Monday, 28 February 2011

Treasure Hunting with The Burgess Flower Book for Children

A significant part of a good Charlotte Mason education consists of large quantities of outdoor time, especially for children ages nine and under.  So, here we are, just barely out of winter and I am dancing in the rain (literally)!  My kids and I spent a good two hours outside today, half of which was in the rain.  Charlotte Mason recommends 2-3 hours a day in poor weather, 4-6 in good weather.  Hard to attain!

Now that spring has (barely) arrived, I've decided to go treasure hunting with my kids, ages 6, 4 & 2. What for?  Good question.  Flowers, via The Burgess Flower Book for Children (BFBC).  My oldest son *loves* anything written by Thornton W. Burgess.  It seems to be the only avenue into nature study down which he will voluntarily venture with me.  I feel like otherwise I'm dragging him away from his soccer ball or other game.  He's not often interested in looking closely at nature on his own.  (With his Dad he will - and I'm grateful for that!  But Dad's not always available.) 

But today was a different story.  Today we started by reading the first chapter in BFBC.  It was about Peter Rabbit discovering the first flower of spring (the skunk cabbage flower!).  As usual, my son really enjoyed the chapter.  We even looked up more pictures of the skunk cabbage online, and he drew the outline of one for part of his beginning to draw lessons.

Then, I took my two sons (ages 6 & 4) outside for a creek tramp to see if we could find the flower Peter Rabbit found.  According to the book, they like wet, swampy areas such as low-lying edges of creeks or spring sites.  Fortunately, there is a creek in our back yard that extends north into a wilderness area of an adjoining park.  So, after 45 minutes of searching (and playing), we (I) found it!  I was completely elated.  I felt like an explorer discovering a treasure chest full of gold!

Previously I had had no idea if we even had skunk cabbage near us, and it was probably no more than 300 yards away from our house (though it takes awhile to get there with boys that age - and when you're scouring the ground for something quite small).  What we found was no more than 6 inches wide and 4 inches across, and probably no more than 3-4 inches high.  It blended in nicely with the decaying leaves around it, and honestly, we almost stepped on it.  Here it is:

Skunk Cabbage spathe containing yellow flowers

Beautiful, isn't it?  We took the book's word that if you get really close it smells like a skunk!  It's interesting that this is the first flower of spring, and that it is so very protected by the hood (spathe) that the flowers can survive the frosts of February. A more in-depth description is here:
Skunk Cabbage flowers on yellow spadix
While we were heading back, I challenged my boys:  "I was the one who found that.  Do you think you will be able to look closely enough to find the flower before Mommy next time?"  They looked at me with twinkles in their eyes.

Later, I asked my elder son as I was kissing him goodnight:  "Do you think you would like to keep reading The Burgess Flower Book and go treasure hunting to find the flowers?"  He looked at me with a very contented, loving smile, and nodded his head.  That's when I knew he had really enjoyed the afternoon (even though I sort of made them do it).

I'm looking forward to more treasure hunts. 

(PS:  Too bad The Burgess Flower Book for Children doesn't seem to be available free online anywhere!  It may not be public domain yet.  Used copies aren't cheap, but are available.  There is also a reprint available.)


  1. I know you wrote this post a while ago but just to let you know I was able to find a free online version of the book here: Tania

    1. That's great! Online libraries are growing quickly!

  2. The Burgess Flower Book for Children was copyrighted in 1923 and timely renewed, so it is protected through the end of 2018. It will enter the public domain January 1st, 2019. I haven't looked at the free online version mentioned, but if true, it's a copyright violation and the person who posted it risks a $250,000 statutory judgement. "Statutory" means it makes no difference whether the violator made any money doing it.

    More details on when other Burgess books will enter the public domain and which ones already have are in my Kindle book "Thornton W. Burgess Reader’s Guide & Book Collector’s Guide", which has a foreword by a great-granddaughter of Thornton W. Burgess:

    I also restore long-lost Burgess chapters and stories:

  3. Hi, correction on my message from a few minutes ago. I just checked, and it appears Flower Book was not renewed after all! At that time, renewal was required on the 28th year, which would have been 1951. Burgess' book "Buster Bear's Twins" also copyrighted 1923, was renewed that year. But no mention of Flower Book. That means it entered the public domain on January 1st, 1952.

    I'm looking at scans of the actual government renewal archive books. You can see the renewal for Buster Bear's Twins here:

    Sometimes renewals show up in the record book for the year before or after. I checked both of those and still no Flower Book.

    I'll have to update my book!