“A natural science illustrator is an artist who works in the service of science, creating images of animals, objects and complex processes that teach, inform, and create understanding of our world.” Guild of Natural Science Illustrators: https://www.gnsi.org/
From the Oak Meadow Archives
I’ve become fascinated with the illustrations my Oak Meadow students did this year in conjunction with their science lessons. Many were exceptional in the intricate details of the drawings and I could tell that a lot of effort, time, and research was put into them. In the 7th grade Earth Science, a student researched the structure of a leaf, found which part was responsible for transpiration, and drew a diagram of the leaf showing the process. Another student created an illustration of the ecosystem in which she lives that included the various habitats within her ecosystem. In 8th grade Physics I am continually amazed with the details students include in their sketches of wet cell batteries! In the study of color, 8th graders discover the shortest and longest wavelength of the colors of the rainbow and I receive the most beautifully illustrated and colored rainbows! Through artistic exercises students clearly depict scientific concepts in their intricate drawings.
As you explore and observe the natural world around you, take some time to illustrate what you see! It can become a most wonderful pastime, or even a career! The website of The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators explains: “The principle task of the scientific illustrator is to prepare accurate renderings of scientific subjects. These illustrations are designed for reproduction in professional or popular journals in the field of natural sciences, textbooks, as museum exhibits, web sites, and many other applications. Scientific illustrations in both traditional and digital formats provide a visual explanation and aid the viewer by clarifying complex descriptive information. The function of a scientific illustration, therefore, is essentially a practical one: to inform, to explain, and to instruct — in short, to communicate.”
Below is a wonderful example of a scientific subject illustrated and then put into digital format. ENJOY the Metamorphosis of the Butterfly from http://artorium.com/:
School’s out! The kids are home for the summer, and suddenly your world has been turned upside down. How will you survive ten weeks with children home all day?
Homeschooling parents do it year-round. But when you’re not used to having kids home all day, it can certainly feel like a shock to the system. Here are fourteen strategies from homeschoolers to help you get through the summer:
1. Free your children from boredom by encouraging independence. At the start of the summer, ask them to brainstorm a list of things they could try if they get bored. Post it in a handy place. When they complain of boredom, refer them to their list. Create a dog agility course in the backyard! Make a kitty condo by taping boxes together! Set up a cozy reading nook (indoors or out). Build a fort. Learn about ants, find an anthill, and watch them at work. If all else fails, suggest that they lie flat on their backs, look up at the sky or the ceiling, and wait there until a more interesting option comes to them — something always does.
2. Find a new rhythm during the day. If you live where summers are hot, the sun’s pattern may shape your daily rhythm. Spend time outdoors in the morning and late afternoon. During the middle of the day when the temperature is at its peak, do restful activities in the shade or the cool indoors. Evening can be a lovely time for a daily family walk.
3. Let your children follow their own bodies’ individual patterns for sleeping, waking, being active, or resting. Encourage them to listen to how they feel after a late night or an early morning. Challenge them to figure out their own most comfortable daily rhythm and follow it during the summer months, even if the schedule will be less flexible come September.
4. Balance outings with unstructured time at home. During the summer, day camps and other activities can have a big impact on the shape of your days. If your family is extra busy, be sure to make room in your schedule for regular unscheduled time at home as well. If you’re usually at home without much structure, consider designating one or two regular days each week for outings.
5. Lean on the village. Connect with other compatible families and plan regular playdates where one parent gets a break while the other supervises children from both (or multiple) families.
6. Make regular time to play together as a family. Plan a set time in your day or week when everyone sets aside work responsibilities and obligations, and do something fun that you can agree on. If agreement is hard to come by, take turns choosing a family activity. Make a habit of being present with each other without distractions or multitasking.
7. Set things up so everyone in the family can be as independent as possible with meals and snacks. It’s nice to have one meal a day together as a family, but perhaps breakfast, lunch, and/or snacks can be a help-yourself venture. If your children are capable in the kitchen, ask them to regularly take a turn making dinner for the family during the summer. Or make dinner prep a family project once in awhile so the primary cook isn’t doing it all alone.
