I was talking with a professor of foundations of education at a southern university recently and she made a comment that has been ringing in my ears. We were talking about a shift away from child centered curriculum in early childhood when she said, “We lose our way. We always lose our way.” In that simple comment she summed up many of my experiences recently.

I was reminded of the importance of that child-centered curriculum and the necessity of nature recently on a field trip to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden here in Richmond. Our 3-year-old class had the opportunity to participate in a grant funded field trip where the class heard a story about the sounds and activities of animals in autumn. I have been struggling recently to implement a new curriculum in my class that we are piloting and, as with any new curriculum it is a challenge to fit it all together. It is enough to make you feel lost.

We were walking along and I relearned/remembered how amazing even a simple experience of walking in nature can be for a three year old. No puppets, not contrived stories, no gimmicks. Just the simple guidance of an experienced educator and the safe environment of predictable expectations. I am so thankful for the opportunity to take my class to the botanical garden because it means they get to see a world they have never experienced. For one student it was magical.

Marcus (pseudonym) arrived at school 3 years and 2 months old. He did not speak more than two words at a time the first 6 weeks of school. In the last week or so he began to string more words together. Mostly these words were directed at his peers. Yesterday when we were at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden it Marcus seemed to have a break through. He noticed his surroundings and expressed joyful exuberance about learning. While listening to Kristin Mullen, the Lewis Ginter educator, read a story that incorporated a male and female stuffed cardinal that made sound, he exclaimed, “Listen to the birds!” Later, as the class gathered fallen leaves on the ground, Marcus said, “Look at triangle leaf!” Then he broke into a contagious laughter.  As we walked through the garden he saw the  pond  in the Asian Valley and yelled, “Water!” followed by another round of contagious laughter that caused my instructional assistant and I to smile. Finally, while climbing the 100-year-old mulberry tree, Marcus told me, “Hey! Dr. Holland! I like this place!” Marcus crossed a threshold of engagement because of the amazing surroundings at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. He was able to move from only talking to peers to engaging adults and he began to notice nature on his own. Most of all he stated a fully formed opinion of his situation in a complete sentence. I know  that  Marcus will never be the same, self-focused, unaware child he was two weeks ago, because of our trip to Lewis Ginter .

Thanks to Lewis Ginter for helping Marcus get lost in the moment and me to find my way, yet again.


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