Singing to the Snails: Finding Joy in Nature

By Melanie Lago, Grade Level Director for Kindergarten and First Grade

We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.

― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Many of my happiest childhood memories take place in nature. The climbing tree in my backyard was my special place, and I would scale its branches and gaze over the small neighboring forest pretending it was my kingdom. The summer I turned eleven marked a new outdoor adventure when my mom took a summer research position on an island in Maine. I still vividly remember seeing and smelling the ocean for the first time. Dipping my fingers into the cool water of a tidal pool, I swirled the water around, and watched fascinated as the barnacles unfurled their tiny feathery legs and snatched up microscopic pieces of food. I spent many delightful summers in Maine, gazing at tidal pools, hiking up mountains, and exploring the forest outside our cabin. While I didn’t realize it at the time, the hours I spent in nature were not only enjoyable but helped me develop resilience, perseverance, patience, and the importance of finding joy in small discoveries.

When my son Ethan was born, I knew that I wanted to pass along my love of nature to him. It didn’t come as easily as I thought. There was the stroller that I had carefully selected for its ‘off-road’ capabilities (I had visions of taking long leisurely walks on maternity leave), that was never put to much use as Ethan screamed whenever we strapped him in. Then there was the time when Ethan started crawling and we took him outside for a picnic and he refused to venture off the blanket onto the grass, recoiling if his hand so much as brushed against a blade. When he turned three, I had the great idea of walking over to the frog pond near our home in the middle of a rainstorm. While peering into the pond, Ethan slipped on the rocks and fell in headfirst! As I pulled him out, Ethan exclaimed “The frogs are going to eat me!” and I carried a sopping wet, inconsolable child all the way home.

Alongside those blunders, however, we have enjoyed many nature adventures as well. We took Ethan on his first hike when he was two months old, and this summer, at age four, he summited four mountains all on his own! Two summers ago, I taught him how to carefully hold a snail in his hands and hum, mimicking the noise of crashing waves, to lure the snail to peek its head out of the shell. (We spent several happy minutes singing to our snails!) On frequent walks around our neighborhood, Ethan loves looking for fungus, jumping in puddles, and catching fireflies. He now happily rolls in the grass – and the frog pond misadventure has become a family legend!

One of the things I love most about living in Washington, D.C. is the nature that is found right in our backyard. Just a few steps from Beauvoir I have spotted pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, flying squirrels, deer, and foxes. I began my teaching career as a counselor at a nature camp where we spent all day outside and when I was exploring teaching opportunities, I knew I wanted to teach in a place where spending time outdoors is valued and nurtured, which led me to Beauvoir. Over the last several years I have enjoyed sharing my love of the outdoors with our students. The Olmsted Woods and Bishop’s Garden provide a wonderful outdoor classroom. Whether I am taking students on a listening walk, turning over rotting logs and catching salamanders, or observing the bees pollinating, the time my students and I have spent outdoors has been rewarding. Research also shows that spending time in nature is important in developing our children’s social-emotional, physical, and cognitive competencies.

Try some of the following ideas to enjoy your own nature adventures:

  • Take a Peek in the Beauvoir Courtyard: Our courtyard has many fascinating creatures, including an elusive box turtle who you may be lucky enough to spot, goldfish swimming in the pond, squirming worms, and butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • Visit the Olmsted Woods: Located on the Cathedral Grounds, Olmsted Woods is a five-acre oak and beech forest. Spend some quiet time listening to the birds in the Contemplation Circle or meandering the stone pathway. There are even guided bird walks some weekend mornings.
  • Spend Time in the Bishop’s Garde: another natural treasure on the Close is the Bishop’s Garden. Children love gazing in the pond, playing ‘I spy’ in the midst of the colorful flowers, and frolicking on the grass lawn.
  • Take a Ramble in Your Own Neighborhood: Nature abounds when you spend some time observing. What can you find outside your doors? You can consult nature guidebooks to figure out what you are finding. One fun idea is to take photographs of interesting finds and create your own guidebook. Have fun jumping in puddles, rolling in autumn leaves, and getting muddy!
  • Take a Hike: You don’t have to travel far from home to find amazing hiking trails. Some personal favorites include the Tregaron Conservancy (site of the frog pond incident), Rock Creek, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and just a bit further afield…Shenandoah National Park.