Home School Life Journal

Home School Life Journal ........... painting by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

The Handbook of Nature Study

I have heard criticism of The Handbook of Nature Study because, since it was published originally in 1911, the scientific information covered is outdated and therefore not useful. I think that this criticism stems from looking at the book as a reference book, like an encyclopedia of animal facts. I think, instead, the book should be looked at as a guide. Anna Comstock says in the first chapter, "The Teaching of Nature-Study," that the book "is not meant for direct information to the pupils...Make the lesson an investigation and make the pupils feel that they are the investigators... The chief aim of this volume is to encourage investigation, rather than to give information." I have used it as a wonderful resource in teaching about the wildlife out-of-doors, but perhaps more importantly, I have used it as an aid in learning how to observe myself and how to teach observation. Each lesson is a lesson in how to observe. The lesson on the rabbit is a good example of this. We are fortunate enough to own a domestic rabbit, and so we could make our observations using him, and I would like to invite you to learn with us, using some the questions from Lesson 53 (page 218) in The Handbook of Nature Study (there are many more.) This won't substitute for your own observations of a live rabbit, but perhaps it will give you ideas to think about for the next time you see one in your yard. "The cotton-tail (rabbit) thrives amid civilization; its color protects it from sight; its long ears give it warning of the approach of danger; and its long legs enable it to run by swift, long leaps. It feeds upon grasses, clover, vegetables and other herbs... If it is impossible to study the cotton-tail, the domestic rabbit may be used instead." -HNS, p. 218

What are the two most noticeable peculiarities of the rabbit? How are the ears held when resting? When startled? When not quite certain about the direction of the noise?How are the ears held when the animal is running? (Also, which tracks would be in the front, if you could see the tracks?)


What peculiarity is there in the upper lip? How would this be an aid to the rabbit when gnawing? How does it eat a stem of grass?

Describe the eyes. How are they placed so that the rabbit can see forward and backward?

Why is it advantageous to the rabbit to have such long, strong hind legs? Compare them in size to the front legs.

How does the rabbit escape being seen? Describe its coat. Have you ever seen a wild rabbit "freeze"? What is meant by "freezing" and what is the use of it?

How does the rabbit clean its face, ears, feet and fur?

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