Archive for category Nature

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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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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Bones, Pottery, and Urban Legends…The Gifts of Childhood

Some of my most profound experiences occurred in nature’s playground, in a “green belt” between residential areas, just out the back door of my suburban home. These woods where a lesson in natural history, they spoke volumes to what I identified as home.

My irresistible curiosity sparked my drive for moving beyond and into the depths of those towering trees. My imagination forms the stories woven into suburban legends, well before the bulldozer moves in. We designed our own treasure maps; my friends and I discovered bones – traces of animals that have long perished.

We unveiled shards of pottery from mounds of creek clay in a dry creek embankment. Remembering, when a jagged rustic fork would sometimes pierce up through the floor of the sandy, creek bottom. Sifting through eddied mounds of treasure, a boy’s imagination could meander. What was that place? Who lived in that spot? And where do they all go?

We were archaeologists solving mysteries. Some of the pottery could be wiped to clean porcelain white with woven patterns printed for show. We heard legends of this place, now being exhumed by ten years olds, as a just a country club for golfers. And the over grown fair ways and eroded golf cart paths dotting he landscape, made this legend seemingly more plausible.

Between, think groves of evergreen trees and scattered sycamores and birch where stretches of land that took the shape of machinery being dragged across the surface. There were suburban tales of the land as a golf course, with a fine dining restaurant, however I never did uncover a golf ball, golf cart, or driver. (And until this day, it goes unexplained) There where no building ruins, just heaps of plates, bowls, and the occasional tarnished silverware.

Periodically, you could here the sound of a train rush by, wondering if it was carrying freight or passengers. But, there was no train in sight, just a dark forest that kept a young boy on the edge of the shadows before creeping in. What lived in those darkness regions of the woods – a boy would never no unless the trees are left alone standing before residences for years to grow. Trees of these heights and depths raise goose bumps on your arms. Fresh eyes drew me closer to a place I’d call home.

Around the depths of these trees were scattered woods, dense shrubbery and deciduous trees. Beneath these trees poking out from eroded sediment or woven by tall grass, rested scattered bones. These bones became childhood trophies, as we would collect these prizes for decorating our hideouts.

On the periphery sat dark brown barns with slanted walls and rows of windows broken by years of stone throwing and heavy storm gusts. You knew the old farm barns were in close proximately when a breeze carried the stench of rotten corpse. Neighbors knew of the origin of this breeze, and hot muggy days of summer, would keep the hairs in your nose standing on end. Only kids had the gumption and bravery to explore the old pig farm. This was no territory for adults.

And as suburban legend tells, the old owner still lives in the little white house along Ridge Pike, and sits cross-legged with a shot gun at reach, with the capability of firing off rock salt. Certainly, this threat was enough to reassure our calculations and movement did the stir the old miser to the point of running for his gun. The older boys in the neighborhood brought back spare ribs and other bones, and kept them sacredly at their fort.

It was these treasures that kept an inquisitive boy of nature wanting to explore on his own terms. And these missions for bones and other artifacts of natural history always uncovered truth – about the land and self.

What remnants left standing of a pig farm existence were stark, dilapidated barn houses. Shattered glass peppered the old barn floors where below the pigsties broke up the floor and the butcher’s hook would dangle about mid-room. My time inside these haunting looking structures was limited by the anxiety of being spooked by a ghost or either shot by the neighbor.

Here in the neighborhood woods the soil and artifacts left dormant for decades, where puzzles to the place, I’d call home. Crows hovered near to rooftops, and in the driveway of a house – garbage trucks sat with packages of what appeared to be lard for soup.

These childhood images of my surroundings kept the neighborhood kids, constantly intrigued, investigative, yet cautious. We were solving a detective story, trespassing, and exploring regions of what made our place in time meaningful – and fun. Our classroom was bountiful, absent of adult supervision and our interpretations rested on the softness of whatever the imagination, could conjure up.

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