Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/334

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330
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

NATURE-PLAY
By CHARLES LINCOLN EDWARDS, Ph.D.
DIRECTOR OF NATURE-STUDY, LOS ANGELES CITY SCHOOLS

CHILDREN have a natural interest in all things that are alive, and especially in such comrades as the dog and cat. The nature-study that does not appeal to this interest is worthless. Without formal lessons and examinations and stimulated only by the spirit of play, the child may get an understanding of the other animals that live in the world about him. This is a recreation subject, with the world for its playground; wherein a deep-lying sympathy, bred through the ancestral ages of growth near to the heart of nature, shall lead the child into the joy of living and the happiness of love and knowledge. Nature-play, rather than nature-study, is the key to this wonderful fairyland, of which the child is a part.

In the elementary schools, there should be the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn which have always distinguished the universities of Germany. The mechanical prescription of certain conventionally accepted studies for all pupils, without regard to their individual natures, should be replaced by courses adapted to the constitution and needs of each mind. The individuality of the human being must be recognized and respected in the grammar-school grades as well as in the kindergarten, high school, college and university. The teaching of all subjects by the one teacher in the primary grades should give place to leadership by specialists, as it has already in the secondary schools and colleges. The success of such departmental instruction in many schools justifies its universal adoption.

As in the Heimatkunde of the German schools, a knowledge of nature begins with the investigation of the geography and natural history of the home and its neighborhood. Every child, when led by curiosity and interest, is an investigator, and the discoveries made constitute the most important part of his education. Through open eyes the child should see the common things about him; and then through imagination he may visit distant lands. The domestic cat is quite as interesting and important as the Siberian tiger. At first, the child thinks he knows all about his common playmate, the cat; and yet, he is ignorant of the most significant fact: of the relationship of the cat to himself and other animals. By the simple process of feeling the top of his head, and looking at the back of his hand, he is brought to realize that he, as well as his cousin the cat, belongs to the fur-bearing animals. He learns that the cat walks about on two hands and two feet, and does