Origins & Inspirations

Under Construction

Changes in progress for this section:

• REWRITE to include Thoreau, Muir, Emerson, and Burroughs (Whitman too?) … and European poets, etc.
• include pics where appropriate
• Possibly include information about William Hamilton Gibson?
• The Nature Study Movement with Bailey and Comstock
• Add more emphasis on Rachel Carson and “A Sense of Wonder”
• give credit to the host of contemporary nature writers
• quickly review ideas of Sobel, Louv, etc. = modern views of the importance of nature immersion and study

The ideas behind our mission are not new, and this is where we connect the dots …
1. Liberty Hyde Bailey and Anna Botsford Comstock

Given the location of our headquarters in Ithaca, New York, it is not surprising that we have a Cornell University connection … and that is the “Nature Study Movement” that took root at Cornell University of the late 1800s and early 1900s and the philosophical approach to nature education set forth by Liberty Hyde Bailey (Dean of the Ag School) in his book “The Nature Study Idea,” first published in 1903. Bailey’s emphasis was to bring children into a “sympathetic” attitude toward nature, to help them “fall in love with nature” (which happens to be what the Miracle of Nature is all about). GO HERE for a selection of relevant quotes from Bailey’s book.

Also relevant is the seminal “Handbook of Nature Study” authored and edited by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor in Cornell’s Education Department. Her handbook brought together a variety of nature study resources originally published as Cornell “Nature Study Leaflets.” Her book was aimed at rural school teachers and included detailed activities that would bring children into contact with the natural world. We intend to study the structure of her book to help us identify popular nature study themes that should be covered on our website.

Note that while the nature study movement focused primarily on the education of children in rural schools, Miracle of Nature more broadly focuses on children and adults alike in all walks of life … anyone who has an interest in expanding their appreciation and understanding of nature.

2. Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson’s book “A Sense of Wonder” (published posthumously) has been a primary inspiration for the creation of Miracle of Nature. In it, Carson clearly and poetically describes how to “co-explore” nature with children, without assuming the role of a “know it all teacher.” To our knowledge, nobody before or after has produced such a lucid statement of this principle and her ideas are just as applicable today as they were when she originally penned the text in the mid-1950s. GO HERE for a selection of relevant quotes from Carson’s book.

3. Richard Louv, David Sobel, and others.

Richard Louv, in his best-selling book “Last Child in the Woods,” defines the “nature deficit disorder” that afflict children of this day and age. His ideas put our mission into perspective, at least as it concerns the positive outcomes of connecting children with nature.

Another important work is a rather obscure book by David Sobel entitled “Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education” (1999). Sobel’s premise, which we take quite seriously, is that a child’s first exposure to nature should be one of joyful and uplifting exploration, rather than a fear-based approach where children are co-opted at a young age to “save nature” because nature is under assault, going extinct, or otherwise in grave danger of being destroyed. While activism and conservation is certainly important in this day and age, it is equally important to cultivate and maintain a “refuge” where nature can be purely and simply enjoyed without being clouded over by panic and fear.

In Sobel’s most recent book, “Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators,” he makes the important point that “one transcendent experience in nature is worth a thousand nature facts.” We agree, because such powerful experiences in nature will ignite a child’s spirit and foster an intimate connection to nature and the earth. In line with his argument, we consider “facts” to be secondary and supplemental to actual exposure to the miraculous quality of nature and life. Hence we are determined to gather and feature media that is powerful enough to evoke a deep emotional response … almost as powerful as experiencing the “real thing.” What more can we possibly do?

Last but not least, we are indebted to all those who have labored to produce great natural history references, including field guides, audio guides, photographic collections, and video productions. The interest in nature is high and we are grateful that the marketplace is full of useful resources for anyone who wants to explore and learn about the natural world.

Primary References:

Liberty Hyde Bailey. 1903. The Nature Study Idea: Being an Interpretation of the New School-Movement to Put the Child in Sympathy with Nature. Doubleday, Page & Company.

Anna Bostford Comstock. 1911. The Handbook of Nature Study. Handbook of nature-study for teachers and parents based on the Cornell nature-study leaflets. Comstock Publishing Associates.

Rachel Carson. 1965. A Sense of Wonder. Joanna Cotler Books (published posthumously; originally written as a 1950’s magazine article called “Help Your Child to Wonder”).

Recent Works:

David Sobel. 1999. Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education (Nature Literacy Series, Vol. 1). Orion Society.

Richard Louv. 2005. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books.

David Sobel. 2008. Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators. Stenhouse Publishers.

Kevin C. Armitage. 2009. The Nature Study Movement: The Forgotten Popularizer of America’s Conservation Ethic. University Press of Kansas.