poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘Useful Knowledge

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


Useful Knowledge

with 4 comments

I have continued to read the Annual Report of the Schools of New Brunswick 1888 (Fredericton, 1889) by the Chief Superintendent of Education, to discover more about New Brunswick’s one room schools.


Since I am a botanist, interested in natural history, I wondered what students in 1888 were taught about the natural world. Below, I have listed the subjects included in ‘Useful Knowledge’ in Standards I through VI (Grades One though Six). The theme of temperance, moderation in alcohol consumption, was central to ‘Useful Knowledge’ in Grade Four and beyond. I also like the animals listed in Standard IV – Animal Life !


Standard I (Grade 1)

Minerals.—Distinguishing and naming coal, slate, clay, iron, lead, etc.
Plant Life.—Distinguishing and naming common garden vegetables, flowers,
field crops, trees in the neighbourhood.
Animal Life.—Distinguishing and naming principal parts of the human
body by means of pictures ; to point to and name principal parts of familiar

Standard II  (Grade 2)

Minerals—Pointing out objects in school room made in part or in whole of
iron or any mineral. Names of implements made of iron, steel, &c. Cooking
utensils of iron, tin.
Plant Life.—Distinguishing parts of plants—stems, leaves, roots.
Animal Life. —Distinguishing and naming the chief sub-divisions of the prin
cipal parts of the human body and lessons on such parts as skin, nails—use and
care of. Familiar animals—their food, habits, uses.

Standard III (Grade 3)

Minerals (Oral).—Lessons on minerals or stones in the district—names and
how distinguished from each other.
Plant Life (Oral).— Agricultural products of the district. Trees, shrubs,
herbs—different ways of distinguishing one from another, &c, by form, colour,
and size of trunk, branches, leaves, bark.
Animal Life (Oral).—Ear and Eye—use and care of. By means of pictures, to distinguish and name such animals as are treated of in the Reader, and give their
prominent structural characteristics. Domestic and wild animals of the district.
Oral lessons on all Useful Knowledge Lessons in Reader before the pupil is
required to memorize the answers to the questions.

Standard IV (Grade 4)

Minerals (Oral).— Principal Minerals of the Province, localities and uses.
Oral lessons on Metals (similar to those in Useful Knowledge lessons in
Plant Life (Oral).— Names of the principal forest trees of the Province—
their uses. Agricultural productions of the Province.
Animal Life (Oral).— Organs of Respiration —-Effects of alcoholic stimulants thereon. Domestic and wild animals of the Province. General structure of such animals as are treated of in Reader. Oral lessons on Useful Knowledge lessons in Reader before the pupil is required to memorize the answers to the questions.

Standard V (Grade 5)

Minerals.—General qualities and uses of the more useful metals and minerals
of the Province (Oral).
Plant Life. —General characteristics of the useful and hurtful plants of the Prov
ince (Oral).
Animal Life.—Organs of digestion and circulation. Effects of alcoholic stimu
lants thereon. Adaptation of structure to habit of such animals : the cow, the
squirrel, the camel, the lion, the elephant and the whale (Oral).

Standard VI (Grade 6)

The Mineral Kingdom.—Lessons to be illustrated by specimens, (Text-book,
Part I, Baileys Natural History).
Physical effect of alcoholic stimulants upon the human system. Lessons
to be illustrated by experiments where practicable. Text-book, Palmer’s Tem
perance Teachings of Science, Chaps. I-IV inclusive.
Physics, (Oral).—Hotze’s First Lessons in Physics for Teacher’s use only.
Lessons 1-13 inclusive.


Long after my own days in elementary school are past, I am still learning about the ‘Adaptation of Structure to Habit’ of such animals as the squirrel:



Adaptation of structure to habit of such animals : the cow, the
squirrel, the camel, the lion, the elephant and the whale. Part One: The Squirrel, perfectly adapted to stealing seed from birdfeeders.



Copyright 2016 Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

April 22, 2016 at 3:28 pm

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