Have you ever watched an episode of PBS’ Dinosaur Train?
Its a favorite around here. We all love it and watch it fairly regularly. The title even came from the Scott Sampson, the Paleontologist who ends every episode. Much like Mr. Roger on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood used to say “Won’t you be my neighbor” with every single episode , Scott Sampson ends every episode with a challenging children to get to know nature. I love this so very much and after watching the show a few hundred times I realized that maybe the reason that I loved the whole thing so much was because Mr. & Mrs. Pteranadon are unschoolers and they practice regular Nature Studies!
How cool is that! With the exception of an adopted T-Rex…and that whole being dinosaurs thing, they are just like us. Ok maybe not, although they certainly reinforce our educational philosophies in fun ways.
As a part of our weekly schedule we make sure to add in at least some time actively being in Nature as a way to implement an understanding of the natural world in a way that books and movies just can not do. Like the Pteranadon family we believe in thinking like scientists, exploring our world and building relationships. We do this through actively and inactively studying the world we live in.
1) Think like scientists.
We teach our children to question everything around them. Not just look at the changing leaves of autumn and say “oh they are so pretty” but to question why are they changing? What is causing the changes. What does that mean for the wildlife that lives in these trees? Everything is a question and each child is taught to make a hypothesis to go along with their questions. We want them to know that they can find answers too, that they can create theories, collect data and answer questions…or create new questions. I do not give my children answers…I do not ask them leading questions. I ask real questions and help them find real answers through observing the natural world around them, regularly.
2) Explore our World
I do not assign or create activities for my children during Nature Study. I bought a Nature Study Handbook once and never used it. We have Nature journals where they can catalogue what they see but I do not restrict what goes into it. We ALWAYS have a pocket microscope available so that we can take a closer look at anything we find. I sit (or stroll) around a central location and let my children roam free. They know to keep me in sights at all times and have basic safety rules to comply with (two feet from water unless mommy is with you) while they are off exploring. We don’t limit ourselves in exploration abilities. Some weeks we explore the parking lot at the Library, others a wildlife refuge (to include hiking trails), while other times it’s a day at a Zoo or Aquarium. The point is to go often, observe constantly and have fun.
3) Building Relationships
We build relationships everywhere we go. We sit under a tree at the lake with books and art supplies talking to each other and reading stories aloud. At the Wildlife Refuge we have lengthy chats with the volunteers and Park Rangers about the wildlife and local sights. We build relationships with the plants we see and the wild animals we encounter. We are actively fostering a love of the environment and all who live within it. IT’s not just about the people to people relationships that we build but also the people to Earth relationships. We learn the names of the trees, birds and reptiles that we pass by on our walks. We practice healthy habits for a healthy environment, like recycling and reusing as well as reducing our footprint. We learn about natural cycles that affect every inhabitant on the planet.
We don’t use curriculums or lesson plans, we just live outside as much as possible. We don’t have a backyard, we aren’t able to go out very often but we make the outdoors interesting. We stay up late to watch the stars. We pull over on the side of the road to see the deer crossing. We sit on our balcony and watch the squirrels hoard their nuts. We lay on the grass and try to name the birds singing or soaring above. In the winter we watch the squirrels. We test to see how fast water turns into ice. We watch the world from behind warm windows. We still look at the stars.
The goal is to get into nature. To make it an irresistible wonderland waiting to be explored.
To build memories and instill a love of the World that needs our love.