The New International Encyclopædia/Nature-study

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NATURE-STUDY. A modern development of the movement of elementary education toward the study of real objects rather than symbols. It arose in response to a demand voiced as early as the year 1845 in this country by Horace Mann (q.v.) for early training in the inductive method of thought and in the field of nature.

According to generally accepted ideas on nature-study, it must concern itself with the common objects of the child's environment. These the child must be led to examine, to work with himself. The work must be carried on, so far as possible, to strengthen independence of thought and judgment. The beginnings of the study must be based upon the immediate surroundings of the child, and the field of inquiry may be extended further abroad as the later years of the school are approached. The tasks in the earlier years should be chiefly observational. Nevertheless, the experimental method of study should not be neglected. As far as possible, organic forms should be regarded as living things capable of activity and change; the point of view should therefore be dynamic, a matter of great pedagogic importance. The plan of the work may properly be made out so as to include the commoner animals and plants, and the everyday phenomena of inorganic nature. Duplication of work should be avoided by increasing the difficulty of the problems and basing them on different material. It is better to study the materials comparatively as far as possible, so that pupils may learn to discriminate and to form general notions. The exhaustive study of one type is of much less value. Outdoor work should be done; in addition to gardening, studies of the habits and haunts of animals, the appearance and disappearance of the birds, the relations of insects to plant life, the appearance of trees in summer and winter dress, and numerous other similar topics may form the basis of study. It is highly important that the materials should be abundant, that the teacher be not too closely tied to a detailed plan of work, and that he be resourceful in the matter of making the most of what is available. It is important, too, that the pupils should provide their own material, and to this end both the excursion and the garden should be turned to account. It would seem best, on the whole, to devote, at any rate, two periods (one to two hours) a week, or its equivalent, throughout the course. The school garden has in some cases been provided for after-school hours, and this seems to be a reasonable adjustment of the matter.

Consult: Carss, Course in Nature Study (in the Horace Mann School); Teachers College Record, vol. i., No. 2, for March, 1900 (New York, with an extensive bibliography); Miller, Course in Nature Study for Public Schools (Ithaca, 1900, to be obtained through the State Secretary); Hodge, Nature Study and Life (New York, 1902); Jackman, Nature Study for the Common Schools (ib., 1894); id., Nature Study for the Grades (ib., 1899); Lange, Handbook of Nature Study (ib., 1899); Scott, Nature Study and the Child (Boston, 1901); Wilson, Nature Study in the Elementary School (New York, 1899); Bailey, Garden Making (ib., 1901).