Using a nature-based homeschool curriculum has taught me a LOT…about myself, my values, what I want out of this life, what I need, and what I want my days to look like as a work from home mom of 3. Those homeschool lessons have bled over into my motherhood journey, too, showing me what motherhood means to me, how I want to be seen and known by my kids, my willingness to learn beside them, my connection with the world around us, all of it.
I’m an opt-outer in a lot of areas of my life. Homeschool is obviously counter cultural for what most people choose for education (well, until recently). But so is my happiness in motherhood. We’re told to live on a schedule, live for the weekends, be irritated, drink to survive, stay inside and have a pristine, pin worthy house that doesn’t look like kids live in it. There isn’t this constant message about nature and motherhood. In fact, if you’re stereotyped—as a crunchy mom, an outdoorsy or sporty mom, or even a homeschool mom if you spend a lot of time outside or focused on nature. But it’s that connection with nature that has brought me a lot of happiness and peace as a mom.
I’ve found happiness in a counter culture lifestyle. My days don’t look like M-F 9-5, living for the weekends. Instead all seven days are equally important and my intentions and energy matter whether it is Tuesday or Saturday. I’m a parent every moment of every day. I’m a person. I’m talented and flawed. I’m eager and tired. I’ve got some things figured out and also know that everything could change tomorrow (so is it ever really figured out?) And did I mention I get tired. And overwhelmed. And stressed. So how can experience all of those things and be happy? By paying attention. By making adjustments as I need to. And where does that paying attention start? By practicing paying attention in nature. Where do the adjustments happen? A lot of times in nature. If I’m having “a minute,” I can shift that energy almost instantly by going outside. Same for my kids. Same for how I handle my stress levels…if I start to feel the pressure of a growing to-do list that comes along with growing success, I don’t jump into my to-do list first…instead I just go outside. I putz in the yard, water plants, hang out with our chickens and goats, weed the garden, move trees, plant seeds, experiment with propagating, sit in the morning sun, go for a walk, listen to the birds, enjoy the view. In fact, putting together this milestone episode and getting ready to shift into two episodes a week has me itching to go outside and re-plant a bottle brush tree instead of sitting here writing and recording.
But how can I do those outdoor things with a long list of responsibilities. It’s because of my mindset. It’s because of the value I place on my time outside. Nature has value to me. A connection with nature has value to me. So it’s not a “waste of my time” or “wasting the day” but instead doing something that is valuable, gives me life, a break, perspective, connection, a minute, a breath of fresh air.
My life and days are really full. I used to wear my busy-ness as a badge of honor, but now I see it for what it is. Fullness. And I get to choose what I fill my days with…I can fill them with a bad attitude, overwhelm, too much time on my phone, martyrdom—all the toxic things that are celebrated and encouraged in the mainstream messages of modern motherhood.
But those messages are killing us. They’re killing our spirits, our confidence, and our connection with our family and the world around us. We’ve become so distracted and disconnected from nature that if I say things to you like “I know the name of almost every plant in my yard” or “I have a relationship with a mockingbird who lives in my yard,” I sound bat-shit crazy according to our cultural narrative. Who has a relationship with a bird? Unless it’s a character in a movie or book, it’s not seen as real or even okay.
So let me show you why it’s not crazy.
What it is.
What do I mean? Do I mean that we live in the jungle on Maui and we spend all of our time outside and live off the land? No. But I know people who do. And they aren’t crazy.
What I mean is I make connection with nature a priority—for myself AND for my family. It means I know that when I’m having a hard time or the kids are having a hard time that one solution is for us to simply go outside. Fresh air does wonders for everyone. It diffuses tense situations and bad attitudes almost instantly.
It means that weather doesn’t make us melt. It means we adapt to it. We aren’t afraid of the rain or wish it would go away every time it comes (and this is coming from someone on Maui the day Hurricane Douglas went by the island), but we go out in it, we welcome it, we know that it brings life to the plants in our yard. Water is a basic need of all living things and not something to fear or detest. At its base level, nature provides all of our basic needs: water, air, food, light. When we think of it in that regard, it’s easy to see why it’s important to have a connection with nature.
Pragmatically speaking, it means that we go outside on purpose. We don’t live outside, but we make it a point to go outside a lot. It means we prioritize outdoor activities that keep us connected to nature—like going to the beach with friends, hiking in the woods, climbing trees in our yard, taking care of our animals. It means that if everyone is in a grumpy mood, I’ll roll down the windows in the car or serve dinner outside on the lanai, or suggest a walk as a way to shake the grumpies loose.
Why We Need It?
Are you familiar with the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv? This is a book about nature deficit disorder that was published in 2006. 2006. Over 14 years ago. I didn’t even know my now husband back then and we didn’t have any kids and yet this book caught my kid-less, single young woman eye. I actually bought the book when it came out.
