TFS - Canada's International School

Entre Nous 2019 - Vol. 61

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Page 13 of 31

ENTRE NOUS 12 From age 2 through Grade 5, the goal of nature programming is to learn from and in nature, and to form a bond with the environment so that our students feel not only at home in it, but also understand that it is a home for them. Incrementally, they move closer to nature and establish a base of knowledge, such as discovering and experiencing the interdependence of all living things, the link between food and survival, predator and prey. This happens through regular visits each class makes to the ravine, often once a week, and through all seasons. Says M. Boucher, "At first they are noisy and say things like, 'There is nothing to look at in the ravine.' Then I ask them to close their eyes and listen. At first they hear the obvious – the crows and the jays – but over time they become more attentive and can distinguish more and more sounds." The students construct sound maps to register what they have heard. They share their listening practices with one another and report back to the group. In 2018, both M. Boucher and his colleague Josette Bouchard, Director of Environmental Responsibility for the Senior School, participated in a workshop on the art of mentoring in nature. It introduced four core routines that both M. Boucher and Mme Bouchard now incorporate: sitting in one spot, questioning, the 50/50 principle and assessing engagement. In the first, students are asked to sit in a spot of their choosing and observe the natural world. Their initial responses are along the lines of "I saw a tree." However this action, repeated over time, coupled with journaling, where they note their discoveries, and stretch their language and creative skills through vocabulary and drawing, evidences a clear path to careful observation. Questioning fosters deeper inquiry. As M. Boucher states, "Giving them the answer destroys their curiosity; instead I ask them further questions to direct their thinking, so that they can determine the answers for themselves." The 50/50 principle gives room for lessons that are pre-planned but with enough time to also adapt organically. For instance, a rainy spring day may bring forth worms and snails, along with robins; an opportunity for a new lesson in the making. Finally, assessing student engagement looks at how students' responses to being in nature may have changed. Where once they dragged their feet, students enthusiastically want to revisit their valley, knowing it will be different every time. They experience delight in creating a shower of leaves in fall and snow forts in winter, but they also learn about nature's challenges. As one student remarked: "I like when winter comes and we're excited to make snowmen, but it also makes me sad that the birds will have a hard time finding food and warmth." Self-awareness and empathy; it is this realization that gives M. Boucher deep satisfaction. "It is then that I know that they feel it from the inside. I feel joy in seeing them open their eyes," he says. As students begin the Collège years in Grade 6, the focus of classes in the ravine continues to be curriculum- based. For a Grade 7 art lesson, Mme Hatchell and her students travelled to the ravine where she had them select an object, then draw it. Later sitting together on logs, she asked them why they had selected their objects, and why it was meaningful to them. Near the end of the discussion, she inquired how being in nature made them feel, and a student said, "I feel very peaceful and beautiful." Yet the environment can elicit concern during adolescence. It is at this point when students develop a clear sense of our world being in peril, most especially the ecosystems that we are a part of and depend upon. It is against this backdrop that Mme Bouchard teaches, and works with subject-specific teachers on enhancing students' learning through nature. Their worry is addressed directly; they learn that by acting, they can have an impact, helping to create a more sustainable world, one in which climate change can perhaps be decelerated. Says Mme Bouchard, "It is our responsibility, with the changes that we are facing, to teach our children to be active citizens who make the right choices for the whole planet." There is a magical part of us that we have forgotten living in our busy city: a primal need to be grounded in nature. It is only when we have done so that we can access our deepest humanity." Kathleen Hatchell, artist and art teacher, Senior School I want them to see me personally affected when I am in nature. It gives them permission, it liberates them, it lets them open the door to their own feelings. If they feel the connection, if they care, they will fight to protect it." Régis Boucher, eco-leader, age 2 to Grade 5

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