My classroom is not really in the woods. It is in a brick and concrete school that is surrounded on three sides by neighborhoods and one side by a New England deciduous forest that leads, ultimately to a tidal river. The water from this river makes its way to the Great Bay estuary and from there out to the Atlantic. We are within short driving distance to mountains, state parks, oceans, and lakes. Out of our classroom window we see lots of pine, maple, and oak trees, and the school is surrounded by people who care about their yards. There are beautiful examples of flowering shrubs and trees, perennials, and annuals. I am fortunate to have a classroom that, while located in a place that technically has a population large enough to be categorized as a city (about 30,000), we are surrounded by nature in many different forms.
So, while my classroom is not really in the woods, I try to bring the woods into my classroom, and I use the term “woods” broadly, to encompass many different experiences and things that exist outside the walls of a school.
I believe that once a person understands how something works, or recognizes its importance, or can attach a name to it, then that something truly starts to exist for them. Through experiments and investigations, books and discussions, inquisitive minds grow and curiosity is born. Where once a person might have noticed only grass and trees, after gaining knowledge and understanding they start to point out birds and insects, plants and lichen, evidence of wildlife and our always changing environment. Children oftentimes show me an appreciation and a thoughtful understanding of the natural world that is innate and intuitive and profound. Yes, I teach reading and math, writing and word study, science and social studies. What I am really trying to teach, though, is how to be a productive and positive citizen of this world we all live in. What I share with kids is not earth-shattering. It’s not ground-breaking or innovative or extreme. I’m just helping them put a name to what they see. I’m bringing them into the woods.
Student guesses for the mystery fruit or vegetable included: mini-apricots, peach tomatoes, pineapple seeds, and baby tomatoes. They are ground cherries, and they do indeed smell like pineapple. Of course, we sampled them as well!