Archive for category Earth Curriculum

Earth Science and Curriculum: A Must!

Some kids always manage to find the only mud puddle after a rainy day in the schoolyard; others may grip a handful of soil in their efforts to catch a centipede. Kids unless taught other wise yearn to comb their fingers through the soil, skip a stone across a brook, and stack, sort, and collect materials form the earth. However, not all kids have the privilege of the earthy bounty, if it is paved over by concrete. In this case we can make attempts to either venture on field trips that provide this an outdoor outlet or head to the nearest park around your school. Nature is more than just a playground; it is has pertinent lessons that can conceivable carry a lifetime.

The optimal situation for shaping learning experiences in the field of science is a dose of creative improvisation, a neighborhood park, the back yard, or the schoolyard. Kids find just the right experiments in earth science, when adults provide, well just the right dose of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and creativity.

Providing simple raw earth materials in the play yard at school or at home, can foster deeper connections into the field of science, improve balance and coordination, aspiring innovative ideas, promote cooperative games, and allow the space for kids empower themselves. Having these natural materials in the areas that youth spend significant time costs next to nothing – logs, stumps, wood, gravel, stones, bamboo sticks, all, will certainly do the trick. Car, truck, or tractor size tires (I know, not exactly natural, but is definitely utilitarian and enables ways to reuse, what would probably end up in a landfill.) can provide timeless opportunities for a hiding out, hanging out, building forts, for climbing over, in, and around or for inspiring imaginative play.
Boulders of a smooth surface also can be implemented into the play yard for shimming around, for attempted boulder climbs, and make the perfect spot for basking in the sunlight. Not to mention, the top surface can be a congregation for science experiments, such as mixing sand, mud, or clay. In the yard at our Community school we’re fortunate enough to a have a clay based soil, which with a bit of water and creative juices can make whatever sculpture a young mind what’s to wrap their imagination around.

Wooden stumps makes just the right obstacle course, table, chair, or desired object to topple over or roll across the yard, with all a four years olds might. Stumps also make perfect stepping stones (alright wood to be exact, but you get the picture) for setting up bridges, for stacking, or for balancing other wooden planks.

Outside is a haven for transporting objects; stacked tires can become a portal for a rocket ship or rabbit hole. Soil, sand, gravel, and woodchips, can become the volcano. Plants that are resilient to being pulled, poked, and picked need to accessible for young hands to harvest. Lemon Balm, Rose Mary, and Peppermint are a few prolific plants we have in our garden at school that are open range for picking.

Adventuring into the outdoors also entails leaving school behind. Our class does a fieldtrip a week. There is the neighborhood park where there is a grouping of cedar trees with just the right limbs and density for climbing great heights. The branches out also quite pliable making the lower level like springboards for jumping off.

The Community School I teach at is now working on a play yard revitalization project. The mission is to transform our Big yard into an area the interconnects the urban setting into a more green hiatus that is physically more challenging, promotes more opportunities for sensory integration, leaves more green space for kids to congregate and pick flowers and edible herbs, and provides materials that one may stumble over in a natural setting such as chunky size stumps, mountainous size boulders, and tall slender grass for hiding out at catching ones breath. The core of this project has been a creative influx of energy from parents and teachers who have a dedication towards making the school more green, sustainable, and honorable of supporting the whole child, and this goes along with the ideas of presenting outdoor materials to expand the curriculum. Much of the decision making of what materiuals would optimally suite our grounds and the kids have been through observation of their general interests, while taking into account the positioning on the sun during the day and how the designing of the project can include their youths interactions for greater opportunities. For example, our hillside will be build into terraces that enable to construction of a slide, an rock climbing wall, and bouldering wall, a rain catchment barrel with spickot will enable kids to have access to water for mixing projects, a trail will connect the main features along the hill, while resilient grasses and wildflowers will allow for roaming, stamping, tumbling, and picking.

The transformation of a school yard is vital part of any curriculum at a school. This open space for uninterrupted playing during “recess” time is paramount not only to the health and well-being of a child, but is another extension of the curriculum. Customizing a yard to suite the interests of individuals and groups of kids at school does not demand elaborate play structures or playground systems that come, but conscious creative envisioning that puts the growth of the whole child in mind. And the takes time, some envisioning by parents, teachers, and the school community, before the actual work can be done. In the end, outside space is just as precious, if not a bit more than the classroom environment when it comes to learning.


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Our Classroom is a Zoo

In our classroom we have a zoo. We have an African millipede, salamanders (sorry these cuties will dearly missed) fish, a guinea pig (minus 0ne, plus, a new guinea…we’ll miss you Turkey….welcome MiniMoe), and stick bugs. For about a month we had an ant farm, but our beloved colony rapidly demised. (Can’t always rely on shipping services to get your ants to school safely.) All right, there is some real life costs in raising animals in the classroom as the parallels of life and death become more transparent, but the sense of care, nurturing, and life lessons in mortality can instill much value to kids.

