In my new job, I have the pleasure of working at two schools. Yesterday, I was covering recess for fifth grade and I wandered into the woods. What? Yes, at one of my schools, the children are allowed to go into the woods. To be clear, they are only allowed to go so far, but what I’m beginning to realize is, there’s a lot to be learned in the woods.
In this small area of woods, the kids have made a fort – a sort of ‘tent’ made from large branches and then covered it with leaves and other debris. They work together on this constantly. The younger kids make fairy houses – they’re everywhere. I guess there are a plethora of fairies in the woods.
The older boys seem to love nothing more than climbing trees. They only climb up about four or five feet, but they help each other, showing the next boy exactly where to put his foot, grab on, and hoist himself up. The entire atmosphere in the woods is one of community – each child looks out for another. It’s a) totally awesome and b) totally unexpected from where I came from.
Yesterday, while watching the fifth grade boys climb, I mentioned to them how unusual it felt for me to be in the woods with them at recess.
“What do you mean Mr. Halpern,” one boy asked.
“Well, where I come from, there are no woods… and if a kid picked up a stick or a rock, they were told immediately to drop it, so this is quite different,” I explained.
He looked at me, perplexed, like I had just told him water is dry, smiled and said, “I wouldn’t want to go to a school like that.”
Sadly, I fear most kids do.
These children are given something wonderful – the gift of trust. They’re trusted to be responsible and safe in a small section of the woods. Clearly, with a little adult supervision, they’re flourishing in the woods.