Anna Comstock

Unit 1: Getting our bearings. Length: 3 days (not necessarily in a row).

Anna Botsford Comstock

Anna Botsford Comstock played a prominent role in the nature study movement to reform science education in the early 20th century, particularly through her book, Handbook of Nature Study.

Continuous in some ways with natural history, nature study rejected a preoccupation with taxonomy and systematic classification – and a concomitant dry and recitation-oriented style. In contrast, nature study emphasized instead a holistic and environmental approach that strove to understand each animal and plant in the context of its habitat. Nature study rejected an artificial, systematic sequence of instruction that would start with the most simple organisms and move toward the more complex. Rather, nature study favored beginning with familiar living things in the student’s locality, within the reach of direct, immediate experience. Children were encouraged to carefully observe and interact personally with nature on a regular basis under the motto “study nature, not books.” In nature study, pupils could engage the world around them in a manner that was filled with meaning, consistent with the imagination and fine arts, not simply in terms of disciplinary science training. Field trips and the preparation of collections by students who acquired their own specimens, cultivation of school gardens, visits to zoos, public lectures, illustrated nature books, field guides, public museums, and university extension programs at land grant universities all helped to spread the ideals of nature study. Nature study was congenial with a rural setting, and encouraged efforts to conserve wilderness, natural areas and public parks. The influence of the nature study movement is evident today in extracurricular programs such as scouts, kindergarten “show and tell,” conservation and environmental organizations, and not least, among homeschoolers. (Source: Kohlstedt, Teaching Children Science.)

Together read Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study, Ch. 1, “Teaching of Nature Study.” As you go, discuss what nature study is, and why one would use nature study for biology. You don’t have to read all of it, but pick out the sections that interest you. You might want to note the following:

  • Nature study for the child (p. 1);
  • Nature study and teaching (p. 3);
  • the vastness of the ____________ (p. 4);
  • Nature study and science (p. 5);
  • Nature study _____  _____ drill (p. 6);
  • Observe for the purpose of better understanding _____________ (p. 8);
  • Nature study indoors (pp. 8-10);
  • The _______ as a supplement to Nature Study (p. 11);
  • Life and Death (p. 12);
  • The Field Notebook (p. 13);
  • Field Excursion (p. 15);
  • Correlation of Nature Study with: Drawing, Geography, History, Arithmetic, Gardening, Agriculture.
  • The chief aim: to encourage ___________ more than to give _____________ (p. 24).

In the comments or by email, share any thoughts you have about Anna Comstock, nature study, nature walks, and nature journals. Has Comstock influenced your approach to homeschooling? How are her ideas relevant to your study of biology this year?


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