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The Importance Of Studying Natural History

Why is the study of natural history so important? How can you incorporate it into your day to day learning?

Why is the study of natural history is so important? How can you incorporate it into your day to day learning.

photo by Amy Law

Is Natural History Important?

Every now and then I come across an article online that captures my interest. As I read the article linked below I realized how important what we are doing here on the Handbook of Nature Study is to our young children and families. Much to my great surprise, I found a section in the later part of the article that references Anna Botsford Comstock and her work with natural history and teaching.

Science And Natural History

I invite you to click over and read through this article…noting that as parents we can fill the gap and stoke the fires of a more traditional biology course. Adding in some natural history to your more academic and microbiology studies will give it more depth and context. Find a way to expose your young biology students to the natural world in an attempt to cover the material in high school (and earlier!) since they will not get that opportunity once they go onto college.

Read Natural History is Dying

Natural History Important @handbookofnaturestudy

An Overview Of Natural History Is Dying

Some of my notes and quotes from the article:

Natural history by and large is no longer taught to biology majors, much less high school students.

“Further, exposure of students at all levels to natural history is diminishing. As we saw in the graph at the top of this post, all colleges and universities surveyed in the 1950s required at least some natural history courses for a biology degree – a median of 2.25. Today, most colleges have no natural history requirements for a biology degree, and the slim section devoted to natural history in the center of most textbooks has shrunk 40 percent and is usually skipped anyway, as I’m sure those of you with biology degrees earned in the last 20 years can attest.”

Using the suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study and the Outdoor Hour Challenge provides help to parents in offering what is lacking in today’s science courses.

“Comstock’s book stressed the importance of kid-on-critter time. But increasingly, in the classrooms and museum exhibits that I’ve seen or visited, still images or interactive games are considered adequate substitutes. They are not.”

We can share our love for nature and make a difference in our child’s outlook towards the natural world.

“When kids do not grow up around natural history, they become adults who are not only ignorant of natural history, but who do not care about nature and view it as disposable and unimportant. “Ecological ignorance breeds indifference,” as Pyle put it. “What we know, we may choose to care for. What we fail to recognize, we certainly won’t.”

We can make those simple but powerful memories happen for our children.

“To love Earth, you have to fall in love with Earth. And that can’t happen indoors, eyes glued to a screen. You have to watch the bee gathering nectar from the blue bonnet; you have to smell and touch the sap (and discover it is now impossible to remove from your fingers) weeping from the tree; you have to smell the citrussy cinnamonny gym-socky aroma of the matsutake fresh from the pine duff.”

Use the resources here on our website and in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock to introduce your child to the birds, plants, reptiles, insects, and other forms of life around them. Take it one subject at a time and make sure to get outside each week!

Why is the study of natural history is so important? How can you incorporate it into your day to day learning in your homeschool?

The Outdoor Hour Challenges Bring The Handbook of Nature Study to Life in Your Homeschool!

For even more homeschool nature study ideas for all seasons, join us in Homeschool Nature Study membership! You’ll receive new ideas each and every week that require little or no prep – all bringing the Handbook of Nature Study to life in your homeschool!

Written by Barb and updated by Tricia

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Anna Botsford Comstock Quotes for Nature Lovers

Enjoy these Anna Botsford Comstock Quotes for nature lovers! Anna Botsford Comstock is the author of The Handbook of Nature Study. The Handbook is a staple in the Outdoor Hour Challenges we share. This is a wonderful reference guide for you, the homeschool teacher to use. We show you how!

Anna Botsford Comstock Quotes for Nature Lovers

Nature study is, despite all discussions and perversions, a study of nature; it consists of simple, truthful observations that may, like beads on a string, finally be threaded upon the understanding and thus held together as a logical and harmonious whole.

Anna Botsford Comstock, The Handbook of Nature Study
Enjoy these Anna Botsford Comstock Quotes for nature lovers! Anna Botsford Comstock is the author of The Handbook of Nature Study. The Handbook is a staple in the Outdoor Hour Challenges we share. This is a wonderful reference guide for you, the homeschool teacher to use. We show you how!

The Teaching of Nature Study– …the object of the nature-study teacher should be to cultivate in the children powers of accurate observation and to build up within them understanding.

The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock

Every parent interested in introducing nature study to their children needs to read Part 1 of the Handbook of Nature Study. Although the book itself is hundreds of pages long, the first twenty-four pages are golden and a must read. There are so many gems of wisdom contained within those few pages that you don’t want to miss.

