By Carrie Komesch, Educator
It’s impossible to appreciate the benefits of the forest school model without acknowledging the many barriers that prevent all children from being exposed to free play in natural spaces. It’s important to me that the principles and provocations of forest school be extended to as many students as possible, and this blog will occasionally offer specific ideas for integrating our principles into your classroom or home. (This is provided with the caveat that I’m a newly certified teacher who is looking to expand my own skills and knowledge, so please know that I highly value any ideas or discussions you’re willing to share with me!)
Today’s suggestion is a low-barrier strategy for incorporating elements of the natural world and opportunities for emergent learning into your home or classroom:
Provide access to field guides and reference books on classifying and identifying plants, trees, insects, birds, minerals…ANYTHING.
I am regularly astonished at what topics catch and consume the attention of an individual or group. In the last weeks of our summer program, the students in two separate groups became interested in a field guide to Ontario mushrooms and fungi.
To be honest, I myself had never picked up this particular book, dismissing it because I thought (I’m sorry, you lovely mycologists!) how interesting can mushrooms and fungi be?
Well my friends, as it turns out, the answer is, really really interesting! The students (ranging in age from four to ten) were completely invested in their quest to find and identify new and interesting specimens. There was always someone eagerly asking if he or she might be able to carry the book on our walks, and I observed how different students found ways to contribute to the overall goal. Some students were particularly adept at finding specimens; some students would tirelessly tote the book and rush to the site of each new discovery; some students could compare the found mushroom to the pictures in the reference guide; some students could read out the common and scientific names of the fungi as well as the descriptive text. And all of them could participate in the discussion. In advance, I wouldn’t have expected a mushroom field guide to provide so many opportunities for social and cognitive growth in a mixed-age grouping…but it really, really did. All week during both sessions, my attention was drawn again and again to some really, really interesting facets of the landscape that I might not otherwise have appreciated. I’m so grateful for the many ways in which my students’ perspective on the world can expand and inform my own!
They were forever calling out to one another, “ COME LOOK AT THIS MUSHROOM!” and it made my heart swell to see multiple heads bent over the book.
Providing students with access to reference guides is a way to support their individual and collective experiences of inquiry-based learning on topics they find personally meaningful. Flipping through such books provides the students with opportunities to develop and reinforce cognitive skills and knowledge that will be of use to them in a more traditional classroom–categorization; classification; descriptive language and scientific vocabulary.
It’s possible to build your collection of reference books if you are on a budget if you keep your eyes open for secondhand copies at thrift stores, garage sales, etc. Go exploring!