The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Kids

Homeschool Reflections

We have been guiding our children’s educational experiences for 32 years. We have been (mostly) homeschooling for the past 28 years. It has been interesting to take time to explore the homeschool reflections for each of us. I know many folks who are considering homeschooling or are in the early years are worried about the long-term impact on their kids. I hope these summaries are of encouragement!

Our eldest daughter CM started me down this road of retrospection with a post she made on Facebook recently. She told the following story, followed by a comment thread discussing her homeschool experiences. She wrote: “I laughed when I read the news today about a kid who finished his remote schooling by 9am, frustrating his working parents. For a while, my brother woke at five, carefully finished all his homeschool readings, writing assignments, and tests, and then sat there calmly eating cereal when I awoke at eight. He grinned at me because *he* was done for the day, and I hadn’t started.”

family history, homeschool reflections

Thoughts from Parents

We never set out to teach our kids at home. Even after starting to homeschool, it has remained a year by year, even semester by semester decision based on what we thought was best for individual children and for the family as a whole. If you had told me that we would still be doing this almost 3 decades later, I would have said you were crazy!

When we were in the middle of this adventure, I was uncertain, frustrated, and overwhelmed at times, just like every mom. As the primary “teacher,” I was sometimes impatient, occasionally demanding, and often too lax, depending on the moment. I regret the times I misunderstood or overlooked struggles and wish I could go back and give each child better life skills to deal with those things. Overall, we hoped our kids would become avid learners, independent thinkers, and successful adults. So far, that has been true for the grown kids, with just one still at home.

From our vantage point today, looking back, we see the benefits of homeschooling. Our kids had longitudinal relationships with their siblings and each one’s learning was influenced by the interests and activities of the others. Freedom was a constant—identifying passions and not accepting “rules” as barriers; allowing flexibility in schedules and choice in activities; and helping each child learn within their strengths and (hopefully) cope with their challenges. For me with my nomadic heart and love of outdoors, homeschooling also allowed our family to wander during less busy, non-traditional-vacation times of the year.

As we talked about our homeschool reflections, my husband noted that the passions each child pursued in middle adolescence can still be seen in the work or hobbies they pursue today. I wonder if this would still be true if our kids had been focused on friends and busy with succeeding at traditional mass education during those formative years.

There are plenty of stories written and shared by parents. What follows is the summarized comments gathered informally in conversation with each of our now grown children. I asked them to share what they remember as being effective, enjoyable, or memorable about their homeschooling journey. I also invited them to share what was difficult. For the most part, the ideas are theirs while the writing style is mine. These snippets were fascinating to me… hopefully they are encouraging to you, as well!

CM – eldest daughter, our “guinea pig”

We started homeschooling when this child was in third grade. In her teen years, CM was interested in research, cultures, and costumes. A summer in Central Asia reinforced these interests. Today she is a University Anthropology Librarian, still fascinated by travel and studying other cultures.

The most memorable [thing] for me was probably in high school when I was challenged to write out a light curriculum — e.g. to research and put together a sequence of learning activities to teach my siblings about Inca, Maya, and Aztec societies. I seem to recall looking at the learning exercises we had for other topics and then researching these settings to see how I could create games and exercises to teach others. It stretched my brain in a new way, which is probably why I still remember it.

I also appreciated homeschool groups where we could learn from different adults, and do presentations / activities with kids in other families. I guess that while on the one hand I was an independent learner who could be impatient with others, looking back I also appreciated seeing how others were doing and how they approached learning.

Both had me reflecting on my own learning in relationship to others, which might have been why they made a more lasting impression than all the other information absorbed / papers written.”

RK – eldest son, 16 mos younger than his sister, a fellow “guinea pig”

We brought this son home from public school the year after his sister. Because I couldn’t bear the thought of teaching him the exact same third grade curriculum CM and I had just finished, that second year of homeschooling I taught fourth grade to both of them while chasing their younger siblings. In teen years, RK was a “Renaissance Guy,” diving deeply into a wide array of passions and activities. RK just completed his PhD and is job hunting—hoping to find a career which allows him to synthesize his many interests under the umbrella of political theory.

