Recently, it has become clear that it is time for me to make a career change from the front lines of teaching to behind the scenes. It’s a message tinged with sadness, as I have been walking the path of becoming that is the educator’s path for quite some time. But, when things are clear, they just are as they are, and it is time for me to begin my transition to being in a different role. The unique first-hand experience offered through the Nature Studies teaching position has primed my trajectory, and although I do not yet know where I will land, I do know that my decision will be informed by fond memories of connection in this amazing community we have built together. I look forward to lending my energy to an organization whose mission continues the work that I have been engaged in here at WSB.
In the last two years, we’ve built on what came before and continued our commitment to being green by becoming re-certified as a Green School, continuing to cement aspects of our unique green Nature Studies curriculum, and improving our gardens and outdoor classrooms. We’ve got busy bees again, adorable little chicks, and energized green spaces. For me, getting to know the students and seeing first-hand the abject joy they experience in the woods has been a pleasure and a sustaining gift. From this vantage point, I feel that I cannot overstate the importance of their relationship with our woods. The continuation of this connection is of utmost importance to me, and it is my intention to pave the way for my successor with all the information I have gathered and the tricks I have learned. I am deeply grateful to WSB for providing me the time, space, and trust to help in facilitating this transition. Many thanks, to all, who have contributed to our green initiatives by dealing with muddy clothes and keeping track of myriad little pieces of gear. The woods are worth it, but you don’t have to ask me, ask the students. They have within them experiences that bring forth words that speak more convincingly than I. And, please don’t forget how important the woods can be to you, too. A weekly or even monthly practice of spending some time in the trees will have a ripple effect in your life, that I can promise.
In gratitude, Becka
Tired of planning activities all the time? Well, look no further. There is no need to plan an activity on a snowy day. Let the snow be your activity. On this snowy day, I will allow the students to remind you that snow is just so magical by itself. Just get out there and savor it.
In the photos below students of all ages are overjoyed on a Friday to be out in the falling snow. It doesn’t even matter that it is barely accumulating. The energetics of being out in a snowfall are too good to pass up. Just suit up and get out there, they say!
Who can argue with smiles like that? Look at those overjoyed arms and happy feet! Money can’t buy happiness like falling snow, Just Saying.
At the same time, don’t forget to go on forays to find piles of snow in the days following a snowstorm. Students found in this pile of clean snow from plowing the basketball court whole worlds of fun, even after all the other snow had melted away. We enjoyed this ephemeral pile for an entire class period. I had to pull them away: thank goodness lunch was next, or I wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on!
And even in an inch of snow there is enough fun to be had if you have sleds on hand. Our students didn’t mind finding patches of snow to sled on, or building areas up for sledding. The grass may be poking through, but we are still sledding until we see dirt. Don’t wait for the “perfect sledding snowfall,” sled anytime, they say!
Remember: When it snows, no need to plan an activity. Just get out there and enjoy it.
Join our sister school, the Washington Waldorf School, for a two session workshop on Biodynamic Beekeeping with Gunther Hauk of Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary on Friday, January 19th, 6:30pm-9pm, and Saturday, January 20th from 9:30am -12:30pm. The workshops are free, and more information can be found below. RSVP’s are required and can be made here. The Facebook event can be found here.
I bring this up because I know our bees have been horrified by the actions of their stinging insect cousins the wasps and hornets of late. Our friend and resident bee expert reminds us that these stinging insects who are often labeled bees are in fact not bees at all. And often, their aggressive actions give bees a bad name. Getting stung by a bee is actually quite preventable, as bees are generally timid and do not sting unless they are protecting their hive, swatted at, or, most commonly, stepped on. Our bees at school are so friendly that I visit their hive without wearing gear!
BULLET POINTS and Q&A with OUR RESIDENT BEE EXPERT
- Bees are not hornets and wasps.
- Some hornets and wasps, most commonly the Yellow -Jacket, may be aggressive. Bees are timid and only sting when threatened.
- What is usually found in the garden, bees or wasps? Answer: Bees
- Where would I find a wasp (e.g. yellow jacket)? Answer: In nest in ground, around food, but not around flowers.
- When and where is it more likely to be stung by a bee? Answer: When bees are collected in a huge (10,000 +) swarm, when you enter their hive, when you swat at them.
- What is the chance of being stung by a bee in a garden? Answer: Very small, so small that no one keeps statistics of bee stings
- When might I get stung? Answer: If you step on a bee in the grass without shoes. If you swat at a bee.
- Do I need to be more careful if I have a bee sting allergy? Answer: If you wear shoes in the garden and do not swat at bees, you will not be stung.
- Are bee stings dangerous?: Answer: For most people the answer is that they are annoying, not dangerous and do not hurt very much. About 0.5 per cent of children have bee allergies. However, if you do not go after the bees, they will not go after you.
