At this point the interest in the garden is enhanced by showing the various stages of germination. A saucer should be covered with flannel, on which should be arranged seeds similar to those planted in the garden. The seeds should be covered with another layer of flannel, and both pieces should be kept well soaked with water. If the saucer is kept in a warm room, the seeds will soon germinate, and each day the child can note their progress by raising the upper flannel. When the plants are fully formed, the upper flannel can be removed entirely, and the child will soon learn that the plants are not so strong nor so long-lived as those under natural conditions in the garden; and here the first lessons in the value and importance of food for all living things can be given.
When the elementary principles of gardening, including constant care, have been mastered, the child can so cultivate his garden as to give pleasure to others, and thus his relationship with his fellows will be strengthened through his intercourse with nature. When once a child experiences the pleasure of cultivating mustard and cress for the family table, or giving his best flowers to cheer an invalid or aged person, he gets the highest good from his garden in the awakening of his generous feelings.
During winter, when garden work is difficult and not safe, except for the most hardy and robust, the child's interest in nature can be maintained by indoor gardening. In addition to culture on flannel, already described, bulbs grown in glasses of water prove of great interest, as does the growth of seedling trees from acorns, chestnuts, beechnuts, etc., suspended in water and kept in a warm room.
Observation to be Cultivated
At all seasons of the year walks are possible in which the children may see something of growing vegetation. The instinctive inclination of children is to observe natural beauties and to investigate natural wonders. Children love to talk of what they see, and it is surprising what poetic fancies some children display if only they can find a sympathetic listener. Thus, in rural walks, the children must be encouraged to talk of what they see, while the mother fulfils her part by drawing attention to the facts which have escaped observation.
It must not be forgotten that a child's love is greatest towards the small things of nature, and that he is mentally incapable of admiring the broad effects of a magnificent landscape. To him a dandelion is more beautiful than the golden mantled field considered as a whole, and he finds more pleasure in a hole in the sands filled with a bucket of water than in the whole wide sweep of ocean. Love of nature, as a whole, follows the love of its parts, and even the beginning of that love repays the labour bestowed on its cultivation in an ever-increasing store of pleasure.
Mere contact, however, is not sufficient, for if left without control and supervision the lower part of a child's nature may be developed, and brutal and tyrannical impulses drawn forth through contact with animal life, whereas, when properly controlled and directed, the contact will arouse the natural good, and form a useful training in kindness and sympathy.
Children are often regarded as naturally cruel, and no close observer of young folks can fail to be impressed by what seems to be inborn hardness of heart. Such a state of affairs can be easily explained, and when the true reasons for this apparently cruel nature are understood the work of overcoming the tendency becomes an easier matter.
In the first place, it must not be forgotten that children are "little learners," and before they reach the intellectual plane of the adult mind they have to gather by slow degrees many items of knowledge. The most valuable and lasting lessons are those which are self-taught, and children follow a natural instinct when they try to find out things for themselves. A young child is full of the instinct of curiosity, and thus many of his cruel tricks with animals are merely those of the scientific investigator, and are undertaken from a desire to find out what will happen under certain conditions - such, for instance, as if a fly is robbed of its wings, a spider of its legs, etc. No one should blame the instinct, but, it should be allowed full scope in directions which do not involve pain.
Another cause of juvenile cruelty is the child's natural vigour, which must find for itself an outlet. If the child is allowed plenty of exercise and occupation he will not have energy to spare for needless cruelty. Children who are most repressed in their home life are the most cruel towards animals, and it may be noticed that they perform their cruelty in a sly, quiet way without the open frankness of the child who has full scope for his natural activity.
Again, even the youngest child recognises that mankind ranks higher in the animal kingdom than do the animals around, and it affords him a gratification of his sense of power when he tortures a lower creature.
Then, children often do not realise that they are inflicting pain, especially when there is neither cry nor tear, and when there is no attempt at retaliation. "They didn't cry," said the little girl of the story, when it was explained that in cutting up her goldfish she had caused them pain. The words represent the point of view of many children, and it can only be altered by careful training.
