I CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES
There is an expression, can’t see the forest for the trees. It literally means getting so caught up in the details that one loses sight of the problem, the question, or the situation. But in nature, it is the opposite. I can’t see the trees for the forest. And teaching a new class is just like that for me. I can’t see the children for the class. Until I understand each child better, I don’t know what they need. I hope my lessons are meaningful but it takes me time to discover who each person is - their individual strengths and challenges, likes and dislikes, friends and frienemies - before I know how best to steer attention and ignite curiosity. That is my aim. Ignite the children’s curiosity so they become nature teachers too. We simply don’t have enough nature teachers and time is running out for the trees and the bees. But that is morbid. My aim is to inspire.
I have been teaching a nature class called Naturally Fun to four and five-year olds for the last five years. I have created a curriculum that introduces children to trees and leaves; birds, reptiles, and bugs; rocks and water. I think I like my Watershed Class best but the Christmas Bird Count and Leaf Collection and Big Bug Dig are lots of fun too that it is hard to choose just one. And every year concludes with a day at a nearby nature center where the kids get to go creeking. When the parents come, I feel like cupid because now I have gotten Mom and Dad to fall in love with nature too.
My new class is a mixed Montessori group of elementary school kids. I have three 6-year olds, three 8-year olds and three 9-year olds. All are boys except for one girl who I will call Eve. She is one of the 6-year olds and already showing her mettle; I am quite fond of her to say the least. I am working with a seasoned teacher who is just as excited as the kids to learn more about nature and she patiently helps me to stay on track. Being a nature teacher means I am a little distracted. How could I not be? There is so much to see and tell! Where to begin?? Then I hear Julie Andrews start to sing and I think, oh right. Start from the very beginning. I am also working on curbing my wit. I am funny. But whether the kids understand my humor or not, they devolve easily. Admittedly, I pack too much into my hour-long lessons… I am working on that.
Recently, I came across a great term in Richard Louvs book, Last Child in the Woods. It is called Directed Attention Fatigue. The way I interpret it, I should talk less. Smile more. And let the kids discover the woods themselves. (Thank you, Lin Manuel Miranda.)
Funny. This isn’t even the blog I wanted to write. I wanted to share what the Fernwood kids dug up. But today's lesson had the kids changing location every ten minutes so that I cycled three groups of three children to survey three sites and look for more than three invertebrates. THEN they had to count what they saw and write it down. YIKES! Even my head is spinning now that I think about how much they had to do in so little time. The plan looked good on paper but it was unrealistic and neurotic. Fortunately, Adam (who would rather be engineering the trail,) saw a green, wingless insect on a spicebush leaf just as we were calling it a wrap, and he called me over to ask, What is it? Fascinated by its color, I said, I don’t know! Hum. My guess it is an insect despite being wingless.
After the kids left, I spent time getting to know the neon bugger better. I am still not sure if it is an insect but it has most of the qualifiers: six legs, two antennae, maybe three body parts but no wings. Trapped inside an acrylic bug box, I discovered it climbs quickly on tall articulated legs; it reminded me of a daddy long leg. And when it felt threatened, it folded up like a pop-up tent. I watched the critter for 10 minutes before walking further into the woods to look for more insects. What I found was this: a living snail underneath a huge oyster-like mushroom, (all the others we found were just dead, dried and empty shells,) and a white speck or feather floating in the air. It landed briefly on a limb near me before taking flight again. It wasn’t lint or fluff or feather after all. It was alive.
Next week I plan to repeat this week’s lesson but with a few edits. The kids will look for invertebrates at one site (not three,) and take as long as they want to see the bug for the invertebrates for themselves.