8. Keep bags or bins of interesting things handy for children to play with and explore. Stock up on puzzles of different kinds; Mad Libs, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku books; and interesting materials for experiments and crafts. Check the public library to find out if they have a “busy box” collection to lend out. Save these items and pull them out as a last resort when you need a few quiet moments to yourself.
9. Gather plenty of basic craft supplies, and set up an area in your home or yard for artistic exploration where children can be as independent as possible and clean-up is relatively easy. For craft ideas, visit our Pinterest boards.
10. Take midweek field trips! Enjoy local museums, historical sites, libraries, parks, hiking trails, and beaches. Go on a weekday morning when crowds are most manageable. Your local library may have free or discount passes that families can borrow.
11. Give your children extra responsibilities – and extra benefits, too. A child who is around more can help out more. Use this opportunity to help them learn how to do useful, routine tasks around the house. Those who prove capable of cleaning up the kitchen might be allowed to experiment on their own with new recipes or culinary inventions. Turn wood-stacking into a fun race, and end with a bonfire when the stacking is all done. Have the kids speed-clean the common areas of the house before sitting down to watch a family movie. Make a post-lawnmowing swim a routine perk of the job. Give your children the opportunity to feel useful, develop skills, and then celebrate a task well done.
12. Limit screen time. Send your kids outside to play creatively in nature every day if you can. If they’re reluctant or it feels challenging to you, read this article for some ideas on how to get kids outdoors.
13. Take breaks from each other. Adults and caregivers need time “off the clock” where they can turn off their parental radar and recharge. Children benefit from relationships with different adults. If your child’s needs do not allow for separation, invite other adults to come and share the load.
14. Enjoy your time together. Take advantage of opportunities to connect throughout the day. Those moments may happen unexpectedly, so be on the lookout and make the most of them. If your children are more independent, putter around the house or yard occasionally just to find and say hello to them. If they are at an age where they want to be with you every moment, give in to their need and keep them close. September will be here all too quickly, and these moments do not last forever (even if it sometimes feels that way).
What other suggestions can you add for an enjoyable summer at home with children?
A Summer Challenge! (For my Northern Hemisphere Friends!)
When I was in kindergarten, my school had one requirement in order to move on to first grade. Each child had to memorize ten nursery rhymes before “graduating” from kindergarten! I recall that this wasn’t such a hard thing for me to do since I delighted in the joy and rhythm of the nursery rhymes. Little did I know that not only was I enjoying the beautiful rhythmical patterns, but I was also building my memorization skills, my vocabulary, and my language comprehension skills at a very young age.
Memorizing a poem can just be so satisfying! The poem’s lines can come to you when you least expect it. Just this spring I saw a group of daffodils and the lines of William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” sprang into my mind:
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze”
And truly, when geese fly overhead in the autumn at my house, I quickly say the first lines of Rachel Field’s poem “Something Told The Wild Geese”:
“Something told the wild geese It was time to go, Though the fields lay golden Something whispered, “snow.”
This summer, why not challenge yourself to memorize at least 6 poems? (You might also enjoy memorizing the lyrics to favorite songs!) You can choose some of your own liking, or try the ones listed on the Mensa For Kids website. There are 12 poems listed there and each one has an explanation of the idea of the poem, definition of specific vocabulary words in the poem, and then great ideas to help you memorize the poem more easily.
Summer is officially here! For most Oak Meadow families, it is the time when the school year has come to its completion. As we begin the new season without a prescribed daily lesson plan, we begin to wonder about the activities in which we should engage our children. Should we keep up the academics for fear they will forget much of what they learned? Or should this time be a true school break for our children? I would like to share with you some thoughts on what I feel is the true purpose of a summer break.
Life offers us many experiences through our minds and our bodies. We dive in, immerse ourselves, and engage with our hands, head, and heart. Most importantly, life offers us an opportunity to learn about balance. During the school year, we have placed much emphasis on developing skills in focusing, processing, developing and learning. For many of us, this has meant spending several hours each day with our children engaged in the Oak Meadow coursework. For others, the school year has been an opportunity to develop a schedule conducive to our children’s individual learning styles. Whatever the method that’s used, the enrollment period has been about completing the required schoolwork. In other words, a certain focus, process and relationship has been maintained.