RK comments that “self-directed education worked really well for ME, but I wouldn’t recommend it for very many others” who might not get a well-rounded education. He preferred to get up by 6 am when it was quiet so he could do his work away from others. He remembers that every time we went to the library, the kids were urged to choose books that caught their attention. RK says this reinforced and strengthened his innate wide range of interests.

RC – second son, third child, helped “break the mold” for his younger siblings

Of all our kids, RC spent the most time bouncing between homeschool and various types of formal school settings. We weren’t yet comfortable with a significantly alternative, interest-led course of study, so it was hard to meet his needs for action and kinesthetic learning. RC frequently created his own hands-on projects to reinforce what he was learning. In addition, he spent time with mentors to learn auto mechanics, auto body repair, home maintenance, and woodworking while in high school. Today RC has moved into management, doing workforce (data) analytics (a different kind of hands-on work). He has a full woodshop in his garage and enjoys the occasional project as a hobby.

RC points out that a significant benefit of homeschooling is learning in a way that is appropriate for the developmental level of individual students. He gave the example of being allowed to HATE math and quit after he completed Algebra. Because he wasn’t forced to continue, he came back to it when he was ready and now has a heavily math-focused career. At the same time, RC notes that it is important to have rigor in certain subjects. He says that one of the most important things in ANY education curriculum is writing. He points out that getting good at writing allows and prepares you to voice your thoughts and defend your thesis with supporting arguments. Both math and reading are significant for critical thinking.

RC argues that a love of reading is the third pillar of a strong educational foundation. For him, homeschooling allowed the flexibility to fundamentally enjoy reading while absorbing new things. He says reading needs to be both a passion and a tool—neither of which will happen if reading is simply an assignment followed by writing reports or taking tests for no clear reason.

RC also has some helpful observations about the potential risks of homeschooling. He has seen peers who went off the rails when they hit college—having been overly sheltered from both society and relationships while homeschooling. In addition, RC comments that schooling students effectively is hard, trying to find a balance between being too aggressive/pushing too hard for excellence versus being too lax with expectations. This is difficult enough for teachers in schools. For parents, it is even harder trying to find a healthy balance for education while being both parent and teacher. He sees co-operative teaching models for homeschooling as an effective way to make this juggling act more sustainable.

JT – second daughter, fourth child, solidly in the middle of the family

JT attended the local public school for 3rd grade. By the end of that year, she saw reading as a dreaded chore. It took her a few more years before she started reading for pleasure again. Seeing how mass education killed her love of learning reinforced for us the significance of interest led learning in homeschooling.  In her teen years, JT discovered falconry. Over the years, she volunteered for raptor rehab centers in many different locations, including spending time at a falconry centre in England during high school. By the time she was ready to apply for college, we had finally learned to present our homeschooled kids as unique individuals with broad interests rather than cookie-cutter clones of the traditional education system. After college, JT considered becoming an avian veterinarian, but decided to pursue a degree in Pharmacy instead. I suspect birds will again be part of her life as a hobby in the future!

As she shared her homeschool reflections, JT remembers our focus as a family on big over-arching projects with lots of smaller interest-led projects done by individual siblings. She comments that this worked well with how she has learned ever since: as a pattern learner she does best when she can interact with both the big and the small parts of a subject at the same time.

JT points out that she has much more vivid memories of the major projects we did rather than any of the school-type learning she covered. As she says, it was also much more fun showing off these projects to others! Memorable units for her included mapping the Solar System in our street (and eating yummy food at our celebration party!); writing our own Magic School Bus book about the Mayan world, and studying Conquistadors and Explorers during the fall we lived in Florida. She also enjoyed the years that we frequently went to COSI (the local science center) when her older siblings volunteered there each week.

JOE—third son, fifth child, “bridge” between the “big kids” and the “little kids”

Like his eldest brother, JOE tended to dive deeply into interests, then move on to other things. He was a competitive Figure Skater, a year-round sport which consumes many hours per day for practice. Homeschooling was ideal for fitting learning into this demanding schedule. By the time he was doing school, we were fully focused on individual, personalized learning. He spent free time playing an online game and taught himself Spanish so he could play on that server. He refused to do much math, until his mid-teens when he moved through algebra to calculus in just a handful of semesters. Sadly, he died when he was not quite 16 years old.

family portrait

JK – fourth son, sixth child, his role in the family often changed!

