Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How to Take a Nature Hike

Charlotte Mason, an early 1900's educator, approached nature study as though it was crucial to a well-rounded education.  Although I do not fully follow the Charlotte Mason style, I do believe nature study has its place in home education.  Most kids enjoy the freedom that comes with unhurried time spent outdoors.  Likewise, I think most homeschool parents also find they enjoy time spent in nature.  However, convincing oneself to take a nature hike with young (or old) children is similar to convincing oneself to go for a run.

I should really go for a run.
No, I really need to do laundry.
Oh, I should go for a run; I'd feel better.
Sheets need changing, I should really do that.

Finally you talk yourself into the run and afterwards you're all like:

I feel so good.
My body feels alive.
I probably should've run longer, I still have energy.
I definitely need to do that again soon.

I go through the same style of internal banter about nature hikes.

I should really take the kids outside for a nature hike.
But, we have a couple of reading lessons to make up today.
It's the first sunny day all week; a little sun would be good for us.
What's for lunch?  I need a plan.

Finally I talk myself into the hike and life's stresses are lifted, our moods lightened, we have something new and exciting to talk about at lunch.

Last week I took Joseph, Peter, and Maria out for a nature hike.  It's no easy task getting them ready to go outside.  Joe needs socks and has somehow forgotten how to get them on his own, Peter can't find his favorite shoes, Maria just wet her underwear.  Once all the situations are solved, I pretty much have lost interest, but go with the plan because, well, it was the plan and I like to follow the plan.

I love nature hikes and nature club and being outside and gardening and bird watching and wild flower identification and still, nature hikes with youngsters can be a chore.  I started to think - What about all those folks who don't enjoy nature?  Who don't think they know enough to guide a nature hike?  What tips can I share to help them take their first nature hike with their children?

The rest of this post is going to be a photo journal of our most recent nature hike.  And I'm going to share my best tips and questions to ask while nature hiking.

1.  Find something interesting.

Once outside I directed the kids down to the water.  There's a variety of tree species and some scrubby oaks.  Peter found this gall on an oak sapling.  We broke it open to reveal a firm, crispy, fluffy material.  It's not important to know all the scientific names.  Observation is what matters.  What do you see?  How does it feel?  What does it smell like?

We also spied this butterfly.  Again, observation is key.  How does it flutter?  What does it land on?  Does it rest with its wings outstretched or folded up?  Notice the coloration.

2.  Let the children have some freedom as to what to look at next.

I would've never stopped by the raggy, needs to be tilled garden, but Peter and Maria took notice of the crispy, leftover from last year, Brussels sprout plants, and away they ran to pull

and kick at them.

3.  Find water if possible.

Water is always amazing.  Whether you're watching the ripples from rock throwing or peering into the water looking for underwater plants or simply wondering why it looks blue until you scoop some into a jar (then it's greenish brown).  Kids love water.  Never walk by without stopping and gazing for a while.  Does a bigger rock create a bigger, longer lasting ripple?  

4.  Always except flowers, even if the dirt covered roots are attached.

These wildflowers were picked with love for me.  

We looked at each petal up close.  How many petals?  Are they clustered?  What color?  What's in the middle of the flower?  Smell them.  What about the leaves?  Are they elongated?  Spiky?  Hairy?  Remember the goal of nature hiking with children is to help them appreciate God's creation, to allow them to make observations about their world.

Peter found the hole from our maple sap tap; then he stuck the flower in it.

5.  Explore trees and bark.

Find a tree to climb.  Touch the bark.  Is it warmer on the south side?  Compare the bark of one tree to another.  Notice the similarities and differences.

We found pieces of a broken branch from a birch tree.  They tried to piece it back together.

I also found bits of bark and had them find the matching tree.  Peter matched this bark to a birch tree.

Joseph found a piece of poplar bark and matched it to a nearby tree.

6.  Discover shadows.

I love how Maria is looking up at me.  Shadows are always exciting.  Line up; can you stand in such a way that everyone is the same height.  Can you make your hand long and skinny, short and stubby?  Hold up leaves and notice their shadow shape.  Look at your shadow at the beginning of your hike and then at the same place at the end of the hike.  How has the shadow changed shape?

7.  Utilize your sense of smell.

I pointed out wintergreen and had each of the kids pick a leaf.  I told them to bend it and then smell it.  Their faces are priceless.  

This is the face of a very happy nature hiker.  Who doesn't like to see their child smiling?

Joe didn't want to give up his piece of bark.  He carried it around all day and then it mysteriously ended up outside around 8:30 pm.

That's it.  Walk.  Observe.  Touch.  Smell.  You've got yourself a nature hike.  Guess what?  Rain or shine, kids don't mind.