Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"We Learned to Make Crowns"

There is a movement of sorts to move some aspects of education to the out doors. I was involved on the local level in the late 80s as a naturalist for a consortium of school districts, providing educational experiences outside the traditional classroom to hundreds of school-aged children. It seems only natural that I should have continued to educate my own children out of doors when I decided to homeschool. And to this day, I do try to get the children out for many hours during the week, though as they get older, they often have their own plans, which may or may not included outdoor activities. Still, not one of my children balks at the idea of being outside for long hours, and we enjoy hiking and exploring as a family as frequently as possible. Even the college student living in the Big City likes to walk through the park for the refreshment of spirit.

Outdoor Education is nothing new. Educators like the late Charlotte Mason have advocated long hours out of doors for children, especially young children, and I have always agreed. But there is currently a growing movement that is knocking on the door of mainstream educators called "No Child Left Inside" with the well-organized Children and Nature Network as a major proponent of outdoor education. I think these folks are on the right track...but like most innovational educational movements, the public education system will at best interfere, muddling the purpose of outdoor education, and, at worst, ruin the best efforts of outdoor education proponents and declare it a failure.

Consider this article and video of a new outdoor-based education model in Wales. I just watched the video of the new school program (listen for the very cute Welsh lilts in the children's voices), and it struck me funny that the children were outside yet doing the things they might well do while inside a classroom. Certainly, making "crowns" is not an activity exclusive to the outdoors, even if you do glue leaves upon them. And while the model of education is "play-based," the reporters are quick to note that the "best" Scandinavian models start formal education later, yet read earlier.

Thought: Start formal education later=save taxpayers money, and, according to the reporter, the results are better. If the play-based outdoor education model is better, why do it in school? Surely it does not take an expert in education to allow children to play freely? And as we see from the video, professional educators cannot help but meddle, having the children make paper crowns. Sheesh. When I was a kid, if we wanted to make a crown of natural materials, we might take forsythia and weave it together. We might make long chains of dandelion stems or make daisy necklaces. We might do any number of things without anyone giving us an assignment and making it "educational." And my own children, without any formal education, did the same sort of things, from building forts to hiking hills, to planning gardens.

These folks in charge, well-meaning as I am sure they are, cannot in one breath talk about children being natural learners and then instruct them in paper crafts which just don't follow any natural model of play-based activity. There is a place for the adult, certainly, in the world of early childhood education, but if that adult is not the parent, then the educator replacing the parent must learn to facilitate rather than initiate activity. Better yet, keep the children home and get them into the great outdoors daily. It's not that difficult, and you don't need a federal program.

BTW...here are some crowns from our 2007 outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream:


Laura A said...

That's how we got started birdwatching--we were trying to find something outdoorsy to do in NYC, since we couldn't dig in the dirt or climb in the trees. We'd sit by Turtle Pond and see what water birds came along.

Those are very nice non-paper crowns, by the way. I can remember a specific lovely late afternoon by that same Turtle Pond, when my daughter was that age, weaving little bits of fallen willow branches into circlets.

Inevitably in these sorts of discussions, someone will come along and tell us that we have to have these programs so that children whose parents work can have quality childcare. I do see the point, and I am quite grateful for the privilege of staying home myself, yet I'm not sure why something that started out as a substitute for parental care became the standard to which all care, including parental, is supposed to aspire. That just seems to be getting the priorities backwards, to me.

MacBeth Derham said...

Oh, Laura, I am also grateful that I can stay home. And I love the idea of keeping the children outside, even in a public school setting; I am sure the children will benefit, as long as someone doesn't try and make it something that it isn't, if you know what I mean. I am just always wary of programs, no matter how excellent, being thrust upon the public education scene as a wondercure. Once when I was working at an outdoor ed center, our organization was asked to play New Games (everybody wins!) with a high school that had been divided by a murder; we were to initiate games to bring the friends of the murdered girl together in peace with the friends of the accused murderer, her classmate. It was a horrible idea, and it never came about in the end, but sometimes these programs are sold as a cure for everything that ails education, society, and the planet.

I love the image of your daughter weaving willow branches by Turtle Pond. We used to use willow switches as weapons...I had brothers; and now, sons. Heheh.

Alice Gunther said...

I agree completely, MacB.

And I love those photos! :) :) :)

MacBeth Derham said...

Ah, yes...Alice needs to get photo credit for the top photo. I think you called it "Puckish Paul"?