Summer is a time to take a break from this structured focus. It is a time for the child-initiated, non-academic type of exploration and discovery. Since children naturally desire to grow, a significant amount of learning will continue to go on; however, the subject matter will be different. Summer may be the time that your child will learn to swim, ride a bike, build a fort, or learn five new bird calls. Summer is an expansive time when children have an opportunity for an unscheduled, unhurried learning experience.
Summer is an opportunity for children to assimilate the information they have been working on throughout the school year. Factual learning can sometimes provide stress to the body and to the mind. In order for learning to really take hold, a child needs to have ample opportunity to reside in an environment that is stress free. Children need to have a lot of time to play, to create, and to imagine.
Summer also provides an opportunity to do all the things we wanted to do with our children during the school year, but just didn’t have the time in our schedule. Summer is our chance to relate even more deeply and warmly with our children and to nurture the love we share. Just as importantly, summer is an opportunity for home teachers to take time off from teaching. Burnout can be a real factor in homeschooling and every home teacher needs to have some time to pursue personal interests that rejuvenate the spirit.
The learning that takes place during this period of relaxation is as important as the multiplication tables, spelling and history. Often children will have a growth spurt during this period and are able to return to their structured schoolwork in the fall feeling refreshed and with newly acquired abilities and interests. So, take time to share in a magically wonderful, joyful and restful summer. May you delight in ample free play throughout your family’s daily activities, and may each one of you find joy in discovering new expansive doors to freedom and love.
Spending time in nature is a fundamental part of learning, development, and healthy living. At Oak Meadow, we encourage families to spend as much time as possible outside and learning in nature. As Oak Meadow founder, Lawrence Williams, says, “Being immersed in the natural flow of plant and animal life cycles, weather patterns, seasons, and the intricate dance connecting everything helps us find our own balance in the flow of life.”
For some children, unstructured outside play is naturally very compelling, with sticks to brandish, mud to stir, rocks to pile, dirt to dig in, flowers to pick, bugs to identify, water to splash in, and trees to climb. But for others, these activities do not come as easily or may even be overwhelming.
Embracing nature may also be challenging for children who are new to homeschooling and have become accustomed to spending most of their day indoors, either in school or at after-school activities. Some schoolchildren spend very little or even no time outdoors, as recess is cut back to make room for more academics in the school day. Children who are used to spending lots of time with electronic devices can find it challenging to turn their attention to outdoor activities. It can take extra effort and energy to break out of a familiar habit and adapt to something very new and different.
Some children have personality or sensory challenges that cause them to feel overwhelmed by the outdoors. The brightness of a sunny day can shock our sheltered eyes. The sensation of the wind blowing on us can challenge every pore. We might experience powerful smells and sounds that are very different from those inside our homes. Adjusting to the outside temperature might demand a significant amount of bodily energy. These challenges may be true for parents and caregivers, too.
For some parents, wanting our children to spend more time outdoors presents us with a challenge to adopt a new way of approaching life and learning. We may have spent a number of years going back and forth between climate-controlled homes and climate-controlled offices. Some of us grew up in families where television was central to daily life and most, if not all, of our waking hours were spent indoors. It may take some extra effort to develop a habit of spending time outside, for both parent and child.
So what can we do?
You, the parent, must lead the way, but at the same time remember that you are also learning and growing alongside your child.
For children who are reluctant to go outside, make a gentle transition.
If the outside world feels too big, too loud, or too bright, create a sheltered space where your child can be comfortable outside. A lean-to, tarp, or fort might be just the right kind of transitional space.
If your child has fears about what they might encounter outside, try turning anxiety into curiosity. What are they afraid of? Will information and some gently led encounters relax their fears?
Develop the habit casually. If it’s possible to walk or bike a short distance instead of driving, do it as often as possible. Make a regular “outside playdate” with a friend whose children are comfortable playing outdoors, and perhaps your children will join right in.
Don’t make a big deal out of it. Spending time outside every day is healthy and desirable for children and adults. It may help to just go outside without a plan or a formal agenda. “Just being” is enough, and it will allow them to be free to observe all sorts of things that might not otherwise have come into view.
