Nature Study, Advice from Comstock

Previously Ms Comstock explained what the study of nature might be expected to do for the child. Now she explains the benefits to the teacher (or parent):


During many years, I have been watching teachers in our public schools in their conscientious and ceaseless work; and so far as I can foretell, the fate that awaits them finally is either nerve exhaustion or nerve atrophy. The teacher must become either a neurasthenic or a ” clam.” ( i.e. neurotic and heading for a nervous break-down or apathetic)

I have had conversations with hundreds of teachers in the public schools of New York State concerning the introduction of nature-study into the curriculum, and most of them declared, ” Oh, we have not time for it. Every moment is full now! ”

(doesn’t that sound familiar? If I had a dollar for every mom who I hear saying she can’t add nature study because she’s stretched to the breaking point, well, we might still be self supporting missionaries, but our self support would bring us up to considerably more comforts!)

Their nerves were at such a tension that with one more thing to do they must fall apart. The question in my own mind during these conversations was always, how long can she stand it! I asked some of them, ” Did you ever try a vigorous walk in the open air in the open country every Saturday or every Sunday of your teaching year? ” ” Oh no! ” they exclaimed in despair of making me understand. ” On Sunday we must go to church or see our
friends and on Saturday we… *(have to catch up with all the undone tasks from the previous week).

What are you catching up with?
Consider, points out Ms Comstock, that you may be behind on grading papers and household tasks and so on, but you are also behind on some other things you haven’t considered- rest, refreshment, rejuvenation, the things that give you more energy and motivation to bring you through the other cares:

Yes, catch up with more cares, more worries, more fatigue, but not with more growth, more strength, more vigor, and more courage for work. In my belief, there are two and only two occupations for Saturday afternoon or forenoon for a teacher.
One is to be out-of-doors and the other is to lie in. bed, and the first is best.
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. To the teacher who turns to nature’s healing, nature-study in the schoolroom is not a trouble; it is a sweet, fresh breath of air blown across the heat of radiators and the noi-
some odor of overcrowded small humans. 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. What does such a one find in her schoolroom instead of the terrors of discipline, the eternal watching and eternal nagging to keep the pupils quiet and at work? 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.

No time for nature study? By not doing nature study, you may be losing at more time in terms of the renewed eagerness, fresh minds, health, and cooperative spirits that come from time outside observing nature.


Comstock’s nature guide, of course, if for no other reason but the preface (if your volume has it), especially the first 27 pages, and then skim over a few of the sections on some specific topic or species and get an idea about what sort of things to help your students notice, how to draw their attention to closer details.  This is NOT a book to take with you out on the field.  You could use it for specific nature study at your kitchen table- bring home a violet or grow a marigold in a pot, set out a fish bowl with a tree frog, turtle or a toad to examine, bring in a baby chick or a twig of oak and acorn- get out the Comstock, open it to that page and *only* read aloud the questions, one by one, and then collectively attempt to answer them through first hand observation.

A field guide to your area.

blank journals and pencils or paints

Some drawing instruction- this is the single issue for most people who give up on nature study.  You want some very basic drawing instruction which will help you learn how to draw what you actually see, not what you think is there, and will help you see what is really there instead of what you assume is there.  If this sounds confusing or overwhelming, you really want one of these books (there may be others as good or better, but this is what I have found most helpful to me):

The Drawing Lesson, a graphic novel that teaches you how to draw, by Mark Crilley- this is an instruction book in story form, using a graphic novel format. It’s excellent.  It is ostensibly written for children, but personally, when I want to learn something new, I always start with children’s books.

You Can Draw in 30 Days, by Mark Kistler (I have found Kistler extremely helpful, not just this book, but videos and other books as well). The style is cartoon, but you can apply the same principles to drawing other things, and frankly, if you’re as hopeless at this as I am, it’s quite a confidence booster to be able to draw even something as simple as asmall stack of cans successfully, looking 3 dimensional.

Drawing : the only drawing book you’ll ever need to be the artist you’ve always wanted to be, by Kathryn Temple  I do not find this the *only* book I ever needed, but it’s useful.  Often I find in a subject like drawing, or picking up a second language, using at least two different resources really helps.
Did these books turn me into an artist?  Not really.  Partly I didn’t use them diligently.  Partly, when I draw I give up too soon.  What they did do for me was make me FAR LESS frustrated with what I draw.  They are also short enough, laid out simply enough, and enjoyable enough that I don’t mind returning to them and trying again.  They are also laid out easily enough that all I have to do is pick up my pencil and any blank paper and start.  If I am going to have flip around from page to page and create my own lesson plans and fuss and bother, I’m not going to do it.  These books pretty much are open and go, although you probably want to read the introdcutions.

My drawings today still look lopsided and childish, but they don’t make me want to scream in frustration. They don’t make me feel stupid and worthless.  I feel like improvement is possible, which other books have not done for me.

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