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by debbie harbeson

Have you ever seen a furry ant? How about an orange colored, furry ant? We saw one when we were one of our many hikes. We watched, fascinated as it crawled in a grassy field. Later when we looked in an insect guide, we found out it wasn't an ant, but a type of wasp called a cow killer. It is called a cow killer because of it's vicious sting, so it's a good thing we didn't mess with it.

As a youngster I spent a lot of time outside exploring in creeks and woods. I must have caught hundreds of crawdads and salamanders. So it only made sense that I would enjoy exploring the outdoors with my kids. The beauty of homeschooling is that we had lots of time to do this.

The serendipity of a simple hike in the woods taught me that learning happens all the time. It is so easy to explore and spark curiosity, the building block of learning. We almost always found something interesting on a hike. On those times when we didn't, we seemed to get into big discussions or debates on various topics. I have just a few experiences to share that I hope will inspire you to get outside and explore with your kids.

Hiking in Hardy Lake, we surprised two very large birds. They had bright red crests and jumped out and flew right over our heads. We found out later that they were pileated woodpeckers. We learned to identify birds by sight as well as sound and even flight patterns.

Once we went out to Clark State Forest in early spring, expecting to not see much of interest yet and were very surprised to see hundreds of mushrooms in various sizes, shapes and colors. My kids spent several weeks after that looking at books about fungi.

Spring wildflower walks are like true treasure hunts because many wildflowers are only out for a short time and discovering them is lots of fun. Again, field guides helped with identification.

For some reason, I knew better than to try and pick up that cowkiller, but once in Charlestown State Forest, a baby snake crossed our trail and in my excitement, I picked it up to give us all a closer look. It wasn't until I put it down and was about 100 ft. down the trail that I began to wonder about the mother!

Sometimes our adventures just made for a fun memory. Once my daughter and I were hiking along a very steep section along the Ohio River, not really on a trail. We decided to climb up the hill to get to what looked like a nice flat area. So we grabbed tree trunks and branches and pulled our way up. We eventually decided it would be too difficult to get up there, so we headed back down. We found out it was going to be much harder than going up. I grabbed a small tree trunk, sat on my butt, sighted the next tree and let go, sliding down to the next tree and grabbing it before my speed got too fast. One of my trees was a bit too small and when I grabbed it, it just decided to come along with me for the ride. There I was yelling and sliding uncontrollably down loose dirt and leaves holding onto a tree pulled out by the roots. Finally I stopped, fortunately without hitting any big trees, and it was then that I could hear giggling. Then it was my turn to laugh as she slid her way down to the bottom. We sat there, worn out and laughing until our stomachs ached.

Exploring nature is by far the easiest way to begin your new adventure into untraditional learning. I encourage you to create your own fun family hiking stories and let us know what happens.



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