We dined al fresco with friends over the weekend, and as we sat on the patio and chatted, Baby E suddenly became squirmy. This guy is so much more active than Miss H was at 8 months old! Standing up and bouncing him didn’t work- he wanted to be put down in the grass. As we relaxed around the table, we watched him roll on his tummy with his nose tucked into the grass, put a fist full of grass in his mouth (while making the funniest face!) and smile blissfully as the wind made his fluffy, blonde hair stand up. This made my mama-heart happy to see him joyfully experiencing nature. Already at eight months, he’s learning to use his senses to observe the great outdoors.
Charlotte Mason wrote a 53 page chapter on the importance of young children being outside in her first volume, Home Education. She then began the next chapter with more about out-of-door life, including this beautiful quote:. “His business in the world his first six or seven years of his life- is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavor of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects…”
Obviously, she thought being outside was important.
If you read my previous post about outside play, you know that we have been trying to get outside a lot this summer. We’ve been doing this through dining outside, having picnics, going to the park, and taking nature walks.
Miss H really enjoys nature walks. She calls it “going exploring.” We have a greenway near our house, so we usually head in that direction so she can explore the creek beds, observe the birds, and smell the flowers. While it’s entirely possible to just head out the front door and start observing, I’ve found a few things that are helpful when going on a nature walk.
- It’s only a nature walk. I say this because I tend to want to combine these walks with giving the dog some exercise, or upping the step count on my Garmin watch. When we go with the mindset that it is solely a nature walk, I don’t feel pressured to go farther or faster. We can sit on a bench across from the creek and listen to the singing birds without feeling rushed.
- Keep it short. While a longer walk might be appropriate for an older child, a 30 minute walk is enough for my three-year-old. I want to give plenty of time to play outside, but a long walk will wear out a young child. Also, one of the important factors of the Charlotte Mason philosophy is to keep lessons short so that they do not become stale.
- Keep it focused. I like to have a specific thing to observe during a nature walk. I think this helps Miss H become more attentive and observant. If we observe every ant, flower, bird, blade of grass, and body of water that we come across, our attention becomes very divided. In order to help her focus, I mention a specific thing to observe before we head out on our walk. This week we looked at flowers. She enjoyed trying to find different types of flowers, and decided to press them in books when we got home.
- Encourage the use of the senses. I will most likely not ask Miss H to taste the flowers, trees, and water we see (so many germs!) but asking questions involving the other senses will help her have fuller enjoyment of what we’re seeing as well as a better understanding of it. I ask Miss H to listen as the wind rustles the tree leaves. I ask her to smell the freshly cut grass. I ask her to look at the different colors of flowers, and to touch the bumpy bark on the tree.
One thing I love about nature walks is that they are so educational without having to plan anything. They can be done with babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergartners, and school age children. Heck, I’m sure you’ve seen a group of silver-haired senior citizens watching birds and enjoying nature. We’re never too old to participate fully in Creation.