Cultivating Care- What Could Be More Important?

Mar 17, 2020

“Life is mostly froth and bubble. Two things stand like stone. Kindness in another’s trouble, Courage in your own.”– Adam Lindsay Gordon

At Aishling Forest School, our pledge is to:

  1. Take Care of Yourself
  2. Take Care of Each Other
  3. Take Care of Mama Earth

During our 2nd week at our Forest School in Centerport, we passed around our rainbow talking stick and each openly pledged to honor ourselves, each other and the greater world around us. And what could be more important?

As Nel Hoddings, professor emeritus in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, writes in her preface to Ruth Charney’s book Teaching Children to Care, “The time spent on learning to care is not wasted; it is not time taken away from academic instruction. Kids who are friendly, happy, cooperative tackle their academic work with more confidence, and both teachers and student enjoy greater success. They are not adversaries but partners in caring and learning.”

With “sticky elbows” mixed in imaginary maple syrup, our learners collectively walked each other across a somewhat busy street to make it to the woods, where we hiked for sticks to offer our first fire. We searched for firewood as big as a mouse’s tail, a squirrel’s tail and a raccoon’s tail and when sticks were too big, we figured out ways to make them smaller. “What’s a good way to make this branch smaller?” one learner asked. “Maybe I could break it in half.” She snaps it and it doesn’t break. Our leaders don’t offer solutions but rather ask inquiry-based questions. “What else might work to break that stick?” a curious leader asks. “Maybe I could break it on a tree?” she responds. Whack! It breaks and with excitement, she adds her now smaller stick to the assorted piles of “animal tails.”

All STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning begins with inquiry. Children are natural problem solvers. They are also natural scientists, engineers and mathematicians- they are constantly wondering about everything, then experimenting and answering their own questions. And according to scientist Rachel Carson, they need a knowledgeable adult to act as their support and guide. At Aishling Forest School, we believe it’s important to ask our learners “Why is this?” and “What do you notice?” “I wonder” and “What do you think happened here?” (Sobel)

After our physically active behavior or our “big breathe out”, we all circle around the fire and begin to slow down and watch our leaders make a sacred fire out of our harvested sticks. This is our “breathing in.” We speak about the power of fire, what elements create a fire (a spark, fuel and air) and how to respect a fire. Two fire keepers are chosen (and new ones will be chosen during each of our bi-monthly fire circles) and with great pride, they manage the energy of the fire and our circle. We adorn them with fire keeper symbol necklaces made of pieces of wood and brightly colored string. They beam with pride as they help each other put on their respective symbols of leadership, integrity and honor.

We story tell as the fire simmers and at the end of our time together, we ceremoniously put the fire out, thanking it for its energy and warmth and expressing gratitude for our time together. With a focus on intention, resilience, play, kindness and reflection, our forest family community grows strong and deeply connected to themselves, each other and the world around us.

That is the forest school way.