Enjoy these Anna Botsford Comstock Quotes for nature lovers! Anna Botsford Comstock is the author of The Handbook of Nature Study. The Handbook is a staple in the Outdoor Hour Challenges we share. This is a wonderful reference guide for you, the homeschool teacher to use. We show you how!

First, but not most important, nature-study gives the child practical and helpful knowledge. It makes him familiar with nature’s ways and forces, so that he is not so helpless in the presence of natural misfortune and disasters.

The Handbook of Nature Study

Read them with highlighter in hand.

You can read the pages on Google Books as well: Handbook of Nature Study.

Enjoy these Anna Botsford Comstock Quotes for nature lovers! Anna Botsford Comstock is the author of The Handbook of Nature Study. The Handbook is a staple in the Outdoor Hour Challenges we share. This is a wonderful reference guide for you, the homeschool teacher to use. We show you how!

It is a mistake to think that a half day is necessary for a field lesson (nature walk), since a very efficient field trip may be made during the ten or fifteen minutes at recess, if it is well planned.

The Handbook of Nature Study

There is a reason she is included in National Wildlife’s Conservation Hall of Fame. Her words are as valuable and relevant today as they were back at the turn of the 20th century. I invite you to read her words and be encouraged to include an outdoor life in your family’s week.

Enjoy these Anna Botsford Comstock Quotes for nature lovers! Anna Botsford Comstock is the author of The Handbook of Nature Study. The Handbook is a staple in the Outdoor Hour Challenges we share. This is a wonderful reference guide for you, the homeschool teacher to use. We show you how!

She who opens her eyes and her heart nature-ward even once a week finds nature study in the schoolroom a delight and an abiding joy… She finds, first of all, companionship with her children; and second, she finds that without planning or going on a far voyage, she has found health and strength.

The Handbook of Nature Study

Nature study cultivates in the child a love of the beautiful; it brings to him early a perception of color, form and music.

The Handbook of Nature Study

Nature study cultivates the child’s imagination since there are so many wonderful and true stories that he may read with his own eyes.

The Handbook of Nature Study

I had the opportunity to visit Anna Botsford-Comstock’s cottage in Ithaca, New York. You can read about that experience here: Recollection From a Visit to Anna Botsford-Comstock’s Lake Cottage.

Enjoy these Anna Botsford Comstock Quotes for nature lovers! Anna Botsford Comstock is the author of The Handbook of Nature Study. The Handbook is a staple in the Outdoor Hour Challenges we share. This is a wonderful reference guide for you, the homeschool teacher to use. We show you how!

The simple steps that Anna Botsford Comstock shared for nature study are our guide here at Homeschool Nature Study. It is easy and rewarding.

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Charlotte Mason Nature Study: Simple Ideas for Wildflowers

These timeless Charlotte Mason nature study ideas are as relevant today as when they were written and I’m forever grateful for the encouragement these gave me when I was a new homeschooler. The ideas for this post have been taken from Volume One of Charlotte Mason’s homeschooling series.

Charlotte Mason Nature Study: Simple Ideas for Wildflowers includes ideas for how to help your child engage in nature and study wildflowers.

Charlotte Mason – Simple Nature Study Ideas for Wildflowers

My children benefited from Miss Mason’s simple and consistent approach to learning. We didn’t waste time learning things for a test, but were encouraged to explore and observe the natural world right outside our doorstep.

I would like to offer you the road map to learning about wildflowers in a “Charlotte Mason” way by giving you a short list that summarizes her ideas found in Volume One on page 51 under the subheading of “Flowers and Trees”.

Elements of a Wildflowers Nature Study

Your child should be able to:

  1. Describe the shape, size, and placement of the leaves.
  2. Note whether there is a single blossom or a head of flowers.
  3. Observe the flower and its habitat so well that it can be recognized in any location in the future.
  4. Use a field guide to learn about the wildflower (with help from a parent if needed).
  5. Collect, press, and make a record of the flower’s habitat and location. ***
  6. Optional: Make a watercolor of the flower or the whole plant.

*** It’s important to note that we shouldn’t be picking flowers in great numbers. Many wildflowers do not last long once picked and therefore are wasted if not going straight into a flower press. Here is Anna Botsford Comstock’s advice on picking wildflowers from the Handbook of Nature Study:

“Some flowers are so abundant that they can be picked in moderation if the roots are not disturbed, if plenty of flowers are left for seed, and if the plant itself is not taken with the flower….Everyone should have the privilege of enjoying the natural beauty of the countryside. Such enjoyment is impossible if a relatively small number of people insist upon picking and destroying native plants for their own selfish interests.”

