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Monday, May 16, 2016

Nurturing Young Naturalists

At fifth grade we're in the midst of nurturing young naturalists. As educators we've reached out to a number of environmental agencies and organizations to help us with this study as we're learning too.

Yesterday I launched the hands-on, real-time efforts by listening to expert farmer/naturalist, Kathy Huckins, talk about soil in a beautiful nook at Stearns Farm CSA. I really enjoyed Kathy's holistic discussion about soil, and the many investigations she encouraged related to learning about the soil beneath your feet. I can't wait to integrate these studies into our fifth grade naturalist efforts as well as my own gardening/outdoor efforts at home.

Kathy's talk tied nicely to Margaret Wheatley's writings about living systems and schools, and the fact that schools and education lend themselves to living systems organization rather than corporate or industrial systems. This is true because schools deal with people and we morph, change, and develop as living systems develop. As Kathy talked about the soil community and intersections, I could easily see how our school systems mirror systems in nature.

Kathy prompted many behaviors that we often forget in our fast-paced, tech world, behaviors that will help our students to become wonderful naturalists, students, and problem solvers.

To start, she promoted the use of observation. She told us to sit and watch nature, and assured us that by taking the time to look and see, we will discover a lot about what plants and soil need and how they are reacting to the world around and within them.

She also prompted us to not upset the community that exists in soil and told us of the complex integration of multiple elements that exist in soil. In this regard, she told us to dig down two or three feet to explore what's in our soil as we get to know "the land beneath our feet." As I listened, I thought about ways that students could dig down in multiple places around the playground to see how soil communities are similar and different.

I also enjoyed the discussion about the effect of plants with long, deep roots versus plants with shallow roots. It would be engaging for students to discover long root plants vs. small root plants. She also discussed compost and the ways that we can use different types of good soil to enrich our compost. She suggested varied soils such as soil near a pond and soil under a healthy tree.

Kathy's talk yesterday was only the first step of building my naturalist knowledge as I think ahead to the teaching students. Fortunately the science standards for our grade level match this exploration well. In the days ahead I'll learn a lot more as students purify water, create biodomes, learn about composting, raise spadefoot tadpoles, learn from conservation experts and students, explore nature, and more. We're on our way with regard to nurturing young naturalists. I'll report on this as our collective knowledge and experience grows. In the meantime, if you have suggestions, please share.