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BMS Teachers Practice What They Preach

Written by BMS Early Learning and Forest Kindergarten teacher, Jenni Heartway.

One of the exciting things about being a teacher is that by pursuing our own interests, we are actually being reflective practitioners.  In other words, we are practicing what we preach.   

Encouraging our students to follow their own passions would be hypocritical if we, as lifelong learners, didn't follow our own interests.

Recently, Tammie (BMS Early Childhood co-teacher) and I had the opportunity to hear one of our favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, speak at an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of her book Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.  Both of us adore being in the woods and making friends with creatures and plants there, and we were pleased to learn that we share a favorite author whose writing is infused with interactions with the natural world.

Creating a culture of readers and writers is an essential part of all the classrooms at Blue Mountain School. We do this in casual conversation and through more formal ways like BookShare (an oral book presentation) in my Early Learning class and the Writing Center in Tammie's Early Childhood class. You can see it during Writer's Workshop in the Middle Elementary class, and it was very evident on "Poem in your Pocket Day" when the Upper Elementary students shared poetry with their younger friends.

The culture of reading at BMS is also very obvious in staff interactions. We pass books to each other after school and often share snippets of essays and poems via email. Teachers are writing and publishing books and articles and drafting presentations to share with wider circles. "Living the writerly life," as Lucy Calkins says, is a part of our everyday and will hopefully become part of our students' everyday, as well.

I enjoyed telling our students about my experience meeting Barbara Kingsolver during my turn at BookShare.They were interested to hear about how star struck Tammie and I were when we met our favorite author. It is important for our students to not just hear us encouraging reading at school but also to hear about reading taking place outside of school and about adults getting so much pleasure from wonderful books.

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Impressions of Fall

This article originally appeared in the Indigo Messenger in November 2015. Written by Early Childhood teacher Stefi Schafer.

We have been talking about the change of the seasons for a while now. The changes in weather and temperatures as well as what we can see outside. We decided to take a walk to look for signs of Fall.

Before we set out we collaborated to make a check list of signs of fall: Red, yellow, brown, green and orange leaves, a naked branch, pinecones, wind, acorns, nuts and dead flowers.

We found everything. Mostly we found leaves, a lot of leaves.

I placed a selection of leaves on the art table, we discussed what colors we would need to make a fall painting, and we settled on a sky blue background.


Each child chose how they wanted to represent Fall. Some focused on individual leaves, tracing or copying, some painted a tree with leaves, some painted a leaf pile. Some students selected free-form paintings using the colors in layers and mixing them.

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Visiting Spring Valley

This article originally appeared in the Indigo Messenger in May 2016. Written by Early Learning Co-Teacher Jenni Heartway.

One of our favorite places to visit this time of year is Spring Valley.  It's one of the first places that we notice signs of spring on our campus.

Once we arrive, the students slowly make their way down the creek...stopping to explore the nooks and crannies carved out by the water.  On our last visit we were rewarded with many insects, lots of algae, spring ephemerals, a newt, and an animal skeleton that the students identified as a racoon.
 
Each discovery led to interesting discussions and wonders:

"Is that insect on our field guide?"

"What do raccoons eat?" 

"Is this much algae good for fish?"

Some questions we were able to answer, and some we were not.  

Allowing students the space to wonder and look for answers on their own nurtures their innate curiosity. Rachel Carson, author of The Silent Spring and The Sense of Wonder, once said, "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

We are so fortunate to live in a community where our children have the opportunity to be supported by many adults who value these important outdoor experiences, whether at home, during recess, on a field trip, or in the classroom.

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Unity and a Sense of Wonder

This article originally appeared in the Indigo Messenger in March 2017. Written by Yoga and PE teacher Sarah McCarthy.

Each new year is a surprise to us
We find that we have virtually forgotten the note of each bird.
And when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream,
reminding us of a previous state of existence...
The voice of nature is always encouraging.

-Henry David Thoreau

As we move into the last months of school, we as teachers are focusing on the school's third value, Reverence for Life: "We promote environmental stewardship by participating in nature-based activities and by exploring the connection between all living things, to establish a genuine sense of wonder and responsibility in our students."

I have been re-reading Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. What a gem of a book. This book talks about why kids benefit tremendously from being nurtured by nature. Louv talks specifically about the importance of wild, natural places in childrens' lives. While it is good to have more parks and soccer fields in our towns, it is the natural woods and wild places that kids gravitate to. It is where they learn most. In a wild ecosystem, one can really see the interactions between living things and perhaps just be in wonder and amazement. For so many of us in Floyd, we know what a treasure our wild lands are.