Because of the gap between the two groups of siblings, after JOE died, JK took on the role of older brother to his little sister. During his formative years, we were on the road: traveling across the USA and up to Alaska in an RV and living with the Navajo in New Mexico. He spent part of one year living in a remote area and helping to tame/train wild mustangs before we moved back to middle America suburbia.  JK chose to head back west for college. Today he is a technician in a BioRepository (archiving and preparing shipments of tissue samples for research). He is still a sojourner, not yet certain of his place in the world.

JK says that he thinks homeschooling was beneficial and helpful overall. He comments, “I could pursue areas I enjoyed, and it was focused toward my own learning pace.” He remembers so many good, wonderful experiences, including wandering the US and working at Mustang Camp.

JK observes that the homeschooling he experienced was different than that of his older siblings. Looking back, he notes that homeschooling contributed to some of the biggest challenges he has faced in life. He wishes he had learned and practiced stronger writing skills. He points out that “it was great to work within my strengths, but [we] didn’t push as much as I needed where I was weak.” And he found the social aspects to be challenging since we moved so often which meant he had less opportunity to learn and practice social relationships, patterns and skills.

AP – third daughter, seventh child – yep, she’s the “baby” of the family!

AP is 18 years younger than her oldest sibling and was born when both CM and RK were already in college. From a young age, AP has thrived on change and excitement and has enjoyed costumes, acting and roleplaying. She is highly intelligent but struggles with academics because of developmental disabilities. She was just 7 years old when our family began to wander. She prefers to be outdoors, including collecting Jr Ranger badges in National Parks and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. She starts a landscape design program at the local career center this fall, hoping to eventually find an outdoor career in a park department or forest service.

AP explains that all the traveling we did in the RV, in Alaska, and in other countries “made me more interested and curious about history and the environment wherever I go.” She feels like homeschooling was helpful because if she had been in a regular school, we wouldn’t have been able to travel. She notes that the freedom she had with the family to personally wander and explore wouldn’t have been possible on school outings.

AP says sometimes she wishes she hadn’t been in public school for 6th and 7th grades. She hated the drama, bullying, and the resulting trauma she still deals with. But she also notes that this time taught her what school was like and it taught her how to find the good in other people. She summarizes her homeschool experience this way:

“I’m glad you did it! I would be a very different person now if I hadn’t been homeschooled.”

AP, our youngest child

If you identify with this lifestyle, I would love to hear YOUR homeschool reflections about the benefits and challenges of your education. Please share in the comments below…

For other information-based posts about homeschooling, please read 10 Myths of Homeschooling HERE and learn about getting started with homeschooling HERE.

Homeschooling Lessons Learned — Let’s Chat!

Thanks for joining me. I can’t wait to share with you some of the homeschooling lessons I’ve learned over the past 28 years of guiding the (mostly homeschooled) education of my seven children. Bring your favorite drink and a comfy lawn chair and let’s meet at the local park. We can safely social distance there… (Isn’t this a crazy world we are living in right now?!)

So, you are trying to figure out the best school option for your family this year. Maybe you’ve been thinking about trying homeschooling for a while. Or maybe you previously assumed you would always send your kids to public or private schools, but this year’s chaotic plans cause you to consider other options. Here are some things I would say to you over a cup of coffee if we were chatting about whether homeschooling might be a good fit for your family…or not!

Decide what schooling option is best for your family for this year:

First, Identify YOUR family values, schedule availability, passions, interests. Write these down to refer to as you are considering various options.

Next, Decide which type of schooling you prefer this year:

–Obviously, sending your child(ren) to the same setting they were in last year is one option. It will look nothing like “normal” this year, but some districts are offering an in-person track. This might be most attractive for your family, even with the need to adjust to new safety regulations and the risk of sudden changes to school closing and students being back home.

–If you decide the best option for your family is to start the school year with your kids home this year but you still want state certified teachers to be responsible for their education, sign up for an experienced, online charter school rather than local school virtual school. I strongly recommend the k12 experience. We have used them a number of times. They have decades of experience at providing a top-notch online education, rather than expecting individual teachers to throw things together last minute. In addition, k12 provides all the supplies you will need, including a computer and paying for your internet. You can find the national website HERE. From there, you can find links to the k12 public charter school in your state.