Here are some quotes from the book description (the description alone!) that are important to point out:
Some startling facts: By the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. Today, average eight-year-olds are better able to identify cartoon characters than native species, such as beetles and oak trees, in their own community. The rate at which doctors prescribe antidepressants to children has doubled in the last five years, and recent studies show that too much computer use spells trouble for the developing mind. Nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition; it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children and shapes adults, families, and communities. There are solutions, though, and they’re right in our own backyards.
So this is a book about children. But I think the same ideas apply to mothers, too. We’re not outside. Many of us could name reality show contestants (or tv characters or actors) but not the names of the flowers outside our own front doors. We’re alienated from nature. We’re too wired. We’re looking for connection in all the wrong places for most of our days. We’re missing out on the connection with other humans (face to face), we’re giving our attention to social media accounts while our kids ask for our attention (I’m guilty of this, too. I’m not saying this to shame you but to get through step one of fixing this problem: awareness). With those connections on the fritz, we’re leaving connection with nature completely off our daily to do lists.
And I think bringing it back could help…A LOT. It has in my everyday life (which is why I’m making the case for it), but seriously. Just this small, do-able notion of bringing nature back into our everyday lives could change an entire generation of mothers.
Have you seen that zen-saying meme going around? “You should sit in nature for 20 minutes a day…unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” Well, that’s more than a cute saying. It’s the truth. We should be outside every day as much as we can be. If 20 mins or an hour seems like too much, it’s time to rethink our days, our thoughts, our life, our priorities, and our schedule. Being outside is sooooooo beneficial. At this point, to me, it feels like a basic need like water, air, and sunshine. I can tell in my body and in my thoughts if I haven’t met my nature need for the day.
It means we chose a nature-based homeschool curriculum as a way to align our family’s values with our education goals.
It means we make it a point to learn the names of the plants in our yard (and other local plants). Plant identification is HUGE. It seems really basic and maybe unnecessary to some people, but it’s enormously valuable. And it is slipping away from the norm. I heard someone say one time that you can get a degree from a university having studied a specific animal or plant or bird without ever having laid eyes on the creature. I can’t say 100% if that information is true, but it struck me as something that could very well be possible in today’s world. And it’s my goal to bring back plant identification for myself and my children. Then once we know the names of the plants in our own yard like the back of our hand, we dive deeper and learn about how they grow (from seeds, tubers, grafted trees, etc.) and any propagation techniques we could experiment with and try out.
Animals. For us, it looks like raising and breeding animals. Circle of life 101.
Being Present. Being nature-based, if you will, is like a giant lesson in being present in the moment. There is an immediacy to being outside. The sunshine or wind or rain or sounds command our attention.
Plants. It looks like me planting what I love instead of trying to “keep up with the Joneses” with my landscaping by planting some generic grass in the front or hiring someone to do it for me. It means I have hydrangeas and roses and dahlias and night blooming jasmine and ponytail palms and fruit trees and jacaranda and monstera in my yard that I love. If you rent, keep plants that make you feel happy and connected in pots. Figure out how you can get them to thrive in pots or prune them to fit your living situation/style. If they get too big, gift them to someone else or sell them and then start over with a smaller one.
It also looks like me picking flowers and bringing them inside the house. Or gathering seasonal finds and putting them on display when I can.
Seasons. Being aware of seasons. Talking about the changes that I notice with my kids. Because if we wait for coffee shops or stores to tell us when seasons are changing, we’ll be thinking fall is pumpkin spice, Halloween is in August, and Christmas is in September or October. Being nature based means eating with the seasons when possible—pumpkins producing best in the fall is part of that pumpkin spice season. We’re just taking our lattes a few levels deeper by being aware of what produce grows best in what season.
Farmers Markets. Supporting local. Noticing what time of year foods are for sale and then looking forward to things like peaches, corn, and watermelon in the summer and pumpkins and apples in the fall. Its understanding that food picked fresh and locally is more nutrient dense than food that was picked a month ago and traveled to the grocery store.
Morning Sun. It looks like me sitting out in the morning sunshine. Life changing, immune boosting, mood elevating morning sunshine. The days I can get outside and in the morning sun for 20 minutes are awesome, awesome days.
Walks. Not as a chore or a to-do list item, but a chance for you to be outside and notice everything around you with all of your five senses.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Believe it or not, being outside these day takes practice and dedication until it becomes 2nd nature. It sounds so strange to say, but that’s where we are! And honestly, I find myself getting out of practice sometimes.
