Story of the Month – March

by Traci McGrath, Austin, TX


Many of us are intentional about  giving our kids with time in nature.  We provide them with open space and time to dig.  Or take nature walks with them.  I’ve always enjoyed taking nature walks.  But, to be honest, I’ve often felt inadequate when I did not know the names of every tree and bird so that I could share them with my son when he asked.  I’ve often found myself running to the computer to Google new creatures or leaves we find to bridge this deficit in my knowledge of nature.

Over vacation we had the pleasure of spending an evening at the beach with a dear friend who is a marine biologist.  My son gravitated to him and his shared excitement over all things nature!  As I followed along, I was astonished at the depth of thought my four-year-old gave to a sprig of seaweed.  I listened as they asked questions together and explored all the functions of the leaves and the little ocean creatures who used the seaweed as shelter.  My son was full of wonder, thrilled by all the details of creation that we seldom take time to notice.  But I saw that our friend, the biologist, spent very little time labeling or explaining things.  Instead, he simply asked questions.

When he explained to me what he was doing I realized – even in teaching our kids, simpler is better.  “Parents think they need to know the names of plants and animals in order to teach their kids about them,” he said. “But it just isn’t so.  Too often when we find out the name of  a plant or creature we feel we have it all figured it out and we give no more thought to it.”  He went on to explain that what really engages kids in nature and what fills them with respect and awe for it is to simply ask them questions.  See that bird over there?  Why do you think that bird is here and not somewhere else?  Why do you think his beak is shaped that way? …Simple questions like this are what led my son to a profound understanding of and admiration for a chunk of seaweed.  Simple questions like this proved to be far more effective in developing his scientific thinking than my approach: to try and answer all my son’s questions by running to the computer to look something up and label it.

This idea resonates very much with me and with what I feel is central to the Simplicity Parenting movement – that we really can “do” less as parents, and that our kids will flourish in the space that opens up for them.  We can back off – even in our endeavors to inform – and leave room for our kids to make their own discoveries.  Because true education and depth of thought comes from something as simple as the willingness to question and remain open to wonder.


Here’s to many more simple, wonder-filled nature walks! 


Traci lives near Austin, TX with her husband and two young sons.  Her family enjoys camping, hiking, gardening, homeschooling and learning, learning everywhere they go.  Traci directs a part-time homeschool community and enjoys working with Simplicity Parenting as Social Networking Coordinator and Associate Editor.


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