The Bees are Back! This was taken the day they moved into their new home here on campus. Since then, they have increased their numbers significantly. I am working hand in hand with a local volunteer to nurture them through Biodynamic philosophy.
If you look very closely below, you’ll see a bee taking advantage of our early autumn pollinator garden foliage. Last year the students worked with the Maryland Master Gardeners to put in a true blue certifiable pollinator garden. If you build it, they will come.
Below, bees enjoy late season Turtlehead blooms, also in our pollinator garden.
And I just have to show off another photo of the showstopper goldenrod display we (and the bees) enjoyed just last week.
Students planted the zinnia below for our butterfly pollinator friends. In our presentations with the butterfly lady last spring, we learned the importance of feeding caterpillars as well as their charismatic butterfly phases. And, just this year several of our friends in the Children’s Garden witnessed the magic cycle of caterpillar and chrysalis and butterfly!
All the abundance of Milkweed we have here on campus guarantees the chance to catch a monarch coming out of its chrysalis! The garden pictured below has zinnia, calendula, parsley, dill, and milkweed- food for our caterpillar friends.
It helps us to grow with the earth. It nurtures the love of nature and grows it with you. In going to Fortville, we can learn to be one with the earth. To love nature and appreciate what it does for us. We study the way animals live. We study the way the seasons change the woods.
We learn how to help preserve nature in its full capacity. We love nature. We understand nature, and in doing so we understand ourselves, the way of the world, the circle of life. We also have fun. But in having fun we learn that nature is good, and fun.
We learn the importance of Nature, and so I ask you now, let us keep this valuable class, let us keep learning to love nature. Let us one day save the world by our love of nature. ”
The words above were written by a 5th grader to a fictional Mr Bean, who, in a brain exercise I devised for class on a thundering Friday, had decreed that Nature Studies was on the proverbial chopping block.
When I came up with this writing prompt I was not prepared for the original ideas and wisdom that poured forth from these young minds. None of the above was planted by their teacher. These are not my words eloquently packaged and repeated. No, these are their words, their thoughts, their reflections. In the breathing space of the forest, and at the invitation to simply be in the woods, our students come to know themselves.
I’ll leave you with a few parting thoughts brought to you by the 5th grade:
“I think that having Nature Studies has had a great impact on my life. And I wish that every kid could have the opportunity to have Nature Studies.”
“Our outside world is fading fast so if we don’t enjoy it now, we never will.”
Now, more than ever, it is paramount that we help the bees. What was once a means of procuring honey, a sweet elixir purely for our enjoyment, is increasingly becoming a necessity for our survival. Bees are solely responsible for pollinating over 400 agricultural plants and they are dying at unrepresented rates. The national average hive loss hovered around 45% nationally in 2015, while here in Maryland beekeepers lost nearly 60% of their hives. Maryland is ahead of the curve on the very real fight to save the bees, passing the Pollinator Protection Act just last year.
At the Waldorf School of Baltimore (WSB), we are doing our part to save the bees! In addition to teaching our students about the importance of these insects; we are joining forces with the Association of Waldorf School in North America (AWSNA), and sister institutions from around the globe to create a Pollinator Highway. The goal being for Waldorf schools from the United States, Europe, Asia and beyond to establish and linkup through on campus beehives by 2019 for Waldorf Education’s centennial birthday.
Here’s where you come in, dear reader… Last year we unexpectedly lost our campus beehive to vandals, and have been working on rebuilding ever since. We ask that you please consider attending our Nature Explorers event, cohosted with Cool Progeny, on Saturday, March 25th from 10am to 12pm, to learn more about what you can do to save the bees. Your $5 entry fee will go directly towards purchasing all of the necessary materials to install a new WSB hive. Click here to register.
We have also begun an initiative that will take our beekeeping a step further: we are working with the Maryland Master Gardeners to establish a pollinator garden here on campus. In the coming weeks, students will be planting seeds for the new garden and learning first-hand in their Nature Studies classes from experts about bees. In an effort to engage our community, we are planning new signage for the hive and will be having a talk that will be open to the school community and the community at large on bees that will dispel common misconceptions about beekeeping. Many fear an accidental bee sting and assume that having a hive will increase the chances for a sting, but it turns out that that is one misconception among many that create hurdles for schools who want to keep hives.
Gumball was black and shiny when the sunlight hit her feathers.
You could pick her up, no matter what.
She was as sweet as gum that always stayed sweet.
Whenever you had treats she was always there.
She was a leader with a big heart.
We will miss Gumball because she was unique and she was our Chicken.
We miss you, Gumball!
-WSB’s Fourth Grade Class
Young Gumball with her companions
The decision to care for living creatures as a community here at WSB has been a fruitful one. Everyday our students play alongside our Hens on the playground. Nearly every week we visit our ladies in Nature Studies to throw corn and dangle mealworm treats. The chickens look forward to interacting with students, and even enjoy when our students pick them up and pet their downy feathers. Much like all things in nature, chickens cannot be a permanent fixture. Just recently we said goodbye to one of the friendliest and sweetest chickens I have ever met, our shiny black hen, Gumball.