Being nature-based requires a reframe…instead of “going outside” being a chore because you have to pack all the beach toys or pack the stroller, or drag around a bunch of creature comforts—just go outside instead. Go to the beach with no toys and let the kids make sticks and shells and rocks into tools and toys. Go for a walk with no stroller or gear. Go only as far as you can go and then turn around. You will be very, very surprised at how far you and your littles can get without wheels. And maybe you’ll be not surprised at how short the first few trips trying that might be. Know that it takes PRACTICE and TIME and PATIENCE to set healthy boundaries about being outside. It means looking into safe climbing and kids testing their natural limits and a whole slew of other developmentally normal outside activities for kids. Kids will climb. They are supposed to. They are wired that way. They’ll pick up things that are “too heavy” for them. They are supposed to. They are wired that way and thrive with maximum effort activities. They will get lost in a building project that could last all afternoon. They’re wired that way and given the space, a lot of kids will take that time to see a creation or an idea through.
And if none of this has convinced you that modern moms in modern times need more nature in their everyday lives and parenting journeys…how can we argue with the notion of “Mother Nature.” All that is natural, nurturing, providing, and good. There’s a reason she (or it) is called mother nature. And as mothers ourselves, we’d do well to tune into her as an example to bring more peace and connection to our mothering days.
Okay, so back to that mockingbird…
There is a mockingbird in my yard that I have a funny little relationship with. He flits around and gets my attention on purpose. He sings back to my one daughter who is a great whistler. He shows up about the same time every day. If I don’t notice him right away, he’ll move about and make noise until I look up and notice him. He’s funny. He’s useful–I’ve seen him chasing the mongoose away from our chickens. And he’s dynamic—his song is the most unique in the whole yard. You know it’s him right away by his wide array of songs. I looked up mockingbirds after I noticed him for a bit and found out they are known for being social, even with people. I also found out that people believe them to be a symbolic of “finding your own, true voice.”
I felt so validated when I read that…in my efforts with the podcast, the blog, the yaya movement, all of it. I am on this journey of finding my own voice, my true song. And this journey to support other moms as they find their true voice, too. Symbolism is real. Signs are real. Noticing nature brings us information and comfort like the mockingbird, like the red bird from my conversation with Emily Humphries in episode 47, and for little, meaningful reasons like you grow roses because they remind you of your grandma or you plant a willow tree in your yard because the house you grew up in had a willow in the yard and it reminds you of the sweet times from your childhood. We have these symbols and meaningful connections already. Keeping your reasons for planting that tree or those roses secret is socially acceptable. But what if we bring those reasons, our deeper connections out into the open? What if we talked about it more—the natural things that are meaningful to us? Depth isn’t something to be embarrassed about or shy away from.
I get it if you’re not ready to go deeper with sharing what symbols and signs in nature are meaningful to you. I get if you don’t have any at the moment. I find peace in it, even from a surface level…I mean, how cool is it that a wild bird has a daily routine that I get to be part of? And how cool that my kids get to see this and know about it. Everything we do shapes the next generation. My hope is that connection with nature will just be a part of their life by me working on my connection and modeling its importance.
Nature-based motherhood has led me to deeper meaning and connection, but it’s been a slow unfolding over time. Me being outside or figuring out that connection to nature is a basic need of mine did not happen overnight. It’s something that happens every time I choose to go outside. And it really is as simple as going outside. Nature wants you there. You’re a part of the natural world. The observations, the noticing, the pauses will come just by being outside. The peace will come—one deep breath of fresh air, one flower name at a time.
Thanks for being here for 50 episodes! Thanks for supporting me and each other on this amazing journey as we elevate motherhood together. The growth and sisterhood and connection that this podcast has brought me and moms from around the world is both humbling and inspiring. I hope you take some time for yourself today to go outside, be present, take a deep breath, and feel connected. I’m going to go out and do that right now and think of you…thank you again, mama. I appreciate you!
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Blossom & Root. Today’s episode of Elevating Motherhood is sponsored by Blossom & Root a nature-based, Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool curriculum company that has been gently guiding and supporting families for years! This thoughtful, age appropriate curriculum begins at the preschool level—and acts as a much-needed resource for this age group.
Blossom & Root’s Early Years Volumes 1 & 2 are valuable tools for parents with young children—whether you choose to pursue homeschool long term or not. The information and ideas are easy to follow, fun, and engaging. School age curricula are also available with more grade levels being released each year. It’s the curriculum my family uses and loves. They’ve generously offered a discount for listeners of Elevating Motherhood: use the code LORIBETH10 at checkout for 10% off your order.
For more information about Blossom & Root, head over to www.elevatingmotherhood.com/homeschool
Primally Pure. Thanks for Primally Pure for supporting today’s episode. Primally Pure, is one of my favorite companies. They excel at creating safe, natural skin care products made with quality ingredients. Primally Pure has become my go-to brand for clean, non-toxic face cleaners, creams, and serums. They’re also the makers of my favorite all-natural (& effective!) deodorant. (I love their blue tansy one). They’ve generously offered a discount code for listeners: be sure to use the code LORIBETH10 for 10% off your first order. For my personal review of their products, head over to www.elevatingmotherhood.com/primallypure
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