Thursday, April 19, 2012

13 Outdoor Missions for Children

In a passage that has echoed in my head many times since I read it, Annie Dillard says,

"There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?...But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

I used to be able to see flying insects in the air. I'd look ahead and see, not the row of hemlocks across the road, but the air in front of it. My eyes would focus along that column of air, picking out flying insects. But I lost interest, I guess, for I dropped the habit. Now I can see birds. Probably some people can look at the grass at their feet and discover all the crawling creatures. I would like to know grasses and sedges- and care. Then my least journey into the world would be a field trip, a series of happy recognitions."

-From Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Seeing as Art

I love that A.D. speaks about seeing as an art that must be cultivated and practiced. Certainly the decision about whether or not to acquire the skill is a personal one, but I wonder if sometimes as parents we impede the development of the "healthy poverty" needed to really see things by overstimulating.

On the other hand, I wonder if by asking questions about what children see and then being truly excited to hear the answers, we might encourage them to become observant and eager when they look at nature.

Send Them on a Mission

Here are thirteen "missions" you can send your children on to help them learn to "see" and to love being outdoors. Of course, they just scratch the surface. There are many, many more, including some that would be dependent on the area of the country where you live and the time of year. The ones I've chosen, however, are pretty generic- things that might be seen in just about any neighborhood or backyard.

You'll want to send them on just one mission at a time so they can focus. And you'll want to warn them that some of the missions are more difficult than others and that some might require a lot of patience from them. If your children are confident that you will be a careful listener to all of their adventures when they return, however, you might be surprised at how patient and thorough they are willing to be.

Outdoor Mission Ideas

1. Find your yard's best hiding spot for bugs. What kinds of bugs were there?

2. How many spider webs can you find? How many have spiders in them? How many had caught something for the spider to eat?

3. Collect as many different kinds of seeds as you can find. Don't forget to remember what kind of plant they grow into.

4. Find something interesting for us to place as our centerpiece on the table for dinner tonight.

5. Imagine you were two inches tall. What would be the most fun spot in your yard? In your neighborhood?

6. How many things can you find in the yard that can be picked up by a magnet?

7. How many squirrels can you see? Were any of them chattering? Could you figure out why?

8. Can you find any feathers in your yard? If so, what kind of bird do you think they came from? From what part of the bird's body?

9. Find 5 clouds that look like animals.

10. How many different kinds of tiny plants grow in the grassy area of our yard? Do any of them have flowers?

11. Do a tree investigation. Can you find any trees with roots poking up through the ground? Any with roots pushing up through the cement in the sidewalk? Do you see any baby trees shooting up from the stumps of bigger trees?

12. Find an ant hill. What kinds of things will the ants carry into their hole if you drop them nearby? What is the biggest sized object they can carry?

13. In what places in the backyard are you most likely to see a bird? Do they have favorite trees/ roosts, pieces of grass? Why do you think the birds choose those spots?


Anonymous said...

Great list and great ideas to get kids outside and active! Happy TT

sobeit said...

Wonderful list to help kids be more creative with their time....and use their imagination! Happy TT!


Joyful Noise said...

Great list...wish my kids were a little older to do this it is too cold with winter as well!
Happy TT!

Joyce said...

I loved your Thursday 13. It took me back to the days when our children spent so many hours exploring/pretending/playing outside. :)

Lori said...

great post - and i love annie dillard :^)

my favorite a.d. quote: "spend the day. you can't take it with you."

Joyce said...

I loved your Thursday 13. It took me back to the days when our children spent so many hours exploring/pretending/playing outside. :)

Joyful Noise said...

Great list...wish my kids were a little older to do this it is too cold with winter as well!
Happy TT!

Stephenie said...

I love this! Thank you for sharing! 

Rebekah Patel said...

This post really resonates with me.  This is one of the reasons why we don't do extra curricular activities. I feel like we would miss out on the discovering and appreciating the natural world outside our door.  I really like the idea of a child creating a centerpiece on their own using things found in the yard!

Sue said...

Fun to imagine oneself 2 inches tall, and finding good places for a person that size.  (#5) The finding a centerpiece might make me a bit nervous.  :) (something that might have bugs)   I agree with your thought that parents are often tempted to do things that impede the "healthy poverty" by overstimulating them.

Amie McIlroy said...

This post of ideas is wonderful. I can use No. 4 with our Nature Table! Remember Honey I Shrank the Kids, you could link that to No. 5. Oh I am a-buzz with ideas! Thank you! Can I pin this to my Take It Outside Pinterest Board?

Havingfunathome said...

I would be honored!  Feel free to pin any of my posts any time and any where!

The Pepperrific Life said...

I love this post :).  It teaches us to see things in a different perspective.  Not only kids can learn from this.  Oh, yes, we love making things out while looking at clouds :)