Learning About and Through Nature - Forest News
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about spending time and learning about and through nature - 1) It takes time, 2) You can always encounter something new and often unexpected, and 3) It takes time. Time, practice, and repeated opportunities to explore and seek out the unexpected are the key ingredients to developing the mindset and skills that allow one to, literally, see the forest for the trees. I am still learning.
During Curriculum Night, I spoke about the objectives we have set for our time together in the woods - Developing Awareness, Making Connections, and Understanding Systems and Communities. The specific content varies, but every Friday students engage in activities designed to help us better use our senses to tune into the environment and internalize an understanding of the relationships and interdependence of natural systems.
Our Fridays in the woods always begin with a group gathering where we welcome everyone, acknowledge the indigenous history of the land we are on, and express gratitude for some aspect of the forest community. We then break up into smaller, mixed age groups, each led by an individual teacher for the focus activity, which usually has us heading out into the forest on some sort of mission or errand for the day. We then return to home base, debrief in our small groups, update our journals, and have a closing circle with the whole group where some share a story and I usually close with a poem that feels relevant to our focus. Our afternoons offer important opportunities for hanging out with friends, playing games, and more exploration.
If time allows, I try to go to Evan’s Field every Thursday morning for a short while to “search” for Friday’s lesson. I recently came across clues that led me to the remains of a deer. I took a series of pictures, and the next day teachers presented students with these photos, one at a time, which they used to make observations and ask questions while attempting to draw conclusions about what had taken place. This activity, framed as a mystery, was not only an introduction to holistic tracking, but also led to and set the foundation for further conversation about how nutrients cycle through a system and the interdependence of the plant and animal communities that live in this area.
Last week, taking into account recent rainfall and small streams of runoff moving through the meadow, students worked in groups to identify the starting point of a single raindrop and imagined a path that it could take through the preserve on its way back to the Des Plaines River, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. Students moved through the preserves tracing the path from trees to streams, into plants and through animals and back again. There were some silly moments, and also interesting discoveries. Through it all, students were developing a conceptual understanding of the water cycle, the interconnectedness of the biotic and abiotic components of a natural community, and our local watershed.
In conjunction with direct instruction on wilderness awareness skills, these lessons and activities form a foundation for further exploration and opportunities for learning that can be visited and revisited from season to season and year to year.