By Sheri McGregor
As the weather turns, the soft, warm breezes of spring call for us to revel in the bright green of newly sprouted grass, and the promise of budding blooms that hold sweet scented rainbows inside. With the snow melted and the blue sky brightening their worlds, how do you keep your home schooled children on task? Take the task outdoors, of course. Hiking into nature provides the perfect environment for some whole learning that can cross the subject borders: physical education, science, history, social studies, literature, and art.
Before You Go
Get a local guidebook and research which trails will fit your child’s age and ability, as well as your other needs. Do you want long stretches of easy, flat trail on which to run? Can you bring along the dog? Are you seeking wildflowers for a lesson on native plants, their pollination or cycle of life? Determine your specific needs then find a trail that fits. (See below for hiking preparation and safety tips.)
Decide what you’ll study. Hiking lends itself well to several subject areas. Whether you get cooperative same-grade groups together, or bring your own or others’ homeschooled children of various ages, on-the-trail activities work. Below are a few possibilities.
These are just a few of the easy ways you can incorporate hiking into your lesson plans, for fun learning that promotes healthy physical activity. Plan ahead, so that as the weather warms and winter-weary students are anxious for the great outdoors, you can all take a pleasant hike.
1. Have middle grade students research local native plants, then look for and identify them in the field. Have them note what they found and draw pictures in their take-along journals. Back at home or in a cooperative home school group, children can share interesting facts about the plants they researched (verbally or written), or write a poem. You could enrich the study by reading nature essays and literature. Call a local nature photographer or writer to come in and speak to a group of home-schoolers you’ve gathered.
(Subjects: science, art, language arts.)
2.Choose and study a historical journey or event that fits your students’ grade level, then host a re-enactment on the trail. Fifth-graders can learn about Lewis & Clark, for instance then take little red wagons on a wide, flat hike, making notes of what they see just as the historical figures did.
(Subjects: History, Social Studies).
3. Study different types of rocks and how they form, then choose a trail that features some about which the children learned. Have them point out metamorphic or igneous rocks. Small, handheld rock samples are only the beginning. Out on hiking trails, children can get up close to towering boulders, and observe the earth’s work in more magnificent form. Have them use rich language to name the boulders based on shape or surface texture; i.e. “seal,” “hamburger,” “gritty” rock. Have them look at the trail’s soil. Is it made up of smaller, broken pieces of the big rocks they see? Younger children can pour water into the dirt. Is it porous? Dry? Soft? Back at home or in your group, share information about locations around the world where there are interesting, carved or sacred stones such as Easter Island, or islands with volcanic rock. (Subjects: science, physical education, literature, geography).
4. Grab up easels and paints, or drawing pads and pencils, and take children to a hike with a view. Teach them about perspective and let them experiment with it in their own nature art. (Subject: art)
Preparation and Safety Tips
a. Preview the trail, or use a detailed guidebook like one from the 60 Hikes series (right) in order to match the landscape to your lesson plan and children’s abilities.
b. Whether bringing your own children or home-schooled children in a bigger group, outline guidelines and rules such as staying on the trail to avoid snakes or someone getting lost. Have a “trail boss” and someone also bringing up the rear to keep anyone from straggling. Groups may want to invest in two-way radios so everyone can keep in touch.
c. Bring plenty of water. Better to err on the side of too much than too little. Even in mild weather, the body needs hydration. Many public hiking trails do not have drinking water available. Snacks or a picnic lunch are also good ideas.
d. Wear appropriate shoes and clothing. Is poison oak or ivy present? Long sleeves and pants are a plus. Sneakers with good tread are often okay. Actual hiking boots may be a better bet for slippery, rocky, or steep trails.
e. Bring a camera.
f. Most of all – – have fun!