“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” The marvelous Miss Charlotte Mason said this, quite famously now, in regards to education and life.
This quote has inspired an entire belief system, a lifestyle, a veritable standard when it comes to homeschooling. Mention homeschooling in today’s times and you’ll drum up images of hours-long nature walks in ancient forests, children smiling freely with hands full of butterflies and worms, mushroom studies, lichen watercolors, and babbling brooks filled with wonder and learning.
This is not my homeschool.
My homeschool is in Texas, where 11 months out of the year we are sweating before we even wake up. We have venomous snakes, giant spiders (a few of which are also venomous), wasps, hornets, and asps. Every body of water most likely has alligator gars, snapping turtles, more venomous snakes, or just actual alligators. The outdoors, here, are out to get us.
I know what you’re thinking—there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Another one of those famous little sayings intended to inspire and ignite a love of nature. But you know what? There really is such a thing as bad weather, and I really don’t want to be in it.
I am what you would call an indoors-y person. I love my air conditioner, my wifi, and the great brick barrier between myself and all those creepy crawlies (or fearful flyers). The outdoors are not welcoming where I live, and I am not one to outstay my welcome. I don’t love camping, and I squeal when bugs fly at me. My apologies to Miss Mason, but I like being within doors, and I don’t think my homeschool suffers for it.
Nature Studies Don’t Have to Happen in Nature
You can’t swing a math manipulative without hitting a mention of nature studies in the homeschool community. They are a revered tradition—a necessity even. Gorgeous chalk pastel and watercolor images accompany observations and scientific discoveries. And the heart of the homeschooling parent swells with pride and promise at the beauty that is homeschooling.
Nature studies really are a beautiful, engaging way to learn… and they can be done indoors.
Beautifully-illustrated books, enchanting photographs, or even just Google all open up a child’s world to the study of nature— without having to step into the steamy outdoors. Quality documentaries offer in-depth an up-close looks at the wonders of the outside, with the added bonus of being available at any time in any climate. Children can explore and learn without needing to hike and sweat, a comforting truth for both the indoors-y parent and the differently-abled families who may not be able to physically withstand a mile-long trail. Children can paint and pastel all day long from the great indoors, with access to running water and comfy cushions.
And that is perfectly okay.
1. Choose a Curriculum that Offers Hands-On Learning
Hands-on learning is one of the most beneficial bonuses to home education. Instead of sitting in a desk all day and listening to someone tell them about a topic, homeschooled children have the freedom to experience the topic: touch the materials, see the insects, watch the chemical changes. And most of this can still happen right in the comforts of the climate-controlled indoors.
Curriculum companies like BookShark offer multiple options to choose from when it comes to chemistry activities, physics experiments, and biology projects. Your kitchen can serve as a lab just as efficiently as a backyard can. Higher level sciences are attainable inside with quality curriculum and natural curiosity. Find a curriculum that emphasizes firsthand experience as much as it does information, and your indoor child won’t miss out on learning anything.
2. Living Books Take You Anywhere
While I don’t exactly align myself with Miss Mason’s views out learning outdoors, I am 100% on board with her love of living books. We have chosen BookShark for our history and science subject material, and with that decision came a giant box absolutely brimming with living books. We have had the opportunity to experience multiple world wars, pioneer living, exciting explorations, and history-making moments, all from the comfort of our couch. We have traveled, both in time and to far away lands, without once leaving our home. We have felt excitement, fear, curiosity. We have attached ourselves to people, both fictional and historical, and have learned things we’ll never forget from them.
We opened up our imaginations as we opened up these living books, and in doing so have experienced and felt plenty that will have a lasting impact on what we’ve learned. And while we could read them in a vintage crocheted hammock or lying in an open, grassy field, we didn’t have to. We learned and adventured and experienced all while staying inside.
3. Bridge the Gap Between Indoors and Out
When I say I’m an indoors-y person, that doesn’t mean I hate nature. Quite the opposite, in fact! I am fascinated by it, protective of it, in awe of its wonder and beauty. I just also have a healthy appreciation for how uncomfortable it can be. In order to nurture this love of nature without actually immersing myself in it, I’ve found ways to bridge the gap, so to speak, and marvel at the outdoors from within.
See-through bird feeders, for example, have been a real treat. We attach them to windows around our home and are able to view dozens of different local bird species and a few smart squirrels. Two of my children are passionate about conservation and caring for our planet, and we have researched and implemented every possible way we can reduce or reuse our waste, here at home. Those nature documentaries I mentioned above are enormous favorites here, often watched a dozen times, and often while flipping through gorgeous nature, plant, bird, insect, or animal books we keep on hand. And the little (struggling) herb garden I keep on a windowsill is always a delight, allowing the kids to watch something grow from seed, to follow the process from planting to plate. We love nature, and we learn about nature. We just haven’t had to be in nature for all of it.
The great outdoors really is a wonder. One could venture out every day for hours and live a lifetime without running out of things to discover out there. But heading outdoors is not the only way to learn, and I am confident that our indoor homeschool offers the same opportunity to learn plenty of natural science. Whether it be a chemical reaction on my kitchen counters or a cuttlefish documentary we keep rewinding, my children are experiencing awe of nature as they learn and explore. They’re just doing it inside.
About the Author
Jennifer Vail proudly lives in the great state of Texas with her very handsome husband and three very funny children. All three kids are educated in three very different ways according to their very different needs, which is exhausting but fulfilling. Jen's hobbies include naps, 90's pop culture, Netflix binges, buying books with the best of intentions to read them all, photography, and extroverting. She holds a degree in counseling but has found her calling by writing for and spending time with families of differently-wired, outlier kids—the square pegs of the round world.
She stays up way too late and drinks way too much caffeine, but has no intention of changing either. She is the community manager and contributing author at Raising Lifelong Learners where she writes about homeschooling gifted, anxious, and otherwise different kiddos, but also rambles at This Undeserved Life from time to time. She feels compelled to mention that she still very much loves the Backstreet Boys and rarely folds her laundry.