Sunday, October 21, 2018

Nature Study on the Trail

Learning how to use binoculars
Using a Field Guide
"Nature may be studied with either of two objects:  to discover new truth for the purpose of increasing the sum of human knowledge; or to put the pupil in a sympathetic attitude toward nature for the purpose of increasing the joy of living. . . The second object is a nature-study movement, and its purpose is to enable every person to live a richer life, whatever his business or profession may be.  Nature-study is a revolt from the teaching of mere science in the elementary grades. . . Nature-study is not science.  It is not knowledge.  It is not facts.  It is spirit.  It is concerned with the child's outlook on the world."  --Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Nature-Study Idea, 1904

Thanks to the generosity of the School Foundation and Garden Club, we have a set of very nice student binoculars to use in our Outdoor Learning Center!  Thank you to the many people who support these organizations!  You enrich our education on a daily basis!

This month, Russ Schipper joined us and we went out in small groups to study nature.  Russ, as many of you know, is a bird expert who comes every year to all twelve of our classrooms at North Shore Elementary and shares his love of birds with our students.  The fourth graders get a generalized bird presentation and the fifth graders get a presentation on owls.  After two years at North Shore, most every student has had two classes with Russ and knows a bit more about the birds that he/she may hear or see in their own neighborhood.  It's an amazing gift of time and joy that Russ has given to us for the past several years.

Although Russ is known for his expertise in birding, he also studies nature and specifically the native plants of our area.  This is a new passion for Russ as he has lost some of his hearing due to a rare form of cancer.  Birding requires a great deal of listening but plants are a bit easier to study and Russ is now sharing his new passion with us!  Russ and I took small groups of students out onto the trails with our new binoculars and no agenda but exploration.  We had great fun and every group saw or heard different things that we shared with each other after all the groups had been outside.  As we discussed what we had discovered, I recorded them on our dry erase board in the front of the classroom and that board was covered although I know we could have added more. . .  It is amazing what there is to discover in such a small area of nature.

Russ was a wonderful guide.  The first thing most groups heard, was chirping.  Russ asked us what was making that chirping sound.  Everyone thought it was a bird but in fact, it was a spring peeper (frog)!  Russ told us to look around and see what we can see.  We compared leaves and hunted down the trees they fell from.  "You'll have to use your binoculars to find the tree that this leaf came from," Russ said as they looked for the leaves in the tree.  The excitement was palpable when someone yelled, "I found it, I found the tree!" and we all looked with our binoculars way beyond the other tree branches into the sky at the tulip tree branches and leaves.  Another very exciting find was in an old log on the side of the trail.  There were two rectangular holes and a student asked Russ, "What are these holes from?"  Russ asked them to think what could have made them . . . they guessed termites and several other ideas before one student guessed a bird.  Russ said, "You're right!  But what kind of bird?"  Another student guessed a woodpecker and Russ said, "You're right!  But what kind of woodpecker?"  And at that point he told us that those holes were made by a pileated woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in Michigan.  We were all amazed that a pileated woodpecker had once been pecking away at one of the trees in this woods.  There were so many common and yet amazing things we saw on our short expeditions out on the trails that I could go on and on. . .

Although we learned a great deal, there was something much more than knowledge we received during our short nature studies.  We were reminded how to look and listen and even smell (we found wild onions) with a bit more curiosity.   In addition, Russ brought his own joy for exploration and shared it with all of us. What a privilege and joy it was for me to spend time with Russ and the students!

   "Nature-study is not science.  It is not knowledge.  It is not facts.  It is spirit.  It is concerned with the child's outlook on the world."    

Russ brought the spirit of nature-study to us and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to see students catching that joy and that spirit!  Thanks Russ, from all my students and from me!  You have enriched our lives.