Embracing Nature Study and Time Spent Outdoors ~
Written by Amber O’Neal Johnston of Heritage Mom
Though Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is often yoked to historical time periods and living books, these things alone don’t comprise a complete CM experience. There are many facets to explore, and one in particular – nature study- is an aspect of her teachings that intrigued and terrified me in equal measure.
In her first volume, Mason states, “We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.” While this concept resonated deeply with me, I had to sit back and chuckle because I was raised in the air-conditioning and had no clue where to begin.
At around the same time that I was introduced to Charlotte Mason, a friend recommended that I read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv in which the author directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.
His book builds a compelling case for the idea that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development.
Upon finishing Louv’s book, I went back to Mason’s volumes and found this quote: “He must live hours daily in the open air, and, as far as possible, in the country; must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant.”
Armed with Mason’s charge and Louv’s research, I became determined to make time in nature a major part of our home life and, therefore, our homeschool.
This commitment ran so deep that we relocated to a property where our children can confront nature – wooded landscapes, lakes, a creek, and wildlife – steps from the back door. I quickly embraced the new environment, one that I’d been dreaming of for years, but determining exactly what to do once we headed outside proved to be more challenging.
Through that experience, I learned that the biggest obstacle to embracing time in nature is not scheduling, location, or weather. It’s me.
Once I committed to pursuing nature study in an intentional way, we slowly learned how to observe plants, animals, waterways, fields, and forests.
Although I, the teacher, knew next to nothing about the natural world, I clung to Louv’s words: “It’s a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it’s even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it’s a lot more fun.”
Embracing Nature Study and Time Spent Outdoors
If you’d like to spend more time in nature with your family but aren’t sure how to start, these tips that we’ve picked up along the way can help you get the most from your time outdoors:
Collect objects. Forest findings like pinecones, nutshells, and wood slices or beachcombing treasures such as shells or driftwood can ignite your children’s imaginations.
Create checklists. Making plans to visit all the national parks in your state, chasing waterfalls, or climbing the area’s most scenic mountains can motivate you to head out and check another wonder off your family’s list.
Bring an expert. Discovering natural treasures on your own and letting the beauty of the environment speak to you are incredible ways to approach nature. Still, sometimes there are neat things that you’re unlikely to uncover without a little expert help. Occasionally, consider asking a naturalist or experienced friend to join you for an excursion.
Invest in gear. Having the right gear for whatever kind of terrain or environment your family prefers is critical. Being overheated, cold, wet, hungry, or unprepared can ruin good intentions for time spent in nature.
Ask first: Every time you plan an activity with your kids, ask yourself, “Can we do this outside?” The honest answer may be no, but the times you can give an easy yes make the question completely worthwhile.
Each day that we can, my family embraces nature – sometimes to study something specific, occasionally to search for a favorite plant or find evidence of a familiar animal, and often with no expectations whatsoever.
My kids don’t know any other way of living, but this lifestyle is entirely new to me, and I’ve discovered a secret that I wish I’d known as a child: The woods make me come alive!
Whether you’re new to homeschooling or simply open to exploring a different approach to learning, I invite you to try integrating nature study and outdoor exploration into your routine.
Discover on your own how time spent outside can infuse your home education journey with simple pleasures and lifegiving ideas.
How do you incorporate nature and the outdoors into your homeschool?
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Every time you plan an activity with your kids, ask yourself, “Can we do this outside?”
I need to work on this one!
Jamie C. Martin
Yes, such a great question – I need to work on it too!