Friday, March 19, 2010

10 ways to welcome spring

As if we need some reminding of the wonderful ways to embrace springtime!
Here are ten ways to welcome the season, in no particular order:

10. Lie in the grass. Put down a blanket if it's too soggy.
9. Just close your eyes and feel the sunshine on your skin. Count to ten. Breathe.
8. Climb a tree.
7. Listen for birdsong. (yesterday I heard my first robin of the year!)
6. Notice the buds on the tree branches. They are getting bigger!
5. Leave your jacket inside.
4. Get your rain boots on and go wading in the nearest lake, creek, or stream.
3. Pack a picnic lunch and eat outside
2. Pay attention to your sense of smell. There are so many things to smell in the springtime, as the snow melts, the ground warms, the buds grow.
1. Join us at a Nature Playgroup.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Leaving it to the parents

We're school shopping. Not in the sense of buying clothes and supplies, but we're doing that now-familiar to me ritual of spring-thinking about where the kids will be attending school next year. They're only going to be in Kindergarten and preschool, but this is what I do. I shop around.

L's current preschool is nice, beautiful, and they do a wonderful job with their outdoor area. For an urban school, it's a pretty large play space, with a few "traditional" pieces of play equipment, (swingset, monkey bars) but it's filled with natural features too: logs, shrubs to hide behind, large rocks and hills to play on. They are outside for about an hour each day. This school goes through 8th grade, and we may well keep her there.

We just haven't yet "settled" on a place for the kids to attend school. We dearly love L's school, and she will likely attend Kindergarten there next year. But, you know me, I love to explore my options, and I have just enough of an education/science background and just enough of an obsession with nature education that I'm a bit...well...picky. And I have pretty high expectations.

Here's how our process seems to go: I pick a school that I like, one that has an educational philosophy that I believe in/agree with/understand. I read book after book on that particular educational approach. I study the pros and cons. I talk to colleagues who teach, for their opinions on the approach. I look at how (or if) said school integrates nature into the curriculum, into the day. We visit the school. I pelt the teacher or principal with questions. All of which are along the lines of "Can I check out your outdoor play area?" "How long are the kids outside every day?" "How many times a day do they go out?" "What's your approach to nature education?"

Here are the responses I got last week from two schools. Both Montessori schools. Montessori, in case you didn't know, is an educational approach which emphasizes strong ties to the natural world, a deep appreciation for nature and "authentic" experiences in nature. Seems like a perfect fit?

When I asked how often the children go outside, one enrollment coordinator told me: (she actually said this!) "Children who come for a half day usually don't go outside at all. We leave that to the parents."

On to the next school. This visit occured last week, during one of our rainy, 40 degree days. Huge puddles everywhere, snow melting like crazy, a perfect day to be outside.

"How often would you say the children get outside?" I asked innocently.

"Oh they go outside pretty often." Ms. Tour Guide beamed. "Except, you know, when it's like this. Or really cold.You know, if the weather's lousy."

Who decides what constitutes "lousy" weather? I wanted to ask. Where's your weather policy written?

I'm so frustrated.

Why do schools "leave it to the parents?" Why is there so little value placed on getting kids outside-in all kinds of weather, every day? I know about barriers, I know why teachers don't do this stuff. But please, somebody, tell me, when is this going to change? Why do schools not get this?

BEING OUTSIDE IN NATURE IS IMPORTANT. It is good for brain development. It is good for physical development. It is good for the soul. Now why on earth is something with so many benefits not an integral part of every day, in every classroom around the country?

Clearly, people, we've got our work cut out for us.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Making a splash

I picked up a very soggy and sad little girl at preschool last friday. She and her friend had been playing chase when she lost her footing and "took a dive" as she put it, into a very large, very deep, and very cold puddle of mud. Her teacher brought her inside and dried her off as best she could, changed her clothes, gave her some warm tea to drink. Despite the fact that L loves mud more than anyone I know (including me)-this was a pretty big bummer. She was really upset.

It reminded me of a time when I was very young, at preschool, and a girl swept her whole arm across the grimy plastic turtle pond and splashed me in the face with fetid water. I was mortified. I remember being whisked inside, the teachers reacting with horror as they helped me dry my face and hair. I remember feeling sick to my stomach every time I saw the turtle pond after that-getting splashed was just too scary and had freaked me out too much. But I didn't talk to anyone about it. Something about those teachers and the way they acted made me feel ashamed. I had gotten so dirty, the water was yucky, and I stank. From then on, I was terrified of that girl, Maude, who had splashed me.

L told me the story of her "dive" twice during the short drive home from school. Later I heard her telling J the story a third time. Apart from this, she was quiet for much of the afternoon. She hadn't been hurt during the fall, apart from a scrape on the palm of her hand. I don't think "her ego was bruised" as one particularly, er, obtuse relative has suggested. Over the course of the weekend, I have overheard her retelling this story to four other people. She's not "looking for attention" (yes, same relative)--I think she's really just taking her time to process this event.

And you know? Losing your balance and falling into a puddle is a pretty big deal when you're such a small girl. And when that puddle is cold, muddy, and deep, it's an even bigger deal. But I think my role here is not to place value on the experience (as good, bad, scary, whatever)--I think my role is just to be a space where she can re-tell, and sort out her many feelings about the event. I'm not casually passing it off as a minor thing, nor am I blowing it up to traumatic scale. I'm trying to just listen. She tells me it was scary, I ask her what she did to feel better. She tells me it was cold, I ask her how she warmed up. She shows me the muddy stains on her jacket. I nod and we talk a little more.

It was an unexpected, startling and, for her, scary thing. And she's working it out. She needs to keep talking about it, keep replaying that experience over and over through retelling, needs to keep showing us her "owie." At some point, this will no longer be necessary, but until then, I'll keep listening.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

a migration of sorts

My educational consulting and training business has been growing in leaps and bounds-if you didn't know I had a business, check out my website to learn more. (I'll still be posting to the blog often, so keep checking back. Just had to share the exciting news.)

I'd love to hear what you think. Thanks for checking it out.