by Matthew Steinle
Photo by: David Clode
One question we have been asked is how we teach at The Forest School of Lawrence. In order to provide that answer, it is helpful to get a context of the three dominant models of education in our country today. The first, Traditional Education, is the most common and familiar, and includes public schools, classical schools, and college preparatory schools. The second, Progressive Education, includes schools such as Montessori and Waldorf, which are responses to Traditional Education. Finally, there is Self-Directed Education, which is the model of Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts. (To read more about the differences between Progressive and Self-Directed Education, read more at the end of this blog).
At The Forest School, we have a great amount of respect for both Progressive and Self-Directed educators. However, we differ from both in the following respect. In Progressive Education, the primary educator is the teacher. In Self-Directed Education, it is the child. At The Forest School of Lawrence, the primary educator is Nature. To be sure, the parents, the teachers, and the children themselves all play significant roles in this education, but it is Nature who is the ultimate guide in how we come to know ourselves, our world, and how to live upon this Earth.
The role of the teacher, therefore, as we see it, is to invite the child to encounter Nature and learn from her. In this rich environment, children learn from one another in mixed-age collaboration and play, they have loving elders, the teachers, that they may choose to work with if they desire, and are free to pursue their own curiosities and passions. Essentially, we are striving to participate in the wisdom of an Indigenous Education to return to a loving relationship with our Earth. A relationship that values a Gift Economy, and where we humans are participating in our greater Ecosystem in a loving and sustainable way. Of course, it is the responsibility of the teachers to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children while they are at The Forest School. Therefore, there are clear expectations and boundaries to provide a safe and sacred place to play, learn, and live.
While the primary task of the teacher is to invite the children into an environment where they can encounter Nature, this is not the only way the teacher is involved. We do not believe it is a bad thing for teachers to actively impart knowledge to the children. We are an intergenerational community, and there is great wisdom and knowledge that can be passed down from generation to generation. While the education will not be compulsory or in a standardized curriculum that follows a progression, the teachers will provide opportunities to learn about the natural world and how to live sustainably on a daily basis. For example, the teachers will actively teach the children how to make any tools they need or desire to use, such as brooms, journals, toys, and more. While the children will not be forced to make recycled paper, if they desire to use paper, then they will need to join their peers in the craft. There are a number of other settings and opportunities for the children to learn mathematics, chemistry, navigation, shelter building, knot tying, paper making, wood whittling, and more. Let’s look at an example of this.
On a spring day, Mr. Smith takes a group of children down to the wetlands. The students bring their nature journals, which they sewed by hand with recycled paper they made themselves with Ms. Inacio. A few children, a couple younger and one older, are interested in the tadpoles, and spend time sketching them and eventually telling silly stories about them. Two other children are captivated by a flower, and begin working on a poem together. One child simply needs to rest, and finds a place to sit and listen to the songs that surround her while watching her peers. Finally, a couple children are interested in helping Mr. Smith collect cattails for a number of future projects. The teacher brings the children into the environment, and is there to be a guide or offer insight if the children desire to seek it. But each child knows exactly what they need and is free to pursue their own passions. In all of this, Nature is the primary educator and inspiration for all that the children learn and do.
Compare this to a standardized education in the classroom setting. Children all come into a room and sit down at desks. They all get out their biology textbooks and plastic binders for taking notes. The teacher lectures about tadpoles and perhaps displays a powerpoint so that the children have something to stare at while they have to sit in a desk for up to an hour. This sort of compulsory learning not only thwarts passions, but is antithetical to how we all learn. Despite what research in cognitive psychology and a number of other fields continue to show – that nearly everything we learn is through our experiences, at an unconscious level, and is self-directed – there is, nonetheless, a fear to let children be free and to trust in this biological reality.
But what if a child isn’t interested in something as important as math? Will they miss something of significance? For example, will they never become good at math? We think this is the wrong way to look at it. Math is everywhere, and present in everything, and just like adults, children will learn the math they need in their pursuits of their passions. If a child loves baking, they will learn the math necessary for baking (through experience), and become very good at the math that is required for their baking projects. We know that in life, not in tests, our skills are needed, so what do we learn of a person who aces a standardized math test that poses, not a problem of life where math skills are needed, but a math problem where life skills are absent? In fact, it is the complete opposite. The application of mathematics is the real display of knowledge, not the other way around. There are countless builders, architects, and engineers that didn’t thrive in standardized math tests, but are extremely gifted in their professions.
This example could be used for all of the traditional disciplines. Children need to learn writing, mathematics, language, chemistry, and any other area of knowledge through experiences with their senses, meaningful application, practical need, curiosity, intrinsic motivation, collaboration with friends, and in contact with the natural world. It is with these convictions in mind that the teachers at The Forest School of Lawrence seek to invite our children into an encounter with Nature, to offer opportunities to learn about our Earth and how to live upon her, and to pursue whatever curiosity stirs up inside of them.
*to read more about the differences between Progressive and Self-Directed Education, read Peter Gray's article here
by Ana Y. Inacio
In the Spring, our yard fills with hundreds of tiny iridescent faces, all white and lavender and rich purple hues. The suddenness of their appearance, and disappearance all the same, provide a brief window of time to appreciate their beauty and magic. Most of the violets we leave for the bees, but we always like to ask permission of a few small handfuls of violets to make our favorite springtime treat, violet honey.
1 cup of freshly picked violets*
1 pound of honey
1. Pick approximately 1 cup of violets*
2. Place violets in a colander and rinse under cool water.
3. Remove any stems from the violets, leaving only the heads or flowers.
4. Spread the violets over a kitchen towel and gently soak up the excess water.
5. Once dry, add the violets to a jar of honey and allow to sit for at least a week to fill the honey with the sweet violet fragrance. You can eat the beautiful flowers right along with the honey!
Mix your new violet honey with a stick of your favorite grass fed butter to make a delicious violet honey butter. This heavenly treat makes the best springtime morning toast!
* for any wild sourced edible, please ensure the correct plant identification before consuming. Source your ingredients from a chemical free lawn.