You can raise a child who loves nature and is deeply connected to Mother Earth even in the middle of a metropolitan environment.
Look at me. Born in Toronto, raised in the city, I love immersing myself in everything outdoorsy. Camping, canoeing, hiking, vacations in the forest, I love it all. It’s not that I don’t adore and crave the city-offerings like museums, galleries, coffee shops, indie stores and hustle (which I do, a lot), but I find that you can have the best of both worlds. Further, I believe that you can encourage a child to grow up admiring our planet, stewarding it, and even adore being soaked up in its beauty whether or not you live on a massive plot, surrounded by woodlands and Disney-esque birds and rodents.
During COVID, once we committed to the distance education option for our family, I knew I wanted to do asynchronous (not with the teacher) learning that was not so “schooly”, but rather, centred in nature. After all, from about 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.-ish we would be in the house, and for a couple of those hours in front of a screen. I wanted to keep nature alive, top of mind, and make it so that when we did venture out beyond our neighbourhoods, we could correlate our lessons with our experiences outside.
By July of 2020 I was on Facebook and the net looking at all sorts of “nature-inspired” curriculum and I stumbled upon an Instagram account @MagicHomeSchoolBus who blew my socks off! Man, I thought I was good at the stay-at-home tricks and homeschool hacks! She kicks my momma butt. But that’s ok! We’re all different folk with very different strokes. What was cool about this is that I realized she was really inspired by nature-based curriculums. She really pushed her love for another Insta account @RaisingLittleShoots. And then I was hooked! I had found my match and what I saw was a slow-paced, easy, loving way to weave nature into literacy, art, reading and STEM.
Raising Little Shoots offers what they call Exploring Nature With Children**. It is a complete, year-long curriculum designed to guide you, step by step, through an entire calendar year of nature study. Completely self-contained, this downloadable PDF has all the information you need to make nature study happen regularly for your family.
THIS HAS CHANGED MY LIFE!
Why is this statement so intense? Is this true? Could a child’s curriculum seriously be worth all caps? YES! Because it gave me purpose. It gave me direction. If you follow along with my blog, you might remember that I wrote about my first Winter Solstice experience in December 2020. In that post I recapped my crazy COVID year, our homeschooling days and how my love for nature was refueled, in turn, adding life to the way I raise my kids. Love was heightened, and further, for this OCD(ish), plan-everything-mom, I needed something with direction and something to lovingly look forward, each week, to plan. And this curriculum provided that need.
Because of this curriculum, not only have my children learned so much and connected deeper to nature, but I have reinvigorated my bond with Mother Nature, in turn, deepening my love and relationship with my beautiful little tikes.Solstice With The Mostest
On my personal socials I have been posting all my themed weeks of learning via Raising Little Shoots to hopefully inspire others the way other educators, caregivers and parents have done for me. After all, if it wasn’t for Magic Homeschool Bus, I wouldn’t have found all this joy. I get a lot of people asking me “how do you get all these ideas?” So I am going to break down how I use the curriculum, how I build my weeks, and what it all looks like.
I start with Exploring Nature With Children‘s weekly topic. Because this is an UK-based curriculum, our weeks do not always line up, mostly due to my colder, longer weeks. So if they say to study seeds in September, I am working on seeds. Here is the best part! The curriculum literally tells you what you need to do, and all the subjects can be tailored to the age and grade you are teaching, or what is best for where your kiddo is at. Yes, even to high school! I have elementary-aged kids. Each week’s guided study contains the following:
- A themed nature walk – depending on what they are suggesting, I either already know a place or I do a search on my local city or conservation sites to find something appropriate. I have visited trails, parks, community gardens, arboretums, friend’s expansive properties, conservations sites, heritage trails, etc.
- A themed book list – the best part! I just type in the keyword searches or authors in the library’s search bar and reserve the book. And if those books aren’t all available, often the library will recommend similar books based on titles or subjects.
- A poem – fun to read over tea and do work to go alongside it. If you’re kid is older, maybe a written project. Here we stick to key words or drawings.
- A piece of art – sometimes we “analyze” this, but more often I am inspired by the art and set aside creative time instead.
- Extension activities for your child – such brilliant suggestions to use or build on!
Each day has reading, no matter what, so I make sure to borrow at least 5 “educational and discovery” books from the library for content on the subject the kids can understand, and a few “easy readers” to encourage some self-reading. Three of the five days are set up for literacy and math work. For literacy I find worksheet online, get inspired on Pinterest, write in our journals, break down sentence structures, use our white boards or build words with Magformers. For math I use household items for basic math like white dried kidney beans have been dinosaur eggs or bird eggs, pop tabs during Earth Week, pinecones during Evergreen week. And I really do rely on inspiration from Pins. One of the five days is for art or creative time and the last day is earmarked for a long afternoon of nature exploring outdoors (but we do get outside each day for at least 2 hours, if not more). Other than winter, we do a lot of the literacy, math and reading outside. Though I stand by the saying that ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’.* I work in chunks of 20 minutes-ish. So levelled reading, literacy and math are all in 20 minute sections (any more and I lose their attention) with read-out-louds done by me for as long as I have their attention, but not usually past 30 minutes. They also get one chunk of TV time for the afternoon. Of course, we have open-play for a couple hours because that is so important for sibling bonding, creativity, ingenuity, resilience and fun!
