an open fire; and simple experiments give a correct notion of many of the phenomena of light and sound and electricity. All these things are extremely important to the education of the young, and early and correct impressions about them will be of immense help when they come to take up these specialties in school.
The greatest value in nature-study, however, is in training the mind to deal with hard facts and immovable processes. These are not matters of opinion or faith. What anyone may say about them is of no consequence. Observation may be erroneous, but the facts of nature are truths. Teach your children, then, that here there can be no guessing, no half-knowledge, no taking-for-granted. The old Chinese believed-the more ignorant among them still believe-that earthquakes are caused by the writhing about of a gigantic dragon under the surface of the earth. That explanation was very picturesque but worth nothing until it had been proved, first, that such a dragon existed; second, that it was capable of causing an earthquake; third, that nothing else could or did cause it. Nature-study ought to make a person cautious to be sure of his facts in all things; to seek the simplest explanation in every enquiry instead of swallowing some marvel like the earth-dragon; to be ready to accept truth whether it interferes with some previous notion or not. To inspire in your child the scientific spirit-a love of searching for the truth-is far more important than to make him a learned man in science.
Nature-study can easily begin with many of the little poems in Volume I of the Library, as "Where do all the Daisies Go?" "Tree on the Hill," "Twinkle, Twinkle," "A Boy's Song," "Buttercups and Daisies," and "The Frost." The pretty fairy tale "Thumbelina" is also an excellent object-lesson. In Volume II use can be made of such nature-myths as "Proserpina" and "Baldur." Our animal-story section of Volume IV should prove valuable, and we direct attention to "A Field-mouse Tale," " Friskytoes, " "On the Night Trail," and "The Adventures of a Loon." All of Volume V is devoted to natural history. In Volume VI "Animals of the Realms of Snow," "The Musk-Ox and Its Habits," and "Stories of Eskimo Dogs" will serve good purpose. Read your favorite science topic in any of the divisions of Volume VIII : " Geology, " "Physical Geography," "Chemistry," or "Evolution and Nature-Studies." Learn some of the poems in "The Circling Seasons" and " Green Things A-Growing" divisions of Volume XI.