After the long days of winter, spring has finally arrived and the daylight hours are getting longer. Maybe cabin fever has taken your family by storm. There are many different activities that you and your child can do with those “extra” daylight hours. Getting outside is a great remedy for this very thing. If you are more of an indoors person you may be thinking now that you are outside, what do you do? In this article we will be discussing what Charlotte Mason had to say about being outdoors, what is sensory input, and what are some activities that will help to encourage your little scientist in your own backyard.

One of the growing trends within the homeschool community is the Charlotte Mason philosophy. One of her quotes used frequently is, “Never be indoors when you can rightly be without.” In her writing you will also find,

“In the first place, do not send them; if it is any way possible, take them; for although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October.”

I don’t know about you, but the first time I read that last quote I was taken back by the number of hours she recommended that the mother and children spend outside. When you have only young children it may be easier to accomplish that goal, but when you have school-aged children you have to get creative in getting everyone outdoors most days. To begin, just having the goal of getting outside at least for one hour every day is a reasonable place to start. Then the next month, you could decide to spend two hours outside and have a picnic lunch as well.

It seems everybody is talking about providing opportunities for children to have sensory input. What is sensory input? The short answer is: anytime a child engages with his surroundings using his senses. It helps children to learn about their environment through free play and exploring with their senses. For example, a child learns that water and dirt mixed together makes mud. He can feel the difference between the water and dirt. He learns that the mud is soft, squishy and now a different color when wet. He also learns that the process cannot be undone immediately, and that it takes sunshine to dry it out. All of these questions and ponderings that your child has while playing with mud lights a spark of natural curiosity that lays a foundation for science.

Now to answer the question, “What do we do now that we are outside?” There are many different activities or even simple science stations that you could do to engage your child in exploring nature. It is a good idea to have water, snacks, bug spray, and sunscreen on hand while you and your child are outside. Taking a walk around your back yard is one of the simplest ways to help your child make observations about what can be found in nature. Throughout the year, having a nature scavenger hunt checklist handy can help your child to look for specific items that may or may not be local to you. This can help build the habit of attention for a child to slow down and take note of what can be found so close to home.

My children love to connect “nature things.” They have collected rocks, pinecones, sticks, leaves, acorns and other items. You could set up a mud kitchen for your child to create mud pies. This can be as simple as having a shallow container with water for your child to use to mix the water with the dirt. The container of water could also be used to test if the nature things collected sink or float, or you can use it as a washing station.

Having a pair of binoculars and a bird field guide handy is fun for your budding bird watcher. Another activity that my children enjoy is to have a nature journal to draw pictures of what they have observed by being outside.

Now that spring has arrived, make plans for getting outside with your child daily to marvel in God’s creation. Remember that fostering a love of science doesn’t have to be complicated. Just get outside, have fun, and keep it simple. Through observation, nature walks, and simple science stations you can encourage your child to be a scientist.

Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Jennifer Chandler is a wife and homeschool mommy to five children. She has been prayerfully walking out her family’s homeschooling journey since 2011. Her hobbies include reading, writing, reviewing books, scouting for books, and drinking coffee.