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The Story of My Life

by Helen Keller

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Why was nature crucial to Helen's education in The Story of My Life?

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Helen Keller had an interest in nature even as a toddler.  She loved to be out in nature.  It brought her both comfort and joy.  When learning, the study of nature was a topic of special interest to her.  She was especially drawn to science and geography for this reason.  Before she lost her sight and hearing, she enjoyed observing nature.  Helen recalled a memory from when she was one year old.  One day, she was "attracted by the flickering shadows of leaves that danced in the sunlight on the smooth floor" (The Story of My Life, Chapter I).  After Helen became deaf and blind, she found solace in nature.  Her senses of smell and touch let her enjoy the beauty of nature.  When Helen was frustrated, she ran to the garden.  She especially loved the flowers there.

After Miss Sullivan came and taught Helen how to communicate, she began teaching her young pupil about nature.  Miss Sullivan took Helen to the river, where she finger spelled lessons into her palm.  The teacher taught her student everything about nature, from the rain to the sun to the animals.  Miss Sullivan taught Helen to appreciate the beauty of nature in new ways.  

One day, Helen was caught alone in a fierce storm.  She felt the air grow cold and she smelled a change in the air.  As the wind picked up speed, Helen hung onto a tree branch.  This experience taught her that nature could be dangerous.

Helen had a special interest in the study of physical geography.  She enjoyed learning about mountains, rivers, and other physical geographic features.  Helen found it to be "a joy to learn the secrets of nature" (The Story of My Life, Chapter XVII).

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What role does nature play in Helen's learning?

Helen Keller was a year old when she lost her eyesight and hearing due to an illness.  Before this, she was a baby who enjoyed nature.  Her mother noticed that as a baby Helen was "attracted by the flickering shadows of leaves that danced in the sunlight on the smooth floor" (The Story of My Life, Chapter I).  After she became deaf and blind, Helen continued to be drawn to nature.  She enjoyed spending time in the garden on her family's property:

What joy it was to lose myself in that garden of flowers, to wander happily from spot to spot, until, coming suddenly upon a beautiful vine, I recognized it by its leaves and blossoms, and knew it was the vine which covered the tumble-down summer-house at the farther end of the garden!  Here, also, were trailing clematis, drooping jessamine, and some rare sweet flowers called butterfly lilies, because their fragile petals resemble butterflies' wings.  But the roses–they were loveliest of all.

Nature comforted Helen in a time when her life was filled with darkness.  She was frequently frustrated because she could not communicate effectively.  Miss Sullivan arrived, and she taught Helen to communicate using the manual alphabet.  This changed Helen's life.  Miss Sullivan also taught Helen about nature:

... I had my first lessons in the beneficence of nature.  I learned how the sun and the rain make to grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, how birds build their nests and live and thrive from land to land, how the squirrel, the deer, the lion and every other creature finds food and shelter.  As my knowledge of things grew I felt more and more the delight of the world I was in.  Long before I learned to do a sum in arithmetic or describe the shape of the earth, Miss Sullivan had taught me to find beauty in the fragrant woods, in every blade of grass, and in the curves and dimples of my baby sister's hand (Chapter V).

Before her lessons about nature with Miss Sullivan, Helen had merely appreciate nature.  Her teacher taught her how to understand it and also to appreciate it on a deeper level.  Helen loved learning about nature.  Throughout her life, Helen appreciated nature and learned about it wherever she went.

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