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Making New Acquaintances

ButterflyWe talked last time about the benefits of spending time outside—how it cultivates reverence for God, respect for others, and renewed focus on life.

Some of you may have felt annoyed at the reminder. Some of you avoid spending time outside because, to be honest, you find it irritating.

How do I know? Because I used to feel that way too.

The turning point was when I realized why I felt annoyed and irritated. It was because I felt like I was being told to go to a party where I didn’t know anyone.

I could imagine the scenario clearly: I dutifully take my kids to this place full of strangers. One of the children points to an especially pretty guest and asks, “Who is that, Mom?” I glance at the stranger and reply, “I have no idea.” We stand there in awkward silence for the required minimum stay of fifteen minutes. Feeling like a failure, we run back home and breathe a sigh of relief as the door closes behind us. And that’s when the dreaded thought occurs to me: “Oh, no. We have to do that again next week!”

No wonder nature study gets pushed aside so often! 

Charlotte hit the nail on the head when she explained it:

“Until we get as much as a nodding and naming acquaintance with the things of Nature, they are a cause rather of irritation and depression than of joy” (Vol. 4, Book 2, p. 97).

The key to enjoying nature study is making new acquaintances.

Now let’s imagine that party scenario a little differently. This time you go with the intention of making one new acquaintance. That’s it. Just one. You do not carry along the burdensome weight of guilt, thinking you must already know everybody there. No, you are going in order to meet one. Maybe two. 

You take along a party program that lists all of the common attendees, along with their pictures, what they sound like, and what they often do. This time when your children point out a guest who interests them, you pull out the program (also known as a field guide) and make a game of figuring out that one’s name. Then you watch that guest for a little bit to see what else you can learn about him. You pull out a journal and make a note in it to help you remember his correct name and what you noticed. Maybe you also jot down or sketch another guest whom you noticed and want to get to know next time.

You return home relaxed and happy with your new acquaintance. In fact, you find yourself looking forward to seeing that new friend again next time and learning more about him. Plus, you’re eager to find out the name of that second guest whom you sketched.

It’s amazing how having a “nodding and naming acquaintance” with just one or two attendees can change your whole perspective on going to a party.

You see, nature study is meant to be a lifelong joy. The whole point is to develop your own relationships with nature around you, and relationships take time. You’re not expected to know everything about every possible plant, bird, insect, or animal before you ever set foot outside your door. No, you’re expected to get to know them one or two at a time, little by little, as you go along.

So relax. Next time you go outside for nature study, make it your goal to meet just one new acquaintance. Learn its name and jot yourself some notes to help you remember what it is and what it is like. Take your time and become friends with it over an entire season; get to know it well over an entire year.

And before you know it, nature study will become a welcome habit. You will find yourself actually looking forward to heading out that front door every week to go visit old acquaintances and meet a new one. 

The key to enjoying nature study is making new acquaintances.

4 Responses to “Making New Acquaintances”

  1. Kelly March 17, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

    What an absolutely perfect way to describe nature study and the underlying fear I have! Thank you – this seems so doable.

  2. Diana B March 18, 2015 at 10:30 am #

    Beautifully written! We’ve just started nature study in earnest & this describes the first few visits. Now that we are familiar, we find it much easier to go!

  3. Monica March 19, 2015 at 6:28 pm #

    Is there a field guide in particular that you recommend? My DD is going to be in First grade next year.

    • Jordan Smith March 20, 2015 at 10:02 am #

      There are a number of excellent field guides available. We recommend one from any of these publishers: National Wildlife Federation, Princeton, National Audubon Society, Peterson.

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