If your home is more urban than rural, scout out some nature-rich locations nearby. Parks, nature preserves and sanctuaries, public gardens, and hiking trails can provide good opportunities to explore. Choose natural areas with trees and rocks for climbing, rather than manufactured play areas.
Consider the outdoors an extension of your living space and move indoor tasks outside. Handwork, schoolwork, art, reading, playing with toys, food prep, snacktime, mealtime… Arrange an outdoor space that can substitute for the kitchen table or the playroom floor. Lead by example and encourage your children to be outside with you while you go about your daily work.
Make note of anything your child finds particularly interesting outside, and foster their interest in that thing. If a family of birds is making a nest on your porch, keep checking it — at a secure distance — for eggs and hatchlings, and do some research on birds and their life cycle. If your child absolutely loves berries, plant some, tend them, and enjoy the fruit when it is ripe. If your child is very active and needs a lot of space to run around without the critical prying of neighbors or passersby, find that sort of space and let them run free.
Give them ideas and materials for fun, open-ended outdoor play or projects. Mud, water, sand, and a variety of containers can be a good starting point. If you need ideas, check out Oak Meadow’s Pinterest boards for loads of fun suggestions.
Ask your child what stops them from going outside. Make a list of their complaints and brainstorm ways to ease them.
“It’s too sunny and bright.” Would sunglasses or a special hat help? Make the most of times when the sun is low or the sky is cloudy.
“I don’t like to get wet.”Would head-to-toe rain gear or a fancy large umbrella help make it easier? Having a comfort routine for drying off and warming up after playtime can be helpful.
“It’s too hot outside.”Water and mud play are fun ways to cool off outdoors. Make sure they can easily duck out of the sun into a shady spot. Create shade for them if it’s not readily available, perhaps with a portable pop-up tent or large umbrella.
“It’s too cold out there.” Do they need more or different clothing to compensate for temperature? Lightweight woolen long johns make a helpful base layer for maintaining body temperature.
“I don’t like the wind.”Can you find or create a semi-enclosed area to provide shelter from the wind? If there are no natural windblocks in your yard, homemade wind-walls can be made using sturdy fabric and pipe.
“It’s too loud outside.” Can you find an area that is more quiet and/or private? Ask your child to help you scout out their own special nature sanctuary or a comfortable sit-spot where they can sit quietly, surrounded by nature. Read more about Sit Spots in the Spring 2013 issue of Living Education.
“I don’t want to stop what I’m doing.” Does your child have trouble transitioning from an indoor activity to an outdoor one? Routine can help. Set a consistent time of day for going outside. Some children are more open to challenging experiences in the morning; others do best after rest time in the late afternoon. Develop a particular sequence of steps that are followed before you go out. (“Here we sit to put on our shoes; here we put on our outerwear; here we choose a hat; now you open the door and walk out, and I close it behind us; now we look at the bird feeder to see if there are any birds, then we look to see how things are growing in the garden, then we ask ourselves what we’d like to do next…”)
“I don’t like the spring/summer/fall/winter.” Is your child happy outside in some seasons but not others? Make the most of the time of year or type of day when they are most comfortable outside.
“I want to be all by myself” or “I don’t want to be alone.” Would they prefer to have you outside with them – or not? Honor their wishes for support or solitude as much as possible. If they only want to be outside when you are with them, plan regular times in your daily or weekly rhythm to make that possible. If your child is too young to be unsupervised but wants to feel independent, establish an activity for yourself away from their play space. Maybe your garden will get extra attention from you this year!
What about older children who may not have developed a relationship with nature when they were younger, or who may have left it behind once they learned to read or started using an online device? It’s not impossible to develop a love of being in nature as an older child or adult, as many parents can tell you!
Encourage them by making an inviting space for them to enjoy their usual pastimes outdoors, perhaps on a porch or in a hammock. Create one or more semi-sheltered outdoor nooks where they feel they have some space of their own. This can be especially helpful for teens in a large family with a small house. A tree house is always a favorite, and building one might make a great family project!
Set out a picnic with enticing assemble-your-own ingredients so they’ll be engaged longer than it takes just to grab a handful and run back inside. Perhaps it would be helpful to mandate that certain juicy or drippy snacks, such as watermelon or popsicles, are only allowed outdoors!
