‘Forest Fridays’ let kindergarten students learn about nature through play

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

This story was originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

FLORENCE — Along with art, music and physical education, kindergarten teacher Andrea Egitto says nature exploration should be part of the curriculum.

So every week, the R.K. Finn Ryan Road School teacher takes her kindergarten class out into the woods for what she calls “Forest Friday.” For a couple hours, the Saw Mill Hills Conservation area becomes the classroom.

As they walked down the sidewalk from the school to the conservation area last week, Egitto told the students to be on the look out for birds.

From a distance, the class could hear a bird chirping.

“Blue jay,” one student shouted out.

Egitto explained the blue jay’s warning call to her students.

“The bird says ‘Watch out, the humans are coming,’” Egitto said.

Once in the conservation area, Egitto explains the boundaries, pointing out rocks and trees not to go past, and lets the students roam. Some grab sticks to create a fort or bridge, some play on the rocks.

On snow days, animal tracks are clear and Deryn Potter-Hewes, 6, said she likes to follow them and see where they go.

Deryn also said she likes to make fairy houses, including a recent one with a hollow opening on a tree root. She pointed out the leaves she added.

“The green leaves are for medicine,” Deryn said. “The brown leaves are for comfort.”

While one student was walking with a large stick, he accidentally hit another who started to cry. Egitto was able to ease the situation and turn it into a learning experience by making an ice pack with snow from the ground.

A group of students played by a stream and found that part of the stream flows underground. Mason Pagliaro-Wallace, 5, collected rocks of different shapes and sizes he found in a stream, and said he thinks they are filled with diamonds.

For the past decade, Egitto has been trying to add more nature exploration into her teaching, and over the years the school has obtained grants over the years for environmental education.

For this school year, the Mass Cultural Council award the school with a $5,000 grant for a residency with Ted Watt of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. Watt recently led a “Forest Friday” class in the snow.

After attending a conference on outdoor learning last fall and talking with teachers at Hatfield Elementary School who do similar nature lessons, Egitto was inspired to make nature exploration a regular practice for her class.

She said that when students are playing in the woods they “create their own learning,” whether it be balance by climbing a rock, or focus by sitting still and listening to the birds.

“Every single thing they’re doing out here, they’re learning,” Egitto said.

 

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.

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