Lately we have had kids coming in with their new pets. It definitely puts a whole new perspective on our traditional morning meeting, but we are certainly willing to take the diversion from the routine. But the energy can become an animalistic frenzy. The younger class at the school has two bunnies in their class, “cuddles and “bun-bun.” (I know, not to original, but certainly adorable.) They have been inside during the winter months do to freezing temperatures during some evenings. They have become like school mascots as the teacher often lets them romp around in the classroom. The kids in her class don’t bother much with them anymore because the bunnies, hopping by have almost become a regular part of the day. However when we introduced the bunnies to our class the game of “chasing bunnies,” began. Constant requests by the teachers to “stay put as they will come to you,” feel on deaf ears. The excitement within the room certainly elevated, but this was a phenomenon worth jumping to. They wanted to build bunny walls for them to leap over and find clever ways to corner the bunny for a closer look.

With the guinea pigs in our class, kids often like to pretend to perform surgery, while miraculously nursing them back to better health. As adults we need to be vigilant because these dramatic times can inadvertently be invasive to the well-being of the animal. But ordinarily they want to lay down towels on the table, put on gloves, use magnify glasses to hone in, or pretend that a container provides medicine. The kids play operation as if it is a veterinarian hospital, with an animal in critical condition. Their imaginary operations can be annoying (especially for the animal) because often the animal can be marginally mistreated. And one hard direct consequence this school year, resulted in a bit finger (nothing major here, just a prick of blood).

Animals in the classroom or in a child’s life do provide a sense of nurturing and responsibility. As all our pets need water, food, and nurturing. Each week a student is assigned a duty to take care of these of providing water and food to the animals. Surely, they need prompting in order to remember but they’re usually thrilled to take care of the animals. The subtle responsibilities of kids taking care of animals, offers moments for identifying and relating to the nurturing qualities of healthy human development. Young people begin to grow and realize the impacts of how the animal becomes dependent on this nurturing care for their own survival. Even when animal dies, the intimacy of connecting is a lost, while this pine time can strengthen a child’s perception of how valuable and precious live can really be.

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Primordial Play

The more I spend my days around five, six, and seven, year olds, the more I take notice of their great perception for “primordial play.” All of those impulses, idiosyncrasies, and randomness that constitute their play are a much deeper anthropology connection then just behavior we can easily be chalked up as just imaginative play, or status quo – “aggressive play.” When we stop to consider all these childlike fantasies that become the core of their ancient stories that allow their play to unfold, one may find the primordial side to play that very well has origin and shape throughout the span of history, as well… two legged beings.

The sticks and stones kids use to construct bows, arrows, spears, and daggers, on these ancient subtenant tools that go back thousands of years, become important instruments of play. And the gathering of loose straw, collecting balls in the play yard as eggs, or picking and collecting herbs to heal wombs, the erecting of forts, and collecting of flowers – and finding ways to organize the hunt and gather, become the roots of play. There interests lie in organizing, forming whimsical social gathering, all revolving around human nature. John Dewey makes implications to this primordial connection among young people in The School and Society:

Many anthropologists have told us there are certain identities in the child interests with those of primitive life. There is a sort of natural reoccurrence of the child mind to the typical activities of primitive people peoples; witness the hut which they boy likes to build in the yard, playing hunt, with bows, arrows, spears, and so on. Again the questions come: What are we to do with this interest – are we to ignore it, or just excite and draw it out? Or shall we get a hold of it and direct it to something ahead, something better?

Dewey proposes important questions for educators and parents involved in the lives of kids. This degree of play does hold meaning and value to the ones acting out these primordial like roles and it would be a crime to squelch it or make it a forbidden act, because lives inquiries, questions, and answers provide a way for kids to demystify the complexities around life.

This behavior is definitely not easy to simply ignore because the intensity may cause certain conflict to arise. Or the opposite cause and effect from primordial play is that relationships grow stronger, new understandings can be met, physical challenges can be overcome, and abstract concepts of about life in general have an area for experimentation and figuring out. Most of this type of play can clearly be observed outside in more natural setting, however it normally goes on unfettered is there is a place for it. And this sort of play does not call for a play yard in a forest as a strip of rural or urban cultivated patch of green can provide the grounds for invoking this degree of play. But over all kids willingly can transform any environment as long as patches of plants and grass exist for them to stop, sniff, dig, pick, or other wise interact with their environment, no matter the size of the outdoor space. But surely, the more space, the merrier and greater the adventures.

