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Tips for Nature Walks with Young Children

nature walk with children

Before you think I’ve got this whole thing figured out, let me just paint a picture for you.

About a year ago, we set out with a friend on one of our very first nature walks at a local trail.

“It’ll be fun!” we said.

Three minutes into our walk, my littlest one (who was two at the time) started clinging to my leg and asking for “uppie.”

“Uppie, mommy. Uppie! I want uppie! UPPIEEEEEEE!”

I didn’t have a hiking pack, my back was sore and I was not about to carry my two year old the entire time, so I said no. He cried and fussed for the remainder of the walk. The rest of the kids were hungry and thirsty. It was so windy, it was hard for the little ones to stand up straight.

It was basically a disaster.

I say all this to say – our nature walks are not perfect and wonderful every time. Some days, there’s a lot of fussing. Some days there are self-inflicted injuries every five minutes. Some days mom forgets to pack snacks and water and sunscreen.

You win some, you lose some.

That being said, here’s what I’ve learned over the past year to increase the likelihood of having a successful nature walk with little ones, and make sweet memories.

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Set Expectations

This is probably the most important thing you can do to set you and your kids up for success. Tell them what the general plan is, what they are likely to encounter and what you expect from them – BEFORE you even get out of the car.

Are there hazards off the trail? Make sure they understand to stay on the trail at all times. Is it going to be muddy? Tell them beforehand whether they’re aloud to play in it or if they need to keep out. Is there going to be water? Can they play in it? How far can they wander from you? Are we going with friends who are a little slower-paced? When is lunch or snack time going to happen? Are we going to be observing a particular tree species, bird, reptile, etc.?

I find if children know the boundaries ahead of time things go more smoothly and there is much more freedom to play and explore.

Be “Just Prepared Enough”

I’m so helpful, aren’t I? 😉

Here’s my problem with adventuring with little ones – they need a lot of stuff but don’t want to carry any of it. So my job is to figure out the essentials and leave the rest.

For our family, essentials include food – either snacks or a light lunch – (because hungry kids are grumpy kids), water (we often share a big water bottle), sun hats or winter hats/gloves, small buckets for them to carry for collecting “treasures,” (I got tired of stuffing my pockets with acorns, rocks, etc.), a portable magnifying glass and our nature study supplies if we are going to study our curriculum on the trail.

One backpack for mama and that’s it.

When J Bear was really small, I brought my hiking carrier, which had a little pouch for other items. That way when he was tired of walking, I could stick him in the pack and still have my hands free. The hiking carrier was SO much easier than trying to navigate a stroller, or carry him on my hip.

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Don’t Try to Set a “Destination”

Take some time right now to go ahead and lower your expectations. Lower. Lower…. keep going. 😉

Maybe it’s just my kids, but walking a quarter of a mile can take an hour.

Stop to pick up a rock. Stop to splash in a mud puddle. Sit down and draw in the dirt for a bit. Lean over the bridge and throw leaves in the river for 47 minutes.

For little ones, nature walks are about experiencing nature. Seeing all of the little bits and pieces. Hearing the sounds. Smelling all the smells. Watching the bubbles in the creek. Chasing the ants around with a stick. They want to fully immerse themselves in every. little. thing.

I think they might be on to something…

So try and choose a spot that has room for them to roam and explore without needing to actually “arrive” somewhere. There will be a season for accomplishing things, like hiking to the summit, but don’t hold high expectations when they are little.

To them, the little things ARE the destination. You may spend two hours on a trail and not really get anywhere. Embrace it. Learn from their curiosity and wonder.

Don’t Force Learning, But Make Space For It

We started following a wonderful nature study curriculum (Exploring Nature With Children), which is pretty easy to incorporate into our Friday nature outings. I’ll usually bring a printout of the lesson (it’s typically a page or two), our little nature journals , a few colored pencils and another resource when appropriate – like a field guide or our bird identification guide, something like that.

Sometimes we’ll see something along our journey that sparks interest and leads into the nature study for the day. I’ll read the lesson while they are exploring and maybe later we’ll find a spot to draw in our journals about what we’ve found. (Nature journaling post coming soon!)

Just having these things handy allows us to seize the learning opportunity when it arrives. Sometimes, it never arrives. Sometimes we are all too busy splashing in the river and building a dam to do a lesson on bees. And that’s okay. At least for us, following the spark of interest, rather than trying to force learning when they are engaged in something else, sets us up for a much better experience.

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Try to Loosen Up a Bit

I’m preaching to the choir here.

I tend to cringe when my kids slosh through the mud, spread sap in their hair, pick up spiders, etc. etc. (Ahem, boys.)

Recovering helicopter parent, here.

I try to let them explore as much as possible without saying things like, “be careful!” or “don’t climb on that!” or “don’t touch that!”

It’s really hard to walk that tension between keeping them safe and letting them be wild and free. I mean, how can you really, fully enjoy playing in nature when your mom is firing off warnings every five minutes? I know I wouldn’t enjoy it.

So take a deep breath. Try to really, fully consider what the consequences might be. If they fall and get a scrape? Not the end of the world. Most kids tend to be more careful and aware of danger when they are playing outside, in natural surroundings. Try to let go and let them be little.

Nature Walk with Children

Lastly, Just Do It.

There are a lot of really important things us homeschooling mamas have to fit into the school week. It’s easy to push things like nature walks and nature study to the bottom of the list because they are so NOT measurable.

