Here is a little story for you. One day, after an afternoon at the creek, a little girl tells her mom, “I brought something home from school today.”
“Ok dear”, says Mom nonchalantly, expecting a stick maybe or a handful of leaves.
“It’s in my shoe”, says the little girl.
They get out of the car and while Mom is unloading, she hears a shriek from the front porch.
“Oh no! It’s dead.”
Mom pops her head out the door to see the little girl holding a flat toad, and she laughs lightly, “Was that in your shoe?”
Learner Lead, Experiential leaning outdoors makes learning more meaningful and therefore more impactful for children. Physical symbols from experiences have naturally and arguably always shaped our human contact with and access to information. Keepsakes, souvenirs, and other found and collected objects, even photos, are representations of our way of physicalizing learning in order to use, or enjoy it. At Worldmind we draw on this ability to help anchor the meaningful learning our children experience at school.
When a child wants to bring home a cherished stick, rock, or other found object, we recognize this as an avenue to solidify the impactful learning that has occurred because of this object. Collection is a powerful memory and reflection tool in Forest School philosophy. When coming back from Forest School training in the UK, when asked to declare any plant materials I was carrying, I looked down at my box of Hawthorn seeds, dried Nettles, and Birch bark pieces, in my carry-on and valiantly lied right to the machine.
There are exceptions of course. Live animals (hence why she put it in her shoe) and invasive plant seeds are on that list. And also, a lot of people don’t want mud sculptures or dead fish in their cars. All totally understandable. Parents come up with the most ingenious ways of allowing space for their kids to bring the outdoors with them. One mom has a no-stick-in-the-house rule. Kids can bring them home and play with them in the backyard, but they must stay in the backyard. Another mom used an old printer’s drawer to store and organize their nature objects, her son spent hours examining and moving them around. She also had the inspiration to use a plastic storage tub to bring in snow from the yard so they could play with it together in the living room. A teacher brought home a heart carved from ice in her child’s lunch box and kept it in the freezer. Many families have a special nature shelf or table for collected objects. We have an old set of miniatures boxes that hang decoratively on the wall. A treasure box is another good option. As for messy things in the car, keep an old Tupperware or plastic shoe box for transporting things that are drippy, crumbly, or stinky.
If your explorer wants to bring home something too large or otherwise “on the no list”, or the timing isn’t right for collecting, find a creative way to keep the memory of that object. Take a picture with your phone, bring a tiny piece of it, or draw a picture of your kiddo taking it with them. Rules at some places prohibit collecting, that’s ok. We also need to honor living things and natural spaces in different ways at different times. Sometimes anything laying on the ground is fair game, other times it’s ok to take a little of something as long as we leave most of it. A simple explanation will always do the trick.
Symbolic and Object Play, gathering and collecting are important learning tools that can be used to bring school learning home, strengthen connection and access to information and experiences, or simply bring the outdoors in. Try employing these amazing tools! Send the message to your child that their discoveries are important, and that their bond with the natural world doesn’t end at the door.
As it turns out, the toad made an offering to a backyard garden Buddha, and the little girl continues to hunt for toads every time she returns to the creek.