“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
Next Wednesday (4/6), WSB’s Ecoliteracy & Sustainability Coordinator, Michel Anderson, will be offering a presentation at the Education Summit, which is part of the Local Solutions: Eastern Regional Climate Preparedness Conference. The conference is sponsored by the EPA and Antioch University; and author Bill McKibben (of 350.org) is a featured keynote speaker. It will be held in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor at the Sheraton Hotel.
Michel’s presentation, Earthling Power: How Nature Study & Play Shape Our Understanding of Community, is based on his work at the Waldorf School of Baltimore. Here’s a description: When children fall in love with nature the world changes — a bewildering dimension opens and they realize we are no longer at the center of the universe. We are but a single creature among many; we are one of the Earthlings. When we study and play in the forest the presence of the other Earthlings (and the odd powers they exhibit) rouses our curiosity. And it’s exactly this interaction that teaches us about our primary power . . . our imaginations. Nature is the great equalizer. When we are enmeshed in the more-than-human world we realize that community isn’t solely a human affair — it is the domain of Earthlings. Big, small, bipedal, rooted, or tailed, we all play a vital role in shaping and maintaining a healthy, Earthy community. In this session we will explore how nature-based education and play fosters a more encompassing, complex, and joyful understanding of community, and how this orientation is necessary in building our sustainable future.
You can register for the conference HERE.
Balance, Creativity, Confidence, and Risk Assessment . . . Tree climbing has it all! Check out this list of 11 great reasons for climbing trees. And enjoy these photos from WSB’s Forest Aftercare and Nature Study program:
Despite old man winter’s attempts to chill us with his icy breath, the Waldorf School of Baltimore’s students remain valiant against his persistent blows. We have something that old man winter fears . . . FIRE!
Fire holds a wealth of endless intrigue. Its presence inspires and instigates all realms of knowledge. Before it, poetic and scientific thinking are equal. When fire is introduced to children in a way that respects its might, it unfolds secrets. There is a reason that in the great myths fire always had to be stolen from the gods — fire is a piece of the distant Sun dancing before us. When children are properly introduced to the real and inspirational power of a flame they learn to respect it. It is not enough to tell children, “fire is hot, don’t touch it,” or “fire is dangerous, stay away from it.” In fact, this type of “teaching” only encourages the behavior we want them to avoid — we’re telling them the very thing we want them not to do. Delivering a negatory statement doesn’t teach anyone anything; in fact, it raises curiosity and increases the likelihood that the object of your fearful disdain will be explored beyond your presence. Giving children answers robs them of discovering the questions.
In WSB’s Nature Study and Forest Aftercare programs students will be guided through doing their own a risk assessment of fire. In the months ahead, we will explore fire through guided discovery, conversation, storytelling, co-authorship of safety practices, cooking, and marshmallow eating. To study fire is to study transformation. We will examine how fire transforms darkness into light, cold into warmth, wood into charcoal, and fear into confidence.
Please continue to check out this blog as we unfold the fire mysteries. Future fire explorations will be tagged #FireMysteries.
Please check out these four simple tips our friends at Blue Water Baltimore have written up to reduce the harmful effects that snow and ice removal has on our watershed and all the living beings within it.
1. SHOOT FOR TRACTION, NOT MELTING
When dealing with slippery and icy conditions, use inexpensive alternatives such as sand, sawdust, kitty litter and even ashes to achieve increased traction. Click to Tweet This
2. KNOW WHEN TO SALT
There is a best time to apply salt and that is JUST before the snow falls. The logic is to prevent the snow from sticking from the beginning. If the snow is already present, try an alternative mentioned above. Click to Tweet This
3. LOOK FOR LANGUAGE LIKE “PET-FRIENDLY”
Don’t settle for weak language such as “eco-friendly” or “safe” when buying ice melt. If a product is safe enough for pets, it is likely to be safer for plants and people and to cause less polluted runoff. Click to Tweet This
4. AVOID SODIUM CHLORIDE
Avoid the temptation to buy the cheapest and most widely used ice melt: sodium chloride. This chemical concoction disrupts the salinity of water, harming the fish and animals. Likewise, this “road salt” erodes the soil and damages trees and vegetation. Look for products containing magnesium chloride instead, which is less damaging to the environment. Click to Tweet This
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Stay safe and warm and be sure to have some serious winter wonderland fun!
Today the 5th grade helped extract honey from honeycomb made by our very own honeybees. The honeycomb was carefully harvested last week. We only took a couple of bars to ensure the bees have plenty of honey to get them through the winter. Below are photos of the extraction process.
