I pulled my 4 kids out of school and took them ice fishing and zip-lining instead. Nature taught them more than books.
- In November 2020, and because of
COVID, we pulled our four kids out of school.
- When outings like museums felt too risky, I took my children into the woods.
If you had told me in January of 2020, in the quiet of a day when my four kids were at school, that a year later I would be standing with them in the middle of a frozen 480-acre lake learning to ice fish on a Wednesday morning, I would have laughed.
I was not a homeschool mom. I think public schools are some of the most valuable assets our society has, and I adore elementary school.
Like most parents, I could never predict the curveballs COVID-19 threw at us. Remote learning was a nightmare for my family — it is not designed with neurodiverse students in mind. When we got behind on schoolwork while all of us battled a COVID infection in November 2020, we withdrew our kids from their school.
As the parent with the more flexible work schedule, I was charged with homeschooling my kids when the typical activities — museums, play centers, group classes — felt fraught with risk.
I opted to take my kids into the woods. Literally. While this was not in my plans, it was the best decision for our children. Some of the adventures we had together will live in my memory forever.
I wanted my city children to experience what nature has to give
I grew up on a hobby farm and spent my childhood outdoors with my siblings. Nature was our museum and our play center.
My kids live in a city. We can walk to school, the dentist, dance class, and the grocery store. They roam from one backyard to the other on our street. My kids are definitely "city kids," we love it, and wouldn't trade it for anything.
The opportunity to turn the expansive natural area around Pittsburgh into our classroom, though, was enticing.
Over the next several months, my kids and I traveled to distant, remote areas on nine different road trips. We explored dozens of natural areas near our home, too. There is an immense privilege in that, I know.
It was difficult, at first, traveling alone with my kids. Bedtime was fraught with battles and too many pent-up pandemic emotions for my little humans living through a global crisis.
They learned so much without looking at textbooks
I was mostly solo, as my husband is an essential worker for a local hospital. I am not skilled at teaching sight words or multiplication facts, but we looked up how to build an igloo — and then did so.
We didn't open a geography book, but we used an actual paper map to find our way through Allegheny National Forest. We stood on the banks of the Susquehanna River surrounded by the Brood X buzzing and dive-bombing cicadas that emerge only once every 17 years.
We jumped off a platform, harnessed to a cable, and screamed as we rushed down the zip line toward the ground.
We collected shells and bones and leaves and took hundreds of photos.
We spent three days observing a killdeer nest and falling in love with the fluffy chicks and dramatic parents.
In the Poconos, a UTV at Blue Mountain Resort dropped my kids and me off at a canvas tent overlooking one of the most beautiful vistas we had ever seen. No electricity, a bucket toilet, and a campfire. We were totally alone.
That night, though, my kids passed out snuggled together while I sipped a glass of wine watching the sunset behind my campfire glow. This wasn't the year I would have ever planned. Many parts of it were hard, traumatic, and devastating. Yet there are some moments that will be solidified in my memory forever — of my city kids immersing themselves in nature as their classroom.
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