Interview with Kelly Froisland of HearthRoom Press

Kelly has been working diligently for many years to reproduce Anna Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study (HONS) notebooks. These notebooks are not as well known as Comstock’s larger volume, the Handbook of Nature Study, used by many Charlotte Mason homeschoolers as the spine for Nature Study throughout, but they were created to accompany the larger book as a handheld guide, walking students through the discussion questions at the end of each section in the larger guide.

If you are unfamiliar with Anna Comstock, you can find out more about her, HERE. Her research helped to make nature study accessible to teachers world wide and her efforts in education changed the way schools introduced science to their children.

TThank you for taking the time to answer some questions for CPQ!

Thank you for the opportunity to share!

Tell us a bit about you? 

I’m a pastor’s wife and mother of seven. I have dabbled in graphic design since my college years. Up until now,  I have used that skill mostly to serve our church by helping to design sermon graphics and event flyers etc. More recently, I have been asked to help design a few logos for small businesses, and I have also designed a book cover for a resource that is used all over the world through TLI (training leaders international)! I didn’t realize that all of those experiences and skills would be put to use this year as I stepped into my biggest project yet- launching a publishing and homeschooling resource company, HearthRoom Press. 

Tell us a bit about your family and your experience with Charlotte Mason?

I’ve been married to my husband for 14 years. We live in Daytona Beach. Our children are 13, 12, 10, 10, 6, 3, and 1. We have used Ambleside Online since the beginning, which we chose solely because it was free, without having ever heard of Charlotte Mason! I had no mentor, no facebook group, and no pink paperback volumes. We just dove headfirst into Ambleside and have never regretted a single second of it. We had no idea how Charlotte Mason was going to shape our lives through this amazing free resource. The ways in which it has challenged and blessed myself and my family are too many to count. 

When did you first start collecting the Anna Comstock notebooks? 

I’ve been a book collector for many years now, and our collection leans heavily toward natural history more than any other genre. We have a wonderful collection of beautifully bound, vintage books on botany, ornithology, geology and more. My favorite, of course, is my 1911 edition of HONS, shabby as it is. It has been signed by multiple educators that have used it through the years. It’s underlined and all marked up with notes, and shows its age for sure! I think that it’s well-worn condition is probably part of what made me realize that it was not just a ‘dry textbook,’ as I’ve heard some say, but something that has stood the test of time.  When I found the first ‘nature notebook,’ I couldn’t believe it. I already had such a soft spot for Anna Comstock, it was like finding a gift that was made just for me. That was probably about 3 years ago. I knew they were rare and special, and so I sought to collect more (which has not been an easy task). I knew immediately that many homeschooling parents who had been struggling with HONS might enjoy these little snippets as an introduction to what, I believe, is the best part of the book –the questions and observation prompts.

What was it that drew you to them? 

Well first, the original notebooks are just as charming as they can be. They are very small and bound at the top with just a thin piece of tape. The orientation changes direction multiple times throughout the books. They are just very… not modern, which I love! The second thing that thrilled me were the illustrations. Louis Agassiz Fuertes is well known and loved (he did the plates of Burgess books and many others), and I’ve had such a fun time learning more about him and tracking down more of his works as well. 

“It’s very important to me that parents really get to know how much Anna Comstock’s teaching philosophy can influence their homeschool and life. I would love for the new generation to be able to sense Anna Comstock’s presence in everything put out by our company.”

Kelly Froisland

What has been your favorite part about bringing them back to life for a new generation of students to enjoy? 

In trying to track down more of the notebooks, I’ve spent long hours researching Cornell’s incredible team that started Comstock Publishing in the early 1900’s. I almost feel like part of their team now, even though that part of Cornell’s publishing wing has become its own new thing (totally unrelated to the original cause).

One purpose of my new project is to bring back the charm and sweetness of the original team. Not just to encourage parents to get their children outside more, or to try to mass produce a resource to make a quick buck. It’s very important to me that parents really get to know how much Anna Comstock’s teaching philosophy can influence their homeschool and their life.

