Last week, I thought about what I could do to nurture a love of nature in my children. I was introduced to the Outdoor Hour Challenges website by Ambleside Online. I was intrigued and decided to try Challenge #1 this week. It was a rousing success!
My first task was to read a few pages from the Handbook of Nature Study and this is what I learned:
1. Nature study encourages love of nature- and modeling a love of nature will encourage it in my students’ hearts.
2. Being out in nature will help reduce mischief making! Now how do I get this benefit with my Toddler Tornado?
3. Teachers must say, “I don’t know, let’s find out!”- this will give the student a feeling of thrill in investigation. I know that the thrill of investigation and discovery was exciting and motivating and empowering to me and my attitude was definitely mirrored in my children.
4. In nature study, the work begins with whatever interests the child that is near at hand- we did this after I modeled what being interested in something in nature looked like. Hopefully, as the weeks go by, they will discover more and more nature mysteries they want to solve.
5. Nature study should be short.
The second task was to go outside for a 15-20 minute walk. She said that it could just be in our backyard or neighborhood, but if I was going to model excitement for nature study, I felt that it needed to be in a more inspiring location. So we went to a park with a path that winds through the woods and pauses every so often at a bubbling brook. It is beautiful and I love going there. So we got in the car and drove to the park. When we arrived, I wrapped up Baby Shortstop in the Moby and told the kids that we would be taking a walk and they should be looking for things that were interesting to them. Off we went down the path. It didn’t take long for me to find something that intrigued me. Stems growing out of the ground with bunches of what looked like tiny tomatoes on the top. So I bent down to look at them, stopped Z-urchin from eating them, and admired them aloud. This drew the attention of my children and they agreed that they looked interesting.
While we were bending down to look at these strange plants, X-man found many leaves on the ground. These he picked up and we talked a little about where they came from. The tree that we decided they came from was labeled as a Black Walnut Tree. Princess K found a round green object on the ground and wondered if it came from the walnut tree as well.
We kept walking and Z-urchin found some sticks and he drummed his way down the path. We saw another labeled tree- the sycamore. We saw a bed of dead leaves on the ground underneath the tree and Princess K thought that the leaves must have come from the sycamore. I was impressed with her observations and conclusions!
We stopped at a log by the brook for a snack and Z-urchin promptly removed his shoes and sank his feet deep into the mud. And then put his feet on me. Thank you so much. As we were walking back to the car, X-man received a bee sting. So when we went home to talk about the nature walk, all the kids could remember was that bee sting. However, when I pulled out the leaves X had collected and showed them pictures from our walk, then they were interested again in the black walnut tree. I was interested in figuring out what that plant with the red berries on the top was.
The third assignment was to come up with two things to investigate further. We chose the red berry plant (I did, anyway) and the black walnut tree. Now, I have never been really good- or even all that interested in botany type things. I don’t know how to use guides that identify plants. I don’t really know what to look for on the plant. So I fell back on my traditional source of answers: Google. I googled (using Google Image Search), “flower with red berries that look like tiny tomatoes.” What do you know? Good ole’ Google. It had my answer: Italian Arum! The plant is poisonous (glad I stopped Z from eating it!) and does well in shade (where we found it, growing at the foot of the Black Walnut tree). I also looked up the Black Walnut tree. It turns out that green object was in fact a walnut.
The nature walk and subsequent discussions and research was so fun that X-man began another miniature nature study in our backyard the next day. We were outside, enjoying the sunshine and X came up to me with a vivid deep purple colored flower in his hand. He had plucked it from the bush next to our swing. He asked, “What is the name of this flower, Mommy?” I replied, “I don’t know, let’s go find out!” We went inside to Trusty Computer with Good Ole’ Google and I typed in, “Bush with purple flowers.” It took awhile for us to look through the images, but we eventually found a few pictures that looked like our bush. When we found a website in English, we discovered that the name of this bush is the “Blue Potato Bush” or the “Paraguay Nightshade” or “Royal Robe.”
I felt so empowered by my success in identifying two plants that it changed the way I looked at nature for the rest of the week. All of a sudden, I was looking at trees in parking lots and across the street wondering what those trees were. I saw a beautiful brown and black bird in my backyard and I wondered what that was. And I am so excited to find out! Such a change in me in so little time!
Yesterday, I decided that I wanted to do a nature journal entry. X-man and Princess K decided that they wanted to join me. It was incredibly sweet time, sitting at the kitchen table with my kids and the colored pencils, all of us drawing the same thing. It was definitely the highlight of the week! Outdoor Hour Challenge #2- here we come! I’m hooked!