What's In A Name?
As the director and lead teacher at Emerald Heart, I am always looking for ways to up-level. Recently, my Next Step became clear to me: To foster the children's naturalist intelligence. I ask myself how to do this in a respectful way. And, before asking HOW, I ponder WHY.
All schools have their own approaches and forest schools are no exception. At Emerald Heart, our focus is on cultivating curiosity of and intimacy with place through direct experiences. One way we enhance this is by highlighting the trees, plants and creatures of our forest. We sing songs and recite verses about them--referring to them as friends and neighbors. We read books about them and often weave them into craft making and conversation.
My approach is to respect the children's experiences and discoveries. It is a gentle approach, which comes in part from Waldorf education. It also comes from inspirational guidance from mentors and colleagues, such as eco-philosopher David Abram (Becoming Animal.)
I ask myself, "What role do scientific facts have in this approach? Is it important, for example, for preschoolers to learn the names of plants and birds?"
Recently, I had the privilege of walking with a Lenape Apache elder. She talked about deep intimacy with birds. When I admitted that I have a hard time remembering names, she smiled and said that she did not know all the names either. And that kinship is more important than naming.
Here's a radical notion. Is jumping into scientific fact-telling a way of separating from the natural world? A way of staying safely cerebral, so we do not have to feel our unbearable grief for mother earth? A way of staying apart from rather than a part of.
I ask myself is it helpful for 3 - 5 year olds to know scientific facts? Am I interrupting their learning process with facts? What if I had the courage to listen and observe more? To back off and trust that their play is learning and is enough?
I am cautious. Currently, I am sprinkling in scientific facts like good sea salt.
Here is a little story from forest school.
B. (age 4) and D. (age 3.5) were curious about one of our play dough stamps. The stamps are of local animals and their tracks. B. and D. poured over our bird identification guide—comparing bodies and beaks. Could it be a falcon? A harrier? Or?? Their research was off and on for about 4 days. Amazing to witness! They were super excited. For my part, I offered them the bird i.d. guide, sometimes asked questions and sometimes offered an "I wonder ..." statement. Mostly, I witnessed. Their curiosity sparked my own. At home, I did my own research and learned. (There's more to the word buzzard than I had imagined!) I went back to Etsy, where I had purchased the stamps, to see if that particular bird was named. Then during the second week of this dynamic learning, a well-meaning adult spoke to the children about the bird in an informational way. The information was not shaped in a way that was truly for the children. I literally could see B.'s eyes glaze over. After that, I did not hear B. or D. talk about the mysterious raptor again.
It is my intention to facilitate a deep kind of knowing as well as a love of learning.
My hope is that one day my current forest school children will love this place as I do. Falling in love is about being with, being in relationship with. Falling in love has its own timing. Naming naturally comes from being lit up with enthusiastic loving. When we are in love, we naturally want to know every little thing about our beloved--their shape, their smells, what they eat, how they sleep. The beloved's name is precious and infused with shared experiences.
Being a forest school teacher is an improv. I will continue to use my intuition with scientific facts--sprinkling them in with care and respect and authentic enthusiasm.
My intention is to respect names as part of a growing immersive love story.
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