–If you want to “do school” at home, purchase a full, traditional curriculum. You can even choose to purchase teacher’s manuals for all subjects, which tell you exactly what to say. I often ordered curriculum resources (of all kinds) from Rainbow Resource. They offer individual books, full curriculums, supplemental materials, and unit studies, usually at a discount. They have excellent customer service, as well. Find them HERE.

family reading, homeschooling lessons learned

–If you want to follow family/individual interests/passions, use unit studies. This style of learning also makes it easier to teach multiple children at the same time. Making prep easier for the teacher (ME!) is a key homeschooling lesson I learned! With unit studies, all your students study the same broad topic, with separate activities chosen based on their current levels and preferred learning styles. Most subjects are included (depending on the unit study curriculum you choose). Generally, you will need separate math books for each child since that is harder to combine different levels at the same time. I bought a unit study curriculum for the first few years we used this approach. Eventually, I realized similar activities were offered for each unit, so I wrote my own curriculum based on our family’s specific interests. (Word to the wise: do NOT try to do all the offered activities for any given unit!! There are usually far more than anyone could fully cover. Pick and choose the ones that will work best for YOUR children.)

To read more about interest focused learning, read about alternatives we have used with our youngest daughter HERE and HERE

For excellent reviews of several Unit Study Curriculums, click HERE.

I hear you. Yes, the idea of homeschooling your kids can be very intimidating. We live in a culture that tells us we need experts to do anything well. But there are thousands of families like ours whose children have gone on to successful college and adulthood.  If homeschooling still sounds like an intriguing option for your family, please check my post about Homeschooling Myths (and misunderstandings) HERE. Take your time… I’ll wait…

Welcome back! Ready to hear a few more tips based on the homeschooling lessons I’ve learned over many years? Let’s go!

Objections/Barriers to Homeschooling

Remember, You know YOUR child(ren) best. You as parents make decisions about food, activities, and health. You know YOUR kids and you consult experts for help in these areas if/when needed. Education is no different! You can provide an education based on your child’s unique strengths and interests. And with individual attention, your child can better learn to overcome challenges.

Past negative experiences helping w homework is NOT the same as homeschooling! Guiding your child’s education at home is SO much easier than dealing with homework! Really! Think about it! Homework assigned by a school teacher means: Your kid is exhausted at end of the day. You have no clue how the teacher presented the material or what they want (and your child often reminds you of this). Finally, most homework is simply busy work!

“I’m not patient enough to homeschool” This is the second most common reason I hear parents give as to why they can’t homeschool. (Questions about socialization come first. See the Homeschooling Myths link above if you didn’t already read that post.) Perhaps one of the following responses will give you a clearer perspective on this objection: Neither is any other parent!! Homeschooling is an opportunity to work on healthier relationships with your kids. And/or, homeschooling becomes a tool for personal growth for you!

Other Barriers that you are worrying about? Add a comment below and I’ll try to answer your concerns, based on my personal experience.

So, you’ve decided to give homeschooling a try. Great! Let me share a few tips to help you RELAX as you start making plans. (Pssst! It’s perfectly normal if you are nervous about taking the leap. Starting new adventures is always a bit scary…)

relax, lounging in chair, reading

Getting Started with Homeschooling…

RELAX! – you can do this!

You got to this point in raising your kids, I’m certain you can do this, too! If you aren’t yet convinced, review the objections and myths discussed above…

RELAX! – academic instruction/learning is not a heavy burden

–Guidelines for instruction time: “recommendations from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards say that elementary students should have 1-2 hours a day of online instruction, middle school students 2-3 hours, and high school students 3-4 hours.” Find an article about this HERE.

–Guidelines for attention spans between active breaks: “Research suggests a simple rule for figuring out how long children can stay focused: Multiply the child’s age by 2-5 minutes. So, if a child is 4 years old, he or she will be able to focus for 8 to 20 minutes, maximum.”

RELAX! – no need to mimic public school!

