by Becca Fernandez, Lower Elementary Teacher
Glance into the woods around Arbor and you may glimpse a small group of children staring up at the canopy of leaves above them, working in teams to build primitive shelters, or sitting in a circle listening to stories of the Cherokee and Muskogee who walked this land many years ago. Lower elementary children nearly jump out of their skin with excitement when Mark Warren walks into our classrooms. Mark’s arrival brings the gentle scent of campfire smoke wafting from his clothing and a mad scramble as the children pull on weather-appropriate clothing to head outside for a few hours. No matter how cold or wet it may be, I don’t hear complaints when the children return. Instead I am treated to a bracelet braided from plant fibers, a story of which classmate was able to balance while running across a wobbly log, or the triumph of the fire crew who managed to create a one-match fire.
The Outdoor Program is one of the hallmarks of an Arbor education. In Lower Elementary, 2nd and 3rd year students spend time outdoors with Mark each month. The lessons they enjoy connect directly with the botany, zoology, and history work in the classroom. Last week, children learned to identify the redbud tree and enjoyed tasting its flowers. Back in the classroom, they pulled out Mark’s book to find pictures of the redwood tree and a botany booklet on types of flowers. Another child started the ambitious project of creating a booklet of native plants listing all possible uses of each plant. An earlier lesson on sign language led students to create their own signs and pull out a set of cards on Native American history.
The culmination of the Outdoor Program during Lower Elementary is a day trip to Medicine Bow. Students plan a meal to be cooked over an open fire, shop for the groceries, and travel north to spend the day with Mark in the woods. This visit to Medicine Bow sets the stage for future camping trips in Upper Elementary.
Many of the lessons Mark shares with our students can be found in his series of books, Secrets of the Forest.