A growing part of my philosophy of education is the importance of EXPLORATION.

Miss Mason said that children need to finish their "classroom" work in the morning so that they can be free for the afternoon to explore, preferably outside.

I heard on NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday a few weeks ago that children are naturally scientists.  They are experimenters and explorers.  They want to find out WHY, and the reason they often think science class is "boring" is that they are studying things other people have already figured out.  Instead, children want to be involved in the process of discovery.

I think both those ideas are right, but I struggle with how to meet those needs in our little suburban life.  The reality is that our world is not as safe as it was 120 years ago, when Miss Mason could throw the children (I mean that in the most affectionate manner) out into the English countryside to explore. 

I’d love to hear how you meet your children’s need to discover and explore.  Post your solution to the HOW TO SUPPORT OUR CHILDREN’S NEED TO EXPLORE in the comments by Saturday Oct 17 at 10 p.m., and I’ll draw a randomly selected winner out on Sunday October 18th.  The winner will receive a copy of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons (or any of the sequels, if you already have it)!


  1. We have not solved this one. For a while (after I read "Last Child in the Woods") I let the kids explore the woods behind my mom's house if I was on the bluff watching them. Then we found out that the golf course cyotes were denning near there and figured they needed an adult WITH them for that.

    Lately our problem has been time – baby's nap, 6th grader's harder work and more of it, and band at the middle school – I overcommitted again.

    But I comfort myself that at our 11AM walks to the park, we pass by the little river, lots of scrub, and the park itself. We usually see the same mallards, always see the same trees and weeds, and try to figure out what is going on with the river – floods are exciting and happen about once every 5 years, the boys remember the guy who kyacked on the soccer field.

    So right now, we are focusing on urban nature, sort of, on our way to other things. We've also got a dirt pile in the side yard, and a garden at the community garden.

    Jimmi has lots of good posts about finding nature in urban China, pollution and all at


    and "Pocket Full of Pinecones" has some examples of looking for weeds in a vacant lot.

    Oh you others, jump in now! I want to hear your ideas and so does Annie.



  2. Annie,
    I read your blog pretty much everytime you post, and have been collecting some of your great recipes and book ideas, etc. We just ordered and received the first 2 in the _Swallows and Amazons_ series, but are waiting to read it after we finish _A Long Way from Chicago_ (which we are– a long way from Chicago, that is). Thank you for all of the great ideas and honest stories that you share. I love getting to see your photos, too. I am sorry that I never take time to post a comment! I miss you, dear friend.

    I love your idea of sharing ideas for ways to allow kids to explore. We are struggling to find the time the explore, given the rigors of the school day, baseball, piano lessons and Cub Scouts. Perhaps time to question the schedule?— Although, Cub Scouts seems to offer some cool opportunities for exploring– they recently learned to use the pocket knife to whittle, and the boys are now bringing in sticks to whittle– or using ivory soap.

    Some ideas that have worked in the past or that others have shared with me —

    * a nature box available to the kids in our garage (clear plastic tote with magnifying glass, old film cases for storing "samples", string, scissors, baby food jars, labels and ziplock bags, etc.).

    * having lots of old sheets and wooden clothespins available to build forts and stuff on our playset (although we don't yet have a playset at our new home). If you have culled out all of your old stuff, you can get some used stuff at Goodwill. My friend suggested just building a platform with wooden planks on four sides rising into the air (almost like a mini stage), and let the kids build and rebuild forts on the platform (using PVC pipes, sheets, string, old building supplies, etc.). I am not ready to go that way aesthetically, but can see why it would be a great opportunity for exploring.

    * in our old state, the parks had cool offerings (a snowshoe hike, etc.) where the kids could explore as we went.

    * we like to try and go to a state park on Sundays and wander around.

    * used to go with the boys to the park down the alley in the backyard of our old home and let them play up in the woods while I ignored them and read, etc. This way, I knew that they were within earshot, but they could explore without me and with some space.

    * read in a magazine of a family who kept a dirt pile in their yard for the kids– a sizable one. I could not handle this with four– the daily cleanup would be daunting.

    * sketchpad to draw what is seen in the yard, especially the growth in the spring of a flower from tiny bud to full blown– and then flip the pages to make it move or animate or bloom– or this can be done with an indoor plant, too.

    * friends in Indiana had a home on old farm property. They let the back half of their (huge) backyard go without mowing the grass, and then cut a path through the tall grass for the kids to go through and explore. This takes perhaps more space than we both have?

    * one Mom I know makes her kids go outside into the backyard everyday after school (even if the temperatures are in the negatives) and play– often for 40 minutes or so. Of course, they have a great and BIG backyard with lots of cool exploring opportunities.

    Okay– I am really excited to hear some other ideas. It really is a challenge in suburbia– I am not really thrilled with anything that we are doing now. I would love to hear other ideas!



  3. Hi! Just wanted you to know this post has provided lots of food for thought and conversation in our house. I hope I get a chance to post soon! Interested in the book too.
    Amy from splendor in the ordinary!!


  4. A couple of other ideas from Amanda Soule Blake (from her book _Creative Family_). She suggests a nature table inside for each season. She uses fabric and items from nature and other things to display the season– my son's fall table includes (so far) a pinecone, mini-pumpkins, leaves, acorns, etc. She also suggests decorating a bare branch for each season– one time in the winter we used blue and white ribbon, threaded chains of cranberries, cotton batting, etc. to decorate our winter branch. We put the bare branch in a big glass vase filled with smooth rocks to hold it up.


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