Tapping into kids primordial play and where those interests lie provide a wondrous position for steering further exploration into academics. For example if they are imbued with the power dynamic of winning or my be quite partial to the “battle scene” as it even sub-surfaces through their drawings, then let these primordial fascinations fuel their interests into reading and writing. If they draw a battle scene in their journal or onto a piece of people then invite them to write the word “battle” or other words that captures their interest in that present moment, while phonetically sounding out the “b” sound in “battle.” Just as if another kid may be drawing bunnies or fairies, you would also encourage them to write titles or stories to compliment their images. If we can ease our tendencies towards projecting, prejudging, or stereotyping kids we can replace those initial anxieties with further opportunities for connecting with young people and assisting them with providing the means to thrive. Setting up policies at home or at school that forbid primordial play that stems from a place of “battle or hunt,” only demonizes the play and entices kids to wait until adults backs may be turned before reaching for a stick or speaking in battle tongues to their buddy.

Kids have innate curiosities for the biological world and all the living components that make it up. Often their vivid imaginations turn them into fierce cats, a coyote on the run, a baby wolf puppy, a hunter, or a gatherer of plants. They want to explore the school around them, find critters in the backyard, turn over rocks, pick food from the garden, care for animals, read and look at books featuring animals, go to the zoo, visit the beach, play at the park, etc. As if innately they have a deep connection with the outside world that goes back as far as humans can rightfully project their interconnection and reliance on the natural world.

There is this inner wildness among kids this age in particular that is worthy of being preserved and recognized as an innately valuable part of identifying and experimenting with their immediate environment.

Indigenous tribes internationally have a long history of being closely related or connected with the natural world. Young people shape and construct their relationship to the natural world through the act of scaling hills, treading through mud, standing in puddles, digging in the earth, gathering stones and plants, picking plants, finding insects, pretending to be an eagle, jumping off of stumps, painting faces with clay or mud, etc. Intuitively free of any adult dispositions or anxieties they simple dive right into life.
Take for example the our connection to the horse, “a gift from the great spirit,” by native Americans, carrying us great distances, used for transportation, in celebration, and for protection. For some youth the animistic sentient symbolism of the horse will ensnare their imagination, quite possible for years to come. And as the adults take notice of this, reassuring that they find all the materials or opportunities to support this interest, either by promoting horseback riding, visiting horse farms, reading about horses, sewing a horse from fabric, drawing horses, learning to spell or write a story about horses, etc. – much can blossom from a primordial connection. The child will begin to think about how the horse has helped groups of people us to fight battles, find and hunt food, and transport families over vast distances while carrying all their belongings, and a uncover a whole way of life before the rise of the automobile.

Often words pronounced or written identifying or describing animals, besides “mom, dad, ma, or pa” celebrate those intrinsic connections to animals. Animals and people tend to be also often some of the fist pictures kids draw. Many books pertaining to young are full of illustrations depicting animals or revolve around animal characters, because kids have always been able to identify closely to animalistic behaviors. Corporations such as Disney and others honed in on pitching the market at kids cashed in on this innate connection young people have to the animal world. The iconic mouse the brought millions across the country to meet Mickey and Minnie and the rest of the world of fantasia is just one pervasive example of how a young persons inner primordial fascination for the world can be exploited for profitable gain.

Not many generations ago people relied on the domestication of animals for sustenance. Today, millions of families have pets. Kids who have the responsibility of caring for pets in the home tend be nurturing and quite connected to the animal that lives in their home, often mimicking the behaviors. During play kids gravitate towards imaginative role-play where they take on animal characteristics. There is the infamous lion, the game of cat and dog, playing puppies or being coyote cubs, the dramatizing of animals is a well regarded mode of play where much is learned of the natural world and much is gained socially as they learn how to live cooperatively. The more kids gravitate towards primordial play – the more we can embrace, provide the space for it, and the resources to support their explorations of the fascination of the world around us. After all this way of play as a youngster, has been going on for countless generations.

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Kids Climbing Fences: Charting New Land

For the past years, the outside play yard at our school (known as the Big Yard) which is surrounded by a fence and concrete retaining wall supporting a grassy hillside, has suddenly expanded to include a whole new frontier for the k-2 class to explore. We have opened the floodgates to a Lewis and Clark expedition along a newly chartered hillside that provides a vista view of the Olympic Mountain range, on any clear day.

There was a gradual process leading to our backyard expeditions.
First it began with electing one of our better-coordinated agile ones to scale the fence to retrieve any balls that have gone over. And for about a week the teachers tossed around the idea of opening up this area to the oldest group in the school.

