“We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.” - Charlotte Mason, British educator
We lived in Massachusetts when I was in grade school, and across the street from our house was a short trail to a quiet stream that – 30 years and many moves later – I still call mine. I would spend what felt like hours exploring and cleaning up that little secret spot in the woods. I am certain it was that stream that carved the space in my heart and spirit that loves nature today.Nature journaling at the creek.
Today, my family lives only a few short hiking minutes away from a stream. I still feel that same joy that I felt as an 8-year-old when it appears in the distance as we hike down through the hemlock trees.
Parents have the great joy of introducing their children to the things they love and cherish, in the hopes that their children will love and cherish those things, too. I’m sure it is no great surprise to anyone that one of those joys, for me, is nature.
For our daughters’ first years of school, we were fortunate to be part of a small Christian school that follows the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, an innovative British educator who lived in the 1800s and early 1900s who emphasized the importance of nature in education. The school’s unique focus on the outdoors provides for a wide range of exciting outdoor field trips throughout the year. For instance, when my daughter Lucy was in first grade her class came to our house one Spring day for “school.”
Mother Nature offered more “education” that day than we could ever have asked for. On our hike down to the stream, we spotted two pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule Aiton), a native wildflower that is endangered in Tennessee. We gathered around the two fragile flowers to discuss and observe their beauty and rare appearances in our neck of the woods.
At the stream, each student found a rock to sit on and draw in their nature notebooks. Drawings included trees, pink lady’s slippers, mushrooms and rock formations. Then we rock-hopped and looked for crawdads and interesting rocks.
After hiking back to the house, we returned to a black rat snake in the yard that was unhappy with the attention it was getting from our cat, Mew, and dog, LaLa. It was my first close encounter with a black rate snake, and I can now add this to my list of lifetime nature adventures: lunged at by a snake. In trying to move the snake out of harm’s way, it was lunging its body at me and everyone else in fury.
In the end, the snake, the cat, the dog, the teacher and the students remained unharmed, and the snake eventually slithered away into the woods. However, our close encounter was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I am sure we will all recall for many years to come.
As the students were loading into the car at the end of our adventure, one of the boys – who had not been to our house before – said to me, “I am going to have to get your phone number.” I laughed, happy that he wanted to come back for more outdoor adventures.
I guess the point of this is that nature offers more in the way of education and fun than we can ever plan for on our own. Just going outside to explore with children is opening a door to learning, experience, interaction and fun that is hard to come by in other venues. Even if you don’t have a creek in your yard, I bet you can find one. Or woods. Or a nature center with trails. Open the door and nature will invite you in!
“Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life.” – Charlotte Mason