We have been enjoying our new-found nature walks. I stress new-found, because we're not experts...by any stretch of the imagination. When Barb, from Handbook of Nature Study, asked me to write a short article about nature walks for her upcoming newsletter, I was at first scared and surprised. After all, even though I have older children, taking nature walks wasn't really something that we had a lot of experience with. (It was just something that I wanted to begin this year.) Some of our field guides are still crisp and have that fresh smell, we can really only identify a few plants or bugs here and there, and we've been anything but consistent.
But I guess in the end, I thought, why not? If you're going to study nature in any way, big or small, it simply takes a desire, a starting time and a keep-at-it attitude. Before we started on our nature walks, I asked myself several questions: How & Why? So rather than make this already long post more excrutiatingly long, I've broken up these 2 questions into 2 different posts.
Part 1: HOW To Take Nature Walks With Your Older Children.
It is not an exhaustive list...we're still learning.
they had found an animal bone
Up to this point, our nature walks really haven't been anything 'deep' or lengthy: We simply take a walk and 'treasure hunt'.
Right now, I'm using Barb's seasonal suggestions as our course of study. I do find it helpful to read a little bit ahead of time, share photos from various sources to 'know what we're hoping to spot' and have some goal in mind. But not always.
Pretty straightforward so far, don't you think? When we arrive home, we usually follow up our visit that day or the next, (or the next week if we're 'still recovering') with worksheets and/or drawings in our notebook. But not always. We might look at something beneath a microscope if it's especially interesting... Eventually, I hope to add more things like: a craft that's somehow tied into the topic, looking up Latin names, drawing comparisons or engaging in an in-depth study once in awhile or...and here's a biggie for us...taking our colored pencils/paints with us to draw/paint while on the walk rather than afterwards... I'm sure our nature study will morph as the months go by.
If you're starting out taking nature walks with older kids, it's really not that different than when kids are younger. However, having older kids while on a nature walk can definitely be very pleasant. For example, I really don't have to 'worry' (like I did when my children were younger) that my kids will eat those pretty red berries from a bush or will walk into a patch of poison ivy unawares or will run away from me and get hurt or lost. Yes, we might have a few scrapes and bruises, but other than that... taking a nature walk with older kids can be quite fun. They point out things that I've missed or overlooked, they ask interesting questions, they spur each other on to find something 'really neat'. They can keep quiet and still for a longer time in order to watch and observe. We've kept our walks relatively short (in time) and really haven't strayed from the actual paths that much. We're still really new at identification. There's so much we haven't covered...
It's not a complete list, and we don't take everything with us each time we go. In fact, some items we haven't brought with us yet. And of course, if you're more experienced than we are and you do a nature HIKE, you may have a more detailed list of things to take. In fact, please make suggestions if you have anything to add! If that list seems like a lot - it is! It depends on where we go and what our course of study is. We're starting out little by little. But having older kids means...they can all carry their own stuff! A definite plus! I find that the 3 most important items to take with us each time we go on a nature walk are:
a willingness to learn
an adventurous spirit
a good attitude
2. What we don't or shouldn't take with us:
I-pods or shuffles - we want to hear nature around us
Cell phones (only I have one so far, (gasp!) so this isn't really an issue, but if they had their own phones, their communication devices would be relegated to the car) - don't need unnecessary distractions
A beloved pet (again, this doesn't apply to us, but if it did, we would leave him at home) -don't want to scare away the animals!
A bad attitude! (theirs AND yours)
we forgot our flashlights and ended up leaving early
3. But aren't nature walks 'boring'? How to combat the "Nature walks are for little kids, Mom!"
:: Vary the time of day - evening (nighttime with flashlights! or star gazing), early in the morning (if you can get everyone out of bed)
::Vary the location - unlike little children who love familiarity and repetition, older children would appreciate new spots for a walk (need to start doing this more myself) ~ visit a beach, a river, a field, a mountain, a desert, a cave, or just a different park or area near you~ don't stick to the same spot - even if you live a city, taking nature walks can be done in city parks, in zoos or arboretums...
::Vary the season - older kids might enjoy a tromp through the snow searching for animal tracks or studying icicles at great length in winter (maybe I should put mittens on the above list?)
::Allow them to be in charge of creating a nature walk challenge - the challenge they create could be for younger siblings or for you or your husband
::Allow for open-ended nature walks just to enjoy (don't 'force it', especially if you're starting out and don't make this too 'bookish' or 'schoolish')
::Or...make a walk very specific in what you search for (this helps gives direction and uses time well)
::Limit the time at first (especially good if you have a child who is seemingly disinterested)
::Give them a detailed list of items to gather on a scavenger hunt (timed or untimed)
::Have them follow a set of directions to a particular spot that you've chosen ahead of time (this may take some planning on your part)
:: Visit an area where a famous historical event took place (wouldn't the Lewis & Clark trail be fascinating?)
:: Morph the Nature Walk into a Nature Hike: As you become more experienced & comfortable, maybe hike or camp overnight (this would take more supplies and more forethought)
4. When NOT to go on a nature walk:
when you're hungry
when you're tired
when you're in a hurry and have to be somewhere very soon
when you're sick
when you're suffering from allergies/hayfever
when you've got a bad headache
when you're grumpy
I would be remiss and feeling slightly guilty if I left you thinking that all was smiles and warm happy thoughts all the time. For example, not all of my children are as enthusiastic about taking a nature walk or drawing in their notebooks. Some 'tolerate' it. Take for instance, our last nature walk... we arrived at a local park after another homeschool event. It was roughly 4 pm. Beautiful weather. Lovely breeze. Water bottles and a snack in hand. Cameras, scissors, a bag to bring home found goodies. One child decided to wear flip flops on our walk (partially due to a sore ankle) and further complained of sore feet. One child, not even fifteen minutes into the walk declared that he needed to use the bathroom (this, after being reminded numerous times beforehand to use the facilities). One was hungry. One was tired. I told everyone ahead of time to look for certain items, but did they listen? Sort of. I ended up doing most of the 'searching'. They wandered away, they complained, they asked when we were going home... not exactly what I had envisioned as a nature walk.
Or remember our new nature area in our house? The one with those black walnuts in the wooden bowl? About a week later, I picked one up and found to my disgust...little wiggly maggots! Maggots in my house! I still shudder to think about it. I did not take a picture of that. Oh, come now, you might say...that's nature study found on a nature walk. Don't you want to figure out what insect they'll turn into? No. No I don't.
(Of course, later on, after I had moved the remaining walnuts to the outside, I did manage to snap a photo.) Yes, very gross!
To be continued...