15 March 2011

My Thoughts on Nature Walking/Study

Dear Lissy,
Spring is on the move! Yesterday you, Nate, and I went for an after dinner walk and enjoyed some serious puddle jumping (well, not Nate...he's a very dignified 13).  The extra daylight in the evening is a shot of adrenaline for all of us, I think.  I could do without the skunks, but their distinct odor is a sign that winter is indeed over...yay!

Nature walks have been a vital part of our "school" curriculum since before we started home schooling.  Dad and I have long teased that ADD stands for Acute Dirt Deficiency.   We usually spend our family time outdoors hiking, camping, swimming, gardening, or even boating occasionally.  We've just started geocaching, especially when we have a computer gaming addict along with us, and we love it.

I didn't grow up "nature walking".  If we went outside we had a Purpose, and that Purpose usually had a number attached.  Run 3 miles in 25 minutes.  Rake 1/4 of the lawn.  Shoot 20 baskets in 30 minutes.  Hay the back 40. It took your poor father years to teach me to simply enjoy and relax in a natural setting.  Camping?  With no recreational facilities or even a beach?  What do you do all day?  You want to just go walk through the woods?  Why???  Climb a mountain?  Sign me up!  Walk around a circle and never actually get to a destination?  Umm, thanks, but I really need to floss my cat's teeth today.

For our family, nature has two purposes:  relaxation and observation.
We demand excellence and hard work in all of your core subjects:  Mathematics, Language Arts, History, and Science.  We insist that you do your chores well, and that you pitch in diligently on family, community, and church work days.

Nature walks are designed to be restorative.  To create an opportunity to open all of your senses, get the blood flowing, and perhaps begin to learn about alone time as you head into your teens. Nature is a form of therapy that is more powerful than many prescription medications.  The benefits include:
  • Reduction of stress
  • Increased attention span
  • Relaxation
  • Decrease in worries and anxiety
  • Reduction of blood pressure
  • Exercise (strength and flexibility)
  • Decreased risk for depression

 Sometimes we have a specific purpose:  mushrooms, wild edibles, wildflowers, animal tracks, or even that elusive geocache; but usually we just move quietly through the environment.  We try to choose a variety of biomes, and we walk throughout the entire year.  It's amazing to walk by the bend in the river you've walked by every week for almost a year and then see hundreds of deer tracks after the first snow.  We have dozens of field and nature guides so that we can find the names of that delicate bell-like flower swaying over long speckled leaves (trout lily) or find out what creates grooves in the sides of a river bank (otter slide!)  What is that track?  What kind of tree has leaves twirled into tight spear points that furl open?  Which kind of fiddlehead is edible?   Noticing the millions of details in Creation is a delight!

What about nature journals?
While I like the concept of regular nature journaling, it goes against one of our main purposes, which is to simply unwind.  We encourage the use of cameras, magnifying glasses, binoculars, nets, and field guides; but we've chosen not to formally write much down.  We do occasionally draw, rub, press, or make a spore print to better understand what we're looking at, but at this stage we don't have a formal system.

We do however, try to encourage close attention to details and how they relate to the rest of the biome and others in the species.  The famous story of the student and the fish will give you an idea of what we seek to accomplish regarding observation. This is all accomplished very casually, and we often have to look things up when we get home.

We may point out a plant that has medicinal value -- jewelweed sap takes away the toxins from poison ivy, for example, or one that is edible and eatable, such as Indian cucumber.  We always try to point out poisonous plants like water hemlock.  We might challenge you to determine whether you're looking at a grass or a sedge ("sedges have edges"), or ask you what family a plant belongs to if it has a square stem (mint).  Again, these are incredibly informal quizzes, given as we walk through the area.  We might have you stop dead still right at the point where woods meet a field, and look for wildlife.  We might sit quietly on a bench in the woods after the Blue Jay Early Warning System has alerted every living thing in the vicinity that we're there, and wait for the birds and small mammals to relax and reappear.

Finally, we always, always, always (!) seek to draw your mind to the intelligence and wonder of our Creator God.  Nature is His handiwork, first and foremost.  We learn a great deal about our God when we start learning the intricacies of nature and how he's provided for the lilies and sparrows.  We see his awesome power in the geological formations that still exist from the Flood or any one of several smaller catastrophes that have affected our area.  We see his faithfulness in the rhythm of the seasons year after year.  He is the Master, the Artist, the Mathematician behind the whole of Creation.

Wishing you many happy years in the great outdoors,

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