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:
- Our favorite Nature Journal.
- Some field guides we love. (We find them used at Exodus, our local book store.)
- Pocket microscope.
- Magnifying glasses. (Heidi has this one.)
And now, your turn! What are ways you incorporate Nature Study into your homeschool routine? Share your ideas!
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