Home Education Volume 1 Pt 2. IV


          Children should know Field-crops.—In the course of this ‘sight-seeing’ and ‘picture-painting,’ opportunities will occur to make the children familiar with rural objects and employments. If there are farm-lands within reach, they should know meadow and pasture, clover, turnip, and corn field, under every aspect, from the ploughing of the land to the getting in of the crops.

          Field Flowers and the Life-History of Plants.—Milkwort, eyebright, rest-harrow, lady’s-bedstraw, willow-herb, every wild flower that grows in their neighbourhood, they should know quite well; should be able to describe the leaf—its shape, size, growing from the root or from the stem; the manner of flowering—a head of flowers, a single flower, a spike, etc. And, having made the acquaintance of a wild flower, so that they can never forget it or mistake it, they should examine the spot where they find it, so that they will know for the future in what sort of ground to look for such and such a flower. ‘We should find wild thyme here!’ ‘Oh, this is the very spot for marsh marigolds; we must come here in the spring.’ If the mother is no great botanist, she will find Miss Ann Pratt’s Wild Flowers[1]  very useful, with its coloured plates, like enough to identify the flowers by, common English names, and pleasant facts and fancies that the children delight in. To
make collections of wild flowers for the several months, press them, and mount them neatly on squares of cartridge paper, with the English name, habitat, and date of finding of each, affords much happy occupation and, at the same time, much useful training: better still is it to accustom children to make careful brush drawings of the flowers that interest them, of the whole plant where possible.

          The Study of Trees.—Children should be made early intimate with the trees, too; should pick out half a dozen trees, oak, elm, ash, beech, in their winter nakedness, and take these to be their year-long friends. In the winter, they will observe the light tresses of the birch, the knotted arms of the oak, the sturdy growth of the sycamore. They may wait to learn the names of the trees until the leaves come. By-and-by, as the spring advances, behold a general stiffening and look of life in the still bare branches; life stirs in the beautiful mystery of the leaf-buds, a nest of delicate baby-leaves lying in downy warmth within many waterproof wrappings; oak and elm, beech and birch, each has its own way of folding and packing its leaflets; observe the ‘ruby-budded lime’ and the ash, with its pretty stag’s foot of a bud, not green but black—

               “More black than ash-buds in the front of March.”

          The Seasons should be followed.—But it is hard to keep pace with the wonders that unfold themselves in ‘the bountiful season, bland.’ There are the dangling catkins and the little ruby-red pistillate flowers of the hazel—clusters of flowers, both of them, two sorts on a single tree; and the downy staminate catkins of the willow; and the festive
breaking out of all the trees into lovely leafage; the learning the patterns of the leaves as they come out, and the naming of the trees from this and other signs. Then the flowers come, each shut up tight in the dainty casket we call a bud, as cunningly wrapped as the leaves in their buds, but less carefully guarded, for these ‘sweet nurslings’ delay their coming for the most part until earth has a warm bed to offer, and the sun a kindly welcome.

          Leigh Hunt on Flowers.—“Suppose,” says Leigh Hunt, “suppose flowers themselves were new! Suppose they had just come into the world, a sweet reward for some new goodness. . . . Imagine what we should feel when we saw the first lateral stem bearing off from the main one, and putting forth a leaf. How we should watch the leaf gradually unfolding its little graceful hand; then another, then another; then the main stalk rising and producing more; then one of them giving indications of the astonishing novelty—a bud! then this mysterious bud gradually unfolding like the leaf, amazing us, enchanting us, almost alarming us with delight, as if we knew not what enchantment were to ensue, till at length, in all its fairy beauty, and odorous voluptuousness, and mysterious elaboration of tender and living sculpture, shines forth the blushing flower.” The flowers, it is true, are not new; but the children are; and it is the fault of their elders if every new flower they come upon is not to them a Picciola, a mystery of beauty to be watched from day to day with unspeakable awe and delight.
          Meanwhile, we have lost sight of those half-dozen forest-trees which the children have taken into a sort of comradeship for the year. Presently they have
the delight of discovering that the great trees have flowers, too, flowers very often of the same hue as their leaves, and that some trees put off having their leaves until their flowers have come and gone. By-and-by there is the fruit, and the discovery that every tree—with exceptions which they need not learn yet—and every plant bears fruit, ‘fruit and seed after his kind.’ All this is stale knowledge to older people, but one of the secrets of the educator is to present nothing as stale knowledge, but to put himself in the position of the child, and wonder and admire with him; for every common miracle which the child sees with his own eyes makes of him for the moment another Newton.

          Calendars.—It is a capital plan for children to keep a calendar—the first oak-leaf, the first tadpole, the first cowslip, the first catkin, the first ripe blackberries, where seen, and when. The next year they will know when and where to lookout for their favourites, and will, every year, be in a condition to add new observations. Think of the zest and interest, the object, which such a practice will give to daily walks and little excursions. There is hardly a day when some friend may not be expected to hold a first ‘At Home.’

          Nature-Diaries.—As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.
Innumerable matters to record occur to the intelligent child. While he is quite young (five or six), he should begin to illustrate his notes freely with brush-drawings; he should have a little help at first in mixing colours, in the way of principles, not directions. He should not be told to use now this and now that, but, ‘we get purple by mixing so and so,’ and then he should be left to himself to get the right tint. As for drawing, instruction has no doubt its time and place; but his nature-diary should be left to his own initiative. A child of six will produce a dandelion, poppy, daisy, iris with its leaves, impelled by the desire to represent what he sees, with surprising vigour and correctness.
          An exercise book[2] with stiff covers serves for a nature-diary, but care is necessary in choosing paper that answers both for writing and brush-drawing.

          ‘I can’t stop thinking.’—‘But I can’t stop thinking; I can’t make my mind sit down!’ Poor little girl! All children owe you thanks for giving voice to their dumb woes. And we grown-up people have so little imagination, that we send a little boy with an over-active brain to play by himself in the garden in order to escape the fag of lessons. Little we know how the brain-people swarm in and out and rush about!

     “The human (brain) is like a millstone, turning ever round and round;
     If it have nothing else to grind, it must itself be ground.”

Set the child to definite work by all means, and give him something to grind. But, pray, let him work
with things and not with signs—the things of Nature in their own places, meadow and hedgerow, woods and shore.


[1] See Appendix A.

[2] Nature note-books may be had at the P.N.E.U. Office, 26 Victoria Street. See Appendix A.