Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) published a self-promotion story on the bird sanctuary at the kids’ school where I spend a few hours each week. Borton Environmental Learning Lab (BELL) is a patch of desert that a few parents and I have been cultivating for the past few years. The committee is mostly driven by betts, though other parents contribute significantly. We try to get the kids outside once a week on top of the planting, watering, and clean-up we also do once a week.
It’s great to see the kids outside, but the ventures into BELL aren’t to replace recess. The kids are involved in meaningful learning. They take in their surroundings through careful visual, auditory, and tactile observation and then journal about the experience. There’s a great deal of science and writing involved. There’s also the occasional cactus prick and bug bite.
The kindergarteners and first graders I’ve taken to BELL learned about symmetry when comparing mesquite, palo verde, hackberry and other tree leaves. They’ve learned about Precolumbian people and uses for the desert plants. They’ve learned about habitat, adaption, and how they relate to each other. They’ve learned some state history too. My next goal is for them to create their own desert story using the information they’ve gathered. I’m not an educator, so we’ll see how that goes.
I’m proud of the students’ work and would post it, but it’s not my intellectual property. Let me just tell you, it’s incredible. At the beginning of the year, students were unnerved by crickets, unsure about sitting on the ground, and asked about polar bears. Now they run to the bee bush to see if it still smells like lime gummy bears. They are much more confident in that couple of acres of wilderness.
Kids are too smart to be taught how to take tests or to write to arbitrary prompts or to sit in front of a computer. For that matter, teachers are too valuable a resource to be scripted. I’m probably biased toward an inquiry curriculum since I work for the woman who put it “out” there, but to teach all subjects to a child’s imagination is a powerful thing. I’m thankful for this school, principal, and teachers. Every child deserves these opportunities.