I would love for the new generation to be able to sense Anna Comstock’s presence in everything put out by our company. For example, she was an incredible artist, and I’m doing my best to reflect her artistic eye in the republished works. 

Does your family use the notebooks in your homeschool? If so, do you have tips or tricks for any moms who might be considering a purchase in the near future?

Yes we do!

  1. The very first tip I have is to open up the handbook of nature study (free to read online) and read the preface and introduction chapter because the biggest misconception about HONS is that it is a field guide. My dear friends, please do not take this book in the field with you, and please do not try to use it as a source for identifying flora and fauna. You will be disappointed and miss out on much of what the book has to offer. You will need a good field guide in addition to these books. (We like the Peterson field guides for purposes of identification, especially).
  2. The second tip I have is about HONS. The most common misconception is that HONS is a book to be read by the teacher and  then regurgitated as a lesson to the pupil, who would then be quizzed with the questions at the end of the chapter. The content and teacher-stories do prepare the teacher to answer any questions the student may have. However, I do not believe that this was the intent of the author- to fill the students cup with information and then ask them to pour it back out neatly.
  3. The last tip I have is based on another misconception, and one I was certainly discouraged by early on–that most of the content assumes you will have these specimens on hand for observation, which most of us will not. But, I’d like to suggest that the questions at the end of each chapter are not meant to be a roadblock for those without access to the animal or plant, but they ought to be viewed as a model for how to have an amazing conversation with a child (or with anyone!), and how to observe nature yourself, as well.  The way Anna Comstock prompts the pupils, through these questions, to think of all of the ways and habits of whatever creature or specimen at hand— has shaped me as a parent and as an educator.

The beauty of using questions like the ones Comstock poses is the slowness required, some of the chapters have upwards of 20 questions. (I’ve often said, it’s okay, this is not a quiz! It’s a conversation!) By asking these types of questions and giving time for the response, you give the child an opportunity to form their own ideas and follow through on their own curiosities, rather than giving them quick facts or long lectures.

This ‘questions’ method will train you in gentleness, patience, and encourage you to see your child as the thinking person that they are.  It is a very fun way to experience education (and relationships!) for both the teacher and the pupil. You can use the question model in almost any situation (ex: ‘what do you know of baking soda? Why do you think we add such little amounts to the batter? In what ways does it affect the texture? The rise? The taste? Have you ever left out an ingredient by mistake? What was the result?)

The notebooks kind of allow you to let go of your fear of HONS, (usually based on the misconceptions about the book) and just start out with her method of asking the pupil to observe, research, record and illustrate. The idea of the notebooks is that the children create their very own ‘field guides’ with the animals and specimens they do have access to- and in doing so, create a strong connection to the world around them. 

Do you have any other projects coming down the pipeline that folks might be excited about?

  1. This year, my goal is to release the remainder of the notebooks that I’ve been able to track down (plants, fishes) while also continuing to search for the other notebooks that I’m hoping are still out there somewhere (trees, insects, zoo).
  2. I am separating the handbook of nature study into volumes by subject, and adding color illustrations. I realize I am not the only publisher doing this- but that’s okay! You can expect ours to be full of beautiful, vibrant illustrations throughout, and with added content from Anna and John’s other books (pets, insects, snakes etc).
  3. One other fun project up my sleeve is a children’s book about Jonathan Edwards’ childhood nature writings. I am very excited about that one because not many know him as a naturalist! 

Where again can we find these wonderful notebooks?

The notebooks (common animals, birds 1&2) are currently available on:

our website hearthroompress.com

and Amazon.com 

  1. Christie Russell says:

    I’m just discovering HONS for the first time and I’ve been doing Ambleside for 5 years now and had the book for that same amount of time. It truly is a treasure and a gem once I figured out how to use it!

    1. admin says:

      Yes! I am in the same boat over here! Kelly and I were talking about how my book was gathering dust. Sometimes I would pick it up and peruse through the pages, trying to glean. But the idea of using it on the regular really eluded me. Now, when I open it up I feel this growing sense of freedom in our nature studies because of how simple and uncomplicated its learning process is.

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