I totally get it.

(Sort of. I have a kindergartner and a preschooler so our actual “school” time is pretty short.)

But can I just say this? When our kids are little, what do they really need? I’m talking three, four, five, even six years old.

Do they really need to be spending hours on math worksheets? Do they really need to have perfect handwriting? Spell all the words?

I know all of us mamas have differing opinions on this – but here’s mine.

One of the major reasons we are homeschooling is so that our boys can have more TIME. We are fiercely protective of their childhood. We want homeschooling to give them more time to run and play outside, climb trees, collect bugs, play in the dirt – all of the things that they were designed, as children, to do.

Yes, they need to learn how to read and write and count. But these little years – they will never get them back. Childhood is fleeting.

So, for us that means playing outside is a priority, right up there with math and reading. It is an essential part of their development. Even if we didn’t finish the lesson plan for the week; even if the house is a pit; even if the weather isn’t great or we’re all feeling a little grumpy…

We try to make it happen.

For the most part, we make nature day a non-negotiable. It’s an appointment on our weekly calendar. If we don’t make it a priority, it’s too easy to let it go.

Do you make it a habit to regularly explore nature with your kids? What have you found helpful?

 

 

**I’m an affiliate of Amazon, which means every purchase from product links helps keep this website going. I only write about things I’m truly passionate about, and products I actually recommend and use for our family.**

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Making Morning Time Work with Little Ones

Hello again, friends. Last year I first read about the concept of Morning Time over on Farmhouse Schoolhouse and I immediately fell in love. Visions soon filled my head of what our very own Morning Time would look like:

*Everyone in their chairs, gathered peacefully around the table.*

*Delicious muffins and fresh fruit set out in pretty little dishes.*

*A candle flickering peacefully next to a vase of flowers picked from the yard.*

*A feast of beautiful poetry, thought-provoking literature, encouraging scriptures. Hymns. Composer study. Artist study. Shakespeare.*

Any other mamas of littles laughing their heads off right now?

Fast forward to this year and I realized pretty early on that I seriously had to readjust my expectations for what our homeschool day actually looks like. I have 5-year-old and 3-year-old boys. They are capable of focusing and sitting still for about 10 minutes, on a good day. Even then, there is a fair amount of drink spilling and fart noises happening.

I don’t want my kids to look back on their childhood and remember Mom trying to force them full of information and ideas. That is not our vision, nor does it kindle a passion for learning.

A few days ago, I read during my before-the-kids-wake-up-and-the-house-is-quiet time a little verse in Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching From Rest (an AMAZING book and if you haven’t read it stop what you’re doing and read it right now):

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

So the little moments,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of Eternity.

Even if I can just pour out one drop of goodness, beauty, or truth into their hearts each morning, even if it’s just one poem or one song or one prayer – those little drops add up. That one thing matters. Those little moments add up into years.

How very encouraging to my mama heart.

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Once I accepted our reality and let go of my vision for Morning Time, I scaled way, way back and chose just a couple of simple, quick items. So here’s what Morning Time looks like in our house right now:

  • We gather for breakfast. Usually, we have oatmeal, except for about one day a week when I make something really fancy, like muffins. I find that breakfast time is when the kiddos are most engaged – and it’s harder to make dragon noises with food in your mouth.
  • I put a classical music station on Pandora. Sometime’s I’ll point out – “oh! this is Bach,” but most of the time it just plays in the background.
  • First, we read a poem or two from our all-time favorite book of poetry for kids, A Child’s Book of Poems, by Gyo Fujikawa. (Side note: I never pegged myself as a poetry person. It never made sense to me. This book is filled with the most wonderfully engaging and rhythmic poems and rhymes – many by famous poets – and stunning illustrations. The boys are in love with this book and it has changed me forever!)
  • Some days I will find the same or a similar piece of poetry on The Daily Poem podcast, and we will listen to that. They are usually only about 5 minutes long. This usually doesn’t happen regularly, though.
  • Next, we read our devotional from Indescribable – 100 Devotions about God and Science. Each devotional is two pages, with a scripture verse and a short prayer.
  • Finally, we go around the table and pray – we each thank God for one thing and ask him for one thing. Prayer can be a tricky concept, especially for littles. (Okay, adults too.) My biggest boy said to me once that he didn’t want to pray because there were no instructions on how to do it, which is why we use this little format. It helps to give him a jumping off point. It’s been incredible to see their little requests often get answered throughout the rest of the day – such a trust-building thing.

That’s it. We clean up our breakfast plates and move on to chores.

The reality is, some days Morning Time is just one poem and then we’re off cleaning up a giant glass of spilled milk. Or someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed (ahem) and Morning Time doesn’t go peacefully at all. And that’s okay. Little drops, they add up.

I’m sure our Morning Time routine will change with the years – in fact, I have a whole list of ideas I want to include in the future. But for now, this works for us. Morning Time helps us start our day by feasting on the good and beautiful, and for that I am grateful.

(If you want to learn more about what Morning Time is, hop over to this post.)

“Teaching our children to love which is lovely will go a long way toward shaping our students’ affections and orienting them toward the good, the true, and the beautiful.” -Sarah Mackenzie

What does your morning routine look like with little ones? Do you have any additional resources or recommendations? 

 

 

 

**I’m an affiliate of Amazon, which means every purchase from product links helps keep this website going. I only write about things I’m truly passionate about, and products I actually recommend and use for our family.**