“In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir
One of the many nice things about homeschooling is that we get to decide what is important and what we spend our time on. Our homeschool curriculum introduced us to weekly nature studies and they quickly became part of our rhythm and something everyone looks forward to.
I have witnessed incredible changes in everyone’s behavior, attitude and overall happiness when we simply get outside. Some days we may just go for a walk on the trail in our neighborhood and look for bunnies or head down to the pond to try and spot fish or tadpoles. Other times we might check out a new park with an awesome waterfall or creek we can dip our toes in. And then there are days we set out to intentionally study our surroundings and bring our journals and colored pencils to document our finds.
We recently started an online adventure program called Wild Explorers Club where the boys receive weekly assignments to complete and earn patches at different levels. It’s an awesome program if you want to add a little structure to your adventuring or don’t really know where to start. My boys look forward to the assignments each week and don’t even get them started on the patches!
Nature walks, adventures or studies are something anyone can incorporate into their life. I learned a few things the hard way when we first started all this so I thought I would share some things that have made my life easier when trying to get out the door with three kids in tow.
- Start someplace small and easy to get to, especially if you have younger kids or ones who aren’t used to walking long distances. You don’t want to overwhelm kids with too much walking right away or you may never get them back out on the trails.
- If you haven’t been to a trail before, it’s a good idea to take another adult with you until you get the lay of the land. I also carry a pocket knife my husband bought for me. Another mom I know carries pepper spray.
- Check out your local parks. Many have nice secluded nature trails where you are relatively close to civilization but still feel like you’re in a far off place.
- Relax and walk slow. Let your kids stop and observe what they see, listen to what they hear, collect a cool rock, etc. It’s not so much about the final destination but the journey.
- Teach your kids the importance of staying on the trails and how to identify important plants. Poison ivy is all over the place in Texas and hard to avoid if you don’t know what it looks like. You can get a field guide to help you identify foliage. My kids love recognizing a plant they know along a trail.
- Carry a small first aid kit with a few band aids, sting relief and antiseptic wipes. You can get a pocket size one with the basic essentials for a few dollars.
- You can’t go wrong if your hike ends up near the water. Even if the kids just dip their feet in, there’s something so therapeutic about the water. My kids could be happy all day in a creek without a single toy. I always enjoy watching them use sticks, rocks and whatever else they find as something to play with. Leave the toys at home and see what happens!
- Keep it simple when packing. Remember, you have to lug all your stuff down and back. I also make my boys responsible for carrying their own stuff in their pack. This means they pack their snacks, water bottle, nature journal, resource books and anything else they may want to bring and they carry it themselves. I have been known to cave a time or two with my little guy and help him carry his pack but he’s gotten pretty used to carrying his own share.
- I typically bring a blanket to lay down for the baby but everyone ends up on it at some point. Some moms I know use an old sheet because it’s lighter and less bulky. Either way, it’s nice to have a spot where everyone can gather to eat or just rest.
- Consider joining a nature group. We are part of a forest school and local Wild Explorers Club. A friend of mine also recently told me about Hike It Baby, an awesome free group where you can join families across the country on hikes. REI also has some great classes that look really informative and lots of parks offer guided hikes. My point is, there are many options out there.
- I love getting dirty outside with the kids but I do not like dirt in my car. I keep a big towel and wipes in the back and before anyone gets in the car, we wipe down and clean ourselves off. I also recommend WeatherTech mats for anyone with kids.
I am by no means an expert on hiking or wildlife. I am simply learning everyday alongside my children. You should also know, my goal in getting them outside is not only for their benefit but also for our earth’s. Because as they learn to love our precious earth, they will become compelled help protect it. And our earth certainly needs more protectors.
Happy exploring friends!