by Angie Copetillo
I slid all 10 fingers through my hair at once. Strategically, when my hair reached the crevices of my fingers, I pulled, hung my head, and let out an “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” The overload had reached its peak. The Latin questions, the student loan queries, the Slack communication, the FAFSA idiocy, the phone ringing, the texts singing, the what’s for dinner ponderings – everything suddenly stopped. My children, young and old, knew it was time to scatter. Mom needed a moment. Sadly, the day felt like it was sliding precipitously close to what author Judith Viorst’s kindergartner character termed decades ago – a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Then. Right then, is a perfect time for nature study. I know. Even the term itself conjures images of prancing playfully through trickling streams with the sweet smell of honeysuckle tingling your nose and snow-capped mountain peaks resting in the backdrop. Indeed, such idyllic settings work well for nature study. But nature surrounds us at every turn. In our old house in the Victorian District we once marveled at a massive 3-foot vine we discovered inside, hiding behind a curtain and growing through a crack in an old window frame upstairs.
The “ahhhhh” moments! We can control our attitude.
Perhaps I am the only one venting through the hair-pulling ahhhhs – moments when it seems this is all just too much. Homeschooling. Work. Financial uncertainty. Fear. Hyper-sanitization vigilance. Children who must eat. Businesses that must thrive. Fear. More hyper-sanitization vigilance. I started to text my husband this evening about how challenging the day had been – juggling all the things while he was away at work. Yet, I knew his day had been equally taxing. Instead, I texted him: I guess this is the new normal. Today sure was hard. I keep reading advice that suggests we focus on what we can control. So let’s try that. We don’t have much to choose from – the list of things we can control – so already this should calm our frayed nerves. Science says too many choices stress us humans out.
We can control our attitude though. And really we must, because no one has escaped this new, tough reality. So at the end of my “ahhhhhhhh,” I simply smiled. I wanted to comfort my children that it was just a moment, and all was well. The easiest thing we can do right now is fall back on our habits, those regular tendencies that require no thought or effort to perform. Habits are those acts we have done so many times that the neural pathways are already formed, making it second nature just to do what we’ve always done. Of course, we have bad habits too. But thankfully for us, Habersham kids are in the habit of spending time outside.
Habersham habits at home.
The habits formed at Habersham – long ago in early March when schools once met in buildings with real live in-the-flesh humans – easily transfer to home life. After all, the habits developed are designed for a lifetime of learning, not ingrained to simply pass a test. But what many parents are probably experiencing right now, is a another true principle: habits require constant attention. Meaning, it is easy for good habits to fall by the way side. And let’s face it, we weren’t finished developing those life-long habits. The exhausting job of teachers becomes so easily recognizable in our current state of affairs, doesn’t it?
So in those “ahhhhhhh” moments, before we let our fleeting moment turn into true anger or frustration, let’s focus on one of the simplest Habersham practices – spending time outdoors. Patriot kids are well accustomed to spending ample time outside without constant entertainment. Even though we are all missing our friends, the outdoors hold plentiful charms.
Try these Three Strategies —
1. Out the Kiddos Go
Let’s not forget that children are dealing with this pandemic as well. They sense our stress and have their own. Since spring blooms all around us, and children naturally revel in it, let’s encourage children to play and discover the natural world around them. Much like the tumult of the times in our adult world, the natural landscape changes daily. So many distractions await them outdoors, you are sure to claim a moment for yourself.
Writing at the turn of the 19th century, renowned British educator Charlotte Mason is famous (or infamous) for proclaiming young children should spend 4-6 hours outside every day. Such a quest may stretch the bounds of reasonableness in modern America (not many of us have cooks and nannies to care for the household needs while we romp with our children all day), but the principle remains more true today than ever. Children need time to explore outdoors. Refuse to let them come in. Set a timer. They may whine. They may even be especially talented at this whining skill. But stand firm. They will find something to do. And chances are, they will have used extraordinary creative thinking and complex problem solving skills to find that something.
2. Out You Go
You equally need the time to refresh and take your mind off the anxieties of this time. We need to be reminded of God’s beauty. We need the tangible reminder of God’s goodness and power and sovereignty. Every morning, I feel the pressure of getting my work done and getting a jumpstart on homeschooling. Every single morning, I am tempted to skip the morning walk. Thankfully, my child’s desire for the morning walk is greater than my impetus to just get the work started, and out we go for the walk. The walks keep growing longer. And multiplying. Every time, the rising tension I feel begins to dissipate.
