Q+A with Chickie & Roo Ep.3
Today we’re chatting with a sweet friend named Sarah Ruth Owens. She is such an inspiration in so many ways. Sarah Ruth is the unequivocal Nature Mama and a truly beautiful heart. Let’s hear what she has to offer about making nature a prominent part of our homeschools.
How many children do you have and what are their ages?
Three boys. They are 7, 5, and 3 years old.
When did you begin homeschooling and what is your purpose behind this life decision?
We started at birth?
Haha. In all honestly, that is sort of our philosophy. We feel strongly that parents are a child’s first, and primary teachers. I was a public school educator and really loved the classroom environment. My classes were project based and I still look back fondly on those years. However, after spending time in the Public Education system, I realized that I wanted something different for my family. I wanted to be the one to help my children see the world. I wanted to be part of their lives and formative memories in such a significant way that we would have a lifetime of fond memories, inside jokes, and strong family ties. If I were entirely candid, I began home educating because I wanted my kids to myself. I don’t want to share them for so many hours of the day.
How did you come to incorporate such a strong sense of nature in your homeschool?
I think I get to blame my husband. I was primarily raised in cities. When we began dating, he took me to a new waterfall every date. He was born and raised in the beautiful mountains where we are raising our boys. I became so enthralled by the whimsy and adventure that is chasing waterfalls! It was refreshing and new. I always left revitalized. As we started a family I began reading books on parenting, education, and more. I stumbled across the Charlotte Mason method and really liked her thoughts on Nature Study as well as outdoor time for young children.
This quote from her first book stuck with me and has been a foundation for our education at home: “We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”
“We feel strongly that parents are a child’s first, and primary teachers.”
Was your childhood filled with an emphasis on nature?
My initial response to this was absolutely not! Then, as I considered my earliest years I do have quite fond memories of Bear Mountain, NY, playing at the pond and in the corn fields behind my grandmother’s cottage, and hot summers in Central Park. It dawned on me that I actually was given ample time out of doors in my earliest years! What an amazing realization, so thank you for asking. From sixth grade on, I did not have these experiences though. Our family lived near the beach in South Florida and we sadly spent more time in our beautiful home than the amazing and inspirational beaches just outside our doorsteps.
What benefits do you see in your children’s’ growth from being exposed to nature and exploration?
Apart from the typical keener observation, empathy for living things, and understanding of how water moves, life occurs, etc. my eldest has some sensory needs and everything within him yearns for freedom to run, touch, and explore. As an infant, I would put him in the carrier and walk around a local lake, we spent hours swimming in the Summer months, and took long hikes in the cooler months. When we don’t get this time outside, he becomes anxious, hyperactive, unable to concentrate, and sometimes even aggressive. I know that the time he spends outdoors is helping him in so many ways. Specifically, I think it gives him opportunities to meet his sensory input desires and needs in a more normalized way. Also, my younger two boys have developed amazing imaginative play while outside. There are days they spend 4-5 hours talking about being Kings, knights, various animals, etc. Entire storylines develop as they build with natural items, use nature to inspire their enchantment, and even continue the same story the next time we return to the same place! I believe they are gaining the building blocks for creative writing through this free play in nature during these earliest years.
“We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”
What is your advice for someone who wants to incorporate more nature in their rhythm, but doesn’t know how or have the accessibility?
For the person who doesn’t know how I would say just go and do it. Begin by walking outside after breakfast or before lunch. Ten minutes is fine. Notice things, talk about the weather, sing a familiar song, ask your children to describe what they see. Another wonderful way to be sure you regularly give your children time in nature is through Free Forest School. I am a local chapter Director and it is absolutely an essential part of our week. It gives the kids time with other children and the parents time to lay back and observe while getting to know other parents.
To the person with more limited access to nature I would encourage finding a tree to “adopt”. Head outside and pick a tree. Name it and watch it. Encourage your children to sketch it about once a month and notice any changes. Look up the leaves on the tree, learn the shape and type of leaf. Encourage your kids to sit and read there, to observe any insects or wildlife there. Put a bird feeder near a window. Have your kiddos watch the birds. They can learn a lot of the different local species this way! In my opinion, no time in nature is wasted!
How do you balance having a career as well as home educating?
I don’t! Well, I suppose I must, but I honestly feel like I am treading water often. I teach online 7 hours each day and I truly love it. I suppose that is the balance. I have found what brings me joy and it is my career, so I can handle the additional time constraints and required energy. My online position allows me to do my job primarily while my children sleep. I have also learned that making sure we all get to bed early and have somewhat of a solid evening routine is helpful with me working so much.
“Make sure what you choose to do is life giving. Don’t allow your job to take your motherhood from you.”
Could you share your family rhythm/schedule with us so we can get a peek into your day?
It is truly a rhythm especially because we spend 3 days a week entirely outdoors for 7-9 hours. On those days it looks a little like this: wake, dress, breakfast, Free Forest School, lunch outside, lessons (reading, math, nature study, geography) for my eldest while the youngest two play, more playing, more playing, go home and enjoy a crock pot meal and collapse into bed. On the days we are home it looks a lot like: breakfast/basket time, brisk walk outdoors (20 minutes), lessons for my eldest while the littles play, lunch with read aloud, afternoon time outside or handcrafts and Poetea.
I have never put up a schedule and I really try and follow a loose and general flow. Children are human and need breaks, grace, and freedom to have off days. We school year round which allows us to travel once a quarter as well as follow a more traditional church calendar with bigger breaks for both Lent/Passover and Advent.
What advice do you have for mothers who want to homeschool and also follow a career path?
Make sure what you choose to do is life giving. Don’t allow your job to take your motherhood from you. I am crazy passionate by nature and often get carried away with ideas and excitement but I have to remind myself that my job is what I do because I love my children. I use it to provide for them and I find great fulfillment in it, but my job is not what I consider my primary role. In this season, it is motherhood. So, if you are similar to me in this, keep those priorities straight and choose your children first. Promotions and raises are wonderful, run at them if they still allow you to give your all in your home. However, be cautious that you can only be excellent at so much!
What is one thing you would tell yourself if you could go back in time to the beginning of your homeschool journey?
It is going to be harder than you think and its going to be more wonderful than you imagine! Lessons, pedagogy, and philosophies are only tools – children learn most from the amount of time you give them and the amount of love you show them in the day to day!
Thank you Sarah Ruth, for sharing your heart and what’s important to you. I know many families can benefit from your words and encouragement to spend more time in nature!