Our morning walk

I am “homeschooling” my four-and-a-half year old, Ellie, and I use the quotes around the word homeschooling because we do nothing that looks like school at all. I am shocked at how often, when I tell a new acquaintance that we homeschool, the first question they as is what curriculum we use. I don’t use any curriculum at all, I tell them. She is still little.

One of the things that first drew me to homeschooling was that idea that I could let my children have a rich childhood filled with play and time in nature, not dictated by a school schedule. Many of my fondest memories from childhood took place on the acre of land my family lived on in my early years. To me it was wild and full of discoveries.

When Ellie turned about four it was clear that she was in need of something “more.” More than just the loose structure of our days, which revolved around play and excursions and all the things that go into running a home and a family.

But what was that something more? We had few false starts. Circle time? Fail. Reading the classics aloud? Fail. Then I found it: a morning walk.

A morning walk seems like the simplest thing ever. And it is. But sometimes within the simplest experiences lie great treasures.

I love this advice from Sheila at Sure as the World about getting started with homeschooling. Her advice is that if your child is under 7 or 8 the real foundation of your day can be a morning walk and an afternoon read-aloud. It is so true. For my family, in this season of life, it really is enough.

I find it interesting that in several different schools of thought, like Charlotte Mason education and Waldorf, unstructured experience in nature is considered the foundation for later study in science. There is something about my own experiences in nature as a child that stick with me so much more powerfully than any school learning I did in the early years. I love this quote:

“Let us, before all things, be Nature-lovers; intimate acquaintance with every natural object within his reach is the first, and, possibly, the best, part of a child’s education.”
Charlotte Mason

We started heading out every morning after breakfast for a walk around our park, toting baby brother along on my back. I made a commitment to the walk as the most important part of our day. If all else failed, if the entire day fell apart, at least we had gone on our walk. I didn’t quite know what to expect from this experience, except that by the end of it we would have gotten a little fresh air and exercise. But over time I noticed all that Ellie was noticing. Things like:

  • The changing seasons. We’ve been doing our walk long enough to watch the leaves fall off the trees in fall, the bare branches of winter and the buds and bright green leaves of spring.
  • The changing activity of the squirrels in our park in relationship to the seasons.
  • That all rain is not the same. We have experienced the gamut from light drizzle to torrential downpour. And even a little sunshine!
  • The feeling of a strong wind tugging at our umbrellas.
  • The sound of puddles when our rain boots stomp into them.

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  • Sometimes the ground is so water-logged that a firm step can create an amazing sound of water rising up to the surface all around us.
  • The changing qualities of snow from fluffy to icy to slushy.

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  • The changing quality of morning light as the seasons change.

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  • Occasionally we can see the moon in the morning, and other times we can’t.
  • After a huge rainstorm, our park had a massive lake-like puddle.

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  • There are still skeletons of fallen leaves in the park in early spring.
  • That sometimes there are seagulls in our park, and that tells us something about the weather at the beach.
  • The very first crocus that popped out in March. Then the very first daffodil. Then the very first tulip.

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  • That worms don’t bite.

I love this quote from Charlotte Mason about the importance of the child using all of her senses when exploring nature:

“…my object is to show that the chief function of the child – his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life – is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses…”

Ellie has always favored the intellectual side of things over the physical, and one amazing thing we noticed as a result of our morning walk was that she became more confident and comfortable in her body. She started climbing trees. She started scaling fences. Our morning walk has provided tremendous sensory opportunities like lifting and dragging large branches after a wind storm, hanging from branches like a monkey and climbing up hillsides and rolling down them again.

Occasionally I have a reluctant walker, and this song always cheers things up. It’s fun to act out.

Let’s go walking, walking, walking
    Let’s go walking, walking so
    Walking high!
    Walking low.
    Walking fast!
    Walking slow.
    Let’s go walking, walking, walking
    Let’s go walking, walking so

Our park has set the scene for the most fantastic creative play. Ellie has built a home out of branches, built a giant nest from branches, pretended to be in a home or castle at the base of a particularly large tree, slept on a bed of moss and more. Sometimes she is a baby bird. Sometimes she is a princess. Before we started our morning walk it seemed like our trips to the park were full of “look at me!” and “mama can you help me?” Once we moved away from the playground and started exploring the wild spaces in our park, that’s when her creative play came alive.

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At the end of our day, when we reflect back on the best and hardest parts of our day, our morning walk is often a favorite, both for Ellie and myself.

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13 comments

  1. Annie, I am so inspired by your post. My kids and I are also nature fanatics and luckily live on a farm where we are able to tromp around fields and wetlands whenever we’d like. But, even though nature is just a step outside my door, I find myself hesitant during rainy Winter months to zip them into their rain gear day after day after day … I needed this reminder of how important it is to ALWAYS make time for the outdoors, no matter what little inconveniences are faced along the way 🙂 I watch my kids come alive in puddles and dirt, just as you describe Ellie becoming absorbed in her observations and her creative play in the park. What a wonderful post – thank you for sharing!

  2. I’m glad to hear your perspective Lindsey! It’s easy for me to think that if we lived in the country our kids would have more or easier access to the outdoors but it’s all about what we make time for. I feel lucky to live in Portland with so much amazing nature right here in our city parks! Puddles and dirt are pretty magical 🙂

    ~Annie

  3. Love this idea, and that you get out for your walk every. single. day. I have a 7 yo shy, introverted daughter and a 4 yo energetic, outgoing son. She wants to be inside; he wants to be outside. They are opposites and don’t see eye to eye on much, particularly when we’re in the house. Once we get out though, everything changes and we all have so much fun. It’s just the ‘getting out’ that is a challenge (especially for her). But I’m inspired by you and your routine, and also by the poem/song you sing. Thanks for your thoughts 🙂

    • Yes, the getting out is the hardest part. Especially in the winter! I swear it can take us 30 minutes to put on boots, coats, go pee one last time, etc. I am so looking forward to sundress and sandals weather!

  4. We are at the same turning point!! We need something more and I’ve been searching, grasping and overwhelmed. Then I read this; very beautiful writing and inspiring content. Thank you!

  5. I’m glad you found it helpful Lauren! I think it’s easy to feel like that “something more” needs to be academic in nature, but for us it was really just a need for a more clear daily and weekly rhythm.

  6. I love this Annie! Thank you so much for sending me the link. My oldest child was “more intellectual than physical” (I think those are the words you used to describe Ellie) and being out in nature still serves him well.
    All the quotes are great. Love the Jane Austen one at the end.
    WooHoo! Have a great walk today.
    Sheila

  7. Thank you so much for sharing Annie! This is so inspiring as I work on our own daily rhythm. And it is such a wonderful reminder of how much learning can take place through consistent time outside. I know my kids need this time and this has really motivated me to make it a part of our regular schedule, even on the wet days!

    • Thanks Jeslin! I am not the most consistent person in the world, so our morning walk has been a good discipline for me!

  8. Great post, Annie, thanks. I’m another one struggling with “the getting out” these days even though I know it’s pretty much the only important thing to do. Thanks for reminding me of so many reasons why.

  9. Thanks Jana! I was just reading a great blog today about putting the thing you value most first in your day so it has the best chance of happening. Such great advice!

  10. Thanks Jana! I was just reading a great blog today about picking the thing you value most, and placing that at the beginning of your day. Such great advice!

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