Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mindfulness Practices in Education: Montessori Approach

One of my favorite sources of Montessori inspiration shared this great article comparing Montessori and mindfulness education. It is written by Angeline Lillard, author of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. I highly recommend it and feel that it deserves to be passed around in the Montessori community. It is one of the most interesting research papers I have read in a while!

http://www.montessori-science.org/Lillard_mindfulness_in_education_montessori_approach.pdf

Saturday, November 12, 2011

One of my favorite things...



video


"The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, "The children are working as if I did not exist."
-Dr. Maria Montessori


I have spent the last few weeks meeting with colleagues to discuss the importance of the mixed age group and the value of the Montessori kindergarten experience.


Dr. Montessori concluded that there are four distinct planes of development that an individual must pass through on their way to adulthood. In each plane of development, Montessori believed that children are instinctively drawn to those activities which meet their developmental needs; as a result, the Montessori method of education consists of removing obstacles to the child's development and preparing the environment with purposeful activities, from which the child is permitted to self-select. Dr. Montessori's genius was an anthropological insight- when given a choice among purposeful work, children naturally seek out lessons that are more challenging then what an adult might select for them and those lessons which are most appopriate to their own development. She also found that children perservere at those tasks for a longer period of time (they are driven to repeat them until they master them), with a higher degree of concentration, and take more joy in completing them, then activities which are assigned to them. In the Montessori philosophy, education is not viewed as the transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the child, who assumes the role of passive spectator, but re-conceived as a spontaneous process which is directed by the child, who is an active participant in her own act of self-creation .



The mixed age group is crucial to this process. For the younger children, the mixed age group provides the child with experienced peers whose examples are worthy of emulation. For the oldest child (the kindergartners, in a primary classroom), the kindergarten year provides children with the opportunity to perfect their skills, consolidate their understanding, and to develop their character, as they serve as mentors to younger students and leaders in the classroom. This affords children the opportunity to learn the value of service to others, to become charismatic leaders, and to experience the authentic sense of self esteem that comes from making a meaningful contribution to a community. Since children work at their own pace, there is no stigma for any child associated with being "ahead" or "behind" their same aged peers in a specific domain. Children are not pitted in competition against each other; instead, they work collaboratively in freely chosen groups, and work toward their own self-improvement and self mastery, with the help of their peers. Because the Montessori classroom affords such an amazing diversity of motives to activity, and gives children large blocks of uninterrupted time to engage in self-directed learning, three years is necessary to achieve the "total possibility" offered by the classroom environment and the final year (in this case, kindergarten) is both the culmination of the child's achievements and a necessity to prevent academic loose ends, partially developed skills, and incoherent knowledge.


Think all of this sounds a little abstract? Wonder what that looks like in practice? Here is a five minute glimpse into what education can look like.



In this video, which is officially one of my "favorite things", a kindergarten age child teaches her companions about the pilgrims and the Mayflower (complete with her own commentary and supplemental explanation), discusses punctuation, and provides her companions with gracious encouragement for their own works. The kindergartner gets to practice her reading skills (developing her fluency and understanding of orthographic-phonological representations of highly challenging words- including sight words, silent e words, and phonograms) and perfect her own understanding of the history lesson. The other children listen with rapt attention to the story, learn about history and punctuation, develop their own auditory processing, comprehension, and inferential reasoning skills, recieve peer based literacy instruction, cultivate a strong interest in learning to read (absolutely every young child in the classroom wants to be able to read like this), and receive encouragement and constructive feedback on their own works.



This is individually differentiated instruction and educational reform at its best, and it was invented more than 100 years ago. No assignments, no homework, no grades, no standards, no assigned seating,no rewards or punnishments, no guided reading groups, no teacher instruction or direction. Montessori is magic!

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup!



Most days, children at Bloom! Montessori have the option of purchasing delicious, nutritious lunches from Revolution Foods, a great company started by two mothers and former school teachers who wanted to improve the nutritional standards of American school lunches. However, yesterday was Veteran's Day, and Revolution Foods was closed. So, what's a preschool class to do? Make lunch ourselves!


For our Veteran's Day menu, we decided on a child-friendly classic- homemade chicken noodle soup!


If you have ever considered a cooking project with preschoolers, this is one I heartily recommend. The ingredients are simple, the result is delicious, and it is something that with a little practice, children can accomplish almost completely independently- children can chop the mirepoix, mix the pasta dough, and roll and cut the noodles themselves.



All afternoon, the fragrant aroma of garlic, herbs, and sauteed onions, wafted through the school as the ingredients reduced into a richly flavored savory broth. Meanwhile, our little brigade of sous chefs took to the important task of noodle making. The children learned the traditional technique of making a mound of 00 flour, adding the remaining ingredients to the well, and using a fork to incorporate the remaining flour. Then, they took turns expertly mixing and kneading small batches of the sticky pasta dough in their little hands.










Once the dough had rested for a few minutes, we were ready to break out the hand crank pasta maker. We apportioned the dough, so that each child got their own small ball, and demonstrated how to use the pasta maker.


First, the children learned to fold the dough and feed it through the two large rollers which would flatten it into a large noodle.






Then, the children learned to feed it through the smaller rollers which cut it into noodles.


The children took turns using the pasta maker to turn their little balls of fresh pasta dough into long, thin noodles.
















Then the children took to carefully separating each pasta strand



and hanging them on the rack to dry.






All day, the delicious aroma of garlic, onions, and herbs wafter through the school. At lunch time, the children crowded around the lunch tables, to receive their reward of fragrant, steaming bowls of homemade soup.


Unfortunately, the batteries on the classroom camera ran out before lunch time, but the children absolutely adored the soup. They happily slurped the homemade noodles, picked out their favorite tasty bits, and drank the savory broth. Many of the children had three bowls of soup and by the time lunch was finished, the soup pot was completely empty!


