Kids are made to be outside. As homeschoolers, we are fortunate to work time outdoors into our learning schedule. It’s an opportunity to be with friends – sometimes dozens of them – to spot wildlife, see what’s blooming, or discover the creepy crawlies in the area. If a snake is involved, especially one that pees on whomever is brave enough to pick it up, it’s a banner day.
Since our kids were little we hiked with friends, often traveling the 3 hours to Glacier to terrify the poor bears with our boisterous group. A couple of years ago my friend, Katrina, who loves the outdoors as much as I do, thought it would be a good idea to create a more official club, complete with nature journaling. So we started planning hikes and activities, oftentimes with sketching, which she handles because I am talentless with the patience of a fruit fly. It’s something when you have 3 dozen kids and parents sitting on rocks and trails sketching the plants, insects, or scenery in front of them. No phones. Just a sketch pad and various means of drawing.
In my mind, it’s the ultimate learning experience because the kids are immersed in the activity, not passively reading or watching about it. Several years ago, before the official club was formed, the Montana Wilderness Association was gracious enough to host a hike for us leading us on an adventure in the Middle Fork of the Judith. This is an area outside of the Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area, which was inherently obvious due to its thorough thrashing it received from local ATV use. They went anywhere they wanted, including tearing back and forth through the water causing severe sedimentation, as well as right through tall brush alongside the water. It was a blatant example of irresponsibility and why wild places need protected. We could preach until the end of the day, but when the kids actually see the destruction of irresponsible use, it makes a greater impact.
Our hikes are also a time to overlap with other subjects. Early in the season we walk up to the saddle at Tower Rock State Park in Cascade. This is where Captain Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition climbed to gain a better understanding of where the prairie ends and the mountains begin.
The topic of Lewis and Clark also arises when we hike to Sulphur Springs, a 3 mile roundtrip walk across the prairie to the springs where Capt. Lewis gave the mineral laden water to Sacajawea, supposedly healing her from a severe illness. Last year, Bill and Chris, a geologist friend who is also a history buff, along with his plant-loving wife, joined us for the hike. Along the way he stopped to explain the history and geology, and Chris and I were happy to share the different types of flowers blooming. At the springs, we took water samples to test its composition, as well as bacterial level. Besides enjoying a beautiful day outdoors with each other, the kids experience hands-on, sometimes incredibly muddy, learning opportunities.
One of the best parts is the joy of being outside and returning to familiar areas. Wagner Basin in Sun Canyon is one of our favorite spots. The kids run to the “skull tree” where local artists attach animals skulls decorated with the prettiest pictures on them showing friends who’ve never been there. When we go to the same places, they know the rocks, the fun trees, or the pools to play in, yet there’s always something new to discover.
But my favorite aspect is reminiscing about our adventures. It’s fun to remember the kids walking together talking the entire way, picking huckleberries in abundant years, or sliding down snowfields (as well as smacking a poor woman from Pennsylvania in the head with a snowball because she was in the crossfire) in August. The perfect day, at least in my book, is when we combine friends and the outdoors, and thankfully, we’re starting the season again to make long-lasting memories and learning experiences the kids won’t forget.