The Riverside School’s 4th and 5th graders have been using their natural environment as their classroom every Thursday afternoon since the beginning of school. Coining the name “Birch Buddies” the students, their teachers Joy Sanders and Erin Glocke and a parent volunteer, Anna Crytzer, explored ideas such as shelter building, safe fire practices, outdoor cooking, knot tying, tracking and orienteering, gardening at the school and learning about dams and their effects on the water systems from a representative from VT Fish and Wildlife. Henry Griffin was most intrigued by this visit and remembered, “I learned about a thing called a fish ladder. A fish ladder is basically a way for fish to get up a dam.”
The class followed a consistent schedule of gathering to share stories about things they’ve seen in nature, playing a game (often a game rooted in some kind of learning about animals), coalescing at a fire, breaking off to do workshops or some kind of activity, regathering to share our day’s experiences, share gratitudes, and listen to a story. “During one workshop Joy let us carve spears (not real ones) but I used a small knife and learned about a safety circle,” mused Lacey Patoine.
The idea behind this immersion teaching style is to connect students with nature and help them better understand it. As we know, this generation risks a concerning disconnect with their natural environment and this class is specifically designed to provide them a positive outdoor experience. They learn skills that aren’t typically taught in school but are necessary components to help them connect with the world around them. It has enhanced their awareness of their surroundings, strengthen their teamwork ethics and encouraged curiosity while promoting a healthful lifestyle. Gus Yerkes stated, “Birch Buddies has been important because if we were lost in the woods, we will know what to do.”