There are many reasons I am drawn to Waldorf education. I love the idea of honoring children and letting them learn at their own pace. I embrace the emphasis on educating the whole child – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and not just filling the mind with “knowledge.” And I’m particularly tickled about how nature is incorporated into every aspect of Waldorf education.
There has never been any doubt in my mind that outdoor time is essential for good health and brain development. I became even more intentional about spending time outside when we started using a Waldorf-based homeschool curriculum. Here are our top five favorite ways to have fun outside in the summer.
1. Nature Walk
There is no right or wrong way to go on a nature walk with kids. It all depends on the mood and the surroundings. Sometimes it’s nice to run, climb trees, jump high to touch branches hanging over a path and just be as wild as energy allows.
Other times, it’s nice to pay attention:
- how does a tree bark feel under the fingers,
- how is this leaf different from a leaf on the next tree,
- what is tangled up in a spider web stretched between two blades of grass,
- where are the ants going with their load…
You can also enjoy, what I call a tranquility walk. This is when you try to connect with the natural world through your auditory and olfactory senses. How many different sounds can you identify? Can you hear leaves moving in the wind? A bird call? Insect buzzing? How about smells? How many different smells can you detect?
If the art of walking, as in putting one foot in front of the other with absolutely no purpose and no final destination in mind seems a bit boring to you or your children. You can make use of Scavenger Hunts or play “I Spy” games “I spy something yellow (smooth, rough, round, bumpy, tall) or look for pretty stones to take home.
2. Gardening with Kids
I believe that gardening should be part of every person’s childhood. And it’s not only because of the pleasure of digging in the dirt, hands-on exploration, and working alongside a mentor (parent). The memories of summer garden last a lifetime. Ask any number of people who had a garden as a child to tell you something about it and you will see a big warm smile spread across their face before they even start talking.
Besides being intrinsically fun, it’s also very educational. Count the seeds, measure inch-deep holes for planting with a ruler, calculate how many buckets of water you need to water your plants, mark off each day on a calendar as you wait for the garden to grow. The possibilities are endless.
Some of my kids’ favorite things to plant are cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, sugar snap peas, pumpkins, beans, lettuce, sweet peppers, sunflowers and of course, lots of colorful flowers.
3. Rock collection
(or stick collection or leaf collection or all of the above)
Children are natural collectors. They always seem to have an eye out for something that is attractive and unique to them: stones, sticks, leaves, bugs, shells, dried plants ….
Make it official and create a home for the treasures. Besides practicing organizational skills, it will give you all an extra reason to regularly go for nature walks (we call them Specimen Acquisition Walks).
Some other benefits of collecting are fine-tuning observational skills, learning comparison, practicing story-telling as kids tell others about their collection and share their knowledge, and in later years even record-keeping and science note taking.
4. Outdoor arts and crafts with nature materials
I always believed that if an activity can be done outdoors, it should be done outdoors. I remember how during one of our classes at Waldorf Forest School, a teacher set up a fun project involving glue, mud, and paints right on the forest floor and all the kids had a blast. And since I wasn’t the one supervising everyone I had time to notice how peaceful and happy the kids looked.
Nature is a great source of inspiration and what’s more, the best art supplies can be found outside. Every time we pull weeds out of our garden, we use a blade of grass to tie it, and use it as a paintbrush. You don’t even need the actual paints, just dip it into a bucket of water and “paint” the fence wet.
Some of our favorite outdoor projects: painting rocks, weaving branches, catapult painting, gluing seashells, wind chimes, sun prints, and more.
5. Fairies and their hiding places
Are you skeptical about the whole fairies thing that is part of the Waldorf curriculum? Do you wonder what’s the point in filling your kids’ heads with nonsense that has absolutely no practical application in real life? If the shoe is missing, why say the fairies must have hidden it when it’s obviously a kid who tossed it the wrong way?
When I was a kid every missing object in my grandma’s house was a work of Tsort (sort of Devil’s little apprentice). We would walk from room to room with my grandma looking for a missing object reciting, “Tsort, Tsort, play with it without a fuss and remember to give it back to us.” I remember being absolutely on top of the world with delight when we did find what we were looking for. So there was magic in the world, after all, I thought. And if there is magic, there is a point in dreaming big!
I find that fairies inspire a lot of playful, creative, and artistic activities. Our favorite Fairy Play is going out looking for fairies hiding places. It takes a lot of concentration to look into every hole, nook, and cranny in the park or forest. And I’m consistently amazed at their attention span. It proves, that when kids really believe in what they are doing, they are capable of amazing focus. So when I run across the articles on how to increase attention span in school kids, I always think, go look for fairies! It’s the best attention training exercise there is!
What are your favorite outdoor activities?