The word spring comes from the old English springen, meaning “to leap, burst forth, fly up; spread, to grow.” This is a marvelous description of what we’ve been seeing happen to the minds, hearts, and bodies of students in the forest grove these past few weeks. The new growth in the forest has paralleled a very different sort of growth among the children’s minds. There is a certain level of attunement to one’s surroundings that we have been encountering with the children on an increasing regular basis.
“Teacher Sarah! Teacher Kit!”- We’ll see a head peek up as a child shouts with exuberance: “I noticed something!” Often it is something related to a concept we’ve been discussing- buds on trees or mushrooms in grass- but more and more the children are engaging with their environment on a very particular level. They are learning to see things that most of us do not get the time or perceptual experience needed in order to perceive. They are becoming expert observers, small naturalists in the making. Few of us have the opportunity to reach this point at any point in our lives, so it is exciting to see it come to fruition among minds still so full of possibility.
And speaking of minds, the children have been learning quite a bit about their brains lately. In addition to Joanne Deak’s excellent book “The Fantastic Elastic Brain”, students in the forest grove have been examining a model of the brain, and discussing the way they’ve “stretched” their brain on a daily basis. They giggle about the word “hippocampus” and point out the cerebellum on a pretzel bitten carefully into the shape of a brain at snack. Most importantly, there is excitement at the idea that they can shape their own brain by learning new things. Whenever we hear a child exclaim- “I made a mistake- but that’s ok because mistakes are the best way to learn!” our hearts leap with joy. This knowledge is often what gives them the confidence to confront a problem or admit a poor choice so that they can resolve a conflict with a friend or work to succeed at an activity in which they’d struggled at first.
In the natural sciences, children have been using their observational skills to explain the changes they’re observing in the grove as well as the surrounding environment. Learning about the parts of the bean was like a ticket into a secret world- one where each seed holds the possibility of tiny life within it. Many children have been going home and opening up their beans or peas at dinner to display the first leaves and tiny radicle hidden within! They’ve been collecting big leaf maple sprouts around the classroom and watching as the seed coats peel away and the new leaves burst forth. Tending to our tiny garden of baby maples in the fairy village has been all the more impressive in that we can compare this miniscule plants to the giant big leaf maple above that produced them.
We have also been learning about the parts of the plant. We examined ornamental strawberry plants, from root to leaf before planting them in the entrance to the forest grove. Children carefully dug holes for the roots, placed the plants, then covered and made protective barriers for the young shoots. Next, we read a book about the parts of the plant that allowed us to see each part individually as well as in relation to the rest of the plant through a series of overlays that combine to show all the separate plant parts. This has allowed us to discuss the plant life cycle as a whole and learn about how flowers swell and change to produce fruits, which provide protection and a method of disseminating new seeds. In the coming weeks we will learn more about these when we explore the parts of the flower, the process of pollination, and the parts of the fruit.
As we look toward the last 3 months of school, we are excited to continue building on our knowledge of our surroundings. The warmer weather offers new possibilities for learning activities, and children are excited to be able to sit and do new sorts of work involving extended concentration. After we finish up our botany unit, we’ll begin learning about the cardinal directions and maps, using our skills to assist us as we explore new and different areas of the arboretum. With so much to see and do, the possibilities for learning are endless!
Author: Kit Harrington, Fiddleheads Forest School Director and Lead Teacher