Nature as a Teaching Partner

Posted March 18, 2015

by Sarah Sivright


Nature is an amazing teaching partner for many reasons. It provides opportunities for just about everything—math, science, art, beauty, literature, imagination, pretend play, large and fine motor movement, friendship, cooperation, problem-solving, building, observation, stewardship—the list seems to have no end. One of the best parts, and the first reason the outdoor world is such an effective partner, is that children don’t need convincing or cajoling to join up. They can’t wait to get out there and see what’s waiting.

And when the seasons start to change, a lot is waiting. There is literally excitement in the air. As the temperatures warm, snow and ice melt, sap runs, insects appear, smells seep out of the warming ground, puddles appear, and, of course, glorious mud. Today we went to “The Swamp,” a small wetland area across Allen Way, the road in front of Inver Glen. On Wednesdays, we have a longer stretch of outdoor playtime for this trek (it feels like the other end of the world to a three year-old). A narrow spit of land stretches between two small ponds. One pond is filled with young willows and grasses, and both will be filled with frogs in a few weeks. The peninsula holds intriguing burrows and tracks, and the first couple years it sheltered a nesting Canada Goose pair. At the other end of the land is a small woods with pine trees, where we find deer tracks and scat. From the tip of the spit of land to the opposite shore (five feet) are several bridges made of long branches and found planks. These transform into space ships, the Billy Goat Gruff bridge, pirate ships, horses, etc. A culvert pokes out from the bank along Allen way, with ice or running water adding to the excitement. The banks on either side are steep and a wonderful climbing and sliding challenge. The culvert spills into a pool in the spring, and then dries up for different play.

Watching the play that takes place in this magical world is revealing. With a sufficient and stimulating area to explore and no shortage of materials to use, behavioral issues and conflict we might otherwise see are absent. The pace of play is leisurely and uninterrupted, with teachers nearby to share discoveries or join in the play or just watch with pleasure. No environment needed to be set up, materials purchased, activities planned—a gift, pure and simple.

Grandma Pat’s Here!

Posted March 13, 2015

By Sarah Kern                                                      IMG_4802

We recently added someone new to our rotation of senior readers in the Autumn Room. We call her Grandma Pat, and her role is a little different than those of our other senior readers. Rather than reading to the whole class, Grandma Pat reads to one or two children at a time on our couch. When I suggested that we add a small group reader, I was thinking all about literacy. The children would have closer proximity to the print and they could ask questions and discuss story details more easily than in a large group setting. But what’s happened has been so much more than that.

I noticed that the children’s interactions with Grandma Pat were as much conversation as they were book reading. Children showed Grandma Pat their braids, told her about their favorite video games, and asked her about her glasses. And Grandma Pat? She listened. She listened with attention and intensity. She smiled, she asked them questions, and she responded to every word they said.

Spring Room Teacher and mom to Isla, Amanda watched this happen through the classroom window. Isla was sitting with Grandma Pat, deep in conversation. I noted to Amanda something along the lines of how this was intended to be a reading experience, and Amanda astutely pointed out that Grandma Pat, though not reading for much of the time she’s here, was meeting a need for the children. It’s the need that so often I as a teacher struggle to meet because it’s time to have snack, or it’s time to go outside, or it’s time to clean up. It’s the need for an adult to hear them and know them and love them wholeheartedly.

When I first met Amy and she told me of her inspiration for this intergenerational program, she told me that the seniors have something to offer to the children that we as teachers and as parents can struggle to give, and that’s time. It is time and undivided attention. We can’t help that we have full time jobs and families and houses to care for, but we can help how we treat the space in between all of those things. Grandma Pat is teaching me how to make little moments bigger just by moving a little slower, being a little quieter, and listening a little more.