Inside Outside

September 21, 2023

The wonders never cease in raising children. How complex and full they are!  For my firstborn son, the tendencies of his spirit are so vast, he’s really more like two different boys, depending on where he is.

When he’s inside, he often acts as though he is being held hostage, fight-or-flight (usually fight), suffocated by the confines that surround him, like he’s threatened by the very walls of a structure that were built to protect him. He gets in trouble frequently for being too rough, too loud, too much. He has trouble focusing, he’s forgetful and quite clumsy. He gets overwhelmed at the simplest instructions, frustrated at the routine.

Oh, but when he’s outside…

When he’s outside he is free. He transforms from a troublemaker to a team leader. A mess maker to a structure builder. He is no longer tripping over his own feet; he climbs the highest trees with grace and ease. He bounds across a creek, landing surefooted on rock after rock. He is no longer scattered, his eyes and thoughts fix upon the bees, the beetles and burrows.

He is a scientist, a scavenger, a sculptor, a king. His attention focuses on the dangers ahead, he grows, he throws rocks into the lake, farther than he could the week before. He strives, he thrives. The steam of his frustration releases, wafting and swirling up and away into the open sky. He begins to understand the way of nature, of people even.

He is not only unbound from the confinement of “sit here” and “stand still,” he enjoys it. He will “sit here” and watch a baby bird as it struggles against the ants that overtake her. He will “stand still” and listen for the call of the cardinal, the sound of laser blast fire among the trees. Which branch did it come from? Where did it land?

As for the “table work” of schooling, while I do believe that a solid understanding of math and creating beautiful compositions are important, my husband reminds me on the hard days that learning can’t be forced. Work can be forced (sort of), but learning can’t. If the child is bored, he is not learning. So what’s the point of all this homeschooling anyway? I zoom out, the point is to enjoy learning together. To offer the kids freedom. To let them go at their own paces. If we’re butting heads to “just get this done” true learning is not happening. So what are we to do when we know the hard-fought check on the checklist will be fruitless, even if it is earned? We take a break and go outside. We drink at the visual and experiential fountain of nature, which does wonders for the body, the soul, and the mind.

Let us not forget that as teachers, we are the ones who will be attending our homeschool the longest and thus should find what not only works well for our children, but also for ourselves.

Out of doors, for me, the burden of motherhood becomes lighter, the yoke of teacher becomes easier. A friend recently shared an Instagram post with me where a mom wrote, “My tolerance for chaos and complaining is higher outdoors than it is in my own house,” and I think that’s the other part. It’s not just the kids who enjoy nature, it’s also me. Not because I’m trying to be a “fun, outdoorsy adventure mom,” it’s actually easier for me to do life outside with them. I have more patience, the noise isn’t so loud.

When I’m inside my house, I will constantly go through the list of things to accomplish for the day. I’m facilitating schoolwork, cleaning, cooking, and half-listening to the kids as they play while I send emails and pay bills, reminding them to “pick this up before you get out the next activity”…“what’s next on your morning routine?” over and over and over; it’s exhausting. They’re annoyed at my nagging, I feel like a broken record, we need a break.

When we’re outside, I don’t care about their messes. I don’t worry about dishes or laundry; the lunches are packed so I’m not occupied with cooking. I’m present. Outside, I feel like I can give them my full attention and I’m my best version of myself.

Where my children thrive, there they should be, and so should I. We do our best to go outside every day, for as long as possible to fill our cups with beauty and goodness so that we may pour it out both onto our academic studies and onto each other.

Last week while tucking my 7-year-old in bed he told me, “Mom, when I’m surrounded by trees, it just makes me happy” me too, son, me too.

Jenny Fifield is a wife and homeschooling mom of 3 who spends her days making big creative messes and chasing wonder with her kids. She loves nature journaling, slow hikes, camping, writing & utilizing her Theatre degree reading aloud great books with all the voices. She co-leads a Barefoot University group and hosts a monthly book club for Homeschool families.

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