HNS page 460
blue flag iris

More Wildflowers Nature Study Ideas for Your Homeschool

If you’d like help in getting started with a wildflower study, I have some thorough posts with some ideas for your family:

There are three sets wildflower curriculum available in Homeschool Nature Study membership!

Be inspired. Be encouraged. Get outdoors!

Charlotte Mason Nature Study: Simple Ideas for Wildflowers includes ideas for how to help your child engage in nature and study wildflowers.
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“Last Child In The Woods” – Encouragement for Homeschooling Parents

A book can transform your thinking completely or it can validate what you have experienced in your own life.  Some books do both, like Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. This is a must read book for all homeschool families who are endeavoring to expose their children to the natural world on a regular basis.

Note: affiliate links are included.

Last Child in the Woods

“There is a real world, beyond the glass, for children who look, for those whose parents encourage them to truly see.”

Richard Louv

We all know he is right. Children are just not getting outside for free play and even sadder they are not even wanting to be outdoors anymore. Sometimes the parent is too afraid to allow them the freedom to roam outside or sometimes it is the lack of availability of an appropriate outdoor space that is the cause. Either way, it is a sad world when children are living indoors most of their days.

Last Child In The Woods gives solid reasons and then practical ideas for restoring this nature play time for our children. Also, there is a section that talks about children that perhaps have the “eighth intelligence” which is the child whose learning style is that of a Naturalist type. Louv lists descriptions of children that have this specific learning style which you may find helpful in understanding just how to help your child with this type of intelligence.

Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

I will list a few teaser points from the book that I have highlighted in my copy of the book that I think apply to what we do here at Homeschool Nature Study with the Outdoor Hour Challenge.

“…during the nineteenth century, nature study, as it was called, dominated elementary school science teaching. Now that nature study has been largely shoved aside by the technological advances of the twentieth century, an increasing number of educators have come to believe that technically oriented, textbook-based science education is failing.”

“By expressing interest or even awe at the march of ants across these elfin forests, we send our children a message that will last for decades to come, perhaps even extend generation to generation.”

Homeschool Nature Study For Your Family

This book is a perfect complement to reading in the Handbook of Nature Study. I think Anna Botsford Comstock would have felt the need to write just this sort of book if she lived in our modern age. The principles are the same, the message embraced in everything Anna Botsford Comstock created: Get children outdoors looking at the world around them.

I highly recommend that you look for this book at your local public library and then read it.

I invite you to read and have your thinking transformed, creating in you the need to spend time outside with your children.


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Lessons from Flowers and Insects

Cactus Flower Zion National Park

“We often hear the fact stated that in the present day only those who know how to advertise are successful; but we have with us by every roadside, and in every field, and in the depths of the forest, many successful little advertisers, who have lived and flourished for many centuries because of their advertising. For every bright or fragrant blossom is an announcement telling abroad to all the world that sees and smells, that it is ready for business.”

These words written by Anna Botsford Comstock bring a smile to my face. This time of year we see many blossoms “advertising” that they are ready and waiting for the winged insects to visit and then carry pollen on to the next flower. The Outdoor Hour Challenges for the past month or so have focused on wildflowers and coming up at the end of May we will have some garden flower studies. These are perfect opportunities to combine a flower and insect study, sharing the relationship and benefits of this wonderful arrangement for both.

“In teaching the children this subject it is necessary that they should watch flowers and see the insects visit them. If there are flowers in the neighborhood of your schoolhouse, let the children take notes and report on the different kids of insects which they have seen visiting certain flowers. For instance, let them watch for a week, and note all the insects that visit a certain thistle, or any other convenient flower.”

This is such a simple but powerful lesson for your children to learn directly from the field. Take them outside to look at flowers and their insect visitors and then follow up with a simple nature journal entry.

Let me know how it goes for your family!

The quotes in this entry are from The Winged Pollen Carriers by Anna Botsford Comstock. I can’t find where I originally copied this quote from but I am sure it is on Google Books somewhere.


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She Who Opens Her Heart to Nature Study

“Out in this, God’s beautiful world, there is everything waiting to heal lacerated nerves, to strengthen tired muscles, to please and content the soul that is torn to shreds with duty and care….nature study is not a trouble; it is a sweet, fresh breath of air…She who opens her eyes and her heart nature-ward even once a week finds nature study….a delight and an abiding joy.”
Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Botsford-Comstock

I was having a terrible day. Nothing was going right and I was in a very foul mood. My teenage son noticed my frustrations and suggested we take a mid-day, middle of the week hike to the river. It was a hot September day and the sun was blazing down and the last thing I thought I wanted to do was to go outside. He reminded me that I always feel better after getting some fresh air so I jumped in the car with Mr. A and Kona dog, still quite grumpy.

