The initial adventure off school property with a group of 5 and 6-year-olds is always a bit stressful but it is also so incredibly fun to watch the excitement and enthusiasm that they bring to the reality of “going on a field trip”. Our first walk to our special place, Matsqui Park, was full of wonder, curiosity, questions, and observations. As we walked through the village we observed all the things that were made by humans. We saw buildings, signs, cars, fences, the pavement under our feet, and many more “unwild” items. As we crossed the river we spied a full-grown, dead salmon washed up on the river bank covered in mud. The students were engrossed in the story of how the salmon may have found itself there. Once they had run their imaginations dry with regards to the life of their friendly salmon we proceeded to cross the street only to find a “lagoon monster” swimming in the stream behind the park. The huge roots of the tree protruding from the surface of the stream really did look like some lizard-type sea monster lurking in the depths and each time I pass it now I am reminded of the huge imaginative potential that young minds have.
In her book, The Walking Curriculum, Gillian Judson talks extensively about how emotion and imagination connect students to their learning. One of Judson’s main arguments for outdoor education is the opportunity for students to be engaged and activated by story and narratives (8). She posits that all students “enjoy a good mystery and can be left awestruck by unanswered questions or strange events” (Judson 8). We start each walking adventure with a story. This first walk to the park was inspired by “Finding Wild” written by Megan Wagner Lloyd. It is the story of an adventure with two travelers finding wild in all sorts of places, and digging deep into the “clean and paved, ordered and tidy” space of the big city to discover that wild can live there as well.
The connection between story and curiosity being a motivator of learning is obviously not new. It is clearly the main purpose of education. Why else would the focus of elementary education be so profoundly focused on literacy? Humanity has the need to communicate, answer questions, gain knowledge, to understand and solve problems. However, the way in which individual students find inspiration, take ownership of their learning, and love the process of learning has been the nagging question of 21st-century education. Much like Judson, co-authors Sara Davidson and Robert Davidson propose natural curiosity combined with hands-on, active learning as the beginning of learning (Davidson et al. 15). In their book, Potlatch for Pedagogy, this emergence of learning through curiosity is coupled with the need for authentic experience (14). This first walk with our youngest learners was a prime example of both providing authentic experience whereby our students could observe all the things that were made by human invention contrasted with all that naturally occurs in the wild.
As we continued our walk, students were full of both curiosity and observations. They could see where humans had left their mark, where natural items were growing, and even where humans had “planted” natural items for their own benefit. Many observed how people had not done a great job of taking care of our local community with the amount of garbage that we passed as we walked. These observations were perfect to tie into the goal of finding authentic experiences that will inform our classroom learning. My goal with these types of experiences is to use them for future discussion and begin to dig deeper into ideas like climate change or our global footprints. In her book, Powerful Understanding, Adrienne Gear talks about the role of educators and how we are here to “help students explore, question, develop, and reflect on their own understanding about that content” (11). I was thrilled that providing an authentic experience outside the classroom was allowing my students to explore, question, develop and reflect on content that we had not yet even delved into.
As we walked back to the school, we passed these odd flowers/buds/seeds and I was reminded of “Horton Hears a Who”. After our discussion around all the garbage and how concerned students were that there was so much garbage left on the ground, in the bushes, on the deserted lot, and generally just NOT where it belonged I envisioned our students as the heroic “Horton”, holding the little flower with the speck of Whoville desperately trying to save their village from destruction. While they are just beginning to ask big questions, make big observations and attempt to solve big problems, it is clear that their young minds are already in the practise of curiosity, creating stories, and accessing emotion. My primary job is to provide the authentic experience whereby their imaginations for all the possibilities are encouraged and continue to thrive.
Judson, Gillian. A Walking Curriculum: Walking, Wonder, & Sense of Place (K-12). Middletown, DE: Publisher Not Identified, 2018. Print.
Lloyd, Megan Wagner. Finding Wild. Random House Usa, 2016. Print.
Davidson, Sara Florence, and Robert Davidson. Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning through Ceremony. Vancouver, B.C.: Langara College, 2019. Print.
Gear, Adrienne. Powerful Understanding: Helping Students Explore, Question, and Transform Their Thinking about Themselves and the World around Them. Markham: Pembroke, 2018. Print.