"Come look!" came the shout from the creek's edge, "We found cat tracks!"
I scrambled down to the sand bank, happy in my heart that the children know to look along the creek's edge for tracks and the stories these will tell them. "Oh, never mind," the young naturalist tells me as I barely land on my feet after the scramble, "It's dog tracks." An amazing series of moments to savor and enjoy, though I was a little bit sad because these tracks could have belonged to a really giant cat. A lion, even.
On another day, we were standing on the "stone bridge" looking out over the creek for turtles or the gold fish. Drifting in the middle distance were a pair of mallard ducks. I pointed them out and watched as the children worked mightily to find them. The ducks swam away from the children's layered shouts of "Where? Where are they?" flapping their wings and splashing upstream.
"Right there, see them?"
We often take for granted how our eyes, working with brain and muscle, scan, swoop, and return to places in the landscape to search and return, search and return, adjusting for distance, seeking out some message. This is what our eyes do, not just when we look for mallard ducks on a creek, but also when we write and draw, sew or knit, read a book, drive a car, and so many other activities we often take for granted.
I am not in the business of preparing children for anything except for the moment they are currently experiencing, but I would be remiss if I didn't at least think about the road ahead of them. Eye movement and control are so vital in the development of reading skills and here we are on the bridge and along the creek using every bit of body and mind to read the stories unfolding all around us.
I watch and listen to the children as they move their bodies, heads, and eyes searching for the mallard duck pair and I can't help but think about them next year sitting in an elementary school with a smart board at the front of the classroom. I know with all my heart and head that this moment, this time spent searching the creek is time well spent. And in fact, all the time spent in the forest, looking near and far for things in the near, middle, and furthest distances is indeed preparing them for that time they will spend the majority of their day inside.
We can easily argue that this time spent outdoors, looking for the story nature is leaving us to read along the creek's sandy banks is better than any teacher-manufactured activity in a classroom. If this is kindergarten preparedness, give me a heaping dose of it every single day.