Homeschooling includes curriculum, but it is also much more. So much can be learned and taught outside the books in the natural world. Read on to see how we go about learning from nature and real-life experience.
There are a lot of things I now try to teach my children in real life and the natural environment (such as the butterfly metamorphosis process) so that they will naturally know them, and not have to study so much just for the tests, and then forget it right after.
Teach your children and young people to observe. It is a skill that has to be learned. Start by observing and learning yourself, and then show them how.
We try to teach our children to observe by pointing things out to them. “See what those ants are carrying?” “Look at the colors on the clouds.” “What do you think those birds are doing?” “What can that flower teach us?”
We have the advantage with living in Central America that winter never stops us. Our children spend time outdoors every day. But even in other climates, it should be possible to regularly get out when there aren’t extreme temperatures and such to deal with.
Don’t bore them too much if they don’t want to observe all the tiny details, but often if you just get them started, they will soon develop the habit and skill, and will be pointing things out to you.
Take Walks or Be Outdoors
If you already live on a good-sized property you will be able to observe a lot there. We live in a semi-rural area on a small piece of land. We have found quite a bit to observe here, but I still try to regularly go on walks with my young adventurers.
Besides being a good physical activity, we get a lot more nature experiences that way. We find bird nests and new plants in their natural settings. Spending time in nature-based learning is one of the richest ways of learning about natural ecosystems.
On our walks we have watched the whole process of birds raising their babies, by seeing the progression over several days and weeks. We learn the ways of life and nature’s nonstop process. We often raise caterpillars to butterflies, or observe the praying mantis, spiny-backed orb weaver spiders, aphids, grasshoppers, sprouting seeds, and other living things in nature.
Even in the inner city there are little creatures and plants trying to survive and interesting to observe. I encourage you to get out with your little ones and observe and learn from real life!
You can also get magnifying glasses to observe more little details up close. Get binoculars to observe birds, animals, and landscapes that you usually can’t get close to.
Animals and gardens
Taking care of animals is another great way to learn about life cycles. I grew up on a farm and we understood things like ” the birds and the bees”. We also knew that there isn’t anything like “store milk” (like someone who once didn’t want to try cow milk because they just got store milk!), and that cornflakes don’t grow on cornstalks.
Not everyone has those farm opportunities. Even my children aren’t getting as much farm experience. But on our tiny lot we have some laying hens and a couple of other pets. Caring for animals teaches children a lot.
Child development doesn’t depend on the perfect situation, but simply on using what we have and learning all we can about the world around us.
Gardening is very difficult in Costa Rica if you aren’t dedicated to it. But we are determined to show our children where food comes from, and give them a bit of gardening skills. If they ever need to, or want to, they will know where to start.
If you have the opportunity, sow something at least. Your children will learn the process of plant growth.
More Benefits of Nature Exposure and Real Life
Getting out into nature is also good for our mental health, emotional development, and physical well-being. We human beings need the outdoors and were not made to be shut up in houses doing all our learning from books. Even small doses of nature and God’s beautiful world can be a source of inspiration reminding us that God has so many gifts for us.
Seasons change, and nature’s adaptations teach us that we need to learn how to change and grow ourselves with our human challenges.
Getting out also serves as environmental education. When our children see garbage lying around, they understand how that destroys the beautiful pictures God has made for us. They also learn to take care of plants and animals and do their best to use natural resources wisely.
Start looking, and you will find countless opportunities to learn from daily life around you.
We all know that many life skills are better learned from hands-on experience than from books, at least for most people. Teach your children about housekeeping, cooking, baking, sewing, gardening, etc. by having them do it with you.
Let them get their hands dirty. Teach them how to respond to natural disasters to the best of their ability. They will benefit much more than if you someday give them a home economics course. (Again, those do have their place too! I enjoyed the home economics course from CLE when I was studying).
Read Aloud, Audiobooks, Science DVDs, and Other Learning Helps
While I am trying to make a point that a lot should be learned by experience and nature and not from books and videos, modern technology can be a very good place for learning things beyond the immediate world around us. There are some things we just can not observe in real life.
Reading books to your children is a great way to expand their vocabulary and teach them so much about history and other subjects. I remember a student having a test where she had to match several well-known missionary names to the countries they served in. Her history book had just briefly talked about them, and she had a hard time remembering them. For me, most of them were pretty easy to know off the top of my head. My mom read to us or we read for ourselves the Christian Heroes: Then & Now series, and other books. Information often sticks better if you learn it through real books rather than textbooks (I am absolutely not saying that textbooks and tests are never necessary!)
Audiobooks also are very good ways to get information without having to read books. Science DVDs like the ones linked on my resource page from Moody Institute also are very interesting. You can also find them for free on YouTube. Many children will learn better from these than from a science curriculum, though both have their place.
By making an effort to intentionally learn from experience next time you have the opportunity, you can help give your child a wonderful variety of experiences that will enrich their years.
I remember being very surprised in my school teaching days when a 7th grader could not see the world map in her mind and didn’t know where the continents were. She tried to study them just to pass her test.
When I was growing up, we always had a world map under our plastic table cover. We often talked about the different countries and where world events were happening. We children could always picture it in our minds, and knew where most of the countries were if someone said a name. It also started many good conversations with guests around our table. Best of all, it was something we easily knew without having to study in school time.
That experience when I was teaching taught me that learning in real life has more value than books and test scores often do. Academic success doesn’t just depend on what you study in school. Maybe that also encouraged me to practice the continents and oceans with my little girls, and before they were in school they knew the names and locations on a map quite well! I have a map under my glass tabletop now too, though someday I hope for a bigger, more colorful map.
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If you are interested in any of the resources in this article, you can find links to a world map, magnifying glasses, binoculars for kids, the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series, or the Classic Moody Science DVDs on my resources page under the Learning From Real Life section. Resource Page.
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