Science Milestones: Nature Study with Anna Botsford Comstock - Eva Varga

September 1, 20142

Many homeschoolers are familiar with Anna Botsford Comstock, the esteemed author of the Handbook of Nature Study, a nature study guide.  I first discovered her works when we first began homeschooling and I stumbled upon  Barb McCoy’s blog, also named Handbook of Nature Study. The words in the text, alongside the challenges Barb coordinated each week, have touched my personal life in such a profound way, changing how we view the world in our own backyard.naturestudy

I had always been a keen observer of nature and enjoyed sharing my passion for the outdoors with children. Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study gave me the tools with which to communicate more clearly. Specific questions to ask that inspired the kids to slow down and to look closer.


Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; neg. no. LC USZ 62 111455

Anna Botsford Comstock (September 1, 1854– August 24, 1930), was an American artist, educator, conservationist, and a leader of the nature study movement, born in Otto, New York, to Marvin and Phebe Irish Botsford. She worked both separately and with her husband, entomologist John Henry Comstock (whom she met while a student at Cornell University), to produce several important works on nature study.

Named one of America’s 12 greatest living women in a 1923 survey by the League of Women Voters, Anna Botsford Comstock was a conservationist before most people knew what the word meant. It is no wonder that she was inducted into the National Wildlife’s Conservation Hall of Fame.

In her book, Comstock emphasized the rewards of direct observation. She was ahead of her time in stressing the importance of natural relationships that work to form what we now call an ecosystem. The point of her approach to nature study was to “cultivate the child’s imagination, love of the beautiful, and sense of companionship with life out-of-doors.”

Every parent interested in introducing nature study to their children needs to read the Handbook of Nature Study. Her words are as valuable and relevant today as they were back at the turn of the 20th century when her book was first published.

I invite you to read her words and be encouraged to include nature study in your family’s week. Begin with just the first chapter, “The Teaching of Nature Study”.  There are so many gems of wisdom contained within those first few pages that you don’t want to miss. From there, use it as a reference tool to help guide you and your children on a journey of nature discovery.

Bring it Home

  • Purchase a sketchbook for each family member (I recommend a spiral bound style for ease of use) and a set of colored pencils, watercolors, and art pencils
  • Purchase the Handbook of Nature Study print edition or download the eBook edition for free
  • Visit Barb McCoy’s Handbook of Nature Study website, explore the wealth of challenges and resources, and subscribe to her newsletter
  • Sketch something of interest in your journal – a bird, a flower, a leaf
  • Press a leaf or a flower in your journal
  • Engage kids in a variety of outdoor adventures – scavenger hunts, color walks, animal tracks
  • Read aloud books like In the Woods: Who’s Been Here? to get kids talking about nature
  • Participate in one of the Outdoor Hour Challenges from the Handbook of Nature Study website and share it with others

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Explore additional September Birthday lessons and unit studies with iHomeschool Network bloggers.

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