I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Nature Pen-Pal Exchange

Nature Pen-Pal Exchange: exchanging nature from across the country with other homeschool families

"A love of Nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them, will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humour.” 
Charlotte Mason, Home Education, Vol. 1, p.71

Growing up, I never developed a love of nature. I lived in a desert. My experience with nature seemed to be limited to dirt and tumbleweeds. Wasteland.

Now as an adult, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of a southern dessert...the pinks and oranges of the sun as it sets behind the mountains; the distinct smell of the Creosote bush just after a rain; and even the many variety of green cactus speckled against the harsh brown of the brittle earth.

I have learned to love it.

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Living in the midwest has opened my eyes to God's creation...to His masterpiece. I now take that vision with me wherever I go...even the desert. 

But, I often think about how much I missed in my first twenty-two years...indoors. How many things did I see but never really look at? How much of nature was lost to me?

Nature Pen-Pal Exchange: exchanging nature from across the country with other homeschool families

That Charlotte, she had it right.

"Let them once get in touch with nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his 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.” (Home Education, Vol.1, p.61)

Children introduced to nature early and often form a habit of delight in creation and the Creator.

In my deep desire to cultivate a slow and purposeful look at all of God's handiwork, I'm always on the hunt for opportunities to explore nature naturally. Over the years, we've enjoyed a Nature Club, summer nature studies, and many, M.A.N.Y impromptu walks in the woods.

But, our nature has always been limited to our nature. The things in our backyard and in our woods. I want my children to be able to experience the nature that I've enjoyed from the different parts of the country I've lived in or have traveled to.

I want them to smell the Creosote bushes after the rain; to wrap their little arms around the massive breadth of the Sequoias in California; to feel the feathery-tufts of Spanish moss lacing the trees of the deep south.

I want the vastness and variety of creation to grow firm roots in them and as Miss Mason wrote, "enrich their lives."

Nature Pen-Pal Exchange: exchanging nature from across the country with other homeschool families

Recently, I've found a way...a way for us travel the country and explore its beauty without ever leaving our yard.

We formed a nature pen-pal exchange with a few families from around the country. We boxed up some of our loveliness and sent it in their direction; and have asked a few of them to do the same. In this way, we'll be able to hold some of the wonders that we've only ever been able to appreciate in pictures.

Nature Pen-Pal Exchange: exchanging nature from across the country with other homeschool families

Beginning a Nature Exchange

Here's how our nature exchange developed. 

We set out in the woods one day at summer's end. With field guide, notebook, and empty basket in hand, we went looking for pieces of nature that we thought represented our area well.

We tried not to disturb the wildlife, but chose items that had already fallen from trees or that were left behind by some critter.

Nature Pen-Pal Exchange: exchanging nature from across the country with other homeschool families

Each time we found an item, we looked it up in our field guide to determine it's exact name, wrote the name and any pertinent information down in our notebook, and deposited a specimen sample into our basket for safe keeping.

an acorn
a wild cucumber seed
a maple leaf
the strip of bark from a paper birch tree
moss from the floor of the woods
an agate
a shell from the beach
and so much more

They all went into our basket.

After our walk, we trudged home with all our nature samples.

We laid them out on the table and spent a bit of time observing and discussing each one. (This was sneaky learning at its best. My kids thought they were just creating education-in-a-box for their pen pals. But in a deliberately planned turn of events, they ended up learning much themselves.) In our excitement to mail US to THEM, we went a little overboard in our collecting and had to narrow our selections down to our top 12 favorites.

We followed a few simple steps of nature preservation. (see below)

Then, placed each item into one of the compartments of an egg carton and covered the whole thing with a few layers of paper towels.

Nature Pen-Pal Exchange: exchanging nature from across the country with other homeschool families

Then, using a piece of blank paper and pencil, we traced around the lid of an empty egg carton. We cut around our tracing to create an insert that would act as a "key" to our nature carton. We wrote out the names of each item in our carton in the exact position that we placed each of them in the compartments. We, then, laid our key on top of the paper towels and shut the lid. 

Nature Pen-Pal Exchange: exchanging nature from across the country with other homeschool families

All of this fit neatly inside a large bubble mailer. 

By the end of the afternoon, we had filled and labeled three cartons; each to be sent to some different part of the country; each to be enjoyed by families not familiar with the wildlife of the upper midwest. 

Nature Pen-Pal Exchange: exchanging nature from across the country with other homeschool families

Tips for mailing nature

Whenever you mail nature samples, please keep the following things in mind to ensure the safety of the local ecology:

  1. Be sure to check with your local DNR or the USDA before sending any specimen that could be considered an invasive species. These are plants and animals that could wreak havoc if introduced to a habitat. If an item is considered invasive, do not send it. (We DID send the shell of the invasive Chinese Mystery Snail which litters all of our surrounding lakes. But, we made sure that the snail had completely evacuated the shell and gave the entire thing a bleach bath followed by a rinse of boiling water to ensure that we were not transporting any harmful bacteria or cells into another environment.)
  2. Sterilize any seeds before you send them by placing them in a paper bag and baking them on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree over for 30 min.
  3. Press and dry flowers and leaves to remove moisture. This will help prevent brittleness and discoloration.
  4. Never plant seeds that you receive. 
  5. If you receive a nature pen-pal package, be sure to burn all the contents once you're done observing them. Unattended, out-of-area wildlife could upset the ecology of an area. 

Resources for creating a nature exchange

Nature Pal Exchange- A website dedicated to pairing individual nature pals or nature pal groups from across the country. 

Nature Pal Exchange on Instagram- Be inspired with the pics of HOW and WHAT other nature pen-pals are exchanging.

A final word

We live in a four-seasons state. Our nature changes every few months. We look forward to sending many more nature boxes around the country as we observe creation year-round. 

We're enriching our lives.
We're forming a habit of nature.

And best of all, we're doing it with far-away friends!

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  1. What a unique idea! I would never have thought of this in a million billion years. I'm sure glad someone else did! Love it!

  2. Very cool idea, Jamie! Love it.