Homeschooling in Nature

“As one of the newest members of the BirdSleuth team, I am excited to share my experience homeschooling my 2 children – exploring nature, participating in citizen-science projects, and doing lots and lots of investigations. Every day was an adventure! Whether you homeschool or go to school, I hope my stories help encourage your family to get the most out of your adventures.” – Stacie, BirdSleuth Resource Coordinator

Truck Nest cropped

“Truck nest” by Marina – Created from pine needles, moss, flowers, and lots of unstructured playtime outside.

From the time they were born until they were 11 and 13, my children were homeschooled. Some of our time was “school at home,” but most of it was what has been termed “unschooling.”

“School at home” included an excellent math curriculum begun at the 3rd grade level. I also took my kids to the local grade school and middle school for instrumental and choral music classes. In 6th-8th grade, they participated in standardized tests at the local school – not because the state required it, but rather for the experience and the challenge of something new.

Unschooling was the highlight of those years: I did not plan ahead what my children would learn each day. I did not assign them worksheets or readings or activities. I did not set aside certain hours each day to teach. What I DID do, however, was so much more interesting both for my kids and for myself… and for the people we encountered in our community.

We lived in an 1850’s Maine farmhouse, surrounded by farm fields and wooded wilderness – like something out of Anne of Green Gables. It was 4 miles to town – a town with one gas station, one small diner, and no stoplights. Our closest neighbor was over a half mile away, but we often saw the old farmer chugging away on his tractor or helping to plow us out after a big snow storm.

Kids in Shoes

Late October in Northern Maine – Fun with Perspective!

If you asked that neighbor, he’d swear my kids were outside all day, every day, rain or shine.

“Homeschooling in Nature” is an apt description of my children’s primary and middle school years. Allowing my children simply to go outside to play and wander and discover the natural world was the PERFECT catalyst for their curiosity. Every journey outside resulted in stories, observations, and lots of questions. My kids are 19 and 20 now. And they still return home bursting with stories, observations, and the confidence to tackle their questions.

In future posts, I’ll share many more homeschooling in nature stories and experiences – like the time we found a “lost” flock of wild turkeys at our bird feeder, how my daughter discovered her future career while walking into town for a muffin, what happens when a squirrel and a weasel meet on the porch, and many more. I’ve thought a lot about my children’s outdoor education since joining the BirdSleuth team. I wish I’d known about our wonderful resources back then. If I could go back in time, one resource I would be sure to check out is our free curriculum, Investigating Evidence. Though it was developed for the middle school classroom, the lessons and activities easily adapt to any age and method of homeschooling. Did I mention it’s a free download?

(Click here for the second post in the series, Homeschooling in Nature 2.)

2 Comments

  1.  by  Sheena

    This short article makes me want to cry tears of joy! My kids are five and three, and we made the official decision to homeschool this year (although, as you mentioned, they’ve been homeschooled since birth), which was not met with a lot of excitement from the people in our lives. Our days sound just like the ones you describe – a little bit of “school at home” with tons of outdoor time, including nature walks and unstructured exploration and play! The creations, conversations, and continued curiosity that result from that time never cease to amaze and thrill me! I enjoyed a small victory moment last week when my three year-old taught my parents that dolphins are toothed whales – people are slowly starting to see the incredible validity in this type of education. =) Thank you so much for this article and for what I hope is an approximate glimpse into our future! I look forward to more of your stories!

  2.  by  Sarangdino

    Thank you for taking the time to write for homeschooling families! I am doing a project this coming semester with a co-op class of ages 11-14. We are going to make a field guide of birds commonly seen at a small lake near us. I am using some of John Muir Laws’ awesome resources to help. I look forward to more from you!

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