The school year has begun and while I always encourage us to begin with just the fact that a new beginning has happened, soon after we have just gotten a sense of who one another is and where the markers are kept, real content with all its demands of “study me” starts to break through, for while we are just getting a handle on the daily routine here in the classroom, the outside world has been busy moving forward. By outside world I mean it in the most immediate and simplistic: our trips to Triangle Park soon lead us to notice that what look to be bees are moving in and out of a hole in the big tree in the middle of the lawn. Before we know it, we are getting out the books about bees, and soon we are realizing that a trip to the P-Patch is the perfect site for learning about pollination. It is also the right place to sit down with my class and make a bee on a stick that we can carry through the woods and bring back to school.
Triangle Park, with its bee tree right there, though—that is the right place to sit down with Eileen’s class and mine and read about bees. We should also sit there and read about “Winne the Pooh and the Honey Tree”. And, before long, we should re-gather there and read The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco, a wonderful “romp” of a book. Let’s paint egg cartons to look like honeycomb and make a “hive” on the bulletin board. All the time, we will be learning about how they make wax and change in their hiding places in the nest. Oh, and let’s dip apples in honey in honor of the Jewish New Year—
hey—wait—apples! That makes us think of the tree across the street just loaded with them, so let’s get Tom and Kathi to go over with small groups and pick during recess on the patio. We’ll bring the apples in and make applesauce and eat it together and add honey for a special treat. Thinking of the apples across the street just growing there and needing to be picked makes us think of all the bounty growing in all our yards and gardens at home. Everyone, bring in vegetables and fruit and we’ll have a little market in the classroom.
A market leads to thoughts of trading and buying and selling; get out the pretend money and have fun with “buying” real things that we can sample right here and now. We have tomatoes and plums and Asian pears and green grapes and even eggs from Jordi’s chickens!
And while all of that is happening, children in Kim’s class are taking the wagon and heading out everyday to be outdoors, too. They are noticing spiders and their webs everywhere in the clear September mornings. So, they begin to learn about them in earnest and create wax resist watercolor paintings to demonstrate their knowledge of the complexity and beauty of the web’s architecture.
Bees live in a colony, a social grouping, but what about spiders? As we begin the unit on salmon, we ask now that same question: how do salmon live? Are they individuals, or members of a group? This is a hard question even for an adult to answer.
A trip to the South Sound to Keefe’s family’s cabin allowed us to see young salmon in a little creek that empties into the salt water on their property, as well as to watch adult salmon returning to a nearby hatchery, there to spawn, and to die. We are not finished with bees, even as we begin thinking about fish. We will listen to “Flight of the Bumblebee”, Rimsky-Korsakov’s classic piece of the insect in flight. We’ll draw in crayon as we do so, imagining the bee. We are doing something that people do, extrapolating that bee from nature and putting it on paper, as did Kim’s children when they made their spider webs. The younger children will also get to watercolor wash over crayon in order to learn the technique of making a wax resist. As we do, we will focus intensively on the way of one class, or one specie, yet, even so, at the same time, we will add it to our growing understanding of the interrelatedness of all things—even, I am coming to see, all academic subjects.
When we, as teachers, no longer separate them exclusively into pre-ordained compartments, but hone in to get a closer look and to grow a skillset, when we teach thematically, we learn to “telescope out”—to encompass a broader view, to see that it is from nature, after all, that all things come. Our inspiration guides us. The engineer owes her competency to the human thrust to recreate what the bird does with the grace of instinct. We see a spider or a salmon and we want to draw, paint, write a novel about a web and a little pig, hear of how the first humans on Puget Sound revered the first fish that returned each year, know each one’s cycle of life, remember what Eileen says that makes us ponder: “All living things die”. As an adult, I thought of that the other day and found, because of it, that I had a clearer sense of how that truth makes the fact that we live even better. And then what did I make of it when I told the children in one of our small afternoon groups, that the first people’s believed all things lived, even stones, mountains, water and the air?