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
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages,
Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Becka Miller, your new narrator here at the Green Dragon Bytes blog. For the last four years I have been a subscriber to this very blog and all along the way I have delighted in the Green initiatives at the Waldorf School of Baltimore. Under the tutelage of Mr. Compost, A.K.A. Michel Anderson, the Waldorf School of Baltimore has accomplished so much in such a short time. Looking back over the blog and all the community here at WSB accomplished, I cannot help but be elated to begin the school year as the new Ecoliteracy and Sustainability Teacher.
Darwin, Richard, and Gumball are in for a surprise. They spent their first summer breaking ground on my budding urban farm right here in Baltimore. I can’t wait to see the look in their eyes when I scoop them up and welcome them back for the school year. Until their triumphant return, I am spending my time getting to know the incredible space that surrounds WSB. Of special importance, of course, is developing a deep relationship with the woods. As Forest Aftercare Coordinator, I will spend many an hour in those very woods in all types of weather. I am looking especially forward to seeing the forest through the student’s eyes: in my experience each will have their own individual orientation to the woods. A rich relationship with a forest unfolds over many seasons, a gift unique to the Forest Aftercare and Nature Studies programs at WSB. The Nature Studies curriculum is ahead of its time, and it seems to me that WSB is poised to pave the way for Ecoliteracy in schools across the country. It is with this deep sense of purpose and excitement that I am beginning my time here at WSB.
There are so many exciting projects to begin and good work to be done in maintaining all that has come before me. A few fun things I’m working on: starting to lay the foundation to bring in more bees this year, checking in the with the garden and learning the lay of the land on the playground, and readying the grounds for next year’s Fortlandia. Most of all, I’m dreaming up initiatives for what I am sure will be an incredibly exciting Green year.
Looking forward to seeing you on the grounds!