Sunday, January 30, 2011

For the Birds and So Much More

"Uh, there's a bird!" Lee exclaimed. She gazed at the small Chickadee pecking away in my recently installed bird feeder. She was mesmerized. This exemplar of simplicity, beauty, and life only a few feet away, enjoying the new mix of dried fruit and seeds, delighted her. As the minutes passed, she began to wonder more and more about this lovely creature. She asked questions like, "Do they store food in the winter? How do they keep warm? What kind of bird is that?" Teachable moments don't get any better than this. Ever since I stuck the feeder to the outside of my classroom window, all of my students have been enchanted. They are actively engaged in the scientific processes of hypothesizing and observing.

Heartbreaking to think and know this kind of learning may soon be a thing of the past. With a greater emphasis on high stakes testing and accountability these days, I'm afraid teachers are feeling the pressure and finding less and less time to engage their students in these types of activities. Not to mention the amount of time kids are spending inside. How often do they get out exploring our world and experiencing the beauty of nature?

I just finished reading an article about the benefits of Forest Schools in the United States. Are you ready for this? In the Forest School, also known as the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, N,Y., children spend a total of three hours a day outdoors, rain or shine. Teachers there have noticed an improvement in motor development and children resolving social issues through imaginative play.

I love it for these aspects and so much more. It lets kids be kids and fosters a greater respect and appreciation for our environment through its "nature based outdoor education". Furthermore, you probably don't see any children with obesity issues there. Kids are allowed and given the opportunity to get out and move. Notice I said allowed and not encouraged. Children already have a deep intrinsic need to actively play and learn. It's time those making the policies start paying attention to this.

This brings me back to my students and my new friends, the birds. In a day when we are constantly being warned of the effects of global warming, pollution, and the need to conserve, it seems we could benefit from going back to some good old fashioned basics. Allowing our children to be children while fostering respect and appreciation for the planet entrusted to us for stewardship and care, are more important than ever. Tests will come and go, along with the politicians who mandate them. Yet, how we educate our children and train them up is pertinent to our own survival and future.

In conclusion, it's time to start looking and listening more carefully. Millions of dollars aren't needed for reform. Good teachers know their students and know what works and what doesn't. Letting children be children while providing educational opportunities that actively engage them and foster a sense of respect and appreciation for each other and the world we live in, is what's needed today, now more than ever.

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