Here at Blue Mountain School we have such sweet land for kids to be a part of and connect to. What a tremendous thing! Not only can they explore the woods and open land as part of imaginative play, but we as teachers use this land to teach and just be. Every Tuesday when I teach, before the early learners come to class, I hear kids coming out of the woods -- rain, snow or sun. Their Outdoor Explore time is an important part of their class. Each class at BMS has their own way of being with our land and exploring.

Yoga means "union." We talk about this in a few different ways in our classes. One way is to reflect on how we are truly part of and connected to this wider earth. We depend on everything around us to survive. We practice this in yoga by bowing in the beginning and end of class every day. Bowing humbles us and helps us remember we really are grateful for all of life that sustains us. We also do Savasana; we lay down and relax our muscles and mind in quiet. It is another moment to feel our union with all of life.

Doing yoga outside has a magic of its own. As we do poses, the sun is out, the air is in on our skin, and we hear the marvelous sounds around us. Yay for spring!

We took a nature walk in all the classes a few weeks ago. It was the very beginning of spring so we did something a bit different.   Small groups did a nature treasure hunt and found different signs and parts of nature. I also asked each person to find something they have never seen before in nature. This trains our senses to go beyond. We found mycorizia, hairy predator scat, buds on trees, an interesting beetle, and other neat things.

The more time I spend at BMS, the more I treasure our relationship with the land around us and how that infuses into what we teach. I see how our staff connects with the natural world in their own ways and how they each have special ways of sharing that with students.

In this day with so much technology around us, we are growing farther away from the natural and gentle rhythms of life as a society. Sometimes I think the greatest thing we can give our kids is a reconnection with the natural world around us. We are doing that at BMS.

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Give Big on April 26!

Join us on April 26 to Give Big NRV!

This article originally appeared on the GiveBigNRV Website sponsored by the Community Foundation of the New River Valley.

At Blue Mountain School, we are cultivating capable community members who possess the courage and wisdom to lead fulfilling lives! Studies are now showing what many of us already knew intuitively: One aspect of a fulfilling life involves experiencing awe, and fostering a connection with the natural world is one way to inspire awe in children.

At BMS, we are grateful for our 9 acres of woods and play space, and we make use of the woods, trails, stream, and field each day. These wild places invoke the magic and wonder of childhood, and they are where our children learn to steward the earth and explore the connection between all living things.

Give Big today and help us share the power of Outdoor Education with our community!

(Ask us about how you can get 65% of your donation back at tax time!)

How Will Your Donation Help the New River Valley?
 
At Blue Mountain School, both our outdoor learning spaces and our amazing staff play a fundamental role in providing nature-rich experiences for children throughout the New River Valley. Each year we offer programs that open our doors and our woods to over 200 children!

Your donation on Give Big NRV Day will allow us to improve our outdoor spaces, provide continuing development opportunities for our staff, and grow our programs so that more children can experience the awe of the great outdoors.



What Nature Programs Does BMS Offer?

In addition to our regular school classes, all of which are interwoven with outdoor experiences, we offer several opportunities for children to explore nature at Blue Mountain School.

The Forest Family Program began in September 2016 with our first session of Forest Kindergarten. Forest K is based on the German model of Waldkindergartens and provides children aged 4 to 8 with the opportunity to explore and engage with the outdoors and with others.

In Fall 2017, we hope to grow the Forest Family to include two new programs: Forest Friends (ages 1.5 to 3) and Forest Explorers (ages 7 to 12). The addition of these groups will provide a full childhood of outdoor education for NRV kids!

In addition, each summer BMS welcomes nearly 150 campers from the New River Valley and beyond. While all our camps have a focus on outdoor experiences, we offer two that immerse children in the woods for a large part of the day. Forest Kindergarten Camp is new this year, and our Forest Forts Camp has been attracting kids back again and again for a number of years now.

Learn More

If you'd like to read more about outdoor learning spaces and the value of children spending time in nature, check out these links:

How to Protect Kids from Nature Deficit Disorder
This is Your Brain on Nature
Connecting with Nature Boosts Creativity and Health
What Happens When We Reconnect with Nature
American Forest Kindergarten Assocation
Virginia's No Child Left Inside Coalition

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