Three Tips for Stress-Free Nature Study in the Early Years

I often talk to mamas who have a deep desire to give their little ones the best education possible—the “full feast” for a Charlotte Mason enthusiast. And one huge part of a Charlotte Mason education, especially in the earliest years, is avid nature study.

Miss Mason’s advice: “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” That’s to the point, isn’t it?

A quick scroll through your Instagram feed shows you earnest homeschooling mamas, toughing it out during sweltering hikes or when up to their elbows in snow, declaring, “This is the life!”

But whose life, right? You have toddlers that are barely walking and eat every dead frog, twig, or pile of dirt in sight, a baby that will need nursing at the most inopportune times, and a preschooler who wants to run ahead and won’t acknowledge that your stroller won’t go that fast over all these roots.

The hurdles are many, and it seems like the pressure is much. So how can we get our preschoolers and young families out of doors—without losing our sanity—when we face so many obstacles? As a homeschooling mama of 4, from teens down to back-to-back toddlers, I have three tips that will help make your visions a reality(ish?).

1. Upfront, recognize there is a season for everything, both in our lives and in our year. I fully understand that it can feel like everyone else is moving ahead, making things happen, doing the real homeschooling stuff you’ve longed to do, and you’re just . . . stuck. But I want to encourage you that putting the expectations of a future season on your current season will bring you nothing but self-condemnation and frustration. You feel “stuck” in your season . . . because you kind of are. We can’t make it April when it’s January any more than we can make our 2-year-old behave like a 6-year-old. But it won’t last forever—that toddler will stop eating dead frogs one day!

2. Have a plan, man. As they say, those that fail to plan, plan to fail. Have a clear, realistic vision for what a good outdoors time looks like for your family. (Repeat: Your family.) Will you begin with 30 minutes in your own backyard? Have you researched local parks and asked around to find which one is safest or most stroller-friendly? Have you invited a friend? If you’re going out, do you have the right supplies to keep everyone fed and sane? Have you made space in your day that’s compatible with nap times and mealtimes? I know that sounds intense, but the more seriously you take planning your time in nature, the more seriously you’ll enjoy it.

3. Equip yourself. A few of my favorite supplies for nature exploration with littles: quality rain boots (or other appropriate shoes for everyone), tuffo suits for getting out in all weather, a quality baby carrier so the stroller can stay at home, comfy nursing tops (if you’re in that season), an extremely comfortable backpack for ALL THE SNACKS and supplies, Ziploc bags for nature collections, a small jar for bug specimens, a retractable net for butterflies or minnows, toddler-sized binoculars, and a pocket microscope. Oh, and realistic expectations.

Nature study in the early years is all about the experience. Our goal is two-fold: an expulsion of energy and a gentle, natural introduction to the wonders of nature.

Creation is truly awe-inspiring, and experiencing it up-close and in person helps our children develop virtues like attentiveness, obedience, and patience. Learning to walk with mom and not run away, seeing mom’s expression of joy and awe as she “considers the ant,” listening to mom point out the woodpecker in the tree above—so many experiences awaken true wonder in our children’s souls when they watch us model wonder for them. The opportunity to experience your child’s wonderment first-hand makes all preparation, weariness, or frustration pale by comparison. No one’s experience with her children exploring nature is all sunshine, rainbows, and glittering butterflies. Remember, you’re only seeing others’ snapshots, and you’ll have snapshots too. All of home education is a smattering of precious moments amongst the mundane, challenging, and overwhelming ones. But those precious moments make it all so worth it.

—Erin

Photo credit: iStock

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