A “flower walk,” observing the wild flowers; a “fern walk,” discerning the delicate tracery of the fern in its cool haunts; a “tree walk”, noting the different trees—all are natural ways of interesting boys in nature study.
G. B. Affleck in the April, 1910, number of Physical Training tells his experience in studying nature with several groups of boys.
“The night sounds surrounding a camp in northern Minnesota were a puzzle to boys and to the counsellor of the tent at the end of the row. This problem continued unsolved for more than a week, despite all attempts both by day and night. Finally, one moist, warm night, Ned, after stealthily approaching the sound, satisfied himself of its location in a certain tree and in the morning was rewarded by the discovery of the ‘toad’ camped on a branch near the source whence the sound had issued. Replacing the frog so that the coarse tubercles of its back corresponded to the bark, Ned enjoyed a merited reward at the expense of his tent mates who, though often ‘hot,’ required some minutes to find the hidden treasure. Then came the wonder of the stick toes and fingers, the feeding with flies, and the result was—a new pet for the tent. In the next letters written to the folks this find was the central theme. How much better this discovery and the examination of the peculiar colors and structures, also the conclusions, based upon observed structure, as to the life and habits of the tree frog than would have been a scientifically learned discussion of the family Hylidae!
“In a camp of fifty boys the writer remembers three who had special delight in collecting pebbles, and they made several all-day trips to distant brooks and beaches in the search for new specimens. Another group became so fascinated with the study of the food of fish that they begged the ‘privilege’ of cleaning the catch of each returning party. Proud was that lad who incidentally located the heart of a pickerel, and because of his school knowledge of physiology he could not be convinced that the fish breathed without lungs till he had spent many hours in the vain endeavor to locate said organs. Then he knew that his former idea had been inadequate.
“Fortunately, nature is so interrelated in her various phases that an attempt at exploration in one direction soon opens other fields, until with the growth of experience there comes a corresponding expansion of interest. Thus the lads, searching for pebbles, were perforce attracted by the plant and insect life of the brook, and the one delving into the mystery of breathing oxygen without lungs developed a new interest in the physics of fluids, while those who located the tree frog enlarged their sphere by the knowledge that their pet rejected some of the ‘bugs’ offered it.
“The leader, commencing thus with the limited or special interest of each group, may evolve in his own mind the plan which most naturally will lead the boys not only into a wider field of concrete facts, but also into the habit of seeing relationships, of drawing conclusions and of raising questions for further investigation.