Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Weekly Nature Walk

I know. Four to six hours a day outside sounds absolutely NUTSO to some of my dear blogging pals. That's okay :) You know what, though? I'm not going to go on and on about multiple hours outside tonight. I'm going to talk about one little half hour. Thirty minutes that comes around just once a week. A weekly nature walk. Educational. Fun. Outside.

For a weekly nature walk, you don't need an old quilt or a half dozen bottles of water. You don't need a 90 acre park nor do you need a travel potty (well, usually not). You may need a little sunscreen or herbal bug spray before you leave, but all you really cannot do without is - a slow pace and nature eyes. "Nature eyes" simply means eyes that are ready to see anything - to really observe it - and to see it with great attention.

The goal is to walk slowly around your own neighborhood for 30 minutes one day a week.

Look up and down, listen carefully. You may want to let each child take a brown paper bag along to collect natural treasures they find along the way. If your children turn out to be voracious little naturalists, you may want to buy a small plastic bin lined with a paper towel or a cardbox for them to empty their bags into after you return home. If your child picks up an acorn, take a moment and gently help him really see the acorn. Examine it. If you pop the top off, what does it look like? What part do you think a squirrel eats? What tree did it fall from? One acorn can easily lead to ten full minutes of observation and play beneath the oak tree. We learned late this summer that each type of oak produces an acorn with a characteristic shape. A red oak acorn looks differently than a burr oak acorn, for instance. SweetP has made a little game of learning to identify them. Shug and Punkin just knock them around with sticks :)

The key is to go slowly and to really exercise the skills of attention and observation.

Stop and watch the little flock of sparrows. Why do they keep flying over to that tree? Can you tell what kind of tree it is? What do they have in their mouths? There are even clouds above to watch and talk about and dandelions that your neighbor would gladly let the children pick. That's the third monarch butterfly you've seen flying in that direction. Where are they going? In what direction are they headed?

Now, if you have energetic little ones (as I have) it may be a good idea to allow an extra ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning of the walk for an all-out run. This, of course, is excellent exercise. We can count it in our school day as Phys. Ed.! :) Once they have run a bit, they'll be a little more inclined to go slowly and pay more attention. It's not something to pressure them about, only lead them gently to look more closely and for just a little longer. After a few weeks of practice, they will begin developing more of an interest in their findings and attention will naturally increase.

The point is to enjoy God Almighty and His creation - to "consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air".

Even a short walk outdoors offers countless opportunities to marvel at the awesome (in the true sense of the word) creative imagination of our God. Maybe it would be well if we asked the Lord for eyes to truly see His creation when we go out with our children. It is all around us, but we know so little about it. It's so encouraging, though, that the more we learn the more we want to learn.

Isn't that what education is all about?



Check out this website dedicated to helping parents get

their children outdoors in nature for one hour a day.

AND... did you know that this week is Take A Child Outside Week?

Visit this website to learn more :)

*I feel that I should warn you of something inevitable. There is almost no getting around it. If your children have any interest at all in nature, you will have to identify at least one of the findings you bring home. Sometimes I tell the children before we even set out on a walk, "We will not be able to identify all of these leaves this afternoon, but I will be certain to set aside time next week to find out their names". I've been building up a collection of nature fieldguides to help me with our naming projects, but the internet works too :) My neighbor is constantly looking up this leaf and that bug on the internet with her daughter. There is no lack of information out there :) Happy nature walking!