If you have a fire pit and feel safe doing so, allow older children to build and tend a fire — and then cook their own snack or lunch on it. Fire needs to be tended, and someone needs to be outside tending it if they want to have the fun of cooking on it!
If your child is still reluctant, be flexible in your expectations and consider any time outside to be a success. Be patient and persistent. The natural world is can be very compelling. Once your child develops the habit of being outdoors, they will carry that with them for a lifetime.
“Let Nature be your teacher.” – William Wordsworth
What are your plans for the summer? Is viewing flora and fauna and the beauty of nature on your agenda? You and your children just might be fortunate enough to look out from inside your home and delight in watching a mated pair of songbirds caring for their young or an acrobatic squirrel leaping from tree to tree. You might grow a garden of flowers right outside your window that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. No matter what you see, it’s clearly evident that nature is amazing.
Ecotheologian Thomas Berry once stated: Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives. I couldn’t agree more in that sharing and teaching children about the natural environment is an important part of a child’s development. My children grew up enjoying nature activities from Joseph Cornell’s book, Sharing Nature with Children. In June 2015, a new book combined this award winning book and Joseph’s treasury of best-loved nature games for children and adults in one complete volume, Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages.
On Saturday, June 11th, the Defenders of Wildlife organization celebrated their 9th Annual National Get Outdoors Day. This national event encouraged families to go outside, visit a park or refuge, and renew a personal connection to nature, as well as regenerate a commitment to leaving a healthy planet for future generations. There’s nothing better than introducing your children to the wonders of nature, especially since it’s only a matter of time before the future rests in their hands.
If your summer vacation plans are taking you further from a nearby park or refuge, you might want to select a “call of the wild” destination by visiting one of the 10 best national parks for families. During your visit, you might enjoy spending time adding a species or two to your bird list, hiking to a beautiful waterfall, floating down a lazy river, or try spotting a wild mammal your children have never seen before. With nearly 500 mammal species in North America, finding a new one shouldn’t be too hard.
Christopher Todd (author of the book, The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids) suggested five tips for seeing nature and the outdoors through the eyes of a child:
1 – Keep it simple.
2 – Keep it flexible.
3 – Keep it positive.
4 – Keep it safe.
5 – Keep it stress-free.
Rachel Carson, most famous for her book, Silent Spring, was an American marine biologist and conservationist who has been credited with advancing the global environmental movement. She was also an advocate for educating and exposing children to nature. In her book, The Sense of Wonder, which was originally written as a magazine article (“Help Your Child to Wonder”), she wrote: I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.
Every grade level in Oak Meadow’s k-4 coursework suggests environmental awareness activities and exercises, for we, too, feel it’s important to introduce and teach young children about the natural environment. So, go ahead! Make summer plans, get outdoors, and let Nature be your teacher!
Is yours one of the many families whose “school year” has a beginning, an end, and then a break before the next year begins? Schooling at home is something to celebrate, and when the end of the year arrives, it presents an opportunity for joyful recognition and reflection. Here are some ideas for ways to make it memorable and special for your family.
1. Celebrate growth! Have everyone in the family make a list of some of the things they are glad they learned or ways they have grown over the past year. This exercise is especially helpful for parents, who may have overcome many challenges without realizing it. Compliment each other on your efforts and accomplishments.
2. Reflect as a family. The school year may be over, but learning never stops. Together as a family, discuss the things you are most interested in learning over the summer and perhaps during the next year. How can you support each other’s goals and wishes? Show your child by example that adults are perpetual learners, too, and talk with them about what you’re most interested in exploring and learning.
3. Make testing fun. If your distance learning program, homeschooling curriculum, or state requirements involve end-of-year testing, make it an extra special event! Decorate the room where the test will be taken, plan some healthy treats to enjoy during snack breaks, throw a five-minute dance party to get the wiggles out and energy up between tests, and celebrate in style when the testing is done.
4. Revisit Main Lesson Books. Are Main Lesson Books (MLBs) a part of your Oak Meadow experience? Spend some time together with your child looking back over their MLBs or notebooks for the past year. (For extra fun, pull out MLBs from years past and marvel together at how far they’ve come!) If you or your child have a favorite MLB page, take a photo and send it to us. We love seeing the beautiful work that develops in student MLBs, and we would be grateful for the chance to share examples with others who are just beginning their Oak Meadow journey.
