This post has been a while in the making. It was a topic that came to me a while back but for some reason I just kept putting it off. I often talk about the joy of youth and of interacting with kids while outdoors. Over a month ago now I was invited to talk to a number of 4 year old kids. These weren't the run of your mill preschoolers. These kids were already committed to being outdoors two days a week while at preschool. The Tir Na Nog Forest School is offering a new approach to learning and man do I ever wish I could have learned this way.
I arrived at the school on a drizzly morning but from the commotion I could hear down in the woods, it hadn't dampened the kids spirits. I immediately noticed a number of chickadees and realized I was in for a special morning when one perched right beside me for a moment and looked me straight in the eyes. I found the majority of the group huddled around a cold fire pit and many were doodling on slate boards or stacking wood, or playing tag through the woods. I had to fight off the urge to go play tag with them and instead I got comfortable with my surroundings and planned my approach for the lesson I was going to provide to the kids that day.
After introducing my self to the kids, who listened incredibly well when the teacher called them to the fire circle, I briefly discussed the importance of water to us as humans and to our ecosystem. I was there on behalf of the Kennebecasis Watershed Restoration Committee and I was hoping to take them for a walk along the MacGregor Brook and maybe get their feet a little wet.
There was a trail down to the brook and the kids scurried excitedly through the trees and forest as the chickadees continued to flit through the white and yellow birches, the cedars and spruce. I pointed out some deer and coyote tracks and the kids stood patiently in the mud wanting desperately to feel it squish under the feet. Once I said "let's move on." the kids jumped and squished in the gooey mud.
This time I let the kid in me shine a little too as I stomped through the mud as I continued to make my way to the streamside. A broad smile creeped across my face as I did.
One of the little girls asked to hold my hand and at first I was a bit reluctant. I had the "If I hold your hand then I have to hold everyone's hand" feeling. She left me no choice though and before long we were chatting away about everything under the sun. All the kids were huddled around me and I did my best to make a connection with each of them. Surprisingly, I thought I was pretty good at it.
When we reached the brook the teachers provided all the kids with snacks and I took the opportunity to show the kids some flowers from the nearby field. I also show them some stinging nettle and insisted they stay away from that one. After a nice snack the kids were eager to get their feet wet. I didn't have a script or anything to work off of so I was willing to let the kids and nature lead me through the learning. It was easy to find things to show them and simple to find ways to engage them and get their hands wet too.
As my time with the kids wound down, I couldn't help but feel down as well. I was really enjoying myself and I thought "wow, I could do this for a living.". It was an indescribable feeling. I felt positive about my interactions with the kids and I felt positive about teaching the kids outdoors. The combination of the teaching and outdoors is a concept I really believe in and I think the younger we implant this process in our kids the more comfortable they will be outdoors.
Thanks to the kids and the teachers for giving me the opportunity to explore this side of my personality. I only hope that you all received as much from me that I received from you.