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Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

In the Schoolroom: Take a Hike!


Whether a short walk around the neighborhood or a long hike, take the time to explore God’s creation and enjoy some wonderful family time together.

I have a conflicted relationship with nature. On the one hand, it is extraordinarily beautiful. God’s creation constantly reflects perfection in how creatures and plants evolve and adapt independently and symbiotically. On the other hand, often something is mucking up your shoes or going splat on the top of your head.

I was raised by a wonderful mother who experienced a case of the vapors whenever she was more than fifteen miles from a Lord & Taylor or a four-star restaurant, so my reluctance to dive deeply into the outdoors is understandable.

I was perfectly happy staying indoors and enjoying the air conditioning, heating, and comfortable chairs until I married an outdoorsy person and gave birth to a bunch of outdoorsy children.

Being outdoors is extremely beneficial to children. For one thing, it means they are not staring at a screen; for another, it requires some physical exertion, improving muscle tone and motor skills. Safe exposure to sunlight increases Vitamin D levels, supporting a healthy immune system. Outdoor exploration just makes sense for growing minds and bodies.

Time to Hike!

In my homeschool, I have always preferred our outdoor activities in the autumn. It is less humid, buggy, crowded, and generally less stressful.

From long beach walks to camping at Gettysburg, I have scheduled it all from mid-October to early November and have never been disappointed.

It can be easy to be overwhelmed with the idea of taking a walk or a hike with a larger family or many small children. If that is the situation, I would suggest starting with a short trail or path near home.

Keep it short and simple, and spend a little time pointing out any birds, squirrels, bugs, trees, and plants you see. A field guide for your area is a worthwhile investment to keep in your bag for these outings.

As everyone becomes more able, increase the length and breadth of your walks. I live on an island, so much of our hiking is near the beach or marshes.

We’ve hiked from Long Island to Fire Island to the lighthouse, across the Island on the Greenbelt Trail, and the trails in the woods surrounding Our Lady of the Island Shrine.

On these hikes, we’ve seen a variety of wildlife, birds, insects, and reptiles and met many nice people. Most hikers are courteous, friendly people, and it is always fun to make a new friend.

A scavenger hunt is always fun and will keep young children interested.

You can easily find these bingo-type boards online, and I have made my own to share with you. The competition to see who finds everything first can add a lot to the day’s excitement. It reminds me of scavenging for states on license plates during my childhood road trips.

Scheduling a few outdoor days in your homeschool this fall is something I encourage all families to try. Whether a short walk around the neighborhood or a long hike, take the time to explore God’s creation and enjoy some wonderful family time together.

Quick Start Guide to Getting Outdoors

  • Take a short walk around the block. Wave to your neighbors, and look at the plants and trees growing around your block. Count how many squirrels or birds you see.
  • Get to know your yard. Spend a few minutes daily walking in your backyard and observing changes. Let a small patch of lawn go wild (don’t mow) and see what wildflowers spring up. Put up a bird feeder and keep a list of the birds that visit.
  • Plant something. Start a few seeds inside, and plant them in your garden when the time is right.
  • Take a few pictures of the same plant or tree every week, and compare the changes each month.
  • Keep a family nature journal. Keep it open in a convenient spot and take turns jotting down observations about the weather, the front yard, the back yard, and the critters.
  • Invest in some field guides for your area, and take them with you when you explore.
  • Visit a state park. They have great programs for kids to learn about and explore local environments.
  • Visit a national park. You can become a junior ranger at any national park in the country. You do not even have to visit to participate.
    Details here:

About Mary Ellen Barrett

Mother of seven children and two in heaven, Mary is wife to David and a lifelong New Yorker. She has homeschooled her children for eleven years using Seton and an enormous amount of books. She is a columnist for The Long Island Catholic and blogs here . Meet Mary Ellen.
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