Older children should be encouraged to keep pets, not with the idea of regarding them as live toys dependent upon the caprice of children, but as weaker and more helpless creatures that look to them for fostering care and love similar to what they themselves receive from mother and nurse. Whatever a child tends he learns to love, and by these regular attentions the child grows in self-mastery and self-denial, which come gradually and grow by exercise.
Until the habit of regular care is firmly fixed, a child needs supervision, or the pet will suffer, and should it be found that the child persists in neglecting the pets, it is better that they should be forfeited until the child is older. There will soon be a petition for the return of the pets, for children have a longing for intimacy with the creatures about them. Animals make a stronger appeal to a child's protecting love than does the most dearly cherished inanimate pet, which, as one little girl, referring to her doll, quaintly said, " is only partly alive."
It is by example that children are most strongly influenced., and, therefore, the conduct of the elders regarding pets should be such as to prove of good effect. If the elders are cruel or careless, the younger ones of the family can hardly help following in the same way, whereas a child in a family where pets are valued and kindly treated will be more likely to prove kind.
Children should never be allowed to see animals teased or ill-treated, and if an animal is punished in front of a child it should be only for some fault obvious to the child, such as stealing. In passing, it might be stated that well-trained pets are more sensitive to tone of voice than to blows, so that the latter form of punishment need never be exercised in the presence of children.
Little ones should be taught that animals have feelings similar to their own, so that when a cat's tail is pulled it feels as much pain as the child does when scratched. An explanation of this kind is more effectual than the venting of a parent's anger on an animal which, in order to defend itself, has hurt the child. Some parents carry this idea of retaliation as far as to strike an inanimate object, such as a table, against which the child has hurt himself, therebv warping the child's sense of justice, and developing the combative instinct.
In addition to the moral training which pets afford, they may likewise be used to educational ends. An intimate acquaintance with cat or dog makes subsequent lessons on animals akin to these domestic pets more vivid and impressive. Some children are more fortunately placed than others so far as gaining a knowledge of the large wild beasts is concerned, but no opportunity should be lost of allowing children to visit zoological gardens, natural history museums, and even travelling menageries, in order to increase their ideas on the wonders of the animal kingdom.
Chickens and pigeons are of interest from the time they break the shell, and the fostering care of the mother birds make the child more appreciative of the like love bestowed on him. Tortoises and hedgehogs, though less responsive to a child's affection, train his powers of observation, and lead him to see that all created things have a part to play in the scheme of Nature.
Special interest is attached to certain lowly forms of life with well-marked stages of development which should be watched by the child. Thus, during March it is generally possible to obtain frog spawn in a jelly-like mass from among the weeds growing by the side of a pond or ditch. If this is kept in water in a warm room the tiny black specks will increase in size, and turn into minute tadpoles with quick, darting movements, which will prove very fascinating to little folks. It will be a source of unfailing interest to children to watch the little creatures grow bigger day by day, and undergo the loss of tail and the gain of four legs when they reach the full stage of de velopment and are ready for the amphibious life, at which stage they should be returned to the pond whence the spawn was taken.
Similarly, silkworms offer scope for the exercise of the powers of observation, and can be kept with very little trouble. In the spring advertisements may often be noted for the sale of silkworms' eggs. They cost about sevenpence per hundred, and if they are kept on the leaves of mulberry or lettuce, the worms soon come from the eggs. A cardboard box with a glass lid is the best home for the pets, as they can be easily watched, and at the same time kept from straying, but the sides should be pierced with several holes for the sake of ventilation.
The children will be intensely interested in the seeming greediness of the silkworms as they near the spinning stage, while the beautiful bright thread of the cocoon and the ernergence of the moths from those cocoons which are left long enough will arouse the spirit of wonder and admiration which is the ideal of nature study.
To be continued.