–Let your students go at the pace and on a schedule that works for them. Pay attention to if they (and the family as a whole) are most effective to do academics in the morning or later in the day. Some prefer to power through all academics, then pursue interests. Others prefer to intersperse fun with study.

–Body position doesn’t really matter. Let your students work in whatever position helps them be most productive. For some, that will be sitting at desks. Others will prefer gathering as a family around a table. And some of our kids will do best being allowed to lounge, even hanging upside down occasionally! (Yes, I really did have one student who preferred to lay upside down from the chair, holding the book in front of her face!)

RELAX! – free time is crucial for actual learning!

  • students need free time to process and practice what they are learning
  • free time promotes personal and educational growth
  • free time allows space for rest, creativity, and experimentation

There are links to two helpful articles about this controversial subject HERE and HERE.

I’m so glad we could take time to chat about the possibility of homeschooling for your family. What’s that? You need more information about the nuts and bolts of getting started? I don’t need to take more of your time sharing my personal experiences to explain that information. I’ll simply put a few links below.

You know, I always like to cheer on other families. I would love to hear your family’s story. Please comment on this post and let me know how you are doing.

For a list of legal requirements related to homeschooling in each State, click HERE:

For how to get started with homeschooling in Ohio, including free printable forms, click HERE. (other states should have similar sites)

Best Wishes as you start your newest adventure!

Let’s Raise Brave Kids (and forget “risky play”)

I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part III in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part I and Part II.)

“Risky Play” versus “Brave Kids” – who cares which words we use? Is there some reason one of these phrases is better than the other? Isn’t this just a matter of personal opinion? I argue that we should all stop using the currently common phrase “risky play.” Words matter – they often invoke significant positive or negative emotional responses. Parents and “experts” around the world are discussing the importance of outdoor play for children. (See bottom of post for list of countries talking this topic.) Let’s explore how our words and actions can support our adventurous kids to better enjoy being outside.

joy in being outside

Let’s start by defining what we mean by “Brave Kids.” The words “risky play” imply danger and a need to protect our kids. Obviously, we are not eager to support dangerous behavior. On the other hand, we DO want our children to enjoy adventures, using curiosity and experimentation to explore the world around them. Although this type of discovery-based-learning has the potential for physical injury, it is also a natural and necessary part of children’s play which helps develop many significant skills and attributes.

brave kids jump glacier run-off

That’s a fine definition, but let’s go beyond the dictionary. Here are some examples of helpful activities to build adventurous brave kids. Most of us want our children to learn to walk, ride a bicycle, and swim. These are seen as important developmental milestones in our culture even though they involve risks of physical injury. Generally, we accept activities such as climbing, swinging, sliding, balancing, jumping, and hanging, especially if these things are done on a “safe” playground. It’s rarer for parents to encourage making fires, using a knife, or practicing the above behaviors in wild nature places. We need to let our kids roll down hills, climb trees, swing on vines, slide down rocks, balance on logs, jump off boulders and hang upside-down from branches! And we need to teach them how to safely make fires and use a knife.

brave kids climb rocks

But why should we allow “risky play” when it makes us anxious? What are the benefits of raising “Brave Kids”? I discussed this in more detail in Part I of this series (found HERE). In addition to the many physical, emotional, social, and academic benefits of encouraging outside time for our children, raising kids who enjoy adventure helps them appropriately judge risks, learn to try new things, and strengthens their self-confidence. It may be counter-intuitive but allowing our children to engage in exploratory play can even reduce their risk of injury!

That’s nice…but I don’t want my son or daughter to get hurt! How can I raise brave kids but still keep them safe? Like many aspects of parenting, this is a balancing act. We need to determine what is actually “dangerous” versus things that have an acceptable level of manageable risk. Then we need to train our children in how to make these judgements for themselves.

