Helping our children delight in the discovery of nature is one of our most important responsibilities as parents. Homeschooling offers the perfect opportunity to take learning into nature far more often. Here are eight ideas to inspire you...
By Grace Koelma | Founder of The Mulberry Journal
“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children's memories, the adventures we've had together in nature will always exist.”
I often contemplate the words of Richard Louv, author of Last Child Left in the Woods and coiner of the term 'nature-deficit'. There is no denial that our children face an uphill battle when it comes to spending time unplugged and unfettered by the alluring and incessant technology of our modern world. And yet, once we discover the rejuvenating and necessary power of nature for the soul, mind and body, we can't help but share our love of the earth with our children.
While it's unrealistic and ultimately unhelpful to completely cut our children off from all technology (and what does that even mean? Isn't an oven or a microwave technology too? What about the car you drive? But I digress!) many parents are resisting the pull towards swipe-able screens and glowing devices in favour of a pared-back, 'old-school' focus on spending time in nature. Nature in all its forms...
Homeschooling parents are among those leading the charge, with terms like nature play and earthschooling popping up more and more frequently. So, if you're feeling a pull towards nature here are a few ideas on how to incorporate more nature study and focus into your homeschool.
8 ways to invite nature into your homeschool
1. Join a nature co-op or homeschooling group in your local area.
Most often, these groups meet outdoors and often visit national parks or reserves. You can find out about local groups by searching for location-specific Facebook pages. Just search your area + "homeschool group".
2. Download and print some nature guides
Nature Guides are a handy resource when venturing out into nature. Giving your kids a sense of purpose and sense of adventure in the form of a 'nature spotting checklist' can help keep them involved and motivated.
You can purchase our nature journal, download our FREE 101 nature study ideas PDF or check out these fantastic nature guides from Brave Grown Home and print them off at home, like this gorgeously illustrated backyard birds set. Each Guide includes beautiful watercolour illustrations on easy-to-print posters, information cards full of fascinating facts, and smaller three-part cards for the littlest learners. The cards also tie in with the Charlotte Mason philosophy of nature journalling.
Tip: Laminate the identification cards so they withstand dirt and water while you're out in nature, and last longer.
3. Practice mindfulness in nature
The peace and quiet of nature provides the perfect setting for practicing mindfulness and meditation with your children. Mindfulness is something that can be modelled to kids at a surprisingly young age, and even very small children can learn to sit still and just 'be'.
4. Take art supplies with you and paint what you find in nature
Pack your paints and paper before you head out so you're ready to capture the beauty of nature in paintings, sketches or mixed media. If your kids lack artistic confidence or haven't yet found a passion, we can highly recommend Artventure's online lessons as a great resource to start with.
5. Start building a Cabinet of Curiosities
Starting a Cabinet of Curiosities or Wunderkammer is a great way to motivate your kids to head out into nature and observe, delight and forage (where appropriate) curiosities to take home and display.
Tip: Remember to check the rules in the area first (national parks often have limits on what you can remove).
6. Go outside even when it's cold or raining
When the weather turns cold or icy, it can be tempting to put off outdoor adventuring until the warmer season begin again. But exploring nature with your children in the wet, mud and snow is vital. Many studies show that the winter months spent indoors can impact mood negatively, and getting outside in the fresh air is a mood-booster and improves the body's energy, vitality and immune system. It also 'toughens kids up', so they are not afraid of a little bit of rain or cold.
Observing the cycle of nature through different seasons, especially how many of the plants and animals hibernate or adapt to survive harsh conditions is a fascinating aspect of nature study that shouldn't be missed!
Remember, there's no such thing as inappropriate weather, only inappropriate clothing!
7. Don't forget about private gardens, greenhouses and estates
While nature reserves and national parks are wonderful wildernesses to explore, they can often be a considerable drive or hike away. For quicker nature trips, don't forget about botanical gardens, private estates and greenhouses in your area. Observing finely cultivated plants and topiary is a wonderful aspect of nature study, too.
Tip: When visiting a private estate or botanic garden ask at the information desk whether they have a nature or botanical guide you can use that is specific to that garden.
8. Use films and digital resources as a launch-pad to explore nature
A subscription to National Geographic’s Little Kids magazine is an affordable starting point for the 3-5-year-old set and audiences of all ages will be mesmerised by film series like Planet Earth with its stunning visuals and insightful commentary.
Tip: YouTube is a great resource for nature documentaries. Check out these fantastic tips on curating a YouTube playlist for your children here.
What are your strategies for getting your kids outside and enjoying nature? Tell us in the comments below.
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Grace is the Editor of The Mulberry Journal and when she's not reading submissions, divides her time between hanging out with her simultaneously delightful and headstrong 2-year-old, running multiple ventures, writing and travelling full time with her little family. You can follow her travels at @darelist.family.