Overlooking land which few (if any) have ever set foot upon is a soaring feeling and one that I love sharing with my child. As we wander up mountainsides on red volcanic soil and lava rock trails, there are countless opportunities to share and connect with him. These are the moments which convince me that there is no greater classroom than one without walls.
He’s only two but he’s learning to find “Y” shaped branches, recognize letters in the tree roots (“Mommy! Look, it’s an M!”), and he enjoys identifying everything he sees (“Mommy! Butterfly and flower and leaf and rock!”) which is a great opportunity to discuss colors. Our second hike in Hawaii, we took the short leg of the Manana Trail to Waimano Falls and Caleb absolutely amazed me by noticing that the water in the pool below the falls was brown, then green, and then blue. Isn’t that neat?
If the paths open up and are accommodating, I like calling out fun ways to move while we are walking them (think: Mother May I?). If the path is wide and flat, I’ll call out “Five umbrella steps! Let’s go!” or “Ten bunny hops!” This is a great way to mix things up and remind us to start counting. It seems that once the counting begins, it easily transitions to counting birds, trees, boulders, flowers of a particular color or variety, and so on. Recently, I started bringing a scavenger hunt along and using the backside of the paper to make rubbings of the various rocks, tree trunks, and any carved signs we find along the way.
We recently discovered a homeschool hiking group on Oahu and I’m really excited to go on group hikes with them. Right now, Caleb and I hike by ourselves and occasionally have friends join us. When friends are along, he’s less inclined to do scavenger hunts and chat about the colors/shapes/letters he finds. This, of course, is just fine, too.
Hiking with a little one is not without its challenges: the hauling of the stuff, the search for a decent spot to change diapers, and keeping everyone safe. I carry a backpack designed so that the largest section is actually a soft cooler and I pack a meal for Caleb to eat because he enjoys picnicking almost as much as he enjoys getting to the picnic spot. I’ve also found that picnics are great places to introduce new foods because he’s willing to eat most anything while seated beside a waterfall or overlooking mountains and valleys. During the picnic, we discuss our favorite things seen along the hike or we talk about the ecosystem we’re in. Is it a desert (dry/waterless)? Is it a rainforest (damp/shady)? What sort of animals live here? What sort of plants do we see (cactus, trees, grasses, etc.)? Sometimes his answers are silly but usually they reveal an acute awareness of his surroundings.
Using the environment as a curriculum is nothing new. Parents have educated their children using nature since (at the very least) the second interglacial period in the Middle Pleistocene. In modern times, SEER developed a learning model using the environment as integrating context (EIC). These educational practices aren’t just for homeschoolers: the entire family benefits from exploring nature and their surrounding community. Check out “Nature Prescriptions” and discover the many documented benefits of getting kids outside.
Here’s a super PDF on The EIC Model: http://www.greenwoodscharter.org/pdf-docs/EICExecutiveSummary.pdf