Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929



By C. A. Harwell

Our park visitors come away from their vocations to find relaxation for a time in an avocation which is greatly increasing in popularity, out-of-doors activities, as camping, hiking, and the study of things of Nature in their natural setting. They come to our parks in a very receptive mood. The quiet beauties of the park grip them. The stupendous spectacle of massive cliffs, great waterfalls, grand canyons, glaciers, geysers, lakes and other natural phenomena fill them with wonder. They become eager to know the why of these things.

To satisfy this insistent questioning for truth the National Park Service established an educational service. A system of nature guiding, lecturing, museums, exhibits, nature trails and publications has been developed to answer many questions before they are asked and to teach the park visitor the truth concerning the stories of at least the outstanding features without his becoming aware that he is being taught.

Distinct methods are being employed to accomplish the results. Leading people afield under the leadership of well trained ranger naturalists, where the purpose of all including the leader is to explore in the field of Nature, is the method we emphasize as most important.

Lecturing to groups where they may be found available and whore the man to lecture can be made available, illustrated either by the objects themselves or by slides, is the method perhaps receiving second place in emphasis.

Setting up exhibits in place or in more easily accessible locations where the visitor is assisted in finding out for himself what he is interested in learning about park features is perhaps our method of third importance at present.

Nature trails are still experimental. In method they perhaps do not differ from that of museums and exhibits in place. Publications are not so much concerned with method but apply more to extending our work to out side groups.

In our guided trips we are more nearly approaching the project method than any other of the accepted academic methods. There are four types of projects provided in classroom procedure: (1) those involving the achieving of ideas, (2) those involving appreciation or enjoying, (3) those involving problem solving, and (4) those involving knowledge or skills and requiring practice or drill. In some ways we make use of all four types. The first two are perhaps stressed in our general work. In children’s trips, in our special interest trips such as those scheduled regularly for flowers or birds, in our work with special groups such as Scouts or in Yosemite with our Yosemite School of Field Natural History, we use all of them working for the acquirement of special knowledge and skills.

As this is now recognized as the best in educational methods it should be the one most often used by our men. To “learn” a lesson and be thorough with it is one thing; to “love” the subject as a result of the learning and to desire to learn outside the class when coercion is withheld is quite another. We want our visitors to be stimulated to want to know more and to “love” the subject matter we have to present.

Lecturing is an accepted academic method where groups are to be reached. Properly organized, properly illustrated and above all well presented, they serve a large purpose in our educational activities.

Visual aids are being treated as more and more important in all pro grams of education. We are well ahead of academic education in this field. Each park is a great museum with the outstanding “pointed” out. Our museums from which the exotic is carefully eliminated and in which all materials are arranged to illustrate one big story, fit well into our general method.

It can be safely stated that the best of the academically accepted methods fit very well into our National Parks program of educational activities.


1. Kilpatrick, W. H. Foundations of Method. MacMillan, 1925.

2. Maddox, W. A. Development of Method. Kandel, I.L., editor, Twenty-five Years of Am. Ed. 1924.

3. Nunn, T. The Problem of Method. MacMillan, 1924.


The above paper was discussed in detail and the following additional points brought out:

A fertile field for park educational activities, one which has scarcely as yet entered into our program, is that of “Extension”, i.e., lectures, radio talks, etc., outside of the park proper.

Another suggestion which was discussed in detail was the utilization of laboratory methods as useful in certain places in the presentation of the park educational program. It was agreed that it might be advisable to experiment with the introduction of simple laboratory experiments conducted either by the ranger naturalist or by the visitor himself as demonstrations during field trips and lectures at the museum, etc. We have as yet scarcely entered this field, but it may present splendid possibilities if carefully studied.


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