On Nature's Trail

Selected blog post

  • Beyond the Classroom
  • Building Character
Meghan Kurleto, Middle School Science Faculty
When was the last time you rolled in the grass, squished your toes into wet mud, or felt delighted listening to the crunch of leaves? If the answer is, “Not since childhood,” then it’s been too long.
I love the mint and lemon balm that grows outside our home, but it doesn’t thrill me. Yet, my daughter grabs a leaf and breathes in deeply whenever she walks by. It’s as if it’s her first whiff each time. Viewing nature through the experiences of a toddler and a young child is one of the most glorious gifts I’ve experienced as a parent. Their curiosity abounds. Their questions are endless, their joy immeasurable.
When Covid first hit our world, my family and I stayed hunkered down in our home for what seemed like months. In actuality, our very active three-year-old and new-to-the-world six-month-old pushed us out into the yard, the park, and any bit of nature we could find. We took hour-long walks, multiple times a day, exploring our neighborhood with fervor for signs of spring, animals, and, with any luck, dinosaurs. Armed with buckets, spoons, binoculars, containers, and tweezers, we dug, plucked, scooped, observed, listened, and ultimately memorized the sights and sounds of our neighborhood with gusto.
Though some adults would cringe away, my daughter was fearless when handling caterpillars, freeing a shield bug that was trapped in our house, or closely monitoring a frog living in our outdoor electrical outlet.
As a science teacher, I could turn these excursions into mini lessons for the girls. They listened to library books about reptiles after finding a garter snake in the grass. Inchworms dropping from trees gave me the opportunity to talk about cocoons. In addition to toasting and eating pumpkin seeds, we planted some in the backyard to see if they’d sprout.
I was learning, too. Digging in the dirt for “treasure” was as fun as it was messy. Creating a nest of twigs for stuffed animals sparked my creative side. Hunting for animal scat to learn more about who roamed our neighborhood was informative, but hearing the giggles and squeals from my girls was priceless. These explorations inspired me to create lessons for my students based around nature; challenging them to find evidence of animal life in their own neighborhoods with their families to encourage a similar sense of wonder.
When I was a child, I had jars of sea glass in blues, greens, whites, and browns. On a recent trip to Lake Michigan, I could almost feel the colorful hunks in my fingers, worn smooth and frosted from their time underwater, as I watched my children collecting their own beautiful and unusual curiosities.
“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder,” E.B. White wrote. Some of us lose that adventurous spirit. We become afraid of insects, annoyed by birds’ songs, and neglectful of mint leaves.
Your next nature experience doesn’t have to involve hiking boots and bug spray. Just look out the window or inhale the scent of lilac or freshly mown grass and remember how it felt to be a child, in awe of the world.
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Detroit Country Day School is a private, independent, co-educational, non-denominational, preschool through grade 12 college preparatory school in Michigan focused on a well-rounded liberal arts education. Emphasis on academics, arts, athletics, and character development is prevalent across the curriculum. The school admits students of any race, color, religion, sexual orientation, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to students in the school. To learn more visit www.dcds.edu
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