Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday SOL - How to bring nature in?

Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers

I had a fabulous bike adventure, just a week ago. My husband and I rode the C and O Canal for four days - all the way from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown, Washington, D.C., a 184.5 mile trek. It was my first time participating in "The Great Bicycle Tour," which supports the San Mar Children's Home in Boonsboro, Maryland.

Although there were some one hundred participants, we were spread out, riding at our own individual paces, and I found myself quietly and happily alone, riding along some of the most beautiful natural scenery - the Potomac river on my right, rocky cliffs on my left, and a long, muddy, rocky trail, as long as the eye could see, stretched out in front of me.

I did a lot of thinking, pedaling those many miles.

Mile after mile of
on dirt,
mud puddles.

One thing that I could not stop thinking about...and I truly hope I hold on to...was a profound gap in my teaching this past year -
my inability to give the preschoolers access to green space, the natural world, the great outdoors, on a regular basis.
I am determined to do things differently this next school year, to make it happen.

Exploring outdoors, freely, openly, is an essential part of preschool. I know this, I have always taught this way.

Mile after mile of
birds, even
a great blue heron.

Until this past year, it has always been so possible. I've never had to think about it or plan for it. I was surrounded by grass and dirt, places for children to dig, to look for pill bugs and worms, to garden, to jump in mud puddles.

Until this past year.
Our school moved to a new location in Washington, D.C. and we are surrounded by concrete, brick, and asphalt. All play happens on these surfaces. Our daily walks were to watch construction, sprinkled with play on a metal playground and running a groomed baseball field about once a week.

Mile after mile of 
the river,

I told myself it was enough. The children were outside daily, getting fresh air.

It is not enough.

Pedaling so many miles, lost in thought, I realized deep in my core that it is not enough.

It is a deprivation to not have the experience of nature.

Mile after mile of
wind and breeze.

There is a beautiful national park about three blocks from my school - Meridian Hill. We visited there several times this past year, but it seemed a formidable undertaking with my class of twenty-two preschoolers on a walking rope. With a mere hour in our schedule to be out and about, it seemed that we no sooner arrived at the park when it was time to turn around and head back to school.

Now, I'm determined to question these limits, these constraints - to turn them into possibility.

What if I designate one day a week as our park day? Why do I need to limit this to one hour? Why not spend the morning at the park, every week?

What if I cultivate family volunteers to support our outings on this weekly basis?

What if I plan for water bottles, sun screen, bug spray, rain boots, extra kleenex, hand sanitizer, etc - have these organized and at the ready? Oooh, what if I gathered drawing pads, so each child could record observations...

What if I get over to Meridian Hill this summer, and figure out a specific part of its 12 acres that could be the Big Cats ritual location? An area that they could discover and play in, to watch change with the seasons? 

How can I help my families to understand the value of this time outdoors? That it is not aimless, pointless play? How do I make sure that they are "on board"?

I am no longer pedaling in nature, but I am still lost in thought and possibility!


  1. Mile after mile which many children living in the city do not get to see. I think you are on to something with your weekly hike to the park. There are limitless possibilities to tie this day to instruction, especially with preschoolers. Keep those thoughts coming for the sake of your students!

  2. I love your questions and how you documented your thinking in this post. Your preschoolers and their families will benefit from your ideas.

  3. First of all, Maureen, congratulations on your accomplishing such a bicycle ride-that's awesome, & I love your photos. I also love your questions and think you could do all those things! My granddaughter goes to a Montessori school that goes somewhere every day. I also need to tell you that there are only 8-10 students, so that's part of the ease of that. As for philosophy, have you read Last Child In The Woods? It will help & be so inspiring. http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/ I hope you find a way to go to that park-sounds wonderful.

    1. I haven't read Last Child in the Woods, but I heard Richard Louv speak a few years ago and was absolutely delighted by his perspective. Love his line, "Leave no child inside." Honestly, I have always thought of myself as a teacher who teaches outside, who believes in the value of nature for little ones - it is shocking to think how different things were for me this past year. It is great to have summer and time for reflection and new planning!

  4. As someone who had a preschooler at your school (though in the other class), I don't think it would be hard at all to get families on board! Most are sad the school doesn't have good outdoor space, access to nature etc. Go for it! Sounds very worthwhile.

  5. What a lovely trip! I think your plans to get to the park weekly will happen.