We chatted a bit on the way to the river but I continued feeling the effects of working too much and having some looming deadlines. As we rounded the bend and pulled into the parking lot, I realized that I was actually starting to feel bit better. We hiked down the familiar trail to the river through oaks and pines, smelling the hot oak leaves in the baking noontime sun. I could hear the river now as it traveled over the rocks and past the gravel shore. Kona heard it too and she got very excited. Swimming in the river is one of her favorite things to do. It wasn’t long before she had found a stick for us to throw in the water for her to retrieve…her favorite game of all.

We found a spot to sit and dip our feet in, watch the water roll by, and soak in some sunshine and fresh air.

I was feeling much better by now.

Before long the boy and the dog were off exploring this and that as I enjoyed the view.

  • The color of the rocks in the sparkling water.
  • The fresh smell of the air as it comes over the river.
  • The freezing cold temperature of the river water.
  • Birds flying overhead, along the water, and between the trees. I glimpsed a woodpecker and heard a crow.
  • The lapping of the water on the rocks.
  • Slippery moss at the water’s edge.

I was glad for the reminder from my teen. Yes, even I need to be reminded of the healing and refreshing aspects of just getting outside and breathing the air. I took a photo to remind me of this day, spending time with Mr. A, knowing that he soon will not be around to remind me to get outside even when I don’t feel like it and the weather is hot or cold or wet or whatever.

Just get outside for a few minutes if you are having a bad day. You will find your smile again too.

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Summer Tree Study – Following Up on Cottonwoods

This week we were determined to complete our Cottonwood Tree Study as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge. It is hard to get motivated when it is really hot outside but we persevered….most of our study was indoors anyway so we had no real excuse. Once we started it was very enjoyable, gleaning much from our reading in the Handbook of Nature Study and then direct observation.

Our neighbor had a cottonwood tree in their front yard until a few years ago when they cut it down to make room for some other landscaping. I remember there were certain times of years I did enjoy having that tree next door. It was MESSY. The “cotton” would cover our deck and yard as it blew over in our direction.

So without a specimen nearby, we had to travel across town to view another cottonwood tree that I noticed along the edge of a big field. It really is a very pretty tree with a nice shape and growing sort of tall. The trunk is easy to recognize once you know what to look for.

We had the chance to observe a cottonwood tree when we visited Anna Comstock’s cabin in New York last May. I gathered a bit of cotton to include in my nature journal. I wrapped it up in a paper towel and folded into the front of my journal for safe keeping. We took the opportunity with this challenge to examine the cotton closely.

cottonwood june 2012 (1)
We examined the seeds with our magnifying lens and it was truly amazing to see the structure of this catkin with its seeds.

“The little pointed pods open into two or more valves and set free the seeds, which are provided with a fluff of pappus to sail them off on the breeze; so many of the seeds develop that every object in the neighborhood is covered with their fuzz…” Handbook of Nature Study, page 656

Pappus was a new word to us so we looked it up. A pappus is the flower-like structure on the top of the akene. (Remember your dandelion study?) You can see a variety of kinds of pappus on this website: Who’s Your Pappus? I also found information at the bottom of this page on Backyard Nature. I need to add the word to my journal entry so I don’t forget it.
Cottonwood nature journal

So here is my journal after I finished with it. I found an envelope (glassine envelopes for scrapbooks) for the cottonwood seed fluff sample and the pressed flower that I had collected from the woods. I watercolored around the edges to give it some color and used my metallic gel pens to make a title. I printed a photo of the cottonwood cotton since it is a part of the memory of that early morning walk that I will treasure for a long time to come.

We are going to go back to our local cottonwood tree and take photos for the Summer Photo Challenge and as a guide for our watercolor project for the week.  Mr. B is working on his notebook page from the More Nature Study Book 4 challenge using his field guide for the cottonwood tree. We think ours is a Black Cottonwood so he is doing the research on that species for his challenge.

Another great tree challenge to add to our nature journals…hope to see some of your trees in the upcoming Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival. Remember that every entry into the June Newsletter carnival is an entry to win the Your Backyard Monarch Butterfly DVD and Study Guide. Last day to submit your entries is June 29, 2012.
OHC Blog Carnival
Don’t forget the Great American Backyard Campout!
And my Camping With Kids link-up from yesterday.

