Nature Study As a Help In School Discipline


“Much of the naughtiness in school is a result of the child’s lack of interest in
his work, augmented by the physical inaction that results from an attempt to sit quietly. The best teachers try to obviate both of these causes of misbehaviour rather than to punish the naughtiness that results from them. Nature-study is an aid in both respects, since it keeps the child interested and also gives him something to do. ”

My two cents: Many adults simply do not understand how hard it is for children, small children and especially boys, to be still. It often actually takes more of their conscious effort to be still than to be moving.  It takes up so much energy they are exhausted and their attention quickly flags. They need to move.  Often they should be allowed to do their school work standing at their desks.

In the past, we didn’t send five year olds to school and expect them to sit at their desks, hands folded, without moving.  Children walked to and from school, burning off energy. Sometimes they walked home for lunch. They played running games at recess twice a day and after lunch and now we cancel recess.  Before they ever got to school they had used a lot of large muscle energy doing chores, fetching water from the pump, cutting wood or carrying wood to the woodbox, feeding or watering any livestock (even families in town might have had a calf or a small flock of laying hens). They were not fed a breakfast of poptarts and sugarbombs before being driven to school and required to sit at a desk.

But since this is the way that it is, I do so wish teachers were able to take a nature break and bring the children outdoors to walk, skip, run, to look at clouds, flowers, trees.  I wish schools could maintain gardens, aquariums, a small arboretum, and let children observe.

Back to Comstock:

“In the nearest approach to an ideal  school that I have ever seen, for children of second grade, the pupils were allowed, as a reward of merit, to visit the aquaria or the terrarium for periods of five minutes, which time was given to the blissful observation of the fascinating prisoners.

The teacher also allowed the reading of stories about the plants and animals under observation to be regarded as a reward of merit. As I entered the schoolroom, eight or ten of the children were at the windows watching eagerly what was happening to the creatures confined there in the various cages. There was a mud aquarium for the frogs and salamanders, an aquarium for fish, many small aquaria for insects, and each had one or two absorbedly interested spectators who were quiet, well-behaved, and were getting their nature-study lessons in an ideal manner. The teacher told me that the problem of discipline was solved by this method, and that she was rarely obliged to rebuke or punish. In many other schools, watching the living creatures in the aquaria or terraria has been used as a reward for other work well done.”

What Comstock, Mason, and all the other Victorian and Edwardian proponents of nature study did not know was just how incredibly sound their insight was, how prescient.  We now know that time spent outdoors, observing nature, experiencing real things in real life, grass, flowers, trees, water, bugs, fish, insects, birds- all those sorts of things- lowers stress levels, increases happy hormones, reduces anxiety levels, and even increases a spirit of cooperation among those enjoying these things together.

As I have said before, those the most stressed by the idea of nature study, thinking it’s just one more thing they do not have time for in an already stressful day may be the very people who most should take the time for it.  Since that time out of doors makes your brain so happy and increases cooperation levels, making the rest of the day more cohesive and well oiled, they don’t have time not to spend out of doors together as a family.

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