One of my first homeschool memories is of my children and me riding our bikes around the neighborhood one weekday morning. It was early spring and one of the first pretty days in a long while. I remember saying to my son, " If you were still in school and I were still teaching, we would be inside, missing this beautiful day."
For our family, learning happens everywhere, and frequently that means outdoors. Whether it’s finding owl pellets to dissect, watching meteor showers, collecting salamander eggs and watching them evolve, or simply taking our books and supplies outside, the opportunity to head outside whenever we want is one of our favorite perks to homeschooling.
It’s also really important for kids and adults to spend time outdoors. An article from the Harvard Health Blog, 6 Reasons Children Need to Play Outside, maintains that outside play impacts our children’s health and success. Looking for ways to get your kids outdoors this spring? Here are my eight favorite ways.
1. Go Outside Daily
Time outside is just as important as the time we take to practice reading or math. Start your day with a morning walk, go out after lunch, or head outside as a family after dinner. Just like anything we want to maintain, the more we go outside, the more it will become part of our routine.
2. Get Curious
Chances are, while you are outside, your children are going to find things in nature that pique their interest. Get down on the ground with them as you watch
- a spider build a web
- a bee suck nectar
- ants build a nest
- a bird feed its chicks
3. Refrain from Passing Judgement
We all want our children to avoid things that can hurt them, and sometimes there are certain outdoor things we grownups don’t like. Teach the facts and try to keep your opinions to yourself. Avoid saying words like gross. We can talk about insects stinging or plants being poisonous without scaring our children or making them afraid of everything outside.
Be sure to look for things kids can touch, help them do so without being destructive, and if nothing else, encourage them to be observers.
Even inside, if we find an insect in our house, we catch it in a bug catcher. We are always amazed at how they look up close. No one is hurt, and when we’re done, we release the insects outside.
4. Get Messy
Hands-on experience is one of the best ways our kids can learn. Seek out ways to use the things in your backyard or local areas. Some of my family’s best lessons came from the creeks, woods, wetlands, and ponds near our home. Yes, my children often come home covered in dirt, wet, or even a little scraped up after these outings. But a load of laundry and a little soap are more than worth the time we spent in nature.
5. Free Play
Fred Rogers said it best, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” No matter the size or what your outside space looks like, toys like shovels, bubbles, chalk, paintbrushes, and buckets of water can lead to a lot of fun.
6. Say Yes
My daughter recently came inside holding water bottles filled with egg sacks she and a friend had found in a vernal pool near our home. Thrilled, she asked if she could keep them for observation. I found an old aquarium and ever since, we have learned so much and had so much fun watching the eggs (which turned out to be salamanders) evolve into little aquatic swimmers. The eggs I said yes to lead us to the library, documentaries, and a lot of learning.
7. Take Inside Work Outside
In pleasant weather, my daughter and I take our curriculum outside. A picnic blanket, hammock, or lawn chair is all you need. There is something about reading outside that makes the book even better. Art, science, math—no matter the subject, it’s easy to move it all into the sunshine.
8. Take Baby Steps
Not all children love being outside, especially those who don’t spend a lot of time outdoors. Bugs, cold or hot weather, even prickly grass can make kids want to head back inside. My oldest was one of these children. While he was happy to play on playgrounds, he wasn’t sure about the woods, wet creek shoes, long homeschool hikes, or wilderness classes. He needed encouragement, exposure, and time to find his sense of adventure.
Going out daily and doing all of the things I’ve mentioned above helped. Fast forward six years and he’s still not a huge fan of mud, but it’s hard to keep him out of the woods.
Our children need time outdoors as much as they need math facts and spelling rules. Embrace the messes and scraped knees! Hunt for insects, crack open geodes, and maybe even climb a tree. Make outside play and learning a regular part of your homeschool day.
About the Author
Kelly left teaching middle and high school English to homeschool her children and reclaim how she and her family spent their time. Followers of interest-led learning, her family's days rarely look the same, but they tend to include a lot of books, art supplies, and time outside.
Kelly facilitates local writing circles for women and children and blogs about nurturing the love of learning on her blog, Curiosity Encouraged. She loves to journal, read memoirs, hike, and travel. She seeks quiet mornings and good coffee daily.