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Recollections from a Visit to Anna Botsford Comstock’s Lake Cottage

Anna and Henry Comstock

Every reader of the Handbook of Nature Study (the book) knows who Anna Botsford Comstock is….the esteemed author of our nature study guide and lessons. She wrote the words that have touched my personal life in such a profound way, changing how we view the world in our own backyard. She may have touched your life in a similar way through the pages of the Handbook of Nature Study as you worked through the Outdoor Hour Challenges.
Comstock Cottage - New York
When the opportunity was offered to me a few years ago to visit and actually stay at her cottage in New York outside Ithaca, I wasn’t able to make the trip at that time. It was on my mind a lot through the years so when a last minute trip involved traveling in New York came up last month, I immediately contacted the family that now owns the cottage to see if it was available during our visit. It was! We made arrangements to stay for three days in the cottage that Anna and Henry Comstock built on the shore of Lake Cayuga.

” During the fall of 1906, we were making habitable The Hermitage, our summer cottage on Cayuga Lake. We put a large window in the living room which gave us a wide view of the lake. This room was given a hardwood floor and was ceiled, to make it warm. Here we set up the wood stove that had been in my mother’s parlor when I was a child. It had a grate and in the evenings we opened up its front doors; this made it as cheerful as a fireplace.” Anna Botsford Comstock

It was just like I imagined it…set in the woods, right near the water’s edge. The birds, flowers, and trees were those that Anna wrote about in her books. It was warm and cozy and somehow familiar.

We sat on the porch and enjoyed the sounds of the woods. The lake glistened as the sunset on that first day. I climbed into bed and thought how it must have been there over a hundred years ago when the Comstocks first built the cottage.

Woods Near Ithaca New York

“Harry and I spent weekends there, and on each trip he would walk the mile and a half from Taughannock Station to The Hermitage, carrying on his back a basket filled with materials for fixing the house.The labor my husband performed in and about this place was remarkable.” Anna Botsford Comstock


The next morning I was up early for a walk in the woods. I ventured out alone for the first hike and as I stepped off the porch I heard birdsong and glimpsed a young deer sneaking across the road into a thicket of bushes. The woods woke up as I hiked up the trail and my eyes were trying hard to take in all the sights.

Woods Near Ithaca New York - Beautiful Tree

The green of the new spring leaves, the thin trunks of the trees, the rustlings of birds and the cry of the mourning doves. These were Anna’s woods. This was the place that helped inspire her to share her love of nature with teachers and children, bringing them into a relationship with common everyday things in their world.

There was teasel by the trail…new to me in person but familiar through the pages of the Handbook of Nature Study.  Advanced preparation does work…I recognized it right away and remember that she had called it ” a plant in armor”.

Canoeing on Lake Cayuga

“He added paths and built a fine wharf and a double-decked boat house, in the upper part of which we swung our hammocks, and from which we enjoyed the glory of many sunsets. The Hermitage was always a place where work was play; we dumped our cares at the Ithaca station when we left, but they were always waiting to jump at us on our return.” Anna Botsford Comstock

I made my way back to the cottage and by this time the boys were up and ready for the day. My husband and Mr. A took out the canoe onto the morning smooth water of the lake. Exploring a new place by water…leaving their cares behind as they paddled across the surface of the lake in the early morning sunrise.

Yellow Wildflower - Anna Botsford Comstock's Cottage

Mr. B and I decided to take another hike through the woods and this time we noticed the wildflowers. These were the wildflowers of Anna’s books…the ones we don’t have in California.

The whole weekend was filled with the opening of eyes and hearts to a magical place, gently teaching us the way of the New York woods in which we found ourselves. One day it rained and we watched the drops fall from our dry spot on the porch. The fragrance of the wet woods was delightful…different than our Northern California woods. The rain stopped and we grilled dinner on the stone fire pit down by the water. We skipped rocks, sat and watched the fisherman go by on their little boats, and we shed our cares, refreshed.

Nature Journal - Beech Tree

At the end of the weekend, we had made many entries into our nature journals, took lots of photos, and made some memories of our own at this lakeside cottage.

We will always remember our weekend spent on Lake Cayuga at the Comstock’s beloved Hermitage Cottage. Special thanks to Christiana and Alison who graciously opened up their family cottage to our family, making this trip to New York even more special.

I hope my readers enjoyed glimpsing our weekend….we all need to remember to build in our families a rich heritage of outdoor experiences. Who knows who it will touch in the future?
Next time I will share our day at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology and Sapsucker Woods! More connections were made to the Handbook of Nature Study.