Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/381

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
367
ELEMENTARY BOTANY IN GENERAL EDUCATION.

For the main purpose in hand, therefore, it may be contended that any objects would do.

This is no doubt true in one sense, but it should not be forgotten that (1) the mental exercise on the part of the child is best exerted on natural objects, to say nothing of the admitted advantages of familiarizing him with Nature; and (2) the parts of plants are so varied, so beautiful, and so common, that he need never lack materials for his simple and pleasant work. Moreover, the parts of plants are clean, light, and easily handled—practical advantages which recommend themselves.

I feel convinced that, if the teachers were not opposed to it, the subject would ere now have been more widely taught; and I shall therefore say a few words in anticipation of difficulties. It has been suggested that materials would be scarce in winter. Not at all. Let the children be familiarized with the observation and comparison of the peculiarities of a sprig of holly as contrasted with one of ivy; or let them be shown how different are the buds and leafless shoots of the beech from those of the oak or the horse-chestnut. Show them how to observe the bud-scales, how to infer the leaf-arrangement from the scars, how to notice the color, roughness, markings, etc., of the periderm. Or give them introductory notions as to the nature of a hyacinth bulb as contrasted with the potato tuber, confining their attention to points which they can make out by observation. Every nut or orange or apple that the child eats might be made interesting if teachers would dare step over the traces of convention, and introduce such ostensibly dangerous articles into classwork—and why not? The doctrine of rewards and punishments is applied more crudely than this in most children's schools!

Be this as it may, there is no lack of material, at any season, for children to observe and compare, plant in hand, the peculiarities of shape, color, insertion, markings, etc., of the leaves, stems, roots, and other parts. The difficulties are supposed to increase when the flower is reached; this is not necessarily the case in the hands of a sympathetic teacher, unless the choice of flowers is very unfortunate and limited.

There is one danger to be avoided here, however. Young children should not be troubled with the difficulties of theoretical morphology; they should be made familiar with the more obvious roots, stems, leaves, tendrils, thorns, flowers, bulbs, tubers, etc., as such, and comparatively, and not forced to concern themselves with such ideas as that the flower is a modified shoot, the bulb a bud, the tendril a leaf or branch, etc., until they have learned simply to observe and compare accurately. Later on, of course, the step must be taken of rousing their minds to the necessity of