Nature hikes and nature journals. Two parts of homeschool life that are growing in importance over time. In fact, it has become essential to our life as homeschoolers.
When we first started homeschooling, I assumed that the scheduled “Nature Walk” portions of our curriculum were just a “get them out of the house” option. And while these scheduled walks do get them out of the house, they have become so much more than that to our family.
Nature walks have given us an abundance of time. When we are at home I always feel like the days are slipping by and the children are growing too quickly. Out in nature, everything slows down. Time seems to multiply. Details, thousands of details, spring up all around us. We begin to discover and wonder aloud. We start naming, classifying, drawing and jotting down notes of things to look up later. We sit quietly and reflect. We are lost in a canopied cathedral, where worship and wonder mingle and flow unconstrained.
This year we have been keeping more formal notebooks of our time outside. Seasons, times, sightings, sketches, thoughts, ideas. The six year old loves making tree rubbings against the bark of the biggest trees he can find. My seven year old is quite keen on sketching hawks. The four year has been content to draw bats over and over and over. Guess what? He’s getting quite proficient at drawing bats! His drawing skills improve through this repetition. We are starting to find our bearings a little quicker with practice. Before the compass is pulled out we each take a guess. Which way is North? Over time the guesses have become more accurate. Where is the closest body of water? What are the names of the trees in this forest or park?
Today, I finished reading “Keeping A Nature Journal” by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. It has inspired me to keep my own journal and quit overseeing my children’s journals.
Summers are difficult where we live. Extreme heat and extreme bugs make outdoor time a misery. The majority of our outings are to parks and the beach. If we rise particularly early, then we are able to go out for a hike in the local preserves. The rest of the year is gorgeous perfection and we are often outside rambling around the farm or in the pine woods nearby. We make great effort to get outside every day and once we are there, I leave the boys up to their own devices for awhile. Its amazing what stories they come home with.
I keep a backpack, stocked and ready for these hikes.
Included in our Hike Pack:
1) (4) 2 x 3 rugs from IKEA
2) Pencil case stocked with pencils (HB, 2B and 3B) erasers and a few colored pencils.
3) Pocket knife
4) Badger Sunscreen and Bug Spray combo
5) Take Along Guides
We use: Caterpillars, Bugs and Butterflies by Mel Boring
Trees, Leaves and Bark by Diane L Burnes
Tracks, Scats and Signs by Leslie Dendy
6) Nature Journals
We use: Classical Conversations Nature Sketch Journals for 7 and 6 year old.
Run of the mill composition journals for myself and the 4 year old.
Also in the pack but not pictured…
7) Diapers + wipes
8) Flashlight for checking tree burrows
9) Cell phone w full battery
10) First Aid Kit
Before we leave for the Nature Walk we usually read a passage from an adventurous book my boys have expressed fondness for. For example, “Wild Animals I have Known” by Ernest Thompson Seton or any of Thornton Burgess’ Animal stories. We make sure we are wearing the correct footwear and that we have been sprayed and lotioned in order to fend off ticks and UV Rays. We grab our water bottles and the boys usually arm themselves with binoculars and wooden rifles. Then, we set out to find the spectacular ordinary and the beautifully mundane. We do not go looking for tigers or elephants. We walk quietly in the nature that is part of our space and time and we try to get to know it a little better and in doing so we know ourselves and each other better.
Boys love to collect things. I am forever turning pockets inside out before loading the wash. I’ve had a few terrified lizards leap out at me and once or twice a wriggly worm. Usually, the pockets are stuffed to the brim with seeds and rocks and bits of twine.
This is quite wonderful for us. On rainy days or unbearably hot days, we pull out those little treasures and sketch them. I have also found these small acrylic boxes from Oriental Trading Co. to be quite useful!
We can enclose paper wasp nest fragments, snake skins, fragile exoskeletons or decaying leaves inside. It is then passed around so the boys can examine their finds without crushing or mangling them.
The clear view from every side is perfect for studying our specimens up close! The boys, inspired by Teddy Roosevelt, have decided to curate their own small museums. We are preserving their best finds each school year and then displaying them in shadow boxes. The boys will be responsible for curating their specimens, labeling them and pinning them in place.
I asked my son the other day, “What is your favorite thing about Nature Walks?” He responded quickly, “Its the biggest space for me to wander and think about all I am learning and all the stuff I still don’t know. Everything feels taped together. I feel really small and really big all at the same time. Mostly, I just like looking at all the wonderful things God took the time to make.”