By Hazel Stark
With the start of the third week of Blueberry Harvest School, the students and the weather gave hints of a reflective conclusion to summer. While the youngest students took a deep dive into three of the common forest lives they had been seeing, the older students considered the needs of plants and decomposition, and the oldest students explored the mutually reliant world of blueberries and humans.
With an eye for wonder in the commonplace, Pre-K through 1st-graders spent the week learning about red squirrels, worms, and trees. Ever present in our Downeast forests, the bold red squirrel is a charismatic forest neighbor that is easy to overlook in the shadow of bigger, rarer animals. These students seemed equally impressed, however, as they pieced together squirrel eating habits from pine scale “middens” scattered throughout the forest and played games that illustrated how squirrels avoid getting eaten. Later in the week, they quickly got over the “worms are gross” paradigm by singing Gusano the Worm and drawing and holding the worms they found. While looking at worms, one student said “I made a bed for her and a pillow.” That kind of empathy that children can only build through interactions with nature is unparalleled!
Blueberry Harvest School students in grades 2-5 learned about the connections between photosynthesis, pollination, and decomposition this week, realizing the important relationship between human survival and those particular ecological processes. By watching beans sprout, observing goldenrod pollen, playing pollination tag, and journaling about the signs and smells of decomposition, they realized the importance of soil as the groundwork for our food. One student said, “If decomposition didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have soil!” It’s always a pleasure to see students recognize the value in processes, like decomposition, that hold an “icky” reputation.
While blueberries are the reason that students attend Blueberry Harvest School, there is not much opportunity for these students to learn about the ecology of blueberries. Students in grades 6-8, however, had that opportunity in MOS’s Outdoor Explorations class as Blueberry Harvest School drew to a close. They shared everything they already knew and wondered about blueberries in order to determine what else they could learn. They explored how to recognize a blueberry plant that doesn’t have berries on it and realized that, like us humans, blueberries also rely on other species to survive. Building upon that human-blueberry connection, they observed a “mini world”--a one foot square on the forest floor--to determine how a variety of species can survive in one place. They then built their own mini-worlds with the goal of illustrating how one area could support both blueberry and animal (including human) life. By acting out the stages of forest succession and learning that blueberries are some of the first plants to grow after a fire, they realized that our local blueberry barrens wouldn’t exist without fire or human influence--just as they themselves might not be here without the blueberries.
As week 3 drew to a close, all students had the opportunity to reflect on their time in Outdoor Explorations. They shared their favorite parts of their time outside, making drawings and muddy handprints to illustrate special moments. Many Kindergartners reflected on how they loved that they had found animals, like worms, that they could touch. A student in the Grades 2-3 group drew a picture of different cloud types to reflect a favorite moment, while several students in the Grades 6-8 class reminded each other of their surprise to learn that only female mosquitoes suck blood so that they can be good mothers. Overall, students had a lot of favorite learning moments to share!
To see how week 3 built upon their experiences in MOS’s Outdoor Explorations classes during weeks 1 and 2 of Blueberry Harvest School, check out this article about the field trip and observation skills they built during week 1 and this article about the music, math and poetry they did to learn about the outdoors during week 2.
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