5. Make a memory collage. This is another project that is a lot of fun to do together as a family. Did you go on any memorable trips or outings this past year? What were some of the funniest moments? Do any particular words come to mind that can be woven into this tangible reminder of what this year meant to your family?
6. Have children evaluate themselves. Let each child write an end-of-year report on their own progress. What did you do really well this year? What areas would you like to keep working on improving? Include this report in their file, portfolio, or record for the year. When the new year rolls around, revisit it to remind yourselves about things your child would like to continue to work on.
7. Give silly awards. Some children are motivated by competition and love getting recognition for their accomplishments. In the spirit of a collaborative learning environment, keep it light and make it funny. Best ice-cream cone eater! Most devoted user of the color purple! If you have multiple children, have them secretly nominate each other for the “best…” and create fancy certificates or ribbons for each other. Have a mock awards ceremony complete with pomp and circumstance.
8. Share your child’s work with others. If you are both comfortable with it, plan a “show and tell” gathering and invite people who would enjoy seeing and learning about the wonderful work your child has done over the past year. You might have your child display their favorite projects or creations, share their Main Lesson Books, mark favorite lessons in their curriculum books, show photos of memorable events, offer a performance, and/or give a little speech about what they have most enjoyed learning. Be thoughtful in limiting your invitations to close friends and family who are supportive of your educational choices and who will be more appreciative than critical.
9. Write your child a keepsake letter. Describe what you have witnessed in their growth over the past year, in academics and other areas of their development. Keep it positive. Point out some of the things you have enjoyed most in working with them this year. Perhaps you recognize important accomplishments that may not be seen by the outside world. Give them the gift of words handwritten on sturdy paper that they can keep, treasure, and reread when they need a boost of confidence.
10. Celebrate their way. Rites of passage are important in children’s development, and the transition from one phase to the next can be very meaningful. Let them tell you how they would like to mark this transition. This may feel especially important after the first year of learning at home, at a time when their peers are marking a similar transition (such as the end of elementary or middle school, the beginning of high school, or high school graduation), and at the end of their homeschooling or distance-learning journey.
Above all, remind your child (and yourself) how proud you are of their willingness to approach learning in a creative, heart-centered way. This requires a leap of faith on everyone’s part, and it is so gratifying to reach the end of the year and look back on the things that went well. Congratulate yourselves, and look forward to whatever the new year will bring when the time comes.
How do you celebrate the end of the (home)school year? What are your family’s traditions? Do you have any new or different ideas to add to the above list of suggestions?
“When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” George Washington Carver
I love reading biographies! I find it really amazing that people can do such constructive and creative things in their lives and in doing so make a huge impact on their surroundings. I found this interesting BBC website that has a “Famous People Index” which lists some very famous people from history. As I was scanning through and reading about the different people, it struck me that each entry is written in a way that I am often commenting on in a student’s writing about a person’s life and accomplishments. Why is the person famous? Where did he or she live? What did the person do? What time period did the person live in? Use the writing as a good model when you write a biography next time!
Let us know:
Is there a famous person you’ve especially enjoyed reading about?
The lessons that nature has to teach us are never ending. Being immersed in the natural flow of plant and animal life cycles, weather patterns, seasons, and the intricate dance connecting everything helps us find our own balance in the flow of life.
It’s not surprising that children who play outside are healthier mentally, emotionally, and physically. Human beings have spent nearly the entirety of our existence outside. Our connection to the natural world is so profound that when we are deprived of it, it’s no surprise that we don’t fare well. More and more adults are recognizing the importance of outdoor play for children, and the value of unstructured nature-based explorations. In addition to this shift to include nature-based activity or “green exercise,” teachers and parents, environmentalists, and policy-makers have begun to realize that outdoor play and nature-based learning leads children toward a sense of environmental stewardship. Simply put, connecting with nature means appreciating nature and wanting to take care of it.
Getting children back to nature is easy, fun, and beneficial in every way. And it seems the simpler the outdoor play, the better. Letting children loose with nothing more than a stick and a pile of dirt is about the nicest thing we can do for them.
