Friday, June 23, 2017

The Benefits of Our Outdoor Life Challenge

This is the first year that Jack's apple tree has had blossoms! Very exciting!

It's been quite a few weeks that we've been out of our usual routine. Between getting ready for a 19 day family road trip, the trip itself, getting back to life as normal, friends coming to stay for a few days, and just the usual chaos of homeschooling with three little kids, life has been anything but routine! 

Have I forgotten the Outdoor Life Challenge? No, but it has morphed into a different form. I haven't been keeping logs and tallies, but we have been prioritizing time outside. And June is a glorious month to be outside! As the weather gets warmer and lovelier, we are in and out of the house in a way that doesn't make sense to track. Without our usual schedule, we haven't been doing much for formal nature study. 

But the Great Outdoors has become an extension of our everyday living now. The grass is warm and thick beneath our toes. The swings, the hammock, the front porch swing, all beckon us out. Flowers are popping out everywhere. There are a dozen shades of green to revel in. 

The garden path

In some ways, the Challenge wasn't everything I had hoped it to be. We didn't do as much nature journalling as I would have liked. I started a sort of "Calendar of Firsts" for myself, but then we were away for so long. I didn't get to try out all of the Charlotte Mason methods I had wanted to. 

But we made progress! And we'll keep going. And even with things going the way they did, I can still the results of the intention and effort we put into spending more time outdoors. 

Here's what I've seen:

1. Heightened Observation

This spider lives just outside our dining room window

My kids are more apt to take notice of what is around them. They are more tuned in to nature's details. They are becoming more observant. 

This really stood out to me on our trip to Ontario. One day we went for a walk in the suburbs of Ajax, looking for a park. Though our walk was on the concrete sidewalks, we stopped many times because the kids were busy observing things along the way. They wanted to smell a lilac bush. They wanted to figure out which nearby plant the seeds on the sidewalk had come from. They kept picking up tiny bits of nature to inspect more closely. They even remembered our way home based on the flowers they saw growing in people's front gardens. 

Observation is the key to nature study. It all starts with pausing to pay attention. To really look at something. And I can see this quality increasing in the kids as we've made nature study part of our lives. 

2. Delight in the Small Things

A dandelion seed

A monarch butterfly. A tiny white flower we've never seen before. Quartz hiding in a rock. First blossoms on our pear trees. The quivering gills of a sunfish up close and personal in our hands. 

These seemingly insignificant details have brought real joy into our lives. I love the excitement in my kids' eyes when they run to me with some new discovery. The natural outcome of heightened observation is heightened delight.

When we learn to look we learn to love. 

Knowledge is only part of the picture. Wonder, respect, delight - these are what colour in the bare sketch of "facts" and bring our relationship with the outdoor world to life. 

3. A New Normal

In her own front porch swing

I love it when one of the kids says, "We should put this in our nature journal," or, "Let's get out the bird book," or, "Let's look at this under the microscope." (My 7 year old asked for a pocket microscope for her birthday!) I love that they are becoming familiar with some of these tools for exploring nature. 

I love it when going outside is so much a part of our daily rhythm that they stop fighting it.

I love that the flowers and feathered creatures of our yard are becoming familiar friends. 

I love that my daughter, who is working on a puzzle at the table right now, just remarked, "Oh, there's a seagull out there," when she heard a bird call off in the distance. 

Are we doing this perfectly? No. Could we be doing more? Yes. Do we have a lot to learn? Oh yes

But I can see it happening before my eyes, and it's exciting. 

Our relationship with the outdoor world is becoming stronger and deeper. Nature is getting under our skin and becoming part of who we are. 

It's a process for sure. The best we can do is start where we are and keep going! I hope no one feels discouraged if you haven't got your family into the Great Outdoors as much as you would like. Just keep at it, and I know you'll see the fruit! 

This Challenge has no grades, no prizes, and no losers. Every small win counts. Every minute adds up to those golden hours. I'm hoping to take the progress we've made so far and keep building. Keep wondering. Keep growing. 

Happy Outdoorsing!

~ Lindsey

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