A lot of my ideas are in my own crazy head, but I do lean on Pinterest and other Facebook and Instagram accounts for ideas and I have a couple teacher friends who I bounce thoughts off of, including my sister. And I keep things simple! I cannot stress that enough. I have learned from teachers to repeat a lot! So I don’t blast all sorts of different things at them all week; I might repeat the same lesson on Wednesday that I did Monday but with new key words, or a sentence structure. Repetition for retention is the key, I think. And I have burned out by planning too much, structuring too much.
There is an impression that homeschooling is expensive. Far from it. In fact, like Lynn (creator of Exploring Nature With Children), I suggest you don’t go crazy on supplies, and let the concept of ‘less is more’ drive you. Really! I have written about this minimalist concept with kids before. Here is what I do own that we fit into our homeschooling days (this is aside from our basic toys) (all items, but the Play-Doh, are used as handmedowns or thrift-store finds, yes, even craft supplies):
- Play-Doh. (Though I am going to start making my own. Search for easy recipes online and use an all-natural food colouring)
- pencil crayons
- white and construction paper
- basic kids school supplies: pencils, erasers, scissors and glue sticks, little journals
- paper straws (for STEM and puppets)
- white board / chalk board combo
- building blocks (Duplo, Lego, wooden ones)
- animal figurines
- Magformers (this was added as a Christmas gift to my kids and we have the number and alphabet accessories)
- recyclables (I keep a bag in the cold room with egg cartons, old boxes, toilet paper rolls, popsicle sticks – great for STEM)
- microscope (I just added this to my arsenal, and found a used one on the Facebook Marketplace for $20!)
- library membership (cannot stress this enough! I will borrow up to 50 books at a time for a couple of weeks)
- good clothing for the season so that winter doesn’t stop you from exploring outside for hours plus sustainably-sourced, ethically-made merino wool base layers
I would like to remind anyone reading this that things are NOT perfect at my house. I often get comments saying, “you’re the best mom!” While that is lovely, it is not true. I am a FINE DAMN MOMMY! I am awesome. But the best? C’mon! That title goes only to three men, equally, but as one unit: Danny Tanner, Jesse Katsopolis and Joey Gladstone. I do get a lot of joy of building these curriculums and implementing them, but I would like to remind everyone a few things:
- homeschooling is still a tricky thing, and its trickiness is multiplied during COVID as there are no libraries to go to (though we borrow books each week), no coffee shops or diners to visit (used to be something we did once every couple weeks and share Greek omelettes), no grandparents to ease the load, no galleries, museums, drop-in centres to play at. It’s me, my house, nature and that’s it! And that’s ok, but it is harder.
- it doesn’t always go great! These two have been home with each other for too long. While their bond has thickened and they love and take care of each other, they are bored of each other too. You know the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? Well, no absence here!
- I am not a good morning person! Never have been. Apparently even as a baby. It’s not my jam (and toast!) haha! I often see other homeschoolers saying sweetums like “we lay in bed in the mornings and read and all make breakfast together!” F**k that! Sorry, but not sorry. I wake up and they play by themselves or read books while I make (albeit a lovely and nutritious) breakfast. It is what it is folks, but I happily bake with them!
- I do invest in an outdoor school. My eldest goes to it to make sure she gets to socialize with other kids and sees other healthy adult influences that aren’t just me and Dad. It’s not cheap, but it was a decision we made consciously and I do no regret it for a moment.
- I also pay for a math learning app called Dreambox. Not a must, but I like what it offers that I can’t.
I made my case pretty clearly up top why I love this curriculum and why it made sense for me. The truth of the matter is, our children, all of them, need to be raised, in some way or another that encourages them to steward the planet for the future generations to come after them. We are at a crucial point in our kids’ lives. And, I mean, who doesn’t love playing with unicorns and cars, but nothing compares to the companionship of a bird fluttering around you, the sound of wind and squirrels rustling through trees and the imaginary unicorn that lurks behind the log-shaped car your kid is driving in their pretend world in the forest. Mother Nature might be the ultimate mama!
* In the winter we all wear base layers (mostly wool), a second layer made of cotton, a (wool) sweater, snowsuit, and good boots plus hats, mitts and scarves (we use a headband like a neck warmer). **Exploring Nature With Children is a 236-page PDF that you download. You can print and bind it if you choose, I never did. It costs $18 USD. *** I only link to products or shops I use or love. I do not receive any compensation. These links are meant to make it useful on the reader to buy sustainable products.