We are in our 7th week of homeschooling for this school year. We are beginning to settle into a routine (though I have to keep tweaking it to suit our needs with ever-changing preschoolers in the mix) and the newness and the excitement of the new school year is wearing off. It takes discipline and internal fortitude to keep moving along with school. Homeschooling is a delight and I’m thankful to be on this journey, but there is no denying that it is really hard work too.
So when our focus is fuzzy or our attention is wavering or tasks seem overwhelmingly arduous, we take a nature walk. It is a breath of fresh air (literally and metaphorically) to get outside, feel the breeze and the sunshine, to see birds or squirrels or insects busy about their work, to watch the calm confidence of the trees as they stand stoically and generously offer shade, food, and shelter to other creatures. It is cheering to see the bright and vividly colored flowers or leaves in the various seasons. Taking a walk clears the mind, gives us new perspective, and provides renewed strength.
As a Charlotte Mason Method homeschooler (for the most part), nature walks are also part of our weekly routine. She gives a few great guidelines for hours in the outdoors that we usually follow in our nature walks and studies. Here are three steps we take in our nature studies:
1. Play and go crazy! “Our wise mother, arrived, first sends the children to let off their spirits in a wild scamper.” (Charlotte Mason, Original Homeschooling Series Volume 1, Part 2) Then the kids get their energy out so they are ready to focus on the nature that is all around them. My kids will play on playground structures or climb rocks or run and play tag.
2. Exploration Expedition. “While wits are fresh and eyes are keen, she sends them off on an exploring expedition- who can see the most, and tell the most about yonder hillock or brook, hedge, or copse. This is an exercise that delights children, and may be endlessly varied, carried on in the spirit of a game, and yet with the exactness and carefulness of a lesson.” (Charlotte Mason, Original Homeschooling Series Volume 1, Part 2) I actually usually trail behind them in their explorations (rather than send them), but they are given some sort of mission- often to find something that they find interesting. It may be a tree, a leaf, a berry, a weed, a flower, a rock, an insect or an animal. We may touch it and pick it up (if it is, say, a leaf or a weed) or we might take a picture. I occasionally exclaim over a find of my own and share my delight with my children.
3. Nature Journal. When we get home, we discuss what they found and I leave it up to them to decide whether they will make a journal entry. Often we will do some internet research to try to find the name of the tree or leaf or bird or insect and discover interesting facts about it. “As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk give him something to enter.” (Charlotte Mason, Original Homeschooling Series Volume 1, Part 2) They also often narrate their nature walk adventures to daddy at the dinner table later. I love to hear what they remember about our nature walks. What they share gives me little glimpses and insights into their soul.
The great thing about nature study is that it is a great way to naturally encompass all of the learning styles and modalities, providing for the needs of all of your learners and also making these lessons very memorable. Everywhere you look, there is so much to see (visual picture) and there may occasionally be signs to read (visual print). There are bird calls, bubbling brooks and rustling leaves to listen to (auditory listening) and descriptions to share of wonderful sights and experiences (auditory verbal). You can walk, jump, crawl, scamper, crouch, stretch, wade, and do all sorts of bodily movements (kinesthetic-tactile whole body) and there is rough bark to feel, sticky sap to touch, flowers to smell, dirt to dig, leaves to crunch, and grass to roll around in (kinesthetic-tactile hands on). In keeping a nature journal, you may sketch and write what you found and learned (kinesthetic-tactile sketching and writing).
Charlotte Mason said, “Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life.” Truly, nature walks are a wonderful source of delight in our homeschool.