First the empty comb is cut off and placed into an empty bucket. Then (after thoroughly washing hands) the capped honeycomb is crushed. When its has been thoroughly pulverized (and fingers thoroughly licked), the wax & honey goop is poured into a strainer system. To build the straining system I went to a local brew shop, Nepenthe Homebrew, for food grade buckets, a spigot, and mesh strainer. I cut one of the buckets in half and lined and sandwiched the mesh between the two stacked buckets. The honey is then strained through the mesh which collects the wax. After a couple of slowing dripping days, we will bring the wax outside and place it near the hive so the honeybees can come out and clean off the remaining honey. It’s a pretty low tech system. This winter we will build a small solar oven so in the spring we can melt the wax down to make candles and lip balm!
Have a nice weekend!
Last week, our 3rd grade class had a wonderful time visiting Calvert’s Gift: Organic Herb & Vegetable Farm in Sparks, Maryland. Students got to pick and taste a large variety of organic vegetables fresh from the earth.
Calvert’s Gift Farm does a CSA and sells some of their produce at farmers’ markets (one is in Towson). Be sure to stop by and say hello to our host, Beckie. As a parting gift the farm gave the class about 15 pounds of fresh radishes and turnips! (Which they are now busy pickling.)
Please enjoy the photos below (some of which were even taken by the students):
Throughout the day, Sustainability Coordinators tend to get a lot of mind-bending questions revolving around matters of compost, gardening, wildlife, native plants, etc. But, hands-down, the one I hear the most is . . . How can I turn into a Dragon? Followed by . . . How can I become more involved in the sustainability initiatives at WSB? Well, I have a grand answer for you that will solve both these perplexing puzzles in one fell swoop! This year, we are starting a new Green Dragon Team for students, parents, staff, and New Town community members. Our goal is to begin implementing the Enhanced Schoolyard Plan, and our focus this school year will be on managing our stormwater runoff and planting more edibles in the schoolyard. The Student Council has already elected their Green Officer who will be sniffing out the other Green Dragons hiding in the classrooms.
We are in need of 3 more parents to join our fiery ranks (preferably from the elementary and middle school, as the Children’s Garden is already represented). Green Dragon Parents will meet the 1st Thursday of every month directly after drop off at 8:30am. The main meeting will be adjourned by 9:15am at the latest! In order to keep these meetings short, follow up information will be handled online. Bare in mind, you can still be involved without becoming a full-fledged Dragon. Over the course of the school year we will need volunteers to help implement the plan as well as keep all WSB’s events as waste-free as possible.
Please be in touch with Michel Anderson with your desired level of involvement. If you’re interested in full dragon status please submit a 1,000,000,000 word essay containing all relative experience, including mythological lineage, bloodline, region and castle property information, gold and jewel reserves, as well as involvement in any significant ogre battles.
Our 1st meeting will be Thursday, Oct 2nd.
Thank you for reading and your interest!
Greetings! And welcome to the new school year! I hope your summer was filled with wonder and glee. I wanted to take moment to fill you in on some of the new green projects that are currently underway at the Waldorf School of Baltimore. First off, the Parents’ Association (PA) has generously donated funds to kick off our new Enhanced Schoolyard Plan. You will be hearing a lot about this plan over the coming months. In brief, the plan is based on permaculture design principles as well as design principles that encouraging biophilia (love of nature) in children. We’ve already started folding it into the school with a few new items. Thanks to the PA, we now have new composting tumblers that are loose and can be rolled around the schoolyard as well as down hills. This gives our students a fun way to turn compost (cleverly disguised as play) during recess. We’ve also purchased new fencing which will allow our three hens more space to roam. When it’s complete WSB students will be able to freely enter the area and interact with the chickens on a more regular basis. I have started installing the fence, panel-by-panel, during recess with the help of a few eager 3rd graders. We should be finished within the next couple of weeks. This year’s Student Council will be instrumental in designing and phasing in the Enhanced Schoolyard Plan. We are developing a Student Council Task Force that will be making play-maps of the schoolyard and offering suggestions to the faculty to make changes to the physical and cultural use to our grounds. Among other things, they will re-write the recess rules to offer their unique perspective. Over the next couple of months you will see and hear about these exciting changes through this blog (which will host middle school student authors!). The integration of these plans will offer many opportunities for volunteers! So subscribe and check to blog often.
Needless to say, we have high hopes that this year will be our greatest (and greenest) thus far!