by Ellie Oldach
This summer, I was hired by Maine Outdoor School to design and lead outdoor classes at the 2017 Blueberry Harvest School (BHS). BHS is an annual program run by the Maine Migrant Education Program and the non-profit, Mano en Mano. Its goal is to provide education and support to the children of Maine’s migrant blueberry rakers. Outdoor education has been incorporated as part of that goal. For the three and a half weeks of BHS, my co-teacher Kayla and I met with every class nearly every day, for forty-five minutes of “Outdoor Explorations” in the woods and fields of the BHS campus. And every Friday, I returned to staff meetings at Maine Outdoor School to recount the highlights and challenges and progress of the week at school.
We opened these staff meetings with notes on what was going on in the natural world. We’d list the flowers that were blooming every week, new behaviors from the resident birds, the first sightings of migratory species. Taken individually, these were small changes. But together, they captured the whole Maine summer, short and sweet and bursting with activity.
In reflecting on BHS and the role of Outdoor Explorations within the school, I find clear parallels to the seasonal changes we noted at MOS staff meetings. In Outdoor Explorations we made our way through the summer through a host of games and discussions, songs and art pieces. Like the arrival of a new bird species or the blooming of a different wildflower, each activity taken alone is just a moment, a blip of the summer. But taken together, these moments created a rich season full of meaningful education in the outdoors.
Here, a handful of BHS moments:
One especially sunny day, the pre-kindergarten class made a chalk outline of a puddle on the sidewalk. Returning to the puddle some time later, they noticed that it had shrunk while they were away. Where had the water gone? At first, they were puzzled, but then one student realized: the sun made it disappear! The students squinted up at the sun, realizing how powerful sunlight can be.
One week, the second and third grade class learned all about mosquitoes. As part of their explorations, students conducted a simple scientific study. They worked together to make mosquito traps from household objects then placed them in different parts of the BHS campus to learn which habitats mosquitoes prefer. Checking the traps was exciting for all: “We caught eleven mosquitoes, and a bee!” one student exclaimed, then settled in to carefully sketch one of the trapped mosquitoes.
In the second week, the oldest students played a game to demonstrate how chickadees and nuthatches use different parts of the tree as their main foraging source to reduce competition. After the game, a student told me about his experiences raking blueberries with other workers on the barrens. “We have to compete for boxes,” he explained, drawing a clear connection between challenges in the natural and human world alike.
What’s the picture that emerges when you add up all of these little moments? It’s a summer full of opportunities to learn and have fun in the natural world, a summer filled with lessons about the value of observing and interacting with our environment.
What’s more, it’s a summer full of lessons that stretch beyond the short season of BHS. I believe the fun and learning that happened in our outdoor classroom this summer will stay with students as they move on to new seasons in new environments. To be certain, I asked this very question on the last day. We were making nature art, and students were excited about and confident in exploring the woods in search of materials to compile into Andy Goldsworthy-inspired images and sculptures.
“Do you think you’ll make nature art when you go home?” I asked students as they arranged their leaves and sticks into beautiful designs.
“Yeah!” they responded in a chorus.
To read more about our programs at the 2017 Blueberry Harvest School, click on the following links:
- Learning from Each Other: Week 1
- Poetry, Music, Math, and More: Week 2
- A Sense of Wonder for the Commonplace: Week 3
- Eclipsed: Week 4
If you're interested in getting involved with the kinds of experiences Ellie shared above at Maine Outdoor School, reach out to us!