On our way back from our hike, just as we were leaving Sligo Creek, we heard the kee aah call of a red shouldered hawk calling to his mate. She flew ahead with grasses collected in her talons. He continued his swooping arcs probably looking out for crows. We stopped, turning and looking up — their habitat is one of tall trees and water and that’s where we were. Behind us was the creek, edged by trees, and ahead of us was the Parkway and the hill that would take us back through the apartment complexes to our school.
As we watched, she landed on a broken bit of a tall, tall tree. I would not have noticed that broken bit without her landing there. She paused and then flew again to a broken bit of yet another tree. Who knew there were so many high perches in such a small area? Such perfect places for a nest! The male called to her or perhaps to us, “Move on, move on,” he tells us. And we do. We have to get back up the hill and back to school for pick-up, our afternoon in the forest was coming to a close.
Do we need lesson plans for our forest visits?
When we take these walks into the forest, there is this bit of lesson planning that is undertaken that gives a nod to a shared human story of map making and exploration. Before we leave, while sitting at our circle meeting, we plan out our trip using something we call direction sticks. I use blocks and other items to represent landmarks along our planned path. The direction sticks are made from the trimmed branches of our butterfly bush. These were stripped of what little bark they had by the children last year using vegetable peelers and have been painted on one end with blue paint and the other with gold. These mark our path going and coming, leaving and returning. You can see the children creating their own direction markers during play all the time, if you know how to look.
We mark the hill we will descend and the bridges we will cross. Today, I declared that we would visit the fallen tree with the split boulder held in its roots. This is the spot we visited last year on our first visit to the forest and that trip almost did us in. I felt confident that it was time to try again.
The most important lesson is to learn how to look.
Certainly, the forest trips offer opportunities for mapping and exploration — this ability to navigate a course and to be able to return is really enough and frankly all you need to ensure that the afternoon has been spent productively and that the children have spent the day with all synapses firing if you are in the business of measuring such things, which we are — evidence-based practice will get you what you want and the children need. But see…trips like these offer more than all that. There are discoveries just waiting, you have to know where to look.
I can’t plan ahead for nesting hawks. I can’t plan ahead for pink flamingos and deer scat, mushrooms, melting snow. We just have to know where to look and then what to do with that information.
“I want to keep exploring!” one of the Tracks children said. I do too. So much more to find, but it is a fact that our Tracks need to get back to school before it is time to go home. It is a fact that even though we have spent the afternoon exploring, they will not count their day as complete unless they have played in our own yard. So off we go back to school, counting the bridges and marking the landmarks along our way. And good thing too because the hawks. The hawks!
Look down, look up, look all around. That is our lesson for the day.