Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In the woods at the Waseca School

Last year at Waseca, we began taking our elementary (6-9) class out in the woods with our Coyote mentor, Evan McGown who co-authored “Coyote Guide to Connecting to Nature”.  I shared that experience with Evan and the class during our weekly “wild Wednesdays” and learned so much by watching him take the children to their edge of comfort and make them forget about their fears with games and questions that peaked their curiosity about the natural world.   I watched them grow as an interdependent community as they learned to cooperate with one another.  I saw children who were challenged with social and sensory integration issues indoors find their way in the larger space and shine.   Our shared experiences bonded us in a way that I have never witnessed before in 28 years in the classroom.
The method, so beautifully explained in “Coyote Guide”, involves certain core routines that make up the structure of the program.  The emphasis is on the child's experience through interacting with the environment.   This approach will surely sound familiar and comfortable to Montessorians.  Some of the core routines involve beginning and closing every day in the woods with a gratitude and sharing circle, finding and naming landmarks, working on internal mapping and survival skills, storytelling and practicing moving like animals.  Questions are more important than answers.  We want to stimulate curiosity rather than get across any specific information.  Naming something for the children can stop the process of inquiry.  Instead, we take note of characteristics and look it up in the field guides later.
As the elementary class embarks on their second year of “wild Wednesdays”,  I am satisfying my curiosity about how to take this amazing approach to the primary class.  I realized that a different plane of development would require some modifications.  Many of the games the elementary children play involve directions that would baffle younger ones.  I get to be a pioneer in this venture by observing and meeting their needs while stretching their comfort level and sparking their natural curiosity as well as stretching their senses.  I am excited to share this journey with you in coming installments with memories and updates about the elementary class as well.
Three and four year olds are drawn to sensorial experiences. They were quick to participate in getting camouflaged by covering one another in pine straw. This happened spontaneously the week after the coyote guide covered herself in pine straw.  First, they observed and, then, they remembered and imitated.
While part of the elementary experience is to wander through the woods to discover new places and come upon familiar ones, I chose to create a special path for the primary classes.  I cleared any briars but left fallen logs and other obstacles to navigate.  I tied white string around saplings at intervals to mark the path.  We walk this path and are reassured by its familiarity.  The children enjoy being able to predict what is coming up next.  They come to the place where we always tell a story and their recognition prompts them to ask for a story.  Places are connected to routine events.  Later, we can change and remark on how we are doing it differently.  For now, it speaks to their needs.
We devised a new game to address some challenges we were having and, at the same time, meet the needs they were expressing.  The children had difficulty outside of the classroom raising their hands and waiting to be called upon and wanted to speak all at once.  They wanted to run ahead on the path instead of waiting for the guide to lead.  They had a hard time with the concept of hiding and would stand in plain view when asked to hide.  (This probably has something to do with their egocentric perspective and inability to imagine someone else's view of them.)  Hiding in the woods is an excellent way to have the children experience being quiet and still in the woods.  After lots of experience, they will one day be able to sit quietly and wait for wildlife to appear.  When we play "rabbits and foxes", you have to put up bunny ears and be silent to be chosen as a rabbit. Now, we use this as a sign to be quiet and listen.
Silence instead of "I want a turn!"

  The rabbits run off with a guide while
the foxes close their eyes.

The rabbits hide with the guide in excited
anticipation as they wait
for the foxes. A biit of adrenaline accentuates the experience.

The guide makes a crow call when the rabbits
are hidden
and the foxes take off after them!

Caught by a fox!

Part of being a coyote guide is to play the trickster, observing the children and challenging them in new ways.  In the beginning, we hid just off the trail, making it easy for the foxes to spot us.  After several weeks, we hid deeper in the woods and they ran right by!  After the foxes ran out of sight, I made the crow call again.  This time, they had to look more closely and the rabbits had to be very still and quiet.  Hopefully, they will learn to slow down and pay attention as they come after us.  We practiced what that would look like, turning our heads from side to side, listening and watching for small movements.

1 comment:

The Davidson's said...

I'm totally inspired by your work and this great blog! The Coyote Guide is now with me wherever I go and I've started "walkabout Wednesdays" with my 3-6 year olds. The experience has been fantastic!

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