Friday, August 26, 2016

Can Keeping a Nature Journal bring Natural History Back from the Brink of Extinction?

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In June 2014, Jennifer Frazer wrote an article in Scientific American called Natural History is Dying, and We Are All the Losers. That article has once again been making its way around Facebook, in groups dedicated to nature journalers, naturalists and other involved in environmental issues. Its garnered a lot of attention and many comments.

There's been much discussion, and lamenting of the state of affairs that Frazer points out. 

Her article opens with this sobering insight, "In other words, the people society depends on to know the most about life -- people with college biology degrees -- in nearly all cases have no obligation to learn anything about actual living organisms. To me, this is a shocking dereliction."

She goes on to point out a number of other disquieting facts about the stigma of "natural history" within the scientific and academic communities and notes that "Natural History [flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries], when Linnaeus, Darwin, and even U.S. Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were avid and avowed naturalists. It was a time when basic knowledge of local plants and animals was considered part of a good education -- and of being a good citizen" (emphasis mine). 

Frazer tells us that the enthusiasm for nature study and natural history encompassed schoolchildren as well, noting that between 1890 and 1940 books such as....Anna Botsford Comstock's, Handbook of Nature-Study  were an essential part of classrooms across America. 

I believe that keeping a nature journal has now become a very important part of creating a culture that values nature. In fact, I might go so far as to say that acquiring a basic knowledge of local plants and animals makes us better citizens, global citizens as well as local citizens, who will act, engage and vote with environmental concerns in mind. It may also be a practice that rescues natural history from the dust bin in the university basement. 

Years ago when my children were young I home educated them and nature study was a big part of our lives. We had Anna Comstock's book mentioned above, and we were heavily influenced by the 19th century educational philosopher and practitioner Charlotte Mason, who advocated nature study as an essential part of a child's education. In fact it was during those years that I  began keeping my own nature journals, (badly at first, but with much joy). 

Our children are our future, and the best hope for the future of our planet, and because I think that keeping a nature journal is such an easy, enjoyable but important way to develop a knowledge, love and appreciation for nature in both adults and children I have invited Lynn Seddon, author of Exploring Nature with Children, to write a guest post responding to Frazer's observations and expounding on her own experiences as a Charlotte Mason home educator in the UK. 

Lynn's post will be published on Thursday September 1, 2016 and I hope you will check back to read it. 

Click HERE for a free nature journaling mini-class, and stay tuned for my upcoming online course Beginning a Nature Journal: creating lively sketches of the natural world coming in spring 2017


  1. All so true. I didn't realized you had homeschooled your children. I did, too, and we also used Comstock's book (which I still pull out from time to time), and that is also when I started keeping a nature journal, along with my children.

    1. I still have Comstock's book too, and refer to it now and then!

  2. Charlotte Mason inspired our family's interest in keeping a nature journal. Fun to see that connection!

    1. Charlotte had it exactly correct when it came to kids + nature!


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