Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)
Remember when you were little, and would run outside to seek out the perfect spot to lay down in the damp green grass, warmed by the summer sun, staring up at the clouds, squinting, trying to find that one great shape that resembled a creature or object of some sort? "Look, it's a bunny rabbit, do you see it?" When was the last time you did that?
To watch a child delight in nature is completely amusing, especially the way they unconsciously Ooo and Ahh over everything while bending down to get a closer look, reaching out to touch, climbing up for a better view. They want don't just want to see nature, they want to experience it, to be alive in it.
Interestingly, this patterned form of learning - curiosity of one's surroundings, followed by keen observations which naturally inspire questions and answers is one of the earliest forms of education. An education that not only stretches the intellect and the senses, but the soul as well, often leading the pupil into contemplation of God and the spiritual life. Being in God's grandeur is a type of catechesis in and of itself, not separated from the other interests and types of learning, ones we consider to be of greater distinction and importance than Theology, which is in fact the highest form of study.
Moose and mountains, spruce and springs must now compete with X-box, Wii even TV. But they are "learning games" and they increase "hand-eye coordination"(!), so the argument goes. I'm not sure about you, but my kids don't need any assistance with lessons in movement, but could use some lessons in being still....in just being. Because, as "doers," and that's what many of us are, we often forget to bend down, reach out, climb up, or lay down to gaze at the clouds or constellations. And, oh, what we are missing....but more afraid of missing an e-mail, a text, a Facebook post, a phone call.
Our vacation to the mountains reminded me that I myself have been a bit disconnected from God's grandeur and more connected to the very things of which I preach moderation to our boys. Sure, I don't live in the majestic mountains, but no one has the view of the stars that we do out here....a view I have quite willingly passed up for a movie or e-mail.
On a family hike to Adam's Falls, we came upon five enormous bull moose, and bravely (or crazily) stood within 15 narrow feet of them while they fed on the wild grass of the meadow adjacent to our path. That morning, I had prayed that God would allow us to see a moose and a bear before we left for home.
Exceeding my wishes, He showed us not one moose, but five (five!), and as for the bears, well, I was secretly okay with the fact that we didn't come across any. I would quite likely pass out if I saw one. (Thank you, Lord for not hearing me on that one...or rather for hearing me and laughing!)
Homeschooling or not, fostering curiosity in natural history in your children will more than likely ensure for them a life-long interest in nature. Some exercises are very simple such as planting a garden, naming (and smelling) flowers, star-gazing, collecting leaves, bugs and seeds. Or, if I may, suggest camping instead of Disney World. (Gasp!) Just once, Just try it. You'll love it. So will your kids.
There are a million resources out there to help guide the learning process, but for the very young to teen-age learners, a couple that I have found to be very beneficial are:
1. Keeping a Nature Journal. Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You, by Clare W. Leslie and Charles E. Roth
2. Any book by Jim Arnosky, an avid nature lover and illustrator. Some of our favorites are: Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds, Big Jim and the White-Legged Moose, Raccoons and Ripe Corn and I See Animals Hiding.
I would like to give credit to Jenni Keiter, who so generously shared the fantastic close-ups of the moose. I wasn't sure I could juggle Charlie and a camera on the hike and, to my regret, missed snapping some great footage of the magnificent creatures. Alert to my moans and groans along the trail, she kindly volunteered to e-mail me some footage. Through our dialog, I have learned that she also home schools. I thought that some of you might find an excerpt of our correspondence interesting: