poetry and prose about place

early schooling in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – including nature study

with 4 comments

Of all the classes given in 1888 in New Brunswick, I would have liked ‘Useful Knowledge’ the best. This is where I might have learned about birds and plants and butterflies.


Bringing ‘Useful Knowledge’ into the classroom may have been a greater challenge than it appears. The focus was on  the three R’s (reading,’riting, and ‘rithmetic) and scarce resources meant less time for ‘frivolous’ subjects. In the neighboring province of Nova Scotia, educators faced a challenge when they tried to bring studies about the out-of-doors into the classroom. The situation in New Brunswick would have been similar.


In her book Loran Arthur DeWolfe and The Reform of Education in Nova Scotia 1891-1959 (Truro, Nova Scotia: Atlantic Early Learning Productions, 1989), my aunt, Dr. Jane Margaret Norman described the situation in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Nova Scotia.  Dr. DeWolfe, Director of Rural Science Schools in Nova Scotia from 1913 to 1924, focused on including studies of nature and in particular agriculture in the schools. These were times of rural out-migration – interest in staying and working on the family farm paled in comparison to the adventures promised by leaving for the west. Dr. DeWolfe was convinced that the only way to keep people in rural areas was to interest them, from the start of their education, in the world of nature.


Aunt Jane's book


His solution was to include in the curriculum ‘field days’, ‘spring gardens’, folk dancing, lessons in canning food, ‘Planting Days’, and school fairs. My dad, who would have attended elementary school in the late 1920s, remembered Dr. DeWolfe visiting his school in rural Digby County. He told my aunt that Dr. DeWolfe “… always had something to say about nature.”


Dad as a boy holding horse

My dad as a boy (holding the horse Goldie). Dad grew up in a rural area and attended a one room school. He remembered Dr. DeWolfe’s visits to that school and his emphasis on paying attention to the out-of-doors. Dad became a teacher and, as my teacher in Grade Six, taught me about the solar system and the cause of our seasons. He also taught me how to make a whistle from a willow twig.



In New Brunswick, by 1888, ‘Useful Knowledge’ would have introduced many students in New Brunswick to nature studies. In rural schools (Ungraded Schools in Country Districts), the classes in Standard I (Grade 1) included ‘oral lessons on animals’ and, in Standard II (Grade 2) ‘natural specimens where possible’. Standard III (Grade 3) included ‘lessons on agricultural products of the district’, and Standard IV (Grade 4) studied ‘agricultural topics’ from Tanner’s First Principles of Agriculture. In addition to Tanner’s First Principles of Agriculture, Standards V and VI (Grades 5 and 6) used Bailey’s Natural History Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954) was a horticulturist, naturalist and advocate of nature study.


” … Stuffed birds do not sing and empty eggs do not hatch. Then let us go to the fields and watch the birds. Sit down on the soft grass and try to make out what the robin is doing on yonder fence or why the wren is bursting with song in the thicket. An opera-glass or spy-glass will bring them close to you. Try to find out not only what the colors and shapes and sizes are, but what their habits are … ” from the Birds and I , Liberty Hyde Bailey.




Copyright 2016  Jane Tims


4 Responses

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  1. It’s interesting how long people have worried about youth leaving rural areas. I’m enjoying this series on one-room schools and rural education in Canada. As I may have previously mentioned, it reminds me of some of the research I did during the diary years at A Hundred Years Ago.

    Liked by 1 person


    April 30, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    • Hi Sheryl. I enjoyed your posts on your Grandmother’s diary and learned a lot from your project. This interest in schooling has been simmering away for quite some time, so I am glad to be spending time on it! Looking forward to your upcoming history posts! Jane

      Liked by 1 person

      jane tims

      April 30, 2016 at 9:02 pm

  2. I learn so much from you, Jane. When I first went to school, early fifties, the BBC showed Nature programs like Look and Listen and we sat and watched films and early tv with an introduction to the world around us (another program name, I believe).

    Liked by 1 person


    April 29, 2016 at 9:08 am

    • When I was a kid in elementary school, we were lucky to have a local naturalist who was interested in sharing her knowledge. She took us on a field trip and I still have the mica chips she showed me on the prairie.

      Liked by 1 person

      jane tims

      April 29, 2016 at 6:44 pm

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