We did it! Last month our family took a CM nature study vacation, planned specifically to get us out of the house and away from electronics. Living in Florida, I’ve found that being in nature is considerably different than in places with a colder winter to kill back kudzu and killer mosquitos and fire ants 🙂 I’m a transplant to this two-season environment, one of them (the hot, humid season) leaving any kind of outdoor activity a sweaty, sticky, potentially heat-stroke inducing event.
We don’t watch a lot of TV, but my son can be VERY attached to his Kindle. I wanted him to separate from it for a week or so, to get out and be in the world in a mindful, aware way. To stop and look around and be aware of the earth, the natural elements.
So we drove north. For 16 hours, almost straight north 🙂 to the upper part of Michigan. Aaaaah, cool breezes, fresh temps in the 60s and 70s–great hiking weather. I booked an AirBNB on a horse ranch, “the bunkhouse”, with spotty rural wifi (part of my plan), horses and a donkey grazing their way through fields, and access to some great natural areas of the state.
Our Sunday New York Times arrived in time for our early morning start to our road trip. The universe loves synchronicity, and in the Magazine was the article “School’s Out” introducing Americans to waldkitas, the German preschools that allow kids to run free in nature.
Perfect timing! Because as we drove up to the bunkhouse and went inside, my husband (who uses his smartphone a lotl) looked at me aghast, eyes wide, doubt and skepticism radiating from his whole being. But I had some validation, in print, that I was not crazy. (He says the jury is still out on that one! But if having a week in nature means I’m crazy, then print me a t-shirt.)
At the bunkhouse, in the mornings, we woke to horses talking among themselves, a turkey gobbling, and a rooster accurately timing his morning job to the sunrise. We fed carrots to horses, listened to frogs in a pond while around a campfire. So much exercise and fresh air, we all slept well (despite some lovely spring allergies flaring.)
The first day we happened upon what would be our favorite walk–the small-town park that had a dirt path into the woods along a river, fairly unused except for trout fishermen. I relished seeing my son walk ahead of us, through trees and shrubs and flowers, the sound of the cold, rushing river a background soundtrack. The sun filtered through trees so close together not much sunlight made it through. Old wooden bridges to traverse, rocks and twigs to drop in the river, a very different environment to explore. My husband, the engineer, is a natural teacher and soon they had an advanced game of sink or float going on. I was mindful and aware of how beautiful the experience was–no screens, no real human noise close by, just the woods and the river and what they shared with us (and no heat, humidity, fire ants…). My son was soon wet up to his calves, venturing into the river’s edge. Who was this boy, who usually balks at the idea of walking the dog a half mile around the neighborhood, suddenly hiking through the woods and climbing rocks in the water? It didn’t take him long to embrace the outdoors.
The next day we headed to Torch Lake, voted by National Geographic as the third most beautiful lake in the world. (I have to agree with them.) We walked along a pier and boat docks, along the clear water. Another day we drove to an old lighthouse on Lake Michigan, then a day at Bowden Lake Nature Center, with some great homeschooling materials and plenty of kid-friendly trails. Raven Hills Discovery Center is also great, especially for a rainy day–there’s more to do inside than out 🙂 Most of our days were spent outside.
My son, the one who asks to ride in the cart because a big grocery store has him saying “I’m tired, mommy”, walked miles. He walked so much that he took afternoon naps–something he hasn’t done since he was 2 ½ . Walking in the woods, he asked less to be carried (although a few times he took a break on my husband’s shoulders) but it was far less than in stores or public places. Nature can be a different kind of stimulation than indoor activities.
The forest isn’t the only beautiful place in nature–I also booked us time on the water, on a sailboat. To me, there’s no freedom like sailing, no engine required, moving with only the wind. While another great homeschooling experience–what would I do without an engineer to explain how sailing works in mathematical terms, and then equate it to how a plane flies?–it was also an experience of nature. Another day was spent outside at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, climbing dunes and exploring the blues of Lake Michigan and the forests around it.
Our nature trip was a success. Charlotte Mason was right–nature is an excellent teacher. Along with that, it fosters a meditative, mindful brain. It changes how we are in our world and contributes to our mental health and mental immunity. I’m an ardent environmentalist, and we will protect our world if we know we are indeed a part of it, and reliant on it for our own well-being.
Here’s my promise to myself and my son: to make nature study and time outdoors something I plan for just as much as all the other subjects. I’m already planning our next year of adventures, trips and walks in nature and listing all the ways to keep the classroom outdoors. This summer, and next school year–don’t forget the nature study! 🙂