"And so...where is your science center?" The validation consultant, offering her time and insight related to Maryland's Accreditation process as a favor to one of our mentors, looked eagerly around the room as we sat at the circle-shaped table in our classroom. She had already asked after our word wall and social studies center.
"Well, let's go outside!" I said cheerfully as I stood up to go. After all, we had been visiting for almost an hour and had yet to go outside. The validator shook her head, "No," she answered, "We have to be able to see the center from where I am sitting."
This was the same answer she gave me when I talked to her about the elements of our social studies curriculum and invited her to observe our circle meeting and dramatic play sessions. The ability to see every bit of our program while sitting on one of our wooden chairs in one room is not actually possible. Our environment is designed around what we call our 4 spaces. You would also have to look long and hard for a word wall because that simply is not going to happen.
This wasn't even the time to talk about how just having a table or shelf labeled "science center" inside a classroom would not necessarily ensure the processes, the open-ended exploration, and the freedom that would all naturally happen outside in the open air which would also not be limited to a single science -- what of rolling tires versus metal wheels, balance and heft, testing the strength of a board as it launches a rock into the air, the changeability of the light from the sun and the wind through the leaves, or feeling rain, ice, or fog against one's skin? How could the contents of a shelf test all the different What ifs?
With any kind of program assessment, there will be checklists. The checklists will allow room for comparing one program to the ideal. The Maryland system has rating scales, low to high and of course the high comes closest to the ideal. But who names the ideal? We are all striving for the ideal, but maybe the checklists are framed in a measure of the familiar.
Take a look at our street front. When you stand on the street and look each way, this is what you see...
We are in suburbia. Our street is a busy one. There is steady stream of traffic, cars, buses, and pedestrians. It is a snow emergency route (when we get snow). There is a set of small shopping centers on one end of the road and a hospital and a college campus on the other. The entire front lot has been paved over. The noise is a city noise, barking dogs, air brakes and brakes caught up short at intersections, sirens, and train whistles. This kind of setting is familiar in our local area. It could make sense that a shelf devoted to nature and science inside is necessary. What wild areas could we offer?
Where is our science center? It is outside. Follow me.