Nature study, as Anna Botsford Comstock states, is just plain good for children. It awakens in them a sense of truth, fosters their sense of wonder, aids the imagination, improves health, and provides all kinds of benefits otherwise withheld in the course of an ordinary school day. Handbook of Nature Study has achieved classic status since its initial publication in 1911, not only for the wealth of information it contains, but for the compelling argument it makes for the essential importance of nature study in any program of learning.
In the original text, the author begins with a defense of nature study and lists the many other academic disciplines it can be used to support. Then comes a nearly 1,000-page compendium of facts and information relating to the study of animals, plants, minerals and sky. The material is profusely illustrated in black and white with drawings and photographs to aid identification, but the text contains the important material. Discussing everything from balloon spiders to carbon dioxide to seed germination, the book is eminently readable, and supplemented by quotations and poetry (proving that science and art are not irreconcilable).
But while Handbook of Nature Study has been considered an essential tool for all budding naturalists, its large size has made it impractical in the field. Also, the black and white pictures are often less attractive to young people. Living Book Press has now broken up the material into individual sections for easy portability and added new full-color photos for those times that you’re unable to see nature up close.
The set includes seven main volumes, and an Introductions Book for easy accessibility. The publisher tried to keep each volume to around 220 pages, and for the most part he succeeded.
- Introductions Book
The Introductions book features the Introduction to Nature Study as well as the introductions to Bird study, Insect study, Tree study, and Plant study. It is important to note that ALL of the information in this book is also found in the other volumes, but it can be handy to have it all together for when you find something you weren’t expecting to study.
- Fish, Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates (includes text of main introduction)
- Mammals, Flowerless Plants
- Trees, Garden, Flowers
- Wildflowers, Weeds, Crops
- Earth & Sky
Frequent lists of questions challenge students to recall what they've learned and further explore material introduced in the book. The beauty of Handbook of Nature Study is that it works equally well read aloud by teachers and parents, or as a reference for kids. This is also a favorite text of many proponents of the Charlotte Mason educational approach, with its emphasis on nature study and learning by observation.
Comstock's prose style, while highly readable, isn't dumbed down or embarrassingly juvenile for older students. The author and her husband, John Henry Comstock, were respected scientists and naturalists with a passion for the wilderness and countryside. If you share that love, or at least desire it and want to foster it in your children, this is an excellent place to start.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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