The secret of having reverence in all branches of Nature Study lies in reverence for Life in any shape or form. Nature Study as a subject is one which should be approached with great reverence, for in dealing with birds, animals, flower and all other forms of natural life, we are perhaps, nearer to the Creator than in any other branch of science; for the natural world is the expression of God’s personality in a form that is within the reach of all of us to comprehend in some measure. And is not the natural world one of the greatest proofs that there is a God? ~ G. Downton, House of Education, 1930
3. Observe & Go
To kick it up a notch, practice your “out you go” with a greater sense of purpose. Take notice of the things around you. Write them down. Draw them. On one of our first few walks of this pandemic season, I noticed one of the oak trees in our yard was still much browner than the other green-leaved oaks surrounding us. Abby Grace was fascinated with why. That question caused us to look at the leaves of each tree to see what differences they held. We haven’t marveled about the tree every day, but we are keeping note, along with many other details. Ask questions. We are seeing the nature of our neighborhood through a whole new lens.
A silver lining to this whole situation is for people to develop habits that live beyond the quarantine. One habit I believe everyone should adopt is the habit of observation. Life has slowed down for all of us, affording us the opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with how to see. How to see light, a composition, a detail, a beautiful visual moment. A great way to do this is through the sketchbook. I bring mine with me everywhere, and in fact, I refer to it as my mobile device. The sketchbook provides me a lens through which to view the world and nature. It does not matter what your skill level is; as it is not about the result, but the act itself. So don’t let the beautiful visual moment, the day, or life pass you by without looking, seeing, and observing. ~Jared Seff, Habersham Visual Arts Teacher
The benefits of nature study.
Charlotte Mason reminds us that years from now when children are old enough to understand science in greater depth, the common information they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form an excellent groundwork for a scientific education. Their training in the powers of attention and concentration, and of discrimination and patient pursuit, will pay dividends.
The object of nature study is to cultivate in children the powers of accurate observation and build up within them understanding. ~Anne Botsford Comstock, Founder & First Head of Dept. of Nature Study, Cornell University
A child should be brought up to have relations of force with earth and water, should run and ride, swim and skate, lift and carry; should know texture, and work in material; should know by name, and where and how they live at any rate, the things of the earth about him, its birds and beasts and creeping things, its herbs and trees. . . ~ Charlotte Mason, Volume 3, p. 161
We have much to learn from our children in this way. To see the world and their fascination with it through their eyes. The knowledge of nature should not be theoretical but wholly practical; we should gain this knowledge independently, by personal experience. Let them at once get into touch with nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. Charlotte Mason says we are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things. During this time where we can control so little, perhaps this is exactly where God wants us to focus our attention. If you do nothing else, get outside.
Finding God’s hand.
It is no insignificant encouragement that the kind, gruff-exterior tough guy known as Tom Draffin (representing True North), the one who coordinates the oh-so-many facets of our new Chatham Parkway Campus project, sends regular Scriptural blessings to our team. What a privilege that God has brought his people together on this project. I’ll close with Tom’s encouragement from this morning.
Billy Graham observed: “Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has.”
Given my connection with the construction world, the following got my attention today: Adrienne Heinz, a clinical research psychologist at the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, notes: “Our routine is the scaffolding of life. It’s how we organize information and our time. And without it, we can feel really lost.”
Jim Denison shared this morning: “The coronavirus pandemic will be over one day. I am praying that God will use it to spark genuine spiritual transformation in our nation and world. But I am also praying that this transformation will begin in a new way in my life. I invite you to pray the same for yourself and those you influence.”
It seems well for us to be asking this question today: How will this present adversity enrich our souls and our actions both today and in the days to come?
Though the days may feel like terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, may God lift our countenance above. May nature cause us to reflect more deeply. May the “ahhhhhh” of frustration transform into the “ahhhhhhhh” of wonder.
Angie Copetillo is the Chief Communications Officer and Head of School Emeritus. She was the founding Head of School when Habersham was started in 2012. She earned a graduate certificate in School Leadership & Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and School of Business and is a proud graduate of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism.