The Benefits of Nature Study (plus The Iliad)

I actually keep intending to post from books I am reading for Wednesday with Words, but then I run into a lovely Parent’s Review article — that is completely relevant to today — and decide to post that instead. I’ve seen people who ask about the value of nature study. I find great peace in nature, so I never asked this question. But it seems some mothers in the 1890s probably wondered, during a training class for mothers.

I should like to tell you some of the results which Mrs. Brooke assured us may be expected from Nature Teaching.

(1) The power of seeing will greatly increase. Children are naturally quick to see, and this inherent capacity grows less from want of use and training. This is a startling view for us, when we consider how anxious we are to make our children’s capabilities as large as possible.

(2) The child will acquire an understanding of imagery and language. Nature Teaching helps him to learn the word and its meaning together, so that they re never disunited. Imagery becomes real to the child when he understands the reference to objects in Nature. Mrs. Brooke gave an interesting illustration of this last point. She gave a class of children lessons on all the animals mentioned in “Hiawatha” for a whole term. The next term she taught the children to recite the poem, and no one could doubt that to the children the poem was full of meaning and a source of intellectual pleasure.

(3) The study of Nature will give a keen appreciation of art. The mind of the child will become so stored with beautiful forms, that his taste will thereby be formed to love the beautiful and turn from the unlovely.

(4) The life spend out of doors will become much more full. The child will be taught to notice the form and the colour of trees in summer and winter, to watch for birds and insects, to compare the shapes of leaves, and to make collections which accumulate solely by the child’s own exertion and gradual knowledge.

(5) Composition will be greatly facilitated. A child taught to write all he know about an animal or a flower, after a few lessons on the subject, and when his mind is full of facts found out by his own observations and thoroughly understood, will have no difficulty in “what to say,” only in “how to say it!”

(6) The law of consequences. Use and disuse will have to be pointed out to the child, and his attention called to it in many ways, that it may sink deep into his mind, and the lesson that “what a man sows that he will reap” will not be forgotten.

(7) The child’s spiritual nature will be developed and strengthened in the way most gradual and unforced. As he sees the reverence and skill with which his parents unfold to him the manipulation of God’s thought and will, the child will be led up Nature’s great pathway to God, and impressions of reverence, love, and obedience will be awakened and associated with the strongest and earliest pleasures.

And there is even a practical suggestion (emphasis is mine, above)!  Learn about the animals in a poem, and then memorize the poem. The Song of Hiawatha is an epic poem (this recital on youtube is almost 4 hours long). I wonder which part they learned to recite. Perhaps the introduction, or maybe the section about Gitche Gumee.

Okay, I’ll even add something from a physical book I am reading. But first, isn’t it exciting to know that we have the same questions and concerns today? They weren’t perfect back then, and perhaps we aren’t as wonderful as we think we are with all our gadgets and inventions!

The Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles, Book IV (c. line 150). This is right after Athena, on Zeus’s command, has goaded the Trojan archer, Pandarus, into firing an arrow at Menelaus, breaking the truce. Picture the arrow speeding towards our betrayed king, who stands alone at the front of the Greek ranks. I just love the imagery and comparison.

But you,
Menelaus, the blessed deathless gods did not forget you,
Zeus’s daughter the queen of fighters first of all.
She reared before you, skewed the tearing shaft,
flicking it off your skin as quick as a mother
flicks a fly from her baby sleeping softly

What does it say about me, that of all the beauty of the Iliad, I chose a quote that has to do with stopping someone from getting shot with an arrow? Would you guess that I have three energetic boys!

Wednesdays with Words button.


  1. Cindy

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  3. Amy H. (Post author)

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