On any given evening, about an hour before sunset you can usually find me loading the kids into the van to take a drive. We don’t have anywhere to go necessarily, but sometimes I just have to get out of the house for a few minutes. Most of the time the kids are willing riders, as long as their friends have gone inside for the evening and there isn’t any fun being had without them. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day, and sometimes, depending on the day’s events, the first time I feel like I can breathe easy. My jeans are usually still wet from watering the plants (I’m a reckless waterer), and there’s no place any of us have to be. I roll down the windows because life feels better with your hair flying around. As we pull out of the neighborhood the kids say, “Can you play our songs, Mama?” We have a playlist of songs that we love, or are special to us that we listen to as we drive around and they take turns choosing what I play for them. We live just over on the rural side between the country and the city and we take every advantage of those quiet backroads. We don’t have a set route but we frequently drive past a few of our favorite spots, just to check-in, even though they aren’t expecting us. 😊 Some of the highlights are a broken dock off a big lake near our house, the cutest little white house turned barber shop, a street hilariously called “Who Dat Road”, the prettiest open field where you can watch the sunset while the cows graze, a flower farm, countless strawberry fields, orange groves and a street lined with huge Spanish moss filled oak trees that looks like out of a southern romance novel. We also love driving down new roads we haven’t been down and figuring out how they connect to our more regularly travelled spots. And the smells. This time of year you can smell so many different things when you’re driving with your windows down. The other day we smelled jasmine, wisteria, a bon fire, gardenia, hay, and freshly rained on grass all on a 30 minute drive.
I think my love for driving around came from my childhood when my parents would take us on long drives. We lived in Florida for most of my life, but we lived in Tennessee for the majority of my elementary school years. That’s where I remember driving the most, probably because you had to drive a while to get just about anywhere because our town was so small. On one particular drive when I was about 6 or 7, we found three box turtles in the middle of the dirt road we were on, all at different times in about a 15 minute span. We took the turtles home and had a race on the living room floor. My turtle, Shelly, fell asleep half way through the race like the loser she was. 😊 Daddy’s turtle, Brian III, veered off course and my sister’s turtle, Angelica, won if I remember correctly. We tried to feed them lettuce over a period of a few days, but thought it best to let them go in a creek across the street from our house. On another drive out to our new house in a different part of Tennessee, we found two very fluffy puppies. I’m sure my animal loving mother put up a secret fight to keep the dogs, but we ended up taking them to the animal shelter.
Update: My sister read this post and said she thinks my Dad's turtle won the race. Also, she thought her turtle was choking on a piece of lettuce so she stuck her finger in its mouth to save its life and it bit her so hard she had to fling it across the room to loosen its deadly jaw from her 4 year old finger. The turtles were released in the creek after this close call. :)
One memory of my childhood drives that really sticks out to me was on a road trip from Tennessee to Florida. If you’ve ever taken backroads to get anywhere in that region of the country, you’ll inevitably drive passed sprawling cotton fields. We had seen so many cotton fields from behind the glass in our minivan that it had long lost its wonder and appeal. I remember some Eagles song was on the radio, don’t ask me why. My mother asked my dad to pull over next to one of those cotton fields. None of us had any idea what she was doing. She walked into the field, broke off a few pieces of the cotton plant and walked back to the van. As many times as we had seen cotton fields, we had never touched the plant. She handed us each a piece and we held it in our hands. We touched it, smelled it, and pulled the cotton fibers apart with our fingers. Anyone who REALLY knows me knows that I HATE cotton balls. Even the thought of pulling a cotton ball apart makes me break out in goosebumps. I just broke out in goosebumps. 😊 But the cotton from that field, from that plant didn’t feel like a typical cotton ball. It was softer and not as compact. I’m sure those lifted cotton samples ended up getting trampled under our feet while we entered or exited or minivan the rest of the trip, but obviously the memory of that experience is still very vivid for me.
