VI.—FIELD-LORE AND NATURALISTS’ BOOKS
Reverence for Life.—Is it advisable, then, to teach the children the elements of natural science, of biology, botany, zoology? On the whole, no: the dissection even of a flower is painful to a sensitive child, and, during the first six or eight years of life, I would not teach them any botany which should necessitate the pulling of flowers to bits; much less should they be permitted to injure or destroy any (not noxious) form of animal life. Reverence for life,
as a wonderful and awful gift, which a ruthless child may destroy but never can restore, is a lesson of first importance to the child:—
“Let knowledge grow from more to more;
But more of reverence in us dwell.”
The child who sees his mother with reverent touch lift an early snowdrop to her lips, learns a higher lesson than the ‘print-books’ can teach. Years hence, when the children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred and demands some sacrifices, all the ‘common information’ they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form a capital groundwork for a scientific education. In the meantime, let them consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.
Rough Classification at First Hand.—For convenience in describing they should be able to name and distinguish petals, sepals, and so on; and they should be encouraged to make such rough classifications as they can with their slight knowledge of both animal and vegetable forms. Plants with heart-shaped or spoon-shaped leaves, with whole or divided leaves; leaves with criss-cross veins and leaves with straight veins; bell-shaped flowers and cross-shaped flowers; flowers with three petals, with four, with five; trees which keep their leaves all the year, and trees which lose them in the autumn; creatures with a backbone and creatures without; creatures that eat grass and creatures that eat flesh, and so on. To make collections of leaves and flowers, pressed and mounted, and arranged according to their form, affords much pleasure, and, what is better, valuable training
in the noticing of differences and resemblances. Patterns for this sort of classification of leaves and flowers will be found in every little book of elementary botany.
The power to classify, discriminate, distinguish between things that differ, is amongst the highest faculties of the human intellect, and no opportunity to cultivate it should be let slip; but a classification got out of books, that the child does not make for himself and is not able to verify for himself, cultivates no power but that of verbal memory, and a phrase or two of ‘Tamil’ or other unknown tongue, learnt off, would serve that purpose just as well.
Uses of ‘Naturalists’ ’ Books.—The real use of naturalists’ books at this stage is to give the child delightful glimpses into the world of wonders he lives in, to reveal the sort of things to be seen by curious eyes, and fill him with desire to make discoveries for himself. There are many to be had, all pleasant reading, many of them written by scientific men, and yet requiring little or no scientific knowledge for their enjoyment.
Mothers and Teachers should know about Nature.—The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observation. And not only the mother, but any woman, who is likely ever
to spend an hour or two in the society of children, should make herself mistress of this sort of information; the children will adore her for knowing what they want to know, and who knows but she may give its bent for life to some young mind destined to do great things for the world.
 Kingsley’s Water Babies and Madam How and Lady Why. All Mrs Brightwen’s books. Miss Buckley’s (Mrs Fisher) ‘Eyes and no Eyes’ Series. Life and her Children, etc. All Seton-Thompson’s books. Long’s The School of the Woods, The Little Brother of the Bear. Kearton’s Wild Nature’s Ways. Living Animals of the World.