|feeding chickens at the Dodge Farm|
|checking out Midas the chicken, with Joey|
|real, live chicken feet|
|chickens are sort of like turkeys...and, "Look! I'm a turkey!"|
If you've read this blog before, I am no doubt preaching to the choir on this experiential stuff, but it is important to realize that age-appropriate teaching for young children has terrific outcomes. Kids who get to experiment with the stuff of life, those that get to hold a real salamander for instance, or climb an actual tree, they not only build a relationship with the natural world, they build a relationship with their own body and their own mind. Large and fine motor skill development, sensory development, impulse control development...all of these things are inextricably linked to cognitive development. The kid who learns where to put her feet and hands when she is swinging up into a tree has learned to think hypothetically through experience. Experience teaches kids how to think. That's why babies put everything in their mouths. Three to seven-year-olds will be smarter and more capable if they are allowed to experiment with their bodies and the world, to take calculated risks (with a chaperon) and to reflect on those experiences. Kids will be more ready for the abstract, for "Science," if they have first had a real relationship with the stuff that inspires it. "Snowflake" Bentley couldn't have discovered so much about snowflakes if he didn't first play in the snow, and love it. In this way, the form of scientific inquiry follows the function of interacting with the world. The drive to build a sturdy bridge across a raging river leads us to mathematics and architecture. Too often we think of knowledge in a backward way (bridge before river) in our rush to educate our kids.
I've said it before, but I myself didn't really grasp "math" as an interesting, necessary, vital concept or as a study of the forces of nature, until I was an adult. Too much of my own "Math," with a capital "M," education was marred by a lack of hands-on experience. Through working to side our house, my husband came to understand fractions and geometry in a whole new, real, necessary way. My own first-hand admiration of seashells, pine cones, artichokes, sunflowers, the crowns of trees and the art of Andy Goldsworthy led me to an understanding of Fibonacci numbers. Going into labor is a great way to learn about inertia and falling out of an airplane will certainly school you on gravity. But, seriously, what am I teaching my Dodge students and my homeschoolers? Is it Science? Well, I hope I'm encouraging them to look and think, primarily. And what do you call that? Maybe "pre-science prep"" Or maybe you call it, "Nature Appreciation," with a capital "N." So much of what I do as a shepherd and chaperon is social coaching as well. We explore the world around us, and we also learn how to do this alongside other people. In fact, perhaps 99.9% of what I do with kids, here at Dodge, and elsewhere is support social skill development. I just happen to think that play outside, and interaction with the natural world, is the best way to promote social and emotional development. So maybe we should just call that homeschool class what it is: "Nature Club." Like any other social organization, we hang out together, but in this case, nature is our excuse.