How to host a Nature Day

Written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane

“Now I don’t have to die to go to heaven,” my son grinned. “It’s right here.”

We were walking along the trails zig-zagging through the wild countryside of the property we would soon call home. Towering trees, low-hanging limbs laden with moss, a pond and trickling creek, old-growth stumps — it was all so lush and green and vast — as far as the eye could see.

But even as spectacular as the scenery was, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Seeing his wonder–rapture really–as he explored and discovered, head tilted back, gazing straight up, pointing here and there, “Mom, red-tailed hawks!”

I couldn’t believe this was where, Lord willing, our kids would grow up.

I grew up out in the country, and took for granted the gold-mine that was my backyard. I grew up hiking through the woods, forging the river to a friends’ house, building forts from limbs and twigs, climbing trees, planting gardens, holding still and silent watching the deer creep by.

These days, though, it seemed you had to choose between a roof over your children’s heads OR a piece of land, so I had long ago given up the idea of raising my own kids out in the woods.

So, when we fell into this gift of a place, that had a roof and land, I knew it was meant for more than just our own personal pleasure — I wanted the gift of nature to bless others as well.

All this was happening as I was reading Charlotte Mason’s The Outdoor Life of Children. Of course other books like Simplicity Parenting and Boys Should be Boys had said the same thing in a more contemporary context:

Regular exposure to nature is critical for the mental, emotional, physical, and intellectual health and development of children.

So, when my friend suggested that I host a homeschool co-op every Friday out here on our property, I enthusiastically agreed.

Actually I didn’t.

See, I wanted to bless others with our property, but a co-op made me cringe. I like the idea, and know they are a great benefit to many (Kris gives great ideas here), I just couldn’t fathom adding another responsibility and commitment to our already full lives.

So imagine my relief when all the interested moms gathered together at our property, and as we brainstormed about possible ideas and structures, the one unifying theme that tied all our hopes together was simply this:

We all just wanted Nature.

Most of us had already dialed in the 3 R’s for our kids. They were already involved in scholastic activities and even outside lessons.

No one wanted another thing that required much prep. What we all wished for was simply this: time for our kids to freely enjoy nature, with other kids, every week.

And so, Nature Day was born.

It is nothing impressive, just a time from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Fridays, for our kids of all ages to gather together for the sole purpose of enjoying nature together.

We usually have a “Nature Mission” during the first hour, some challenge for the kids to do either on their own or together. Then we enjoy a sack lunch together outside, and allow the rest of the afternoon for the kids to play and explore outside.

When we began, I was bursting with ideas for potential nature missions:

  • Build a tree fort
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Leaf collection & identification
  • Survival skills (start fire, filter water, build shelter)
  • Holiday cards made from nature
  • Field Guide practice
  • Bird watching and identification
  • Make homemade bird food
  • Build a bird house
  • Pond science
  • Flower and leaf pressing
  • Seed germinating
  • Gardening (each have small plot)

We haven’t done all of these yet. It turned out that my kids are the oldest, so some of my ideas were a little lofty (4-year-olds should’t build fires?), and some days we simply go for a hike together and call it good.

And I mean that, we call it good because fresh air and time together and exploring the glory of God’s creation is just that — good.

The other moms have also done a great job coming up with fun activities like mushroom spore-prints, “stained glass” leaf window-hangings, and leaf turkeys for Thanksgiving. Scavenger hunts are always a win, and you can switch things up for each season, so that’s fun.

Next year, another family will have moved out to some land near us, so we’re looking forward to rotating who hosts Nature Day each week. While I’m thrilled to share our space, it will be nice to go elsewhere from time to time as well. Which brings me to my point:

You don’t have to live in the wilderness to host a Nature Day.

There are so many places — parks, wildlife refuges, local hikes and national forests — all it takes to host a Nature Day is a group of families who want to opt outside.

I love Jessica’s simple suggestions in this post. Perhaps even this Spring might be the perfect time to add something fresh into your weekly routine and transform Fridays into Nature Day.

Here are some supplies and inspiration:

And now, your turn! What are ways you incorporate Nature Study into your homeschool routine? Share your ideas!

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About Kari Patterson

Kari Patterson and her family live out in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. As a 2nd-generation homeschooler she espouses the same philosophy her own mom did in the 80s: Cultivate a love for learning and one's education will never end. She bakes bread, brews kombucha, speaks at conferences & writes at Sacred Mundane. Her new book Sacred Mundane is available for pre-order now.

Comments

  1. This is something that I have been considering doing as well! I have a couple of questions for you. How many children are involved? Do you ever go inside? Do you meet during winter and do you change things related to weather? Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Ooh great questions! We have seven moms, and 16 kids. Of course there’s usually someone who can’t make it, so we’re usually in the 10-12 kids range. When we began we thought we’d have one mom stay inside with the littlest kids, but now we just all go outside with all the kids together. Yes, in January there were two especially cold Fridays where the moms and a few of the little girls stayed inside the whole time. We joked that that was Living Room Day. 😉 As a general rule we keep everyone outside the whole time, since that’s the whole point of our time together. We took a break during December, then met 2x in Jan and 2x in Feb. So yes, we met during the winter but not as frequently. We are happy Spring is almost here. 😉
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: Homeschool Nature Days {And the story of the Ark}

  2. This is such a beautiful idea! We do live in the country, surrounded by farms (in Australia) but on a very small property and not much access to bush (on our land). I’d so love to host something like this though. I like the idea of it being at our place because I can’t fathom another day of going out either or too much commitment. Hmmm. Wonder if I could make it work here. The only thing is we live in a very hot part of Australia, in Queensland. The majority of the year it is quite hot and humid, so going outside between 11-2pm would be the worst time for us. I’d probably have to tweak the times a bit. Do you ever get very hot weather where you are? If so, would you still choose those times?

  3. What a wonderful idea, Kari. I am trying to incorporate a “nature day” into our weekly routine. This has given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks!
    Shawna Wingert’s latest post: Calming An Explosive Child

  4. Thanks for this awesome post, Kari! I love this concept! I’ve been trying to do this to some extent for the past couple years – get out into nature on Fridays. But it’s been more like me telling people where we’re going to go on any given Friday and then hoping others will come with us. I really like the idea of asking for other families to commit to it also and then being super consistent with getting together. I am curious about what you do in particularly bad weather? Is it that you say, “No bad weather, only bad clothes” and the expectation is that Nature Day happens rain or shine or super hot or super cold? Or do you ever move inside for particularly bad weather?

  5. I absolutely love how you structured this! I’ve been struggling with how to incorporate a nature day with other homeschool families and I love how you have the “nature mission” at the beginning and then they just all play together! I agree that we have the 3 R’s covered but want time for our kids to just play. I also have a curriculum with outdoor activities for kids to teach different concepts but don’t want to plan 3 hrs. worth of stuff – so perfect! plan an activity that needs more than just my kids and then they play! Currently at the preschool level we go to a metropark or national park program a couple times a month and then our activities and some reading is centered around the topic they discuss. It has worked well for us to begin homeschooling and get a wide range of nature topics started!

  6. Yes. Yes, we will. Man, I need it. Our girls need it. It’s time to take time to live – – not just get stuff done.
    Thank you*!!* for this post, Kari.

  7. Great idea! I’m hoping to try something like this once I find the right group of families! Blessings to you on your homeschooling journey. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. This is such a great idea. I am so happy I came across your post (just by chance!). Thanks for sharing!

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