I have two rules in nature. The first one is to cross the street safely together, using our street-crossing poem. The second rule is expressed by a small song I sing: "My eyes have to be on you!" If the children aren’t able to control their little bodies, then I have to hold their hand personally until they can be safe. This is much too confining for three or four-year-olds, so I get respectful responses from the beginning.
This particular morning we were out collecting leaves in our baskets.
We had such an exciting time together, as they led me in an exploration to find our new little forest of baby trees. Across the street from our school is a vacant school that has several varieties of natural plantings that are currently not being tended to. I thought that taking care of these little trees might be a good service project for our class. Children are so curious in nature, and love to expand their own realities outside the classroom.
We collected many beautiful leaves. All week the children had been building up to our experience of gathering leaves outside the classroom. Even though technically the fall season began in September, the leaves hadn’t started turning colors until late October. How can you start a project on fall leaves in your classroom when young children can look right outside their windows and still see bright green leaves on every tree? You can talk to them about the leaves turning soon, but until they see the vivid red and orange and yellow leaves, it won’t be as memorable an experience. It just doesn’t seem natural or real to me. So I wait as long as possible, and find that the children’s receptivity is magically heightened when they can actually see Mother Nature lifting her fall veil before their eyes. Today the colors, smells, light, and beauty of Fall were around us.
At the Living Wisdom School we are fortunate to have the ability to create a curriculum that can respond to natural rhythms and best serve the children. I like to call our outings, not field trips, but direct experiences based on Sharing Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell. As this book says, Once students' interest and energy is awakened and focused, the stage is set for deeply experiencing nature.
The morning was so captivating; I decided to stretch my luck. “Let’s just sit a bit and have our morning circle,” I suggested, leading the children to one of my favorite spots on the school grounds. This is where, throughout the year, I and my students practice meditation, centering prayers or yoga together. It is a very quiet spot and has an expansive view of the neighboring hillside. The site has enough large rocks for almost every child to sit on, or to share with a friend. This morning, we sat as still as rocks.
“I am firm and steadfast as a rock.” I knew I had to catch them quickly as we settled into our sitting meditation. We closed our eyes, and felt our rocks underneath our bodies. “How does that feel?” I asked. Next we moved to noticing all the smells we could smell. We had done this several times in the classroom, but children's natural senses are heightened in nature. This was their first sensory exercise that required being still outside. When working with young children, I have found that it is helpful to create good practices and habits, building good foundations through the use of repetition. As you take things learned inside out into nature, you can repeat the steps, but add new, creative steps along the way.
“What do you smell?” I asked, to help them expand their practice now, in nature. They were coming up with all types of wonderful smells while sitting on their rocks. “Can you smell the pine needles?”
The following day, the children worked on our “House of Fall” by attaching the leaves carefully with yarn.
In the Northwest, fall can be a prolonged event or it can be a short one. It is up to Mother Nature how long the beauty will last. A fall wind can quickly diminish the length of time we have to enjoy the beauty of the leaves. That is why we as parents and teachers need to be responsive to the moment. Take the children outside to experience the fall season as often as you can. That is where many precious living memories will be created. My most memorable hikes with my Girl Scout troop as a child involved collecting leaves, followed by warm hot cocoa and crackling fires to warm us up in the fall air.
Sharing nature with small children brings such a deepening, and draws attention to what is important in our lives. This fall, it’s not too late to take a walk with a child, stop and breathe in the colors, and feel the firm steadfast rocks beneath you. In gratitude, we gather an inner strength from all the gifts Divine Mother has bestowed upon us this past year.
Gather your coat, scarves, gloves, and hat. Then, without any agenda, feel nature this week.
Let me know what you find out there......