First, we need to look at ourselves. What are our own fears? What activities did we grow up doing? What things were we stopped from doing when we were kids? All of this plays into what we consider to be “dangerous.”

teen skiing at Killington VT

Here’s an example of how our own childhoods affect our beliefs and actions: my family grew up snow skiing in Vermont every year. We loved this special time together (and, of course, did not consider it to be dangerous.) In the summers, we sometimes went canoeing. That, too, was considered safe, but ONLY if we knew how to swim and wore effective life jackets. And then we grew up. My brother-in-law eventually joined us on family ski trips. We were quite surprised to find out that his family considered downhill skiing to be quite dangerous. After all, celebrities had died on the slopes! On the other hand, he and his dad and brothers went fishing in Canada each year—out on the water with no life vests even though they didn’t know how to swim. Now THAT was dangerous (in our opinion!)

brave kids and grandma hiking on the AT

Once we clearly see who we are and how our own upbringing has shaped us, we need to take time to consider the individual personalities of each of our children. This one is a risk taker, that one hates to try anything new. This one seems to always get hurt, that one is very aware of what her body can do. This one loves to be outdoors, that one hates the bugs and the cold or the hot sun. This one thrives on experiential learning, the other one prefers to learn from books or to watch others for awhile before trying things for himself.

What is our role as caregivers? We start by affirming our responsibilities as parents. Our job in all arenas of life is to give our children freedom to pursue their interests and build needed skills for healthy adulthood. This requires our support, encouragement and training/discipline to help them learn new things, make good decisions and manage risks and difficulties. As parents, we, of course, must protect our children from dangerous things which are genuine threats to their health and safety while still teaching them how to manage appropriate risks.

We need to find a balance in raising adventurous brave kids—not being overprotective nor negligent; not limiting necessary exploration nor pushing children into things they aren’t ready for; not making them fearful nor allowing them to be in genuine danger. This is where we need to remember what we learned about our tendencies and about our children’s personalities. Like most other areas of parenting, how we best support our children varies depending on individual strengths, fears, and personal preferences (theirs and ours!)

child wading in a stream

We also need to remember that getting bumps, bruises or scratches is not imminent danger. Nor is getting dirty or wet something to be avoided at all costs. When we head outdoors, we can plan ahead and bring a change of clothes, some towels, and a small first-aid kit. Learning to overcome small difficulties builds resilience to handle bigger challenges later in life!

Now that we know ourselves, and we know our kids, we can find the best ways to support each child in trying new adventures!

As stated at the beginning, words matter! Let’s guard our tongues and limit phrases such as “Stop!” “That’s dangerous!” or “Be careful!” These statements might make us feel better, but they are too general to actually teach our children safe practices. In addition, when we express our anxiety, we teach our children that we do not trust them, that they can’t handle challenges, or that we are the only ones capable of making good decisions. Instead, we need to use positive language to help our children consider what might happen next. (This article gives excellent suggestions of specific phrases and questions which help build confident kids.)   

Instead of hovering over our children (which exhausts us and them), we can build their skills and their confidence by offering our help without being pushy. As they demonstrate good decision-making and appropriate actions, we gradually give them more freedom. To support them as adventurous explorers, we can:

  • Model behaviors/attitudes about being outdoors and trying new things
  • Teach skills incrementally with supervision and grant greater freedoms gradually
  • Stay close enough to monitor their behavior but only step in if necessary
  • When we are uncomfortable with what our children are doing, take a 17 second pause to determine if this activity is an immediate danger or has manageable risks
  • Choose skill-building words (as discussed above) to support our kids

teen at a campfire

Let’s close with a step-by-step example: even though I’m terrified of simply lighting a match, my daughter Andowen became an expert campfire-maker while we were on our first long backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Her mentor was a fellow hiker named “Blaze.” Each evening when we met up at a shelter, Blaze took Andowen with him to find appropriate tinder, kindling, and larger fuel in the surrounding woods. He had her sort it into piles near the fire-pit. He showed her how to stack the wood and how to light it without firestarters. Eventually, he had her try it under his supervision. And, of course, he taught her about keeping a safe distance from open flames and how to fully dowse the embers at the end of the evening. After many days of practicing with Blaze, the time came that we were alone at a shelter. Andowen was quite proud when she made us a campfire all by herself. (I quietly kept a close eye on her safety from a few feet away.) We took a photo of that fire, and when we showed it to Blaze later, he dubbed her the “Mistress of the Flame.” I’m still fearful of lighting birthday candles, but my daughter has the skills, confidence, and good judgment to make campfires for everyone to enjoy!

