Out-of-Doors Life: A Fossil Hunt, or Dealing with the Unexpected

“It is infinitely well worth of the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather to cherish in them, the love of investigation.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol., pg. 71

Let me share with you, I am a woman who likes a plan.  I’m not terribly spontaneous.  Maybe it is the decade of parenting under my belt, or the four dear children, or homeschooling, but I have learned to roll with the punches much better than I used to, but I still like a plan.  That said, the study of nature is not always one that will bend itself to my plan.  Perhaps you’ve found the same to be true?  On the plan it says, “Pin Oak”, and so you head out with your field guide and your nature journal and your colored pencils to study the Pin Oak at the state park only to find that they place is overrun with worms.  Worms lurk under every fallen leaf, every rock, and all over the trail.  You persevere in your attempts to call attention to a majestic tree, the shape of its leaves, and the acorns it drops in autumn, but the children squeal and jump and laugh because they can’t move their feet or they are likely to have their next step be into a bed of earthworms. Nature wins, it is now Earthworm Day.  You have no field guide to help you, but you press on. The kids have a great time, you go home and figure out some stuff about worms and share it with them and the day is a good one after all. These days may irk those of us who then look at our plan and see that the prescribed learning wasn’t accomplished.  We didn’t “cover” the Pin Oak.

Allow me to ease your concerns a bit.  If you go outdoors everyday, and you plan a directed Nature Study or Object Lesson once per week, even if you don’t exactly have a day that goes to plan, the habit of being outside daily will cover up any perceived lack from missing the lesson that was supposed to be “covered”.  Just keep going outside and following your plan as best you can.

Take our weekend nature study as an example.  We were planning to go on a fossil hunt at a local park.  Fossil guide in hand, we took to the car.  After we arrived, we noticed that the area was like stepping into another part of the country.  The park was an old quarry, filled back in and left to the public to explore, meaning that it had an eerie bareness to it that isn’t customary in Ohio.  It seemed like a western desert!

Already, talk of fossils changed to conversations about the Oregon Trail, covered wagons, and the expectations of tumbleweed.

Soon, we reached the fossil trail and this wall of rock that we all wanted to climb in order to find the treasures it seemed to promise.  Unfortunately, this trail proved to be only for those with steady balance as it was quite steep and made largely of loose rock that would slide out easily from under you.  My middle son was disappointed that he kept sliding down and was told it probably wasn’t a good idea to climb the high wall.  Also, I found myself unable to go at all because of a certain hitchhiker…

Mom and the two youngest found themselves unable to do the most fun parts of the fossil trail.  We could have let this be a big disappointment, but we decided to explore for other things.  The others could bring fossils to us.

So we found all the different colors of rocks that we could find…

We met a little grasshopper, who wanted to catch a ride with big sister, but wasn’t interested in staying very long…

And talked about how a leaf starts out as green and then turns brown and falls off the tree…

We found shorter hills to summit, so as to not let the older kids have all the fun…

and we even found a fossil or two.  Don’t let your plans or your expectations for the day dictate whether the day was a success!  Roll with the events that come your way and enjoy the surprises nature (or circumstance) throw your way.  Make the most of each adventure and teach your children, through your example, resilience, good humor, and joy.  Those matter so much more than if they found any fossils on the exact day I wanted them to!

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