How to Use the Handbook of Nature Study

Here is what made me not use this book before:
1. Size-over 800 pages doesn’t transport well in my backpack

2. Black and white photos

3. I was trying to use it as a field guide.
4. I wanted to just start at the front and work my way to the back like a “regular” book.

5. I thought it would take too much time to use this book in our nature study because of the size and the sheer volume of information.

Here are some thoughts that I have now that I took the plunge and started using this wonderful book:
1. Read the pages at the beginning of the book that talk generally about nature study.

2. Pick a topic to focus on and read the introductory pages for that section only. We are focusing on insects this term but you can pick anything that seems appropriate for your family. You could change your focus each season if you wanted to. 3. Take the time after your nature walk to look up things that you saw on that nature walk. I turn to the table of contents and just scan down the list and see if I can find what I want to research. For instance you might have seen a honeybee and it is very easy to skim down and find honeybee and turn right to those few pages.
4. Read the small section (usually 1 or 2 pages) that pertain to that object or creature.
5. Write in the book……gasp. Yes, write in the book as you go along to highlight the little bits of information that you want to share with your children.

6. If you don’t have time after your nature walk to look something up and share it right then, research it in the Handbook before your next nature study session and then share it the next time.

7. Realize that nature study is a lifelong project, or at least I think it should be. You don’t need to cover every aspect of everything you find.

Anna Botsford Comstock suggests that nature study be only 10 minutes to half an hour in length. (page 6) I am finding this is a wonderful way to spend a few minutes outside with my boys each day….yes we are committing to 10-60 minutes outside per day. We all feel so much more refreshed and it has actually helped us be more focused when we are doing our indoor work.

Fall Color: Tahoe National Forest

Here are some photos from our nature walk last weekend that I haven’t shared with you. The color of the aspens against the blue sky and greens of the evergreen forest make for a beautiful eyeful of complimentary color.

Would you ever get tired of seeing this view out your window? I would love to build a little cabin in the woods to retreat to when my life gets too stressful.

The Handbook of Nature Study has some wonderful ideas for tree study. From page 622:
“During autumn the attention of the children should be attracted to the leaves by their gorgeous colors. It is well to use this interest to cultivate their knowledge of the forms of leaves of trees; but the teaching of the tree species to the young child should be done quite incidentally and guardedly. If the teacher says to the child bringing a leaf, ‘This is a white oak leaf,” the child will soon quite unconsciously learn that leaf by name. Thus, tree study may be begun in the kindergarten or the primary grades.”

autumn leaves

Page 623-626 has activities to complete during each of the four seasons with your tree. I am anxious to apply these to the study of our tree that we are watching for a year.

I am finding so much to learn about nature in my own area of the world.

More on Daddy Longlegs


We had this daddy longlegs make his web** right on the outside of our window glass. We decided this was the perfect way to observe him as he moved around his web. We could get right up underneath him and look at his body parts. We had already learned that he is not an insect but we still thought he was an interesting subject for our nature study.

From page 434 of the
Handbook of Nature Study:
“In the North, all except one species die at the approach of winter; but not until after the female, which, by the way, ought to be called “granny longlegs.” has laid her eggs in the ground, or under some protecting stone, or in some safe crevice of wood or bark.”“They get their growth like insects, by shedding their skins as fast as they outgrow them. It is interesting to study one of these cast skins with a lens. There it stands with a slit down its back, and with the skin of each leg absolutely perfect to the tiny claw! Again we marvel at these legs that seem so threadlike, and which have an outer covering that can be shed. “

I found one of these exoskeletons in the web of this daddy longlegs. It looked just like the daddy longlegs and I wondered how it slipped its slender legs out of that skin. I read on another website that the daddy longlegs will shed its skin every ten days. I also read that they can grow a new leg if one gets broken….amazing and fascinating.

Page 434:
“Put a grandfather greybeard (daddy longlegs) in a breeding cage or under a large tumbler, and let the pupils observe him at leisure. If you place a few drops of sweetened water at one side of the cage, the children will surely have an opportunity to see this amusing creature clean his legs.”

The Handbook of Nature Study on page 434 also lists out eight activities you can do to observe the daddy longlegs. We are going to give a few of them a try the next time we have a daddy longlegs come to visit.

Here’s my original post on daddy longlegs:
Daddy Longlegs: Not an Insect

**I have since been told that daddy longlegs don’t construct webs. I did some additional research online to find the answer.
Here’s another source that may clear up the mystery and I will just cut and paste from Wikipedia:

“The Pholcidae are a spider family in the suborder Araneomorphae.
Some species, especially Pholcus phalangioides, are commonly called daddy long-legs spider, daddy long-legger, granddaddy long-legs spider, cellar spider, vibrating spider, or house spider. Confusion often arises because the name “daddy longlegs” is also applied to two distantly related arthropod groups: the harvestmen (which are arachnids but not spiders), and crane flies (which are insects).”



Okay, so you *have* to click on the photo to make it larger but you can really see the exoskeleton of the daddy longlegs. I went hunting for one today and I found this one in the eaves of my house….I was trying to take a photo and it blew down onto the potted plant and I thought it made a pretty background.