Nature Study as Science

THE RELATION OF NATURE-STUDY TO SCIENCE

Nature-study is not elementary science as so taught, because its point of attack is not the same; error in this respect has caused many a teacher to abandon nature-study and many a pupil to hate it. In elementary science the work begins with the simplest animals and plants and progresses logically through to the highest forms; at least this is the method pursued in most universities and schools. The object of the study is to give the pupils an outlook over all the forms of life and their relation one to another. In nature-study the work begins with any plant or creature which chances to interest the pupil. It begins with the robin when it comes back to us in March, promising spring; or it begins with the maple leaf which flutters to the ground in all the beauty of its autumnal tints. A course in biological science leads to the comprehension of all kinds of life upon our globe. Nature study is for the comprehension of the individual life of the bird, insect, or plant that is nearest at hand.

Nature-study is perfectly good science within its limits, but it is not meant to be more profound or comprehensive than the capabilities of the child’s mind. More than all, nature-study is not science belittled as if it were to be looked at through the reversed opera glass in order to bring it down small enough for the child to play with. Nature-study, as far as it goes, is just as large as is science for ” grown-ups. It may deal with the same subject matter and should be characterized by the same accuracy. It simply does not go so far.

To illustrate: If we are teaching the science of ornithology, we take first the Archaeopteryx, then the swimming and scratching birds, and finally reach the song birds, studying each as a part of the whole. Nature-study begins with the robin because the child sees it and is interested in it, and notes the things about the habits and appearance of the robin that may be perceived by intimate observation. In fact, he discovers for himself all that the most advanced book of ornithology would give concerning the ordinary habits of this one bird; the next bird studied may be the turkey in the barn-yard, or the duck on the pond, or the screech owl in the spruces, if any of these happen to impinge upon his notice and interest. However, such nature-study makes for the best of scientific ornithology , because by studying the individual birds thus thoroughly, the pupil finally studies a sufficient number of forms so that his knowledge, thus assembled, gives him a better comprehension of birds as a whole than could be obtained by the routine study of them. Nature-study does not start out with the classification given in books, but in the end it builds up in the child’s mind a classification which is based on fundamental knowledge; it is a classification like that evolved by the first naturalists, because it is built on careful personal observations of both form and life.

NATURE-STUDY NOT FOR DRILL
If nature-study is made a drill, its pedagogic value is lost. When it is properly taught, the child is unconscious of mental effort or that he is suffering the act of teaching. As soon as nature-study becomes a task, it should be dropped; but how could it ever be a task to see that the sky is blue, or the dandelion golden, or to listen to the oriole in the elm!

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