Living in Florida gives us a unique advantage to outdoor adventures all year long. City playgrounds to sportsman activities give families plenty of options to add adventure throughout all our homeschooling years.
When my children were young, simple outdoor adventures were easy to find. Nature centers, museums, and many parks offer classes or events for elementary age and younger. Playgrounds and short nature walks filled our outdoor time. The zoo storytime was one of our favorites for many years. The class was outdoors, and they always brought an animal for the children to see, and the best part was it was free.
The elementary years brought field trips with our co-op to a llama farm, cattle ranch, picking blueberries and seeing manatees at Blue Spring. Outdoor adventures were at our fingertips with children at ages who were ripe to learn new things. However, a funny thing began to happen when my oldest son Grayson reached thirteen.
He was not interested in doing all those activities anymore. It became harder to connect with him in the outdoors that we had enjoyed for so many years. Grant, my youngest son, followed suit shortly after and I began to feel like I had lost something. I had lost part of the joy of homeschooling.
The boys began outdoor adventures on their own by taking up mountain biking. Yes, I said mountain biking in Florida. It is a popular sport with many state and federal forests creating trails for bikers. Santos, near Ocala National Forest, is the mountain biking capital of Florida and only an hour away from our home.
My husband and I don’t mountain bike. However, this new activity has rekindled our love of pedaling the paved trails near our house. As a family, we spend time together on those bike paths, see a variety of wildlife and exercise all at the same time. There are over 806 miles of biking trails for a family excursion across the state. Find a trail near you by checking railstotrails.org and floridadep.gov under parks and recreation.
I began to think that I wasn’t losing the joy of outdoor adventures with my boys, it just needed to take a different shape. We live in Volusia County which offers outdoor excursions to public lands managed by the county. These are open to the public and are activities like biking, kayaking, buggy tours, and hikes. The focus is on sharing the opportunity of recreation in our public lands. The program visits forests, waterways, beaches, and trails throughout the county. I signed us up for a buggy tour of Tiger Bay State Forest thinking this was a great way to start the shift of our outdoor adventures together.
The four of us showed up early on a Thursday morning and boarded a trailer-turned-buggy vehicle. Foresters from the Florida Forest service took us on a two-hour tour and taught us about land management, prescribed burning, reforestation, and other services. This tour piqued Grayson’s interest in what is a Forester and their educational background. Grayson is fifteen and searching for career ideas that will keep him outdoors.
The Foresters answered a myriad of questions and shared other places we might enjoy visiting. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together that morning and was surprised that there were no other school-aged children there. This experience fit into several course categories for older children, and the field experience was excellent and again it was free. Check with your county and see if they offer environmental programs like this to extend your outdoor adventures.
Next, the boys learned about the Florida Trail and how close we lived to many of the segments. They planned an overnight hike on an eight-mile stretch. The trail was created in 1966 and runs from the swamps of Big Cypress in the Everglades all the way up to the Gulf Shores of the Panhandle. The Florida Trail gives visitors the best access to nature viewing in the country.
Seminole Forest in Lake County is home to the segment of the Florida trail Grayson, and Grant ventured on. As a family, we loaded up their hiking gear and overnight supplies and drove to the forest. The trail had clear marker signs that you may have seen before but did not know it was for the Florida Trail. We learned that on the trail trees are marked with orange markers called a blaze. Depending on how many marks and the position of the marks it is telling you to either go straight, turn right or turn left. Most maps for any forest, park or trail has a designated mark for the Florida Trail.
We gathered at the sign and went over their hiking plan, where they were camping, and the time we would pick them up. The boys were so excited to get started. I was apprehensive because they were going without us. We were letting go of the strings to let them have an outdoor adventure of their own. As they walked away, I realized they were ready.
We have spent most of our homeschooling years making the outdoors a significant focus in our learning, and they have developed the skills necessary to show what they have learned. Homeschooling in real life. This opportunity lends itself to building on the bonds of brotherhood. As a mother I want their relationship to last long into adulthood. Allowing them these experiences to rely on each other in any situation is building that lasting connection.
Outdoor Adventures have changed over the years for our family. We focused on creating childhood memories full of wonder and excitement in the early years with swimming and boat rides through the beautiful springs of Florida and nature walks at area state parks. Later we connected by exploring Florida’s landscape through youth hunting programs. Now we are adding hiking, biking, and camping at different locations than we have experienced before. As our family’s seasons of homeschooling changes, Florida is ready to share more adventures with us.
Florida is a treasure trove to bringing outdoor adventures to your homeschooling experiences. Family-friendly destinations are around every bend to explore, learn and play. As your family grows, look ahead to what outdoor lessons may keep your connection strong.
Your family can plan outdoor adventures around outdoor holidays such as National Trails Day in June, National Parks, and Recreation month in July, and so is the National Camp Out Night with the National Wildlife Federation.
Websites to investigate: