“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
The Forest Aftercare program at the Waldorf School of Baltimore is an important facet to our school community. At Waldorf, we recognize that today’s children are not spending as much time in natural environments as former generations. Our Forest Aftercare program is designed to provide a safe space for children to cultivate a deep bond with the more-than-human world.
Students enrolled in the Forest Aftercare program spend most of their time in the forest surrounding our school. Free play, gardening, animal husbandry, and exploration of the forest are key aspects of our program. We are outside everyday – rain, snow, or shine!
Forest Aftercare Staff prepare students to become empowered, responsible environmental stewards. Our playground is a certified Wildlife Habitat, with food, shelter, and water sources for indigenous species. We have been awarded a Baltimore City Master Gardener’s Outstanding School Garden Award.
Stay connected to what’s happening in our Ecoliteracy & Sustainability programs here, at sustainablewaldorf.com.
As part of the Waldorf School of Baltimore’s What Works speaker series our Ecoliteracy & Sustainability Coordinator, Michel Anderson, will be conducting an experiential presentation entitled What Works: The Waldorf Approach to Nature Studies. The event is free and open to the public, and it will happen twice — Wednesday, April 13 @ 7pm, and on Earth Day, Friday, April 22 @ 8:30am. The presentation will be conducted outside in the forest behind the school and (just like our Nature Study and Forest Aftercare programs) it’s a rain or shine event — so come in weather appropriate attire.
It is no surprise that children love forts. Chances are high that everyone reading this can recall a childhood memory of building a fort. And with good reason – forts offer humans (especially small humans) a plethora of sensorial and imaginative splendor. They are special places where learning occurs on an intimate level that is often overlooked by school systems.
At the Waldorf School of Baltimore we encourage our students to build forts in the schoolyard. We did this by offering them elemental loose parts – sticks, stones, string, leaves, and straw – and the modest invitation to “build something.” From those humble parts and simple words a magnificent kingdom was born. This kingdom isn’t some childhood paradise – it is as complex as our adult world (if not more so). Dragons, Spies, and Knights are everywhere – and, yes, dubious Bankers exist too. Life in the kingdom gets confusing. At recess, a teacher’s primary role is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of the students; the secondary role is help them develop the mental tools needed to navigate the rich experiences they are crafting. Teachers are not there to solve their problems, they are there to help them learn how to solve their own problems.
At the Waldorf School of Baltimore we understand that learning does not only occur in the classroom, and recess is not simply “taking a break.” Recess is academic in its own right – it is a time of synthesis. Students are not only constructing forts; they are developing their social awareness and learning to manage the complexity of the world.
The special places impulse in a school setting invites children to relive the history of the species. They create primitive shelters, form tribes, battle over resources, learn to barter, create legal systems, invent currency, learn to monitor the own behavior, recognize the impact of the built environment on ecosystems. — Excerpt from the book Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators by David Sobel (Stenhouse Publishers 2008)
If you’re hungry to understand more about the academics behind the fort building impulse, Meet the World’s Leading Expert on Why Kids Build Forts, David Sobel (who also happens to be my graduate advisor at Antioch University New England).
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:
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):