Handbook of nature study (1911) by Anna Comstock - PDF ebook

Handbook of nature-study for teachers and parents, based on the Cornell nature-study leaflets.

Handbook of nature-study
Handbook of nature study (1911) by Anna Comstock


Excerpt from Cornell University's introduction:


The Cornell University Nature-Study propaganda was essentially an agricultural movement in its inception and its aims; it was inaugurated as direct aid to better methods of agriculture in New York State. During the years of agricultural depression 1891-1893, the Charities of New York City found it necessary to help many people who had come from the rural districts — a condition hitherto unknown. 

The philanthropists managing the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor asked, "What is the matter with the land of New York State that it cannot support its own population?" A conference was called to consider the situation to which many people from different parts of the State were invited; among them was the author of this book, who little realized that in attending that meeting the whole trend of her activities would be thereby changed. 

Mr. George T. Powell, who had been a most efficient Director of Farmers' Institutes of New York State was invited to the conference as an expert to explain conditions and give advice as to remedies. The situation seemed so serious that a Committee for the Promotion of Agriculture in New York State was appointed. Of this committee, the Honorable Abram S. Hewitt was Chairman, Mr. R. Fulton Cutting, Treasurer, Mr. Wm. H. Tolman, Secretary. The other members were Walter L. Suydam, Wm. E. Dodge, Jacob H. Schiff, George T. Powell, G. Howard Davidson, Howard Townsend, Professor I. P. Roberts, C. McNamee, Mrs. J. R. Lowell, and Mrs. A. B. Comstock. Mr. George T. Powell was made Director of the Department of Agricultural Education. At the first meeting of this committee, Mr. Powell made a strong plea for interesting the children of the country in farming as a remedial measure and maintained that the first step toward agriculture was nature-study. 

It had been Mr. Powell's custom to give simple agricultural and nature-study instruction to the school children of every town where he was conducting a farmers' institute, and his opinion was, therefore, based upon experience. The committee desired to see for itself the value of this idea, and experimental work was suggested, using the schools of Westchester County as a laboratory. Mr. R. Fulton Cutting generously furnished the funds for this experiment, and work was done that year in the Westchester schools, which satisfied the committee of the soundness of the project. 

The committee naturally concluded that such a fundamental movement must be a public rather than a private enterprise; and Mr. Frederick Nixon then Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the Assembly, was invited to meet with the committee at Mr. Hewitt's home. Mr. Nixon had been from the beginning of his public career deeply interested in improving the farming conditions of the State. In 1894, it was through VI Handbook of Nature-Study his influence and the support given him by the Chautauqua Horticultural Society under the leadership of Mr. John W. Spencer, that an appropriation had been given to Cornell University for promoting the horticultural interests of the western counties of the State. In addition to other work done through this appropriation, horticultural schools were conducted under the direction of Professor L. H. Bailey with the aid of other Cornell instructors and especially of Mr. E. G. Lodeman; these schools had proved to be most useful and were well attended. Therefore, Mr. Nixon was open-minded toward an educational movement. He hastened to the plan of the committee and after due consideration declared that if this new measure would surely help the farmers of the State, the money would be forthcoming. 

The committee unanimously decided that if an appropriation were made for this purpose it should be given to the Cornell College of Agriculture; and that year eight thousand dollars was added to the Cornell University Fund, for Extension Teaching and inaugurating this work. The work was begun under Professor I. P. Roberts; after one year Professor Roberts placed it under the supervision of Professor L. H. Bailey, who for the fifteen years since has been the inspiring leader of the movement, as well as the official head. In 1896, Mr. John W. Spencer, a fruit grower in Chautauqua County, became identified with the enterprise; he had lived in rural communities and he knew their needs. it was who first saw clearly that the first step in the great work was to help the teacher through simply written leaflets; and later he originated the great plan of organizing the children in the schools of the State into Junior Naturalists Clubs, which developed a remarkable phase of the movement. The members of these clubs paid their dues by writing letters about their nature observations to Mr. Spencer, who speedily became their beloved "Uncle John;" a button and charter were given for continued and earnest work. 

Some years, 30,000 children were thus brought into direct communication with Cornell University through Mr. Spencer. A monthly leaflet for Junior Naturalists followed; and it was to help in this enterprise that Miss Alice G. McCloskey, the able Editor of the present Rural School Leaflet, was brought into the work. 

Later, Mr. Spencer organized the children's garden movement by forming the children of the State into junior gardeners; at one time he had 25,000 school pupils working in gardens and reporting to him. In 1899, Mrs.' Mary Rogers Miller, who had proven a most efficient teacher when representing Cornell nature-study in the State Teachers' Institutes, planned and started the Home Nature-Study Course Leaflets for the purpose of helping the teachers by correspondence, a work which fell to the author in 1903 when Mrs. Miller was called to other fields.

Some contents of the book

  • PART I
  • The Teaching of Nature-Study
  • What Nature-Study is 
  • What Nature-Study Should do for the Child I
  • Nature-Study as a Help to Health 2
  • What Nature-Study Should do for the Teacher 2
  • When and Why the Teacher Should say "I do not know!" 3
  • Nature-Study, The Elixir of Youth 4
  • Nature-Study as a Help in School Discipline 4
  • The Relation of Nature-Study to Science 5
  • Nature-Study not for Drill 6
  • The Child not Interested in Nature-Study 6
  • When to Give the Lesson 6
  • The Length of Lesson 7
  • The Nature-Study Lesson Always New 7
  • Nature-Study and Object Lessons 7
  • Nature-Study in the Schoolroom 8
  • Nature-Study and Museum Specimens 8
  • The Lens, Microscope, and Field-glass as Helps 9
  • Use of Pictures^ Charts and Blackboard Drawings 10
  • The Use of Scientific Names 10
  • The Story as a Supplement to the Nature-Study Lesson 10
  • The Nature-Study Attitude toward Life and Death 11
  • Should the Nature-Study Teacher Teach How to Destroy Life? 13
  • The Field Note-book 13
  • The Field Excursion 15
  • Pets as Nature-Study Subjects 15
  • The Correlation of Nature-Study with Language Work 16
  • The Correlation of Nature-Study with Drawing 17
  • The Correlation of Nature-Study with Geography 18
  • The Correlation of Nature-Study with History 18
  • The Correlation of Nature-Study with Arithmetic 19
  • Gardening and Nature-Study 20
  • Nature-Study and Agriculture 21
  • Nature-Study Clubs 22
  • How to Use this Book 24


Anna Botsford Comstock (September 1, 1854 – August 24, 1930) is the best-selling author of The Handbook of Nature Study (1911)

Download Handbook of nature study PDF ebook 44 MB 

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