Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nature outings with littles

I've talked about outdoor time before and how it's an important part of a Charlotte Mason education.  However, since Izzy is just a kindergartener this year and Addy is a preschooler, we have yet to be consistent in including any kind of formal nature study.  And I'm okay with that because I, myself, am still learning how to go about it.

I've almost made myself overwhelmed with the whole idea, being the perfectionist that I am.  (Which, by the way, I hope to one day become a recovering-perfectionist.)

Where and how do we start?  Where do we go?  What should we look for?  Do I show them things or do they just explore?  Do I need to know about nature stuff - animals, birds, flowers, plants, trees, etc. - beforehand?  (Please say no.)  Oh, and where do we start?

A few weeks ago I took the girls to a park.  After reflecting on our time there, I put together a list of steps to follow for beginners (me) to ease into nature study, especially for those with young children who are being introduced to the whole idea.

Step One - be intentional

We've always been pretty good about getting the kids outside to play.  But...most of that outside play time involved a playground of some sort.  There wasn't much exploring-of-nature going on.  The kids were way too preocuppied with the swings or the slides.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  But, unless we, the parents, are intentional about placing our children in nature's way, they may not discover the wonders that surround them.

So I've made it a point to be intentional - to purposely place my children in an environment in which they can discover the things that nature has to offer, without being distracted by all the "artificial" stuff.  That's the beginning.

Step Two - let them be

Then, I let them be.  I let them run and jump and play and collect sticks and throw rocks (not at each other, though) and pick flowers and stomp in the puddles (still need to get the girls Izzy some rubber boots) and climb trees and chase butterflies and play with ladybugs and...I hope you get the idea.

I let them play in nature.  And not just in nature, but also with nature.

Now, this sometimes takes some persuading or compromising.  For example, there is a local park we like to visit that has a beautiful little pond with a creek, in the midst of a ton of trees, running to it.  (That's where these pictures were taken.)  At this park there is also a playground.  When we visit this park I normally let the kids play at the playground first before I coax them out into the "wild."  I do this in order to get it out of their system.  Otherwise, my kids are too worried about when they'll get to play at the playground, rather than being free to enjoy the natural world.  It's understandable...they're little.  And who doesn't love a playground anyway?

However, if there's nothing to distract them from the wonders of the natural world, they are much more likely to explore and find ways to enjoy their surroundings.  It may take them awhile to get used to it, but I've found that children adapt pretty well.

Step Three - catch their attention

This particular day we bypassed the playground, originally because we needed to visit the restroom.  On our way, we had to pass the pond, and as we passed the pond Izzy noticed this little fella just hanging out.  

Isn't he cute?  We sat and watched him for a good 5 minutes.  He (or maybe she) looked to be foraging for food.  He finally took off to what I'm guessing was his home (of course, though, I didn't take a picture of it).  Then we moved on.

There was something that caught the kids' attention and we went with it.  Many times I am the one who finds something and calls the kids over, but not always; they've yelled at me plenty to come and look at some treasure they've found.  No matter what it is, even if it's fly, I act excited (not to imply that I'm never excited - I truly enjoy nature, even though I don't know much about it - yet).  That's extremely important.  My fascination of all-things-nature will hopefully keep them excited and willing to discover new things.

We finally made it to the restroom, then the kids ran around the trees and the rocks and the creek for around 20 minutes, just...playing.


As we made our way to the playground, we stopped by the pond again, this time on the side opposite our little furry friend.  During the warmer months we see many turtles and frogs, along with ducks, in and along the water.  Now, however, we only saw the ducks.  They were very busy diving for food.

They were so funny with their little "butts" wiggling around up in the air when they dove down.

There are usually a ton of turtles swimming around and just sitting on logs, but not today.

Then off to the playground we went.

Step Four - revisit the outing

Since the furry mammal was the highlight of this outing, the kids and I looked him up later that afternoon.  I first used The Handbook of Nature Study to look up mammals that live around ponds.  A beaver was not listed (I knew the little guy wasn't a beave, but I just wanted to officially rule him out for the girls), but a muskrat was.  

Then I looked for a picture of a muskrat on google because the pictures in The Handbook of Nature Study are not the best.  

Sure enough, he's a muskrat.  

We also own this little field guide for children, Tracks, Scats and Signs (found at a yard sale for 25 cents - score!).  There was a page about muskrats and we read a little about them - what they eat and what their lodges look like and are made of (oh yeah, forgot to mention that a muskrat's home is called a lodge).  The depth of the learning at this point depends on the child.

We also looked up turtles and frogs and ducks and we wanted to know which animals hibernate, since the frogs and turtles were missing at the pond.  We found out that the frogs and turtles do hibernate by burying themselves in mud under the water. 

The girls then spent some time just leafing through the book, asking me to read some sections here and there.

Step Five - make a plan

While we were at the pond we watched the muskrat swim over to what I think was his lodge, but we didn't take the time to walk over and examine it.  So, we decided that next time we visit this park we would do just that - look it over and see what it's made of.  I also read that turtles sometimes crawl into muskrat lodges and bury themselves in the mud in order to hibernate, so we may look for that as well.  We'll also see if we can find the muskrat's tracks in the mud around the pond and maybe measure them.

(We have gone back to this park since this particular outing and I will post a few pictures in the future.)

Step Six - utilize a nature journal

The next step would be to include this and any other information about the outing into a nature journal, along with sketches.  Field guides would need to be utilized to label and to include facts and information about the subjects which are being studied.

We, however, have not made it to this step yet.  We're just getting our feet wet in this - as well as in the whole homeschooling endeavor - so I'm taking baby steps.  Right now we are just getting used to being outside and noticing things.

I have a goal to begin a weekly nature journal come January with a lovely spiral-bound notebook and everything (which I've already purchased, but just haven't been brave enough to draw in!).  Izzy will get one when she begins first grade next August or September, and will be encouraged to contribute to it weekly as well.  Until then, if she wants to join me in drawing and making journal entries, she will be more than welcome to do so in my journal or on sheets of paper which we'll then put into a binder - same for Addy.

And that's that!  Enjoy the outdoors!

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