A child’s name is pulled out of a bag to begin the discovery walk. That youngster will be the leader – completely directing the exploration route. This is part of the weekly routine at Nature’s Niños Nature-based bi-lingual Pre-K in East Montpelier. Stopping for investigations along the way, like “helicopters” from the maple trees, the student leader then picks a spot for everyone to notice in silence. On one morning’s outing, the children were noticing the wet spots on grass, wondering what happened to the colors on a leaf, questioning why a grape plant didn’t grow much, and mulling over the movement of the clouds – while one student thought an airplane moved the clouds, another child added that sometimes the clouds are moving without an airplane.
Then it was time to take out the rainbow of magnifying lenses and make some discoveries. Shouts of “Hongo!” (mushroom in spanish) filled the air along with many questions and observations.
“I have a discovery over here!”
“What do you think happened with this branch?”
“Why is there no bark on this tree?”
“Why are all these leaves brown?”
“Come look at this! It’s like a whole fairy land!”
After nestling into a log to listen to a story, a ladybug puppet on a stick is passed around and students share what they are grateful for – many leaves and bugs on that morning. Then it is time for the students to take the lead again. “Can you find your way back?” asks teacher Betsy Barstow.
Betsy sees many benefits of being outside with children including fresh air, creativity, curiosity, wonder, a sense of beauty, and minds being broadened and also focused. There is the sheer joy of running through fields, becoming in tune with the cycles of nature, and fostering foundational connection to each other and nature. Cultivating peace is the ultimate goal of her program and being “grounded in nature, knowing you can always come back to nature.”