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THE BEST USE OF ARBOR DAY
Arbor Day, to be most useful as well as most pleasant, should not stand by itself, alone, but be connected with much study and talk of trees and kindred subjects beforehand and afterward. It should rather be the focal or culminating point of the year's observation of trees and other natural objects with which they are closely connected. The wise teacher will seek to cultivate the observing faculties of the pupils by calling their attention to the interesting things with which the natural world abounds. It is not necessary to this that there should be formal classes in botany or any natural science, though we think no school should be without its botanical class or classes, nor should anyone be eligible to the place of a teacher in our public schools who is not competent to give efficient instruction in botany at least.
But much may be done in this direction informally, by brief, familiar talks in the intervals between the regular recitations of the school-room, or during the walks to and from school. A tree by the road-side will furnish an object lesson for pleasant and profitable discourse for many days and at all seasons. A few flowers, which teacher or pupil may bring to the school-room, will easily be made the means of interesting the oldest and the youngest and of imparting the most profitable instruction. How easy also to plant a few seeds in a vase in the school-room window and to encourage the pupils to watch their sprouting and subsequent growth.
Then it should not be difficult to have a portion of the school grounds set apart, where the pupils might, with the teacher's guidance, plant flower and tree seeds and thus be able to observe the ways and characteristics of plants in all periods of their growth. They could thus provide themselves with trees for planting on future Arbor Days, and at the time of planting there would be increased enjoyment from the fact that they had grown the trees for that very purpose.
Why might not every school-house ground be made also an arboretum, where the pupils might have under their eyes, continually, specimens of all the trees that grow in the town or in the State where the school is situated? It would require but a little incitement from the teacher to make the pupils enthusiastic with the desire to find out the different species indigenous to the region and to gather them, by sowing seeds or planting the young trees, around their place of study.
And if the school premises are now too small in extent to admit of such a use, let the pupils make an earnest plea for additional ground. As a general fact our school-grounds have been shamefully limited in extent and neglected as to their use and keeping. The school-house, in itself and in its surroundings, ought to be one of the most beautiful and attractive objects to be seen in any community. The approach from the street should be like that to any dwelling house, over well kept walks bordered by green turf, with trees and shrubs and flowers offering their adornment. Everything should speak of neatness and order. The playground should be ample, but it should be in another direction and by itself.
Europeans are in advance of us in school management. The Austrian public school law reads: "In every school a gymnastic ground, a garden for the teacher, according to the circumstances of the community, and a place for the purposes of agricultural experiment are to be created." There are now nearly 8,000 school gardens in Austria, not including Hungary. In France, also, gardening is taught in the primary and elementary schools. There are nearly 30,000 of these schools, each of which has a garden attached to it, and the Minister of Public Instruction has resolved to increase the number of school gardens and that no one shall be appointed master of an elementary school unless he can prove himself capable of giving practical instruction in the culture of Mother Earth. In Sweden, in 1871, there were 22,000 children in the common schools receiving instruction in horticulture and tree-planting. Each of more than 2,000 schools had for cultivation from one to twelve acres of ground.
Why should we be behind the Old World in caring for the schools? By the munificence of one of her citizens, New York has twice offered premiums for the best-kept school-grounds. Why may we not have Arbor Day premiums in all of our States and in every town for the most tasteful arrangement of school-house and grounds? These places of education should be the pride of every community instead of being, as they so often are, a reproach and shame.