Outdoor Discovery: A Poem and a Scene

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A teacher lies in a field.

A host of colorful rain jackets litter the grass like petals.

Students join the adventure,

Backs to dirt, watching raindrops cascade down from a gray sky.

 

I enjoy being an educator, but there are some days where I simply love my job and the opportunities it affords to explore outside. Muddy Mondays are a regular occurrence at my school, but this past one takes the cake when it comes to the downright fun-factor.

The blurry edge of the Hurricane Florence system meant that there had been a steady on-an-off again drizzle of rain throughout the day. Us teachers were not deterred – our regular outdoor education plans would take a backseat as we simply moved on to Plan B and led our young charges in discovery play. I geared up, eager to be outside and to model how to interact with the outdoor environment during seemingly “icky” weather.

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The trust was evident as the kiddos trailed me out into our field and joined me in our opening activity. Traditionally referred to as “sit spots”, I chose to lay down and face the rain. The others followed suit.

“Look at all the different shades in the sky,” one student pointed out.

“This rain feels really misty, not like it normally does,” another student quipped.

One girl rolled on to her belly to watch the effect the rain had as it hit the thick and sturdy crag grass. These students and I sat in silence (or quietness) for almost 10 minutes. We watched, we questioned, we got wet, and we definitely got muddy. It was peaceful, it was invigorating, it was a fabulous outdoor education lesson wherein I let nature speak for itself.

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The rest of the afternoon was a whirlwind of fun activities. I accompanied of a group to the water run-off on our property, noting how the plants in that area were “hardy” (a students’ words, not mine) and used to dealing with lots of water. Kids took turns jumping over the mini-stream and moving rocks to temporarily stop it’s flow. I took a break and helped a pair of students prop a big stick onto a tree to create the framework of a budding fort. On the far side of the yard, another group eagerly began mixing mud concoctions, trying to find the “just-right consistency” for their imaginative pretend-edible creations.

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We explored until the end of the day before heading inside to gather our things. Mud was streaked on stairwells, doorknobs, and faces. My shirt was soaked through, and many students joyfully commented on my drowned appearance due to flat, damp hair.

Critics may emphasize the fact that there was no formal lesson. For those of us who were there, the depth of learning was so very evident. Underneath the exuberant play, was a rich layer of deep thinking. There was risk-taking, hands-on discovery, and lots of wondering.

Perhaps it should rain some more on Mondays.

 

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Just Another Muddy Monday

We were foraging for sticks – good ones that were both sturdy and sized correctly.

“How’s this one? And look at the pine needles I found for the brush part!”

I couldn’t help but smile, relishing the contentment I felt at spending time outside with a league of children. Our current project: creating paintbrushes using natural items we uncovered in a nearby wooded area. My young charges were very intentional in their scavenge, and eagerly helped each other construct their art tools.

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Paintbrushes my students created using natural objects

The best part? This was just another Muddy Monday at my new place of employment: Lorien Wood School.

During the latter part of my 47 Parks trip, I began the onerous task of finding a new job. I vacillated between curriculum writing careers, outdoor education positions, and returning to elementary education. I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon an opening at an occupation that combined all three.

Lorien Wood is a private school located in Northern Virginia. The curriculum is integral, arranged in thematic units that incorporate multiple subjects, among which is outdoor studies. After spending so much time outside during my travels, I was pleased to be offered a position at a school that encourages joyful discovery of natural spaces and wild places.

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Autumn mural using our handmade nature brushes

Every Monday is a designated Muddy Monday. Small groups of students rotate through various stations designed to promote a spirit of discovery as children interact with the outdoors. As the designated STEAM* director, I get to design engineering and art projects for the students to undertake. I am looking forward to building forts, making miniature rafts, and exploring solar energy over the course of the year.

I look back over my national parks tour fondly, but relish in my new job that combines my passion for nature with my love of all things teaching/learning.

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Students design and construct representations of the 4 seasons.

Rain, snow, or sleet, I treasure the opportunity I have to share this passion with my students.

Mondays just couldn’t get any better.

 

* STEAM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math