This Week in the Woods (and why I’m sort of quitting science class)

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(A Friday feature that chronicles our nature study adventures.)

We kicked off this week by heading over to one of our favourite trails, one that winds through the wetlands. It was late afternoon and the marsh quivered with life. The sun was bright and the air was warm.

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A tall, white egret fished in the water, posing for photos until he was chased away by an angry goose. A pair of wood ducks swam in a pool of sunlight. The girls exclaimed excitedly over a large fish spine that had washed up beside the stream and stooped low to see the leafy May apples, which seem to have popped up overnight. We stopped to examine the coltsfoot and other wildflowers, and the kids tried to make each other inhale the acrid scent of skunk cabbage (only the three-year old fell for it). We spotted nests and insects and small animals.

It was the perfect day.

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Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’m doing enough for science class. I find it difficult to stick to a science curriculum when there is such a beautiful world to explore on our doorstep. Textbook learning just doesn’t compare to roaming the woods, kids in tow, discovering the beauty of creation firsthand. We come home and learn about the things we’ve seen—and we do it on our own terms.

But is it enough?

It’s something that I’ve been thinking about often lately. And asking other home educators about. And talking to my husband about. And praying about.

Should I be sticking to something more formal than nature study and interest-led unit studies?

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As we made our way down the trail, exclaiming over the beautiful things that were everywhere we turned, we barely noticed the others with whom we were sharing the path.

Until the man in front of us stopped by the side of the water.

Curious, we asked him what he was doing.

“Are you a scientist?” he asked after explaining that he was collecting a water sample to examine under his microscope later. “It’s very rare to meet someone as interested in nature as I am.”

“No,” I replied. “I homeschool my children and we do a lot of nature study.”

His question—the answer to my own questions. What we’re doing is science. It’s botany and zoology. It’s biology and it’s very likely more than what my children would be getting in school. It’s awakening wonder in them and it’s filling them with knowledge and beauty.

It’s not everything, but it’s something.

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My girls can identify plants, birds and insects. They can tell you about animals, seasons and habitats. They can tell you the difference between a mute swan and a trumpeter swan, and why we like trumpeters better. They can tell you about the funny habits of the ruffed grouse and where ring-billed gulls prefer to nest.

These are things we’ve discovered together as we’ve roamed woods and marshes. And then there are the things we’ve explored at home, like anatomy, magnetism, electricity, and colour and light. This is learning at it’s best—interest-led, delight-directed.

And yes, while we’ll still refer to our textbooks, I think we’re okay with nature study and unit studies—with a more fluid learning process.

When they get a bit older, that will change.

But for right now, it’s enough.

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