As an adult I’ve really developed a love for plants and nature. Over the last year or so I’ve seen the interest grow in my children. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time they all simultaneously groan when I point out what kind of flower or tree I’m looking at. I’m especially annoying on trips because I love to stop and take photos of plants I’ve never seen before. On the other hand, I’ve seen the pride in their little faces when they correctly identify a plant when we’re out and about. I have been trying to find a way for them to help them grow their knowledge of plants and nature without force feeding it to them in a book or with a specific curriculum. There are a ton of resources online for nature study, but a lot of them involve some kind of wordy worksheet. Over the past few weeks I have been working on our own kind of nature study. I planned on starting with plants in our own yard, but around the time I started planning this we were getting ready for several trips out of town. We went to Palm Springs, California, then two weeks later St. Augustine, a week later Denver, Colorado, and a week after that Atlanta, Georgia and St. Lucia. It has been a whirlwind of a month and a half that’s for sure. Instead of starting when we got back, I decided we could capitalize on the travel and collect some samples from all those different regions.
The first thing I knew we needed was some kind of traveling bag. I wanted to include our own nature study template, some drawing paper, watercolor paper, crayons, colored pencils, watercolor paints, brushes and regular pencils. I was also on the hunt for some kind of protective material to store the samples we collect. After a couple weeks of researching different materials and playing out scenarios of what we’d need in my mind, I narrowed down the list. I bought a traveling art portfolio/case that doubles as a backpack for each kid. We keep art materials like colored pencils and watercolors in the pouches on the outside of the bag. Inside we keep the nature study templates I created, some drawing paper and some watercolor paper. I found some plastic sleeves meant for postcards (two postcard pouches per page) on Amazon to keep the samples we collect in. Collecting samples around our yard is pretty simple. You should have seen the lengths I went to when trying to transport samples from our trips back to our house. Let’s just say a few sprigs of Bandana Lantana from Palm Springs barely made it home in some broken pieces of new toothbrush packaging with a hair tie wrapped around it. I once carried a Starbucks cup with samples of the red dirt and pebbles from Sedona, Arizona in my purse sans lid. I like to live dangerously. Once we collect the samples, each kid can draw, photograph or watercolor a picture of the sample. They can write down different plant characteristics we see with our eyes and we’ll do some googling to find out more details. The goal is to make this something they want to do, instead of something I’m forcing them to learn.
I guess I should probably advise against damaging any plants in the collection process, or taking samples from National Parks because apparently that’s illegal. Don’t ask me how I know that. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. 😊 We try to collect samples that have already broken off the plant, but I’m not going to lie, we usually end up breaking off a piece here and there.
Another benefit of the sample collecting is admittedly selfish. When we were in Hawaii in 2016 I saved a little bit of beach sand to take back with us as a memento. It had been sitting in my closet on top of my dresser for months. I found a hutch on Facebook Marketplace a few weeks ago for $10. I will never stop telling people that it was $10 because it is the best deal I’ve ever gotten on anything ever. Anyway, I really wanted to use it as an apothecary type display of some of the natural elements from the places we’ve been. I got some inexpensive glassware and loaded them up with some of the things the kids have found. They store our sand from Hawaii, red dirt and rocks from Sedona, rocks, pine sprigs and White Oak samples from Denver and Breckenridge, shells from St. Augustine, Bandana Lantana from Palm Springs, sparkly rocks from Lake Lanier in Georgia, and some Hickory nuts from a camping trip the boys went on with my parents. The Mexican skull pictured was decorated by Bellamy as I was making lunch but I liked it, so we kept it for the picture. 😊
Special thanks to my internet friend, Joanie for some of the nature study inspiration. She just did a series of blog posts about what she and her six kids are up to this summer with nature study. Her blog is www.simplelivingmama.com and you can also check out her videos on YouTube at Simple Living Mama.
I hope this extremely long blog post that has taken literally weeks to write on and off, has given you some new ideas for some fun things to get the kids involved with nature study. Because if it hasn’t, I QUIT! 😉 So go out, take a drive, roll the windows down, steal samples of people’s plants, and live yo’ life.