Mud, Rocks, and Water Grow Friendship
by Meredith Woods
Children need to play. Children are happier outdoors. Children learn by doing. It is not a novel concept but more a general understanding of pedagogy and age appropriate needs. Strangely, though, the Forest’s Edge program at Friends School Haverford is unique by design and not common for the 2-3-year-old age group. In the Forest’s Edge program, toddlers spend 80% of their school day outside, doing what they do best, exploring and examining their world. Anything that can happen inside can also be done outside. Songs are sung and books are read, all while gathered under an old oak tree. Painting happens with crushed berries for dye and trees as easels, and cooking – it begins in the mud kitchen.
On a 60-degree day like we had last week, 10 three-year-olds pushed a wheelbarrow loaded up with 10 gallons of water, shovels, buckets, and their imagination. They collected rocks, pinecones, buttercups, black walnuts, and acorns to make “chocolate tea” and “dandelion soup”. This may seem like child’s play, but the concepts of sharing, conservation, finite materials, taking turns, weight, color, and teamwork were just a few of the lessons imparted. As a teacher who has seen many classrooms and philosophies in action, I am astounded by the possibilities that can happen when children take the lead, are given the opportunity to act freely and investigate without boundaries of a schedule, time constraints, and teacher-driven instruction. The real learning happens alongside a child, with an openness to learn together.
It is a gift to see the wonder and joy as the children of Forest’s Edge take a two-mile hike to the creek and crouch in front of a frog peeking out from the water. The shrieks of delight sound like the most beautiful music as these exuberant friends race alongside Canadian Geese flocking towards the pond. These may seem like small moments, but to our young friends, they are the beginning of a life-changing education that unfolds at Friends School Haverford, where each child has room to explore his/her own interests, where learning really begins – at the heart.