discovery in mendocino

We’re back from Mendocino! The week was stunning: the kids did great on two long bus rides to and from the Woodlands and were fabulous in creating homes away from home, being away from familiar things, and learning about a new place. We had adventures in the woods and lighting fires in the fireplaces that were in every cabin, singing songs with guitar and ukulele accompaniment, and dancing together. This tradition of spending time together, away from the school, is part of what makes Brightworks work – building and maintaining a commitment to each other as well as the work.

Richard Louv, in his book Last Child Left in the Woods, explores the relationship between children and nature and how it has changed over the last few hundred years. He starts with a conversation between himself and his son:

One evening when my boys were younger, Matthew, then ten, looked at me from across a restaurant table and said quite seriously, “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?”

I asked what he meant.

“Well, you’re always talking about your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down near the swamp.”

At first, I thought he was irritated with me. I had, in fact, been telling him what it was like to use string and pieces of liver to catch crawdads in a creek, something I’d be hard-pressed to find a child doing these days. Like many parents, I do tend to romanticize my own childhood—and, I fear, too readily discount my children’s experiences of play and adventure. But my son was serious; he felt he had missed out on something important.

He was right. Americans around my age, baby boomers or older, enjoyed a kind of free, natural play that seems, in the era of kid pagers, instant messaging, and Nintendo, like a quaint artifact.

We take this as an important challenge to address in the evolution of the pedagogy: to create authentic and meaningful integration of the natural environment in the learning experience at Brightworks. (Thank you to Gever for this quote…)

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Trips like these remind us what makes Brightworks a different learning environment. The Woodlands is a place that hundreds of students visit every year, and their science curriculum is designed for such students. There are learning objectives and plans and transitions for every moment of the day. It’s a wonderful program that we are incredibly lucky to be a part of, and both years we have met amazing, talented naturalists on the staff whose job is to make the redwood forest an understandable place of magic for our kids and a place that isn’t as scary as they thought.

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But what makes Brightworks kids and staff different is that we want to take time. Lots and lots of it. And always with each other, as a group and a community. We want to play in the waterfall, explore every mushroom we find, question why some trees have grown in a ring, discover how to light a fire, learn about each other’s toothbrushing habits, slow down a lot under great redwoods and look up. We encourage questions and curiosity and have become experts in changing plans and altering schedules to follow what the kids are most curious and interested in. We loved being able to sit down when the trip was over and put names and reasons on what and why we do in the Brightworks style of teaching and learning. The emergent philosophy is to take time. Slow down and enjoy the moment.

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And be curious about everything.