Yesterday we headed out into the Gatineau forest for a nature expedition organised through the NCC, my friend had organised a group to go and we all turned up on a fresh but sunny October morning ready for outdoor goodness.
I have to say the day far exceeded my expectations, the wonderful naturalist who led our group out into the forest had the kids enchanted from minute one, no mean feat. Most homeschool kids are used to following their own drum a lot of the time so don’t always fall into a hush when a grown up starts speaking, not everyone handles this well. Our group leader had them spell bound from the first few moments and reacted with enthusiasm at all their observations and ideas, it was a real gift to watch her at work.
Our instructor led the children through a series of activities that helped them to understand the experience of the animals of the forest. They cupped their ears like a deer to trap each noise that might signal danger, they ran joyfully along the trail using their legs to put distance between themselves and any possible predator. They even learned how the weak and old are more vulnerable due to the fact that they are always lumbered with carrying the coats. Luckily no wolves were about to take advantage of the so burdened parents and all made it out alive.
The children were definitely in their natural habitat, outside in the sunshine, free to run and move, learning at each step and sharing their knowledge with each other. Those who had thoughts to share were encouraged rather than hindered, their enthusiasm not quashed or halted. The littlest ones learned alongside the big ones, each child taking away the lesson that was most important for them on that day; they all learned in their own way and learned not just by listening but by doing.
As the children moved through the forest, experiencing what it was like to be a squirrel storing food for the winter or a wasp that sees the world through multiple lenses, they engaged with nature in a way that was meaningful for them. By walking in the shoes of the animals they became more connected to them, more aware of their habitat and experiences. As well as gaining facts they were encouraged to see the world with a sense of empathy and respect.
There are many ways to teach children about the value of the natural world but, to me, there is no more valuable lesson than spending time in nature. Children are programmed to connect to the earth, they need it in order to thrive and grow. They need to run and move as much as they need to memorise or repeat, without the learning of the body and spirit the learning of the mind becomes impossible.
We can preach as much as we like from the front of the classroom about how important conservation is, but if people don’t have an investment in and connection to the natural world it will all be meaningless. By homeschooling our kids we are giving them the chance to have many more of these kinds of experiences, actively learning in the sunshine, soaking up knowledge without even knowing it.
We parents could barely contain our joy as we watched our little people investigating the forest, turned into scientists and explorers, botanists and researchers; instead of being told something they experienced it, anchoring them in nature and in themselves.
After our programme the kids played in the woods for a couple of hours while the parents chatted, dished out food, tended wounds and gave support and advice when needed. The ebb and flow under the October sky was as natural as breathing. Children who’d never met before became fast friends as they worked co-operatively building a shelter out of fallen branches and leaves. The oldest helped the youngest, letting them weave in and out at their own pace, no one excluded, all ideas considered.
Not every day is like this, there are many days where I quite literally feel like I’ve been banging my head off a wall, taking responsibility for your child’s education, moral identity, emotional well being and physical health can feel like a heavy burden. But then there are days like this, days where we fly, allowing ourselves to be picked up and gentled along, coasting freely within the soft breezes of an autumn sky. Those are the days when I know, for sure, that this life we have chosen is truly a wonderful gift.