Getting Back to Nature, Plain and Simple
Simple is almost always better when children play outdoors. The most elaborate playground or climbing structure can pale in comparison to a stream in the woods. Going to the beach with a bucket and shovel (and sometimes not even that much!) can provide hours of absolute absorption in play for children of all ages. But what if you don’t have time or access to the forest or beach? No worries—just stepping out your back door can be the start of an outdoor adventure. A small crack in the sidewalk can be a fascinating study of the industry of an ant colony and the tenacity of a weed. You don’t need to be a scientific expert to point out insects, bees, spider webs, and dandelions, or to discuss the difference between a pine tree and an oak. Collecting acorns and pinecones can reveal all sorts of interesting shapes, smells, and textures, and lead to endless explorations.
Hands-on outdoor learning is inquiry-based and self-directed, and nurtures a child’s curiosity, creativity and sense of wonder. As long as children are provided with time for unstructured play in a natural setting, meaningful learning will take place. Sharing your love and enthusiasm for the outdoors is the best way to bring nature learning into the lives of your children.
If your child hasn’t spent much time outdoors, be prepared to start small. The crack in the sidewalk is always a good place to start. Collecting sticks and building a little teepee is another simple way to get a child who is timid outdoors to start getting his hands dirty. Collecting rocks, shells, nuts, or just about anything will appeal to most children, and it’s just a small step from there to building and decorating a tiny, magical fairy house or woodland dwelling.
Here a few more tips for bringing the outdoors into your day:
Go outside early in the day (and often!)
Eat snacks or meals outside
Devote a section of your yard to dirt or sand play
Plant a bean teepee large enough to play inside
Make a living fort by trimming the bottom branches from bushes to make a crawl space
Make a row or circle of stumps (burying them in the ground partway makes them more stable)
Make a mud pit and enjoy the slippery, oozy possibilities
Create sculptures from natural materials (with a little imagination, a cluster of rock towers can look like a wise council of elders)
Sometimes it is tempting to become a bit too involved in a child’s outdoor play. There is something irresistibly appealing about a sand pile or a fairy house. However, it is important to allow children the time and space to explore on their own. This self-directed, unstructured play often yields the richest rewards. So try to resist the urge to get your children interested in your idea. Let them make their own discoveries, and allow them to make their own mistakes. Just because they aren’t doing something in the most efficient manner doesn’t mean it’s not right. We all learn from experience, and faster is not always better.
Be playful and curious, be interested and excited, but above all, respect the rich inner life of the child’s play. There is something very peaceful about creating a nature scene or just exploring the natural environment. Don’t force conversation. Sometimes it isn’t necessary to talk about a creative experience. Connecting with nature can be a very personal experience, and one that builds intricate and complex ways of understanding the world. By attuning to your child’s attitude, you will probably be able to easily feel when it is right to just let her be.
While educators (homeschooling parents and professionals alike) are perpetually open to the teachable moment, unstructured outdoor play is often a good time to let the teachable moment pass without comment. Trust that the learning process is in full sail without your guidance. There will be another time to give suggestions, instructions, information and advice. For now, just enjoy the beauty of nature’s classroom.
Aesop’s birthday is celebrated each year on June 4th. There is no accurate documentation as to whether this was his authentic birth date. Historians aren’t sure exactly what year he was born or where in Greece he was born, or if he was born as a slave or as a free man. There is also no clear evidence as to whether Aesop actually wrote the Greek fables that are famous for their moral messages, or if he collected them from other literary writers and storytellers. Historians aren’t even exactly sure whether this man really even existed; some regard him as just a legendary figure.
There are so many unknowns about Aesop. Real or legendary, what we do know is that he is known as the creator of the beloved collection of fables best known as Aesop’s Fables. They have reached countless generations since their creation, and continue to do so in our modern-day world of literature. Oak Meadow’s second grade curriculum offers these fables as part of the language arts and social studies lessons; however, they can be easily enjoyed by all ages. (They were originally intended for adults.) So, go ahead and celebrate this literary hero by taking a few minutes out of your day and read one or two of your favorite Aesop fables. It would be a delightful sharing for the whole family!