Now it’s your turn! What will you try from this post as you work to raise your own “Brave Kids” who pursue adventures?

_______________________________________

(Read about why I make sure to take my child in the woods…)

(When I did research for this post, I found significant discussion from multiple countries about how to support children while they safely and independently explore the outdoors. Articles were posted from Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, UK, and the USA. Books about similar parenting choices include “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather”  in Sweden, and “Achtung Baby”  in Germany.)

How to Get Your Kids Outside

I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part II in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part I and Part III.)

By now, you’ve heard all the reasons you should get your kids outside on a regular basis. (If you need more convincing, read my recent blog post about the many benefits of nature connection for children.) You want to do things that are good for your family, but you might have no clue how to make it fun for your kids. Some of us loved being outdoors in our own childhood, but the complete freedom to wander that we experienced doesn’t feel possible today. Others may never have been comfortable outside. So how in the world can you begin to add enjoyable nature time to the life of your family?

Let’s start with a little humor. Take a moment and read the infographic in this blog post to learn how to Work Hard to Avoid Nature Connection! (Shhh! Don’t let your kids read this one. It might give them ammo for their arguments to just stay inside…) Your first steps to getting kids outside can be simply to do the OPPOSITE of everything listed in that chart! Haha!

yoga poses, balance on rocks

Let your children have time to FREE PLAY outside. No worries! This idea doesn’t require skill or (much) planning. Simply find a local park, forest trail, or nature area and let your kids play freely with what they discover. More and more parks are including a “natural playground” area with logs to build with and rocks to climb. Stay near them if you are worried for their safety; but try to resist a constant chorus of “oh be careful!” “Johnny, stop that!” “Suzie, you might get hurt!” Let them climb on rocks, splash in a shallow stream, jump in a mud puddle, pick up sticks, and use their imagination in an outdoor setting. (To allow more freedom, you might want to bring towels and a change of clothes and shoes for when they are finished playing!) 

kids outside, running on dirt path

All of you might enjoy the opportunity to EXPLORE NEW TRAILS. Ask around and find a local park that has walking trail(s). Bonus points for no pavement! Ask your kids to stay within your eyesight, even when the route is fairly even and flat. Often, they will be more excited about exploring if they can be in the lead. This might be less worrisome for you if you find a simple loop trail with no intersections that might be confusing. (You and your kids might enjoy joining our Lego Tiny-Mes as they explore the woods and go on a bear hunt!)

girl by tree, in the woods

Consider whether or not you and your kids would find it fun to LEARN about NATURE. For some of us, more information is a good thing. For others, simply being free to experience the outdoor setting is more enticing. There are many resources for identifying trees, wildflowers, and animals/tracks. If you want broader background knowledge of the outdoors, consider one of the many free Jr. Ranger booklets from the National Park Service. (I’ve written about our daughter’s quest to collect Jr. Ranger badges HERE. This post also includes links and resources for this program. It’s fun to visit the parks in person. But many general booklets are available to download online. Plus most parks will mail you a booklet if you request one. Your child can mail the completed book back to the park to receive a shiny badge!)

Would you like to know about the Hidden Life of Trees? Did you know that they communicate, they have a “wood-wide-web” and they take care of their children and their elders? (I know! Crazy…right?! Read more about this HERE.) A brand new book I just discovered (and love) is “Can You Hear the Trees Talking?. The author explains secrets of forests with simple language and beautiful illustrations. In addition, he offers fun activities to try when you have your kids outside in the woods. (Link to book on Amazon HERE. Even better, buy it from your local book seller.)

kids outside, peering into hole in tree

For fun and games outside, challenge your kids to a SCAVENGER HUNT. You can search for fairies or other imaginary creatures. (Read about our long-term quest of “Finding Fairy Houses” on my blog.) Look for a certain color or search for animal tracks if the trail is soft. Take along a favorite small toy. The toy(s) can go on an imaginary adventure (like our lego Tiny-Mes did in this post) or you can hide the toy(s) for your child(ren) to find. (Check out my Instagram account @legotinyadventures to see all the wonderful places our lego Tiny-Mes have wandered!) WARNINGS: If you wander off the edge of the trail, please be aware of poison ivy or bramble bushes. And if your child might be upset when their favorite toy gets dirty, choose a different toy to hide.

