Last week, I took an energy-bound crew of children to our local nature center. It was a pleasant 34 degrees and the sun was gorgeous as we loaded up the van and headed out. As much as I welcome the opportunity to wander through the woods, to simply observe the wonders of nature, this adventure did have a different motive… to wear out the troop (my children and a niece and nephew) that had been held captive indoors, in school.
The excitement level was high by the time we arrived. Within seconds, the unbuckling and scrambling began. Out the doors and towards the Interpretive Center the kids ran. Once inside, an awed hush fell over the crew.
Along each wall of the main room, on tables and in glass cases, hanging from the rafters above and in several smaller side rooms were enough stuffed creatures, investigative tools, and tidbits of information to keep a person searching for long while.
A friendly volunteer drifted among us answering questions from the eager learners and adding his own stories and experiences.
We finally left the building and headed to the trails. At first the kids ran and laughed along the path, but then they slowed to a walk and began to look. Up through the naked limbs silhouetting the clear blue sky. Down along the path and under low-hanging pine branches where animal tracks could be seen. The walking paths were wonderfully remote, secluded, quiet and serene.
As we ventured between two rows of straight, tall pine trees, one of the hikers mentioned that he felt as if we were marching between two rows of soldiers, saluting us. We looked up as we walked and let our imaginations drift. Later, another child found an owl pellet near the trunk of a tree that we stopped to observe and connect to the story Daddy had recently read, Poppy by Avi, about an owl and mouse family. We traveled down to the river and found the foundation of an old trapper’s home. We discovered a tepee that others had built.
The time outdoors was refreshment as much for our mental wellbeing as it was for our physical health. Remember my ultimate goal? To wear out the troops? We were all physically exhausted when we finished our hike, but we were also mentally stimulated. And emotionally at rest. It is amazing how relaxed and at peace you feel when you amble through God’s creation! Too many of us know little of the natural world because we never take time to observe it.
“There is no kind of knowledge to be had in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves, of the world they live in,” said Charlotte Mason, the 19th-century British educator. “Let them at once get into touch with nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We are all meant to be naturalists, each to his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world to full of marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”
No matter where you live, in the suburbs, the country or the city, there are opportunities all around for getting in touch with nature. . They say that “nature is not secretive, but she may not be showy either.” So be on alert. Be observant. If you can, just walk through the countryside or along the sea shore. If it’s possible, stroll through the city parks. Spend a day at the museum, the planetarium, the zoo. Plant a garden – even a windowsill garden. Get a few outdoor animals or some small pets to have in the apartment. Study trees and how they change throughout the year. You’ll find that nature yields treasure after treasure. We just need to take the time to observe. Nurture a love of nature in your children. It will last a lifetime.
“If I had influence with the good fairy…
I should ask her that her gift to each child in the world
be a sense of wonder so indestructible
that it would last throughout life.”