It has been a long hiatus for this blog! I have been doing some writing for another blog I started about writing and life called LifesFirstDraft (that you can visit here if you’d like!) as well as some other BIG writing projects that have taken up my free time. But I have been spending most my time as a naturalist and have been busy getting my hands dirty, literally a lot of times. I am finding that I am really enjoying most of the work that I am doing, but that I am really drawn to education. I should have known this given that I went into college thinking I was going to be an education major, but for some reason I didn’t foresee how much love I would have for this non-traditional teaching that I do. The more I settle in, the more I am finding new ways to convince kids to love where they live. I think that is the greatest thing I can ask for.
I recently visited a nature-based preschool, and it was about one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen (Ask all the people I keep telling about it!). There were no computer screens, no time spent in front of technology at all in fact. Just nature and the outdoors. Their classroom was small, filled to the brim with birds nests and log cabin forts made from recycled milk jugs and chairs that were nothing more than chunks of trees. This was cool, but there really was not much time spent here. The children gathered and played, waiting for their friends to arrive, and as soon as everyone was there the teacher played The Flight of the Bumblebee. The kid’s cue to begin cleaning up. I hardly even noticed it playing. I just noticed that all of the sudden all these little 3-5 year old hands were grabbing paint and chalk and markers and hastening around the room to put them back in their designated homes.
Like clockwork, the song was over and their butts were sitting in a circle on a lilly pad covered blue carpet waiting for instructions. They weren’t all still but they were all listening. Some kids just need to move ya know?
The instructions done we went immediately outside. We traveled first to “Mud Mountain”, a great hit I am told. Especially on the last day of school when the students have field day and are allowed one bucket from the creek to pour over the mountain to create the sloppy mess that, deep down, we all desire to play in. Parents are told that day not to expect those clothes to ever be the same again.
I was speaking with the director about the children while they played but I suddenly found myself saying, “I really do want to talk about this but I am being called to play on Mud Mountain.”
“Go!” She exclaimed. I’m sure she could think of nothing more important. I feigned weakness and asked for help up the “mountain” in a strained voice.
“Pull me up! I can’t make it!” I said.
“JUST CLIMB UP!” They all yelled as more and more of them grabbed my hands to pull me up the mountain with all their might, giggling with the humor of it all.
We played a while and then it was time to move on. We walked all the way around their pond, to a lovely swing, passed a swampy flooded woodland, up and down hills. A total of 1.5 miles, and not one single child whined about the distance. They never said they were tired. They ran ahead and knew when to stop. They knew all the cues and when they had gone too far.
We dug for “The Key to China”, we climbed up “The Big Tree”, we played in the “Dinosaur Boneyard”. All the while not one child whined that we had walked too far, that they were tired or bored. They lay on the forest floor, they climbed fallen trees to sit in during story time. They ate their snacks crisscross on the forest floor, and when they spilled it was ok, because we were outside.
The favorite of their toys were the sticks. The further we walked the more the sticks became. They were bows to shoot an arrow, they were swords to fight a villain, they were billows to stoke the fire of a steam engine while the conductor hollered, “All aboard!”
One child ripped his long sleeve shirt from elbow to wrist. I said, “What happened here??” and I looked at his arm to see a long pink cut.
“Oh I don’t know, I just caught it on a thing over there,” he said as he sat casually, bouncing on a large grape vine. Not once did he cry. Never did he ask for a band aid. He just kept playing. Cause in his words “it happens”. Only once did I hear tears. There had been an accidental injury during an intense medieval sword fight. The boy came over and said that he was bleeding. He actually was. He said a boy hit him. His teacher said, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t see it. I would really like if you would go over and talk to him yourself. Or, if you don’t want to, you can go back and play.” The boy looked at her, told her his arm still hurt, she rubbed it and did what she called “hocus pocus magic” and by the end the boys tears had dried and he was giggling, ready to be back to playing. I don’t know whether he ever talked it out with his buddy, but I do know that within 5 minutes they were back to playing like nothing had ever happened.
All day I heard polite young voices. Sharing their snack, asking to play, offering a hand to hold. They counted petals on flowers. They recognized letters and words on trail signs and in storybooks.
Kids don’t need to learn how to write their name when they are 3. They don’t need the stress of having to sit down and learn to add and subtract at 5 so that they can succeed in kindergarten. This world is stressful enough. Children need to play. They are still figuring out what it is to be a human in this world, something that is still difficult even for adults. They need to learn kindness, and forgiveness, and just to be. People are forgetting how to be. And it breaks my heart.
I want more of this. I may be just one person, but I know that I am going to do absolutely everything I can to fight the stress we are putting on children to succeed. To let them exist again in our eyes rather than on paper. For them to be seen. And for them to just be.