girl sitting on a rock

Finally, when you get your kids outside, have everyone USE THEIR SENSES to connect more deeply with nature. Find a place where everyone can relax. If possible, close eyes (our usual sense through which we process the world.) What can you hear? How does the air feel against your skin or in your hair? What can you smell? Is there any direction that is “calling” you? Open your eyes again and notice what new things you see. (For more ideas or “invitations” to use your senses outside or from a window, check out my nature Instagram @jecolorfulheart_thebigepic.) Consider returning to the same place every week or two and notice what is different! This can be interesting to do even in your own backyard or from a balcony at home! (Returning to sit quietly in the same place over and over is called “Sit Spot.” I’ve written more about this practice HERE.)

I hope these ideas help you to let go of the dreaded “shoulds” of getting your kids outside and help you actually get out there and have FUN together! I would love to hear about other ways you and your family enjoy nature together. Please share your ideas in the comments…

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A few additional resources you might find useful:

This website has free activity ideas and printables. There is also an active facebook group. https://wilderchild.com

I absolutely love Susan, a friend I discovered online who is passionate about helping families get their kids outside. She offers free monthly challenges on her website https://mountainmomandtots.com And as one of her patreon supporters, I have won some really cool things in her monthly gear giveaways.

Finally, this article gives more ideas on how to get your kids outside: https://childmind.org/article/ideas-for-getting-your-kids-into-nature

Why in the World Should We Raise “Nature Kids”?

I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part I in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part II and Part III.)

In today’s culture, there are few “Nature Kids” to be found. (This is a big change from past generations. Read about my informal poll of favorite childhood activities HERE.) Most families today have busy schedules. We participate in school and work, lessons and sports, family gatherings and community groups. We pursue connection, entertainment, and knowledge through our electronic screens, often while we are on the go. We feel like we have no time to add anything else to our hectic to-do lists. When we add fears about safety and being uncomfortable with the unknowns of being outdoors (in ourselves or in our kids), it can be a hassle (or even an all-out  battle) to get our kids outside. Why in the world should we bother?

too many screens, stop electronics use

The NEGATIVES: Study after study in the past decades show this indoor, hectic lifestyle is not merely neutral. Our children are actually harmed by the lack of being “Nature Kids.” In his ground-breaking book “Last Child in the Woods,” (written in 2005) author Richard Louv challenged that the exploding rates of ADHD are actually symptoms of “Nature-Deficit-Disorder.” The same can be said for the current rise in sensory processing disorders, delays in the development of fine and gross motor skills, childhood obesity, and even pediatric mental health diagnoses. (There are an overwhelming number of articles and studies online which discuss this problem. Here are two I recommend: “Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature” and “Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good.”)

The POSITIVES: Okay, so those are the negative ways that too much inside time might harm our children. But why should we actively fight to help our children be “Nature Kids”? I have summarized the benefits of spending regular time outdoors in the following infographic:

infographics, benefits for kids in nature

Since childhood I have always preferred to get outside as often as possible. Once we had a family, because our kids were (mostly) homeschooled, we had plenty of opportunity for them to experience being “Nature Kids.” I admit that some of my now adult children prefer to spend most of their time indoors—but they still occasionally go for walks or drive to a park or a beach for some outdoor time. A few of my adult kids get outside regularly. And in the past five years, we have realized that our youngest daughter NEEDS extended nature time to be healthy. (Read more about this in “Outdoor Girl” and “Child in the Woods.”)

 

dragon trainer, nature kids

“To benefit your family, you do NOT need to commit to big adventures in the wilderness!”

The GOOD NEWS: With further research and through my training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide, I found some good news for all of us. The many benefits of connecting with nature do not require large sacrifices in our normal schedules. Yes, my daughter and I enjoy living in the woods for weeks at a time as we backpack on the Appalachian Trail. BUT—you do not need to commit to big adventures in the wilderness! Studies show that even just 30 minutes of outside time each week bring long-lasting benefits. Surely, we can find that much time to improve our families’ health and well-being!

nature kids, family outside

Let’s head outdoors and begin to raise “Nature Kids.” Will you join me?

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