For some, this may have seemed like the perfect opportunity to harness the moment and launch into guided group discussion, but I opted for a more organic approach to discussing death. By happenstance, her transition began on Nature Studies class day for grades 2-5, so I had the honor of bringing my classes by, one by one, to say their individual goodbyes to our dear friend. After we all had a chance to give her one last pet, students naturally used the rest of class time to process their thoughts and feelings with their classmates as we walked together through the woods. It was incredibly touching to see friends comfort friends as tears were shed, and to hear profound conversations bubbling up unassisted from young minds grappling with the absolute truth we must all eventually face. Stories of Gumball’s sterling qualities were woven into life experiences of losing pets and family members. With unwavering trust in their own innate ability to deal with loss, and left to their own devices, our students dealt with Gumball’s passing with grace, depth, and purpose.
“It’s all a matter of keeping my eyes open.”
The morning dawns cloudy and brings with it that winter treasure, snow. There is no choice but to drop my long awaited lesson plans to take advantage of the freshly fallen snow. If my overarching goal is to ensure that this generation values the woods and the wonders of nature, there is no better guest educator than snow.
Gathering Freshly Fallen Snow
Found Ice Sculpture
As an Environmental Educator working in the woods, one learns to keep their eyes open and their plans flexible. I find that the most valuable moments in class often happen when I am least expecting it, and that’s when an ability to take advantage of the moment is crucial. I can’t get so focused on what I planned that I don’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak.
I have to stay open to being interrupted by a mischievous dancing squirrel in the top of a tree. If the students interrupt me to watch him and exclaim, that’s a good thing. I remind myself that they are seeing. They are paying attention to the forest. And, in all honesty, in that moment it is even more important that they practice paying attention to the forest than if they pay attention to me. That is, afterall, why I’m leading this lesson in the first place. The long term hope of all these games and lessons combined is to invite students to slow down and simply be in the forest.
So, welcome, flock of geese. Welcome, dancing squirrel. Welcome, amazing ice formation.
We saw a whole world in the ice formation above. We happened upon it in the middle of the trail as we were walking along one day. It was well worth changing course for a few minutes to experience these ephemeral formations. The students were absolutely enthralled by them. Nature has so many hidden wonders, patiently waiting for us to take notice.
“This is AWESOME!”
It’s not unusual to hear exclamations like these rocketing around the trees in Forest Aftercare. In fact, this same student even went so far as to make up a song about how much she loves the woods. It’s hard to believe that this particular student joined Forest Aftercare this year with much trepidation. She did NOT like the woods. No Thank You. Not Interested. But in less than a week, she didn’t want to go home when her mother came to pick her up. Now, of course I was optimistic that she would eventually come to like the woods, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear her shouting “This is AWESOME!!!” nearly every day in the space of two weeks! This is the transformative power of spending unstructured time in the woods.
Photo credit: Carling Sothoron
Within the breathing space of unstructured time, children are able to find their own special places in the forest. They develop relationships with these places that lead them to return again and again to experience the unique quality of simply being there. I knew something was shifting on the third day of aftercare, when this student asked if she could take her mother into the forest to see some of her favorite places. Since then, she has spent her class time in Nature Studies sharing the spaces she found in her afternoons in Forest Aftercare with her classmates. Turns out enthusiasm around special spaces is simply irresistible to those you chose to share it with. Several of her classmates now share her love for her special spots, and are starting to call them their own.
Michel Anderson, founder of the Forest Aftercare program at the Waldorf School of Baltimore, was recently published in Green Teacher. His article, called “Rolling Stones and Catching Beetles,” is about his adventures whilst creating our urban forest aftercare program. Designed to help other green teachers create similar programs in their schools, Michel’s article was a lovely reminder of how incredibly lucky we are to have a flourishing Forest Aftercare here at WSB. My hope is to continue to hold this space, not only for the students at WSB, but for students everywhere. As this trend catches on, and I do so hope it will, our Forest Aftercare will continue to inspire others to offer programs like these. What’s even more exciting is that Forest Aftercare is just one of many ways that the Waldorf School of Baltimore is blazing a trail with its inspirational and forward thinking approach to ecoliteracy. Last month we were approached by a school who is interested enough in our ecoliteracy programs to send one of their staff members all the way from PA to spend a day with me to see our program in action. When I took the reins, my vision for WSB was for us to be a hub for information about experiential ecoliteracy, with the hope of impacting the lives of students across the country. Michel’s article is an amazing avenue for us as we reach toward this vision, and I think I can speak for us all when I say we really appreciate this gift. Here are a few irresistibly celebratory high fives from Forest Aftercare, Mr. Anderson! Bravo! And many thanks.
Photo Credit: Carling Sothoron