I have been waiting for this day for about four and a half months, when all of us could be outside for most of the day.
As I mentioned previously, I had never planned to homeschool, but if I could have planned for it, I certainly would not have started in November. It was just beginning to get cold and while I didn’t want to be out in that, I knew couldn’t maintain my sanity while being cooped up indoors everyday with three energetic kids. With time, my reluctance to be in the cold waned while my confidence in managing our adventurous outings grew (and by adventurous, I mean going to the grocery store and trying new fruit). Still, I was hopeful that warmer temperatures would make things easier for me and more fun for my active kids who like to be outdoors.
Today proved me right. It was in the 70s most of the day and the wind was minimal, which meant that my toddler could play out there with us for as long as she wanted without fear of being blown into St. Joe. We spent most of the day outside at my in-laws’, who live about 20 minutes from Champaign-Urbana on some beautiful land full of interesting wildlife.
It’s a sad statistic to me that children can identify 25 percent more cartoon characters than wildlife species. So, this afternoon, I tried to counteract that. Though my kids did play freely in dirt and with sticks a lot, we also spent some time examining our natural surroundings and identifying plants and animals. We found daffodils and crocuses just starting to bloom. We noticed the differences in buds from the bulbous, glossy and tightly packed buds of a lilac, to the singular, long, fuzzy bud of a magnolia. We also spotted a cardinal and a cooper’s hawk.
In my mind, it was a perfect homeschooling day not because of how much material we covered or how many questions they got right on a worksheet but because my children developed a deeper connection with nature through their own observation and curiosity. My job was easy: I just encouraged and channeled it.
I fully expect that by the end of the summer, the kids will know the names of all the flowers, trees, birds and other creatures around my in-laws’ house just by stopping to appreciate them as we did today. If kids can memorize all 649 fictitious species of Pokemon as well as their strengths and weaknesses, surely they can remember real species that are around them everyday.
Such a nature walk is an easy and accessible activity for all families, not just homeschoolers. It can begin with a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood after dinner or at a park on the weekend. It takes no prep work to start, and you don’t even have to know the answers to the questions your child may ask. In fact, I love turning the tables on my kids and asking them the questions. How do birds know how to build nests? How do daffodils grow back each year? Most times it gets them really wondering about the world, and for me, it’s fun to hear their logic.
It’s definitely better than hearing about Pokemon. Guaranteed.
Celina Trujillo has lived in Urbana since 1998, when she started attending the University of Illinois. Three degrees and one job later, she recently decided to put it all on hold to start homeschooling and homemaking full-time. Her blog, Squawks of a Mama Bird, records the learning process of this unexpected new adventure for her family.