“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
― Isaac Newton
There is truth and beauty surrounding us in nature if we only take the time to observe it. The pace of life often leaves us in a whirlwind of schedules, appointments, errands and meetings, leaving little room for scrutiny and delight of the magnificent world encircling us.
One way I’ve incorporated observation of the details is through nature walks and sketching. I was apprehensive about blending these tools into our homeschooling life because (quite honestly) I suck at art. No really. It’s more than just a lack of talent, I truly don’t find any enjoyment whatsoever in the artistic process. The thought of drawing, painting or sculpting actually stresses me out.
Homeschooling is a daily exercise in removing any semblance of my comfort zone, so I figured the art/nature experience went along perfectly in the grand scheme of things. I took the plunge as soon as the weather became tolerable and began regular nature walks with my munchkins in tow.
At first, I tried to kill two birds with one stone and incorporate some exercise into the walks. I set a brisk pace, hoping to burn some extra calories – which was a disaster on every level. I was frustrated because my sweat expectation was not being met, the kids were annoyed because I pushed and prodded them along, and we didn’t really do a whole lot of observing. No time for that nature stuff! Gotta pick up the pace and get this done!
Once I chillaxed a little, our walks burgeoned into an anticipated jaunt through neighborhood’s wild areas, delighting in the details and celebrating the incredible design in every living thing. The kids and I head out most mornings, collection bags slung around their little shoulders to experience a world that is freshly new every day. I don’t allow them to take any souvenirs from other’s yards, instead, I take pictures of anything we can’t remove, but they want to sketch. Usually, they pick nature they can smell, feel and touch – the whole body experience is just that much better.
Upon returning home, we spend a few minutes sketching something interesting we gathered along the way. On truly lovely days, we do our sketching outside.
We don’t all always draw the same item, whatever has caught our individual attention most is what that person focuses on. During this time, I allow the kids freedom in their artistic expression, but encourage them to pay close attention to the specific characteristics of what they’ve chosen.
I pepper them with questions to help define what they should be looking for. Does the color change at all? How many petals? How does one flower compare to another we’ve recently seen? How are they the same? Different? Depending on the variety, we might have a young and more mature version of the plant to dive into. My son frequently wants to cut things open and see what they look like inside as well.
We also locate the item in our Natural History book and label the species. We picked this gem up at Costco last fall for half the price I’ve seen it other places. I’m sure you can get something similar from the library to start your process with. I cannot rattle off names of plants and animals with ease. Or even with difficulty. I know jack squat about what stuff is called. So together, the kids and I scour our book to locate and identify what exactly we are sketching.
Discovery and observation have developed a love of nature in my children. Of the intricacies of life. They’ve realized patterns and details never before noticed. The slower pace of our walks has exposed the ugly truth that far to often, I am caught up in the rush of getting it all done, and forget that kids are naturally inquisitive about the world surrounding them. Their pace is so much slower than mine. Rushing around constantly robs them of the innate joy of nature. Instead of being frustrated at our snail’s pace, I’ve learned to relish taking the time to fulfill their curiosity. It has opened my eyes to the simplicity and stunning beauty of the world.
Forcing myself into marrying nature and art has also grown my ability to sketch without the expectation of perfection. I think the reason I’ve never appreciated art is my own insecurities. I’ve compared my ability to others (thief of joy!) and as a result, lost the pleasure of observation and replication. Who cares if my drawing isn’t some kind of masterpiece? In embracing my own weaknesses, I’m demonstrating to my kids that while you won’t be great at everything, it isn’t ok to just give up and not try. You may find (as I have) that giving challenging things a second go-round as an adult is incredibly rewarding. Plus, pushing your own limits will give you empathy for the kids when they’re struggling with something new. Never stop learning!