At this time of year, it’s fun to go back through all my photos from 2013 and notice what caught my eye throughout the year. Usually I spend a week or two fascinated by a certain subject in nature, and then the next thing comes along and seduces my heart, mind, and soul every bit as much.
At one point, I thought I could focus endlessly on spider webs. But they didn’t last any longer than anything else. The natural world is like a parade. One subject takes its turn in the spotlight and then fades into the background or disappears, and the next thing takes its place.
Right now, it’s frost.
Every morning, I am excited to get out of bed and discover frost paintings left on windows – especially car windows – and intricate ice patterns at the river’s edge.
That might have to hold me over for a while…but you never know! There’s always birds, sunrises, animal tracks in the snow, and who knows what else.
It just occurred to me that my photo library is a curriculum of love. I often share my photos with my kindergartners on our SMART Board and hope to awaken them to the wonder and beauty all around us. But then again, children are usually the ones who notice such things first. So perhaps they have been waking me up all these years.
When I am in love with a particular subject, I reflect on its essence and what it can teach me. What message does a bee, a great blue heron, a morning glory, a spider web, an illuminated fallen leaf, or any number of other subjects offer us humans? How do they speak to us? How are they models for us? How might they inspire us? As I look to the natural world as my teacher, I find myself at the crossroads of science and social studies – for the inner meaning and teachings of nature speak directly to social, emotional, and character development. Migrating birds teach us about moving on when it’s time. Pollinators teach us about paying it forward. Geese teach about community and caring for our young. Flowers teach us about blooming where we are planted. Every morning the sun rises whether or not we can see it and offers us the gift of a brand new day. And so it goes, on and on. No one subject in the natural world is more important than the rest. Everything is diverse and interconnected and has its own time, place, shape, and purpose. And since each of us is unique, we might take away different messages and meanings from subjects in the natural world.
If I had a school of my own, this is what I would build early childhood curriculum around. Fostering and igniting a relationship between children and the natural world benefits both. There is such wisdom and guidance to be found in nature that can speak directly to a child’s psyche. And there is so much rich literature to share with children on these subjects, as well. I believe that our planet and our children are in need of this kind of holistic education.
I would also focus on celebrations. What do the people of the world celebrate? What common values are at the core of national, regional, and cultural celebrations? How are we the same and different? Every December, my students and I follow a runaway gingerbread cookie around the world and learn about our earth (geography, climate, seasons, direction, the cycle of day and night, and more) and the ways in which people around the world celebrate light during this time of year. Through the connecting power of the Internet, I have met people from a variety of cultural backgrounds who enthusiastically share and help me to better understand their holiday celebrations and traditions. Sometimes they even share photos of local or family celebrations that I, in turn, share with my students for a very personal window into another culture. There is such richness in this kind of sharing and learning. I have a “Holidays Around the World” Pinterest board with videos of multicultural celebrations and share many of them with my students. I’m always looking for new ones that will work within the context of public education. Ideally, we would continue to learn about celebrations the entire year.
During our upcoming school vacation, I plan to go through my photo library and make some notes about what I gravitated toward each week of the year – pencil it into my personal curriculum map and consider how I might weave it into the fabric of the school year. It’s an ongoing project that I’ve been working on for years. Even when the rigor of the school day doesn’t allow for this kind of enrichment, it can be useful for teachers, parents, and caregivers to reflect on such themes (and their inner significance) from month-to-month, to nourish our own development and well-being.
After all, a very dear mentor – a teacher and parent himself – told me decades ago that we long to teach what we most need to learn.
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