Reading through "Home Education," by Charlotte Mason impressed me with the importance for children to spend quality time outdoors. "Never be within doors when you can rightly be without." She encourages mothers to secure their children with quiet growing time and plenty of fresh air. Actually, she encourages moms to dedicate much of the afternoon to outdoor time. Children may run and romp around, making noise and having fun. When they come back to Mom, she may send them on a "sight seeing" expedition to see who can see the most and tell the most about such and such. This exercise (which is play to the children) helps train their observation skills, perceptive power, vocabulary and ideas. She encourages lavish descriptions and children learn the art of discriminating observation. Children build up a series of familiar images in their mind, and learn to really see and enjoy their environment. In later schooling years, he'll learn facts about familiar things, rather than facts about things he's never seen or noticed before. His familiar images will also help him imagine those things that he hasn't seen, by comparing them to the familiar.
What else to do? Picture painting. Introduce the concept by describing a great picture gallery, "and go on to say, that though you don't paint your pictures on canvas and have them in frames, you carry it about with you." Have your children observe a bit of landscape, then close their eyes and visualize it. If their mental image is blurry, let them have another look. When they see it clearly, have them describe it back to you in detail. At first, the children may need Mom's help to see all the details, and you may describe a scene yourself.
What to take notice of and learn about? Flowers and trees, animals, seasons, position of the sun, weather, distance. Note the names of flowers and trees, their leaves and blossoms, and how they change from one season to the next. Children benefit greatly by learning to classify things for themselves rather than reading it from a book. They may make their own book of pressed flowers and leaves, classifying and naming them. Teach children how to quietly observe wildlife. You may take home a little critter for a while, like making a box w/ screen over the top for a caterpillar so you can observe it make a cocoon then turn into a moth or butterfly, or do an ant-hill inside of glass. Children should note the position of the sun, learning to tell the time of day. You can teach distances by pacing a certain distance, and taking note of how far it is. When they understand distances, you can introduce direction. Note again the sun's position & shadows to determine direction, and eventually give him a compass. He may measure and make his own maps or even a treasure hunt. It's also of great value to learn the constellations together, which provide for a sense of direction and enjoyment of the wonder of God's creation. (The two BEST constellation books are: Find the Constellations for younger kids and The Stars for older kids. My explanation/review of them is here.)
In her book, Charlotte Mason notes "For the evil is, that children get their knowledge of natural history, like all their knowledge, secondhand... they are so little used to see for themselves, that nothing interests them... Poor children, it is no fault of theirs if they are not as they were meant to be- curious little eager souls, all agog to explore so much of this wonderful world as they can get at, as quite their first business in life.
It would be well if all we persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life." She also advises that mothers and teachers read up on these subjects, so they can share tid bits and answer questions as they arise. Your child may make a nature diary. He may enter what he finds or notices each day, and illustrate it. Learn more about a nature diary here. Just try to choose a book with good, thick paper for watercolors, or make your own.
Children should also enjoy their time to have fun, sing, frolic, and just "be kids." They may run around, swim, climb, or play games like red rover, jump rope (backwards is preferable b/c it expands the chest), tag, follow the leader, hopscotch, etc.
- Don't "entertain" the children outside with storybooks, etc. Let them learn to explore and discover, romp and play noisy games.
- Do eat meals outdoors when you can, it may have more benefits then you realize, health-wise and psychologically.
- Don't "send" them outdoors too much, instead go with them. Be available to answer questions, and give a gentle nudge to present one or two new learning opportunities, or point out one of God's beautiful creations.
- Do allow for leisure time. Mom may read for a bit while the children play and investigate.
- Don't skip outdoor time in the winter. Nature provides just as many things to observe and learn about in winter time, and children still need some free play time.
- Do change the children's clothes immediately after getting wet in the cool months (of course!). Playing in the rain doesn't make children sick. If, however, the clothes are allowed to dry while the child is still wearing them, as the water evaporates it takes body heat with it (that's why it's good to put a wet cloth on a fevered forehead!).
Here's a related post I liked that's full of ideas perfect to try with pre-schoolers outdoors: Outdoor Life for Preschoolers