What was the father's purpose in teaching his sons through object lessons and devotion?
In Swiss Family Robinson, the father, William, attempts to teach his sons lessons in a way that enables them to come to conclusions on their own. For example, in Chapter Two, the father educates Fritz, his eldest son, when they are looking for their fellow shipmates. Fritz asks if he should fire a shot to draw the shipmates' attention. The father responds that it would also draw the attention of "savages," as he calls them. Then, Fritz happens upon what he thinks is a bird's nest, but the father explains to him, "you need not necessarily conclude that every round hairy thing is a bird's nest; this, for instance, is not one, but a cocoanut" (page numbers vary by edition). The father reminds Fritz that he has read about coconuts, but has not seen any.
In this instance, as in many others in the book, the father attempts to teach his sons through their own discoveries and experiences. He helps them make sense of what they are experiencing in the natural world of the island, but he does not tend to lecture the boys in advance of their experiences. In this way, the father's educational model is in line with the theories of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In his book Emile, Or on Education, Rousseau wrote about a method of education that involved allowing children to experience the world naturally and directly, not through books, to develop their own conclusions.