Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Summer with Charlotte: Part Two ~Go Ahead, Learn about Nature~

In searching for a kindergarten curriculum, (which I finally...(painstakingly) decided could be a good thing to have!), I was told many good things about My Fathers World. But it wasn't until I looked online at their website that I fell in love. I saw a Butterfly Garden, an Ant Hill set, and other things country folk may take for granted, but hey, we live in Brooklyn!! ;) We can't have pets, we live surrounded by concrete, and my daughter loves butterflies (when we happen to see any!) I, on the other hand, grew up in South  Florida...with a back yard full of citrus trees, plants, dirt, reptiles, and bugs. I loved being outside and barefoot. We didn't have much money, but some of my fondest memories are of climbing trees, making leaf and dirt burritos, and spending time with dirty dogs and stray cats. 

My two little New Yorkers don't experience this "back yard living" on a daily basis. While there are some "patches of nature" here and there, we have to walk the several blocks to the park to fully experience any natural expanse. And even then, "nature" in Brooklyn is anything but "untouched." Still, we do what we can (and am now inspired to do much more.) We do a lot of "bird-watching" (out the window, beyond the fire escape), we have a few houseplants, we go to the zoo, we have made a bird-feeder and planted seeds, we play with dirt, sand, snow, and I try to encourage as much exploration as possible when we are out for walks, etc. After reading Charlotte Mason's (I will call her "CM" for short) take on the importance of children being outdoors, I dare not make excuses for not exposing them to nature. "Oh, you live in the city?" she says... Get the kids on a train and go to the country once a week! While the suburbs of New Jersey are a far cry from the English countryside she speaks of, we do go there fairly often. Closer to home, Prospect Park is like a mini-Central Park, complete with a lake and a zoo! We definitely need to spend more time there!

To steer myself back to the point I was trying to make here, I fell in love with My Father's World curriculum because it seemed so nature-oriented. A nature lover myself, I've always tried to incorporate it into my lesson plans, as it is my favorite kind of information to convey. Imagine my joy when CM stated outright that learning about nature is the most important thing children can learn about during the first six years of their life. I agree. By nature, we mean the world around us as G-d's Creation. Because G-d created everything with a plan and purpose, children's observation of nature leads to much more than learning certain facts about bugs and leaves, but it sets the foundation for many future subjects of study: science, logic, cause and effect, social relationships, and actions and consequences just to name a few.

CM's suggestions include allowing children to explore nature, (mostly on their own, unless they need a little "push" to get their curiosity involved, or if they ask a question), to run, to be noisy, to get dirty, and just simply spend many hours "out-of-doors." She gives examples of methods a mother can use while they are outside to further their learning. She can send them to a particular area, asking them to return to her ready with a description of everything they observed. This is to strengthen their habit of attention. The younger children will follow (and learn from) the older ones, as they frolic along behind. If a child seems bored or uninterested in the nature around them, perhaps all they need is a small tidbit of information about a tree or plant, or they need that tiny ladybug pointed out to them. CM advises, however, mothers not to lecture or intervene too much in the children's interactions with nature, as the goal is for them to form relationships with what they see and experience. She basically says that mothers talk too much (which is true at times, even for quiet ones like me!) It is a mother's tendency to want to share everything they know about something all at once, but it is better to give the children space and answer their questions as they arise. Then, the children will remember and relate to that information. As CM puts it, children are always fascinated by "things," but sometimes "words" can be a bore. Therefore, it is most beneficial to teach them something about a rock when they are holding it in their hand, or when they have just become interested in that tree over there. 

To clarify, it is more in the child's mind that they are out in the open to simply play and have fun, but to the mother, the day outside is never one spent without purpose. As CM puts it, "there is much to be done and much to be prevented" during this time. The children will have periods of  releasing their energy, practicing their skills of observation, narrating to their mother, learning countless new things, taking mental pictures of landscapes until it becomes a habit, getting to know all the trees, plants, and living creatures in the environment, collecting things, and even stopping to draw a flower or other object as they see it. The children must, however, remain engaged in these "lessons" and negativity must not be tolerated, but turned into a "joyous temper" so that all benefit from the fresh air. The mother will have a method, and the children will enjoy learning without even realizing it! It is a day well spent. In fact, CM states that for the first six years, the majority of a child's days should be spent like this, "a quiet growing time" in their "passive receptive life." Hey, I'm all for it! I definitely have to work on my time management, so that we are able to spend these hours outside. But I agree with CM when she says that mothers will "work wonders" in this area when they realize that it is what's best for their children. If you are beginning to think she is sounding eccentric or strange, google "nature-deficit disorder" like I just did, and realize that there is a growing concern for children who don't spend enough time outdoors. Depression, obesity, and behavior problems were just a few issues I noticed. There are also movements I have seen that try to counteract this, like "outdoor preschools" or "forest kindergartens." By the way, they look pretty amazing! But CM knew what she was talking about way back in the early 1900s, and you don't have to send your kids to an expensive nature preschool to do what's best... just turn off the TV and  take them outside! 

For the next week, my family and I are in New Jersey, and we have discovered an amazing park nearby called Duke Island Park. I definitely have plans to go there as often as possible this week, as there is a great trail that winds through the woods and alongside a river! Our first trip was a short one, being in the heat of the afternoon and with one child under the weather, but even then we saw a caterpillar, worms, butterflies, dragonflies,  and countless trees and plants we don't see close to home. I am excited to go again for some time well spent in nature. 

No comments:

Post a Comment