The other day, another Mom asked if there were any specific ways, books, or other resources available to encourage outdoor exploration.
In other words, how do you help your children find delight in the outdoors?
Truth be told, I cannot remember a time in my life where I didn’t love being outside (except when it’s twenty-five degrees below zero!), but not everyone is wired the same way, and I’ve also spent time struggling to encourage our own children to spend more time outdoors!
I posed this question to our kids to get any idea of what exactly makes outdoor exploration delightful to them, and interestingly enough, all of their responses can be summarized by the 3 things Charlotte Mason believed a child needed to develop as a person:
Something To Love
Something To Do
Something To Think About
“We like it when you come outside with us.”
This was the number one response among all of our kids: their favorite part of being outdoors is being outside with Mom or Dad!
If we want our children to grow in their love for Creation, it helps for them to see us enjoying it, too! There are few things that get children interested in something more than seeing enthusiasm for a subject in someone they love.
“The person of winning personality attracts his pupils who will do anything for his sake and are fond and eager in all their ways, docile to the point where personality is submerged, and they live on the smiles, perish on the averted looks, of the adored teacher.” ~ Charlotte Mason, Vol 6. Philosophy of Education
The child who sees his mother with reverent touch lift an early snowdrop to her lips, learns a higher lesson than the ‘print-books’ can teach. Years hence, when the children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred and demands some sacrifices, all the ‘common information’ they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form a capital groundwork for a scientific education. In the meantime, let them consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.” ~ Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1 Home Education
Care Of Creation
Giving children the opportunity to care for creation personally can help to build a bond with the outdoors that will last their entire lifetime.
Tending to a garden and beholding the miracle of a tiny seed transform into several side dishes of green beans; caring for animals and witnessing joyous things like birth, or sad moments of sickness and death, deepens our relationship and understanding of God’s world and His greatness, and increases our propensity to love and nurture.
“Here is a duty that lies upon us all; for we all enter on the inheritance of the heavens and the earth, the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. These are things to which we have right, no one can take them from us; but, until we get as much as a nodding and naming acquaintance with the things of Nature, they are a cause rather of irritation and depression than of joy” ~ Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, Ourselves
Scripture has much to say about the value of hard work! The gift of productivity was given to Adam before sin entered the world; hard work is a blessing, not a curse!
“There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” Ephesians 2:24
“…let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” Ephesians 4:28
Where we live, most children under the age of 16 are not permitted to enter the workforce and experience the work/reward benefit due to employment regulations. However, children can still experience the satisfaction and reward of diligence at home, particularly if you’ve been blessed with a little plot of land to keep. Even in the city, our kids could raise and sell rabbits, divide perennials and have a plant sale, barter vegetables of one sort for another, and enjoy making gifts to give using the natural elements God allowed to grow in our backyard.
They may not become rich in the financial sense by selling eggs, strawberries, wild flower bouquets, bunnies, or butternut squash at a roadside stand, but learning to find enjoyment in “working diligently as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) is something you can’t put a price on.
“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” Psalm 33: 6-9
“From the flower in the crannied wall to the glorious firmament on high, all the things of Nature proclaim without ceasing, ‘Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty’ ” ~ Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, Ourselves
It is one thing to tell our children that the heavens declare the glory of God, but it’s almost another thing entirely to let them experience this truth for themselves.
Stirring up the wonder in a child’s heart for Creation so that they might “stand in awe of him,” is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can offer.
How can we not fall down and worship when confronted with God’s power and glory displayed through the stars, innumerable in multitude; the birds of the air, which do not grow their own food, and yet are fed; the ants, which gather their food in Summer, working diligently, without being told; the grasshoppers, who have no king, but all march together; the rainbow – the sign of God’s faithfulness – that still appears in the sky after a shower on a hot Summer day, even though we are ripe for judgement as in the day of Noah?
“There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” ~ John Calvin
“There is a danger in these days of much educational effort that children’s play should be crowded out [or what is the same thing] should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than about work. We do not say a word against the educational value of games (such as football, basketball, etc.) … but organized games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.” -Charlotte Mason
Outdoors, we find an atmosphere teeming with adventures to be had!
“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” ~ Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Everywhere we look, we find new materials to discover, explore, play and create with!
One of my favorite childhood memories was our fort under the walnut tree on the edge of our valley. Some days, we were Kings and Queens adorned with furry robes made out of blankets from the dress-up box.
Some days, we were mothers with children, stirring and mixing sand and water together in stainless steel mixing bowls our Oma had given to us specifically for our tree fort shenanigans. Oh, the mud pies and cakes we enjoyed decorating with pinecones and blossoms, even if we couldn’t eat them!
Some days, we were Florence Nightingales, bandaging up soldiers with old cloth diapers, stained purple from the wild grapes that grew behind our mailbox.
Outdoor play gets children in touch with nature and offers the opportunity for first hand, organic discoveries that can hardly be taught with the same effectiveness.
As Charlotte Mason often pointed out, education is a science of relations, and it’s those discoveries we make on our own that are the most long-lasting and life-changing.
One final way to help children learn to love the outdoors is through wild crafting, or, creating things with natural materials.
Aside from being a super frugal (basically free!) alternative to crafting with supplies purchased online or in-store, wild crafting produces uniquely beautiful pieces unlike anything else. Every element points to the Ultimate Designer, and the plethora of textures and colors to work with invites endless creativity.
Some of the crafts we have enjoyed making using natural, local materials include:
- corn husk dolls
- Christmas ornaments from tree branch slices
- nutty little creatures made from acorns and walnut shells
- pressed leaf cards and bookmarkers
- wild flower bouquets
- garlands and wreaths using wild grapevines as the base
- shadow box rock collection display
- painted rock Tic Tac Toe games
- pinecone birdfeeders
Sometimes we need to say “no” to some things, so we are better able to say “yes” to others. We naturally gravitate towards things that are easier, and require less effort.
Screen time is as easy as flopping down and flicking a switch; bundling up in your coat, hat, and Winter gloves, and trekking through deep, cold snow for an hour of sledding is harder – but it’s the harder things that are almost always the most rewarding.
What kind of things have you found helpful in helping your children learn to love the outdoors? I’d love to hear what has worked for you!