Now, just about every one in the K-2 class excels at hopping the fence. The fence they straddle to climb over runs parallel with the retaining wall, and the wall has spots that are more accessible than others, but this is still no easy hurdle for 5 or 6 years old legs and arms. Here’s a quick disclaimer about our seemingly dangerous mission: First off, after much practice, these kids are trained experts at leaping over fences and balancing themselves, and support each other cooperatively on steep inclines. I have also noticed that those who are fearful of climbing over the fence do not. In fact they want you to help them over, which I won’t for the sake of building independence, and after several attempts – sometimes days later – they do make it over. Now that that’s out in the open, lets continue onward to the other side.

On the other side of the fence, lies another fence, just at the crest of the hill, preventing anyone from stepping foot into a residential road. No, this is a wiry tall fence and their smart enough not to even think about climbing this one. The hillside is full of thick tall grass and bushy Scottsbroom, which flower yellow come spring (quite invasive in the newest). But in this case, this is the perfect plant because they are pliable, smooth, and resilient enough for them to pull themselves up as they topple over, or use the roots to get more leverage on those steeper areas. As soon as these kids set foot on the hillside, the warrior and wild games begin, as they turn to dragons, hunters, and wolves. Also all the other side you can find the remnants of bamboo posts from our garden that can quickly become spears. (No one has lost an eye…knock on bamboo) This is the point were we bark a teachery request like: “Please don’t use them as weapons or your welcome to use those sticks as walking staffs…only…” Or occasionally, we say, “PLEASE STOP SWINGING THE STICK…PLEASE PUT IT DOWN,” if it gets a little surly up there. And an eye is saved. In all honesty the sticks are quite useful, as I tested their purpose as a walking staff when I walked the hillside perimeter myself. (Suddenly instead of teacher I became a dragon they wanted to slay. But I held my ground.) In fact, I’m glad I used the stick (as a staff of course), as I almost lost my own footing. So yes, we established a few ground rules: no sticks as weapons, no going past what we call the doors (an area out of our sight), and leave the sticks where you found them – on the hillside and away from smaller hands in the yard.

There is something magical that takes place when these kids leap over a fence to an area that is has a bit of urban wild to it. Automatically they are placed in a unique perspective in relation to their environment. They will slide down the hill on their bottom, hide behind the shrubs, get caught is a few brambles, break sticks over rocks, roll around, fall laugh, make up new games, help each other out if their stuck, and other wise care for each other.

Our play yard space at the school is not small by any means, but an extras strip of land on a hillside has made their world. Our only hope is that the thrill of this new adventure, never wears off. And as they grow older they continue to over come obstacles or any barrier in front of them.

Today, two people who in the past could not make it over finally did. Their smiles and statuesque exuberating confidence, with a return thumbs up comment from the teacher… “YOU GOT IT!” is a defining moment in anyone’s education. And I am glad the hillside is there to teach us the way.

Here’s some rad pics of kids scaling fences: 

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Gaining New Heights!

Today was a different turn of events in and out of the classroom. Yesterdays whirlwind of wildness, brought a gentler breeze of caring nature.

Thursdays are designated field trip days, and for the morning we were off to Daystar, a retirement community down the road. At Daystar we painted little Origami boats for their community bulletin board. There were striped boats, Pokka dot boats, battle ship boats, submarine boats, and fairy boats. All the custom Origami boats were handcrafted by Deloris – absolutely flawless, not one hole left to patch. Dolores told a story of playing with Origami boats in her youth, were her pals would float boats down a stream as they watch them get caught inside a current in a culvert.

Afterwards I read two books. One book about a families need to buy or build another bed as their offspring began to over populate the parents comfort of a good night rest (imagine that). And the other book was about a sleeping Gecko who would not stop talking.

And then the highlight of the day proceeded into the drizzling rain as we ventured to Castle Park. However, the interest in the elaborate playground system was quickly won over by a small grouping of trees. Within minutes all 15 for the day, were in “climbing trees.” (As I thought to myself, where were those trees 24 hours ago when the shit was hitting the fan in the classroom?) Standing on guard next to the trees I executed to myself, a plan if one broke a limb (preferable a tree), watching as they ducked and weaved around the lofty Cedar branches to position their climbing route. Observing as they tested out the strength of the branches – stepping on tree limbs and stumbling just in time to catch their balance. All the while hearing their bursting interjection of comments: “I need more space; I need a private tree; It’s to crowded in here; You need to get down, so I can climb around; Your stepping on my hand.” And I stood there peering into a frenzy of fun, chuckling under my breath and thinking of my youthful days of climbing trees. Remembering a time when a neighbor once threatened to call the fire department for climbing their tree to high. (My… how we are protective of those “private trees.”) And I stood there observing the mastery of a tree; what lessons a tree can teach, with all the pliable branches, the oozing sap, it’s coarse bark, those knobby limbs, while offering a carrying capacity to support a whole class of kids, with private spaces and Great new perspectives. In between our courageous climbs we laid in the grass, as the clouds made room for the sun.

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