My kids and I spend a lot of time outside. Nature has become a mainstay in our family life and has proven to be a wellspring of joy and countless educational opportunities. Here, I’ll share several reasons why I have given nature a central role in our days.
First off, we love it. The kids beg to go outside and then they beg to stay outside. Today, we spent over two hours in the yard of the library. We found a cocoon & mushrooms & toadstools & vacant snail shells & huddled larva & a sapling & robins & spiky-sepaled flowers. We rescued a caterpillar and a worm from a concrete tunnel in which we made echos. Then we played in a creek and climbed the hill beside it. Not every day out is that action-packed, but once kids are in the habit of looking closely, time in nature becomes rich. The kids aren’t the only ones delighting in our adventures, I love being out in nature too.
The second reason we are out almost daily in our small yard or a nearby park can be summed up in this excerpt from Charlotte Mason’s writings on The Outdoor Life of Children,
You pick up a pebble. Its edges are perfectly smooth and rounded: why? You ask. It is water-worn, weatherworn. And that little pebble brings you face to face with disintegration… It is not necessary that the child should be told anything about disintegration, only that he should observe the pleasant roundness of the pebble; by-and-by he will learn the bearing of the facts with which he is already familiar- a very different thing from learning the reason why of facts which have never come under his notice.
How much better for a child to encounter the concept of mountain erosion after she has stroked eroded pebbles? Likewise, how much better for her to read a map of a river delta long after playing in alluvial streams, or draw a lobster after catching crawdads, or study the phases of the moon after observing them, or diagram a flower after investigating many?
In other words, we get outside because it is very educational. I wish I could remember who said to “make children naturalists before making them scientists” because I think on that excellent advice often. Right now, my children are in the naturalist stage and at their own inquisitive pace each one is becoming a scientist of whatever facet of nature fascinates him or her most. Charlotte said, “Nature teaches so gently, so gradually, so persistently, that [the child] is never overdone, but goes on gathering little stores of knowledge about whatever comes before him.” As I watch my own children investigate nature, I can confirm her insight to be true.
The third reason we explore and play and rest outside is because time spent in nature ideally develops indispensable habits and character traits. I’ll name a few:
- Nothing fosters patience, observation and concentration like watching bugs on leaves. (Plus it’s a surprisingly joy and peace-bringing activity, even for grownups.)
- Curiosity and self-led learning grows in the wake of discovery. Spirited requests like “Mom, look at this through my magnifying glass!” and “Mom, can we please check out these books about salamanders?!” make my heart smile. As I mentioned in a previous post, the cycle of discover-and-research learning never ends. Curiosity quenched begets more curiosity.
- Imagination can flourish free from indoor distractions. When children spend unstructured hours outside, they pretend all kinds of stories for themselves. A stump is a throne, a wagon a ship, a bush a fort, a circling bird a dragon, and crushed leaves are fairy medicine. Imaginative adults began as kids free to play and think unhindered by over-structured schedules and technology.
- Opportunities to grow creativity and problem solving skills are countless outside. As I write, my kids are piling rocks into a floating plastic container and discussing how many rocks it will take to sink it. They are making hypotheses and thinking critically unprompted.
- The habit of resting in nature is scientifically proven to reduce stress and fend off anxiety for children and adults alike. For parents, teachers, mentors anyone otherwise working with children with trauma backgrounds or behavioral disorders, I could not recommend nature therapy more highly.
- Exertion climbing a hill or tree and balancing on stones to cross a creek promotes physical health (of course playing ball does too, but that is no substitute for nature play).
- Time spent admiring creation is time spent admiring God. It pleases both the Lord and the admirer.
- Additionally, developing a lifelong familiarity with plants and creatures adds to our human experience. Seeing, tasting, smelling, touching and hearing all at once is more marvelously whelming than a video. Trees, meadows and water are plain peaceful.
I have chosen five pillars for my children’s education: preserving curiosity, cultivating creativity, sparking admiration for nature and culture’s gems, engendering a love of story and kindling faith. Nature play, nature walks, nature study and lots of good books (as I described in a previous post) form the ideal foundation on which these pillars can stand. Nature is a wellspring that has gripped and delighted our family, so I made it a mainstay in our days. In turn, nature has become a mainspring for their curious growing minds and joyful little hearts. With the nature on our doorstep and library cards in our pockets, we feel rich indeed.
More reasons than I have room to list here are convincingly laid out in wonderful books like The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and The Outdoor Life of Children by Charlotte Mason. Check out podcasts and posts by Wild+Free for more ideas and inspiration. To see how nature-based education affects bigger kids, check out Greta Eskridge’s Instagram page and blog. And to bolster your own interest in nature, fetch The Curious Nature Guide by Clare Walker Leslie at your local library and drink it up.