Everyday Teaching: Nature’s classroom

Outdoors provides a classroom for curious minds.

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Teaching children at home.

As the weather improves, one way to teach your children at home is to liberate them to the woods. Martha’s Vineyard is an abundant classroom for outdoor learning. One young man I know does geocaching with his family; others explore the Land Bank trails, bike to Tashmoo Woods, or hike the swirling dunes of South Beach. In nature, the mind is free to observe, question, and ponder.

Richard Louv, in his book, “Last Child in the Woods,” writes about nature-deficit disorder in the modern age. He laments the fact that many children do not spend enough time outdoors exploring. “Given a chance,” he says, “a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion … In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy, a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.“

Outdoor science inspires creativity. For example, kids observed the harshness of erosion last week on Lucy Vincent Beach. The rising sea levels during storms at Five Corners are a master class in global warming. So too the swinging branch, the climbable tree, the towpath to the pond — all a classroom for the curious mind. Instead of simply reading a text or lecturing, nature provides kids with observations and questions. Such outdoor science and recorded data inspire creativity and visualization.

One timely way to teach in nature this month is using the phases of the moon. Have your kids start a lunar calendar, starting Thursday, May 21. By watching the sky that night, they can trace in their “Moon Journal” from the invisible new moon that night. Over the next 29 days, they can illustrate the crescent moon, the quarter moon, and the waxing gibbous moon before heading outside on June 5 to witness the moon in its full sunlit splendor.

Another fun daytime activity is a nature scavenger hunt. With a brown bag and list of items, kids can be outside looking for items such as leaves, insects, sticks, blossoms, birds’ feathers, rocks, bark from three different trees, animal tracks, and buds. Each day they can set out with a new set of items to hunt down and collect. Children can create their morning lists to exchange with siblings. Finding new wildlife in the yard is particularly easy with the disappearance of so many cars and pedestrians. Birders are enjoying this amazing appearance of new birds in their backyards. A fifth grader in Aquinnah has identified a red-breasted grosbeak and a tufted titmouse in his yard. In late March, a red-tailed hawk arrived to circle Sunset Lake as its hunting ground.

Indoors, YouTube offers virtual birding for free. Check out “The Birders,” a documentary of a road trip through northern Colombia. The producers provide a checklist of 102 different birds that appear, so kids can check them off as they watch. May might be the perfect month for curing “nature-deficit disorder.”