Not surprisingly, many of the children asked if we could make soup again tomorrow. Perhaps, we will need to add a monthly soup making day to our menu!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reminder: Parent Teacher Conferences

Parents: Please don't forget to sign up for your Parent Teacher Conference.

We hope that this will be a valuable opportunity for you to learn more about your child's development and the work that they are doing at school.

Parent Teacher Conferences times are available on:

-Monday, November 21, 2011

-Tuesday, November 22, 2011

-Saturday, December 10, 2011

-Sunday, December 11, 2011

Please sign up for your preferred date and time!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

David Elkind's Giants in the Nursery

"To forget the past is to forever remain a child."'

-Cicero

"If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants."

-Issac Newton

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to hear David Elkind discuss his new book, Grandmasters in the Nursery. David Elkind is an American child psychologist and Professor Emeritus of Child Development at Tufts University. He was the former president of the American Montessori Society and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. He is also the author of more than six books on early childhood education, including Miseducation and The Hurried Child.

Prof. Elkind appeared as part of a lecture series hosted by the Montessori Center Internationale (Denver, CO).

The lecture summarized the research Prof. Elkind has undertaken for his forthcoming book Giants in the Nursery: Grandmasters of Educational Reform.

I have reproduced my lecture notes from this lecture here; any errors or omissions are my own.

_______________________________________________


David Elkind began his lecture with an anecdote about a young composer coming to Mozart for advice on writing a symphony. Mozart suggested that the composer should begin with something simpler; the frustrated young composer observed that Mozart had written his first symphony at eight. "But I didn't have to ask how," responded Mozart.


Talent is a gift that cannot be taught, Prof. Elkind observed. Elkind uses the term "grandmaster" to refer to those individuals who had the vision to see beyond even the best. In terms of early childhood education, he applies it to three philosophers: Locke, Comenius, and Rousseau; four practitioners: Froebel, Pestalozzi, Steiner, and Montessori; and three theorists: Freud, Piaget, and Erikson.

Learning is the modification of behavior as a result of experience. Psychology traditionally focuses upon behavior because it is the objective, measurable, aspect of learning.


One of Professor Elkind's central arguments is that early childhood education should serve as the model for all education (not the other way around- by determining standards for the education of older children and working backwards to determine appropriate standards and experiences for younger children). Early childhood education offers a more robust philosophy, a stronger experiential basis, and stronger theoretical underpinnings.


To understand the theoretical basis which supports early childhood practice, his book will examine the lives and theories of these influential savants. He identifies four main commonalities among these individuals.


1) All were dominated by a single idea or mission.


Pestalozzi: Learning only occurs when you re-present an experience. Practical education must combine the social and the natural.


Froebel: Disagreed with Pestalozzi. Founded kindergarten. Believed God is the creator and people should emulate God; therefore, people should work to be creative. He believed people create through play. He was trained as a crystallographer and believed that physical development follows the same process as organic development. He created beautiful materials for children (which famously influenced the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright).


Rudolph Steiner: A polyglot who famously founded the first Waldorf school in the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory. He experienced an ongoing stream of spiritual and extra- sensory experiences throughout his life which he believed were spiritual in nature. He created anthropsophy and the Waldorf philosophy of education because he believed he could train people to see differently and to access this spiritual dimension; he developed anthroposophy to deal with a talent that he couldn't understand in any other way. He was very concerned with the over-intellectualism of education and highly valued fine arts (music, dance, and art). Where Pestalozzi, sought to bring the social and the natural together; Steiner sought to unify the personal and the social. Art is the boundary between that which is personal and that which is social.


Maria Montessori: Montessori was the first person to bring the modern scientific perspective to bear upon education. She was the first femal doctor in Italy and encountered a great amount of discrimination and significant obstacles to her achievment. She famously began her career working with special needs children in the Orthophrenic School, before developing her method. She took from Seguin the system of sensory education (finding that special needs individuals were often not learning well through their senses and required sensory training, a belief which modern science supports- due to neural pruning, children who cannot process information well often lose the ability to even receive the sensory data over time). Dr. Elkind expressed that her philosophy holds great promise for contemporary education of children with special needs, particularly autism.


Sigmund Freud: Introduces the idea of the affective unconscious experience. Many of our behaviors are caused by unconscious experiences. He begins by examining hysteria and parapraxis as examples of reflecting unconscious experiences. In early childhood education, many behaviors (children's enjoyment of peek-a-boo, separation anxiety, relationships with teachers as substitutes for parents) can be explained by postulating the existence of unconscious experience.


Jean Piaget: Piaget discovers the existence of unconscious reasoning through famous examples like conservation of number tasks. He found that unconscious reasoning dictates behavior and that verbal explanations may not accurately capture and explain the actual thought process used. Humans possess mental structures that cause them to assimilate external events. He develops a system of genetic epistemology to explain how an individual develops cognitively and to link the validity of knowledge to its model of construction.


Erik Erikson- Introduces the idea of the social unconscious, the importance of the life cycle and stages of life. he argues that children gain experience through cultural and social influences, of which they are unconscious.


2) All were extremely hard workers. They tended to be obsessive, compulsive, with a tremendous capacity for hard work and a compulsion to do it.


3) All were fairly nomadic. Most moved around frequently.

David Elkind spent a lot of the lecture telling stories and anecdotes about these grandmasters that he uncovered during his research: Rousseau had five children that he sent to orphanages as soon as they were born, he loved changing things into their opposites; Freud smoked 10-12 cigars a day; Erikson became a Montessori teacher as the suggestion of Anna Freud, he developed the basis for naturalistic evaluation in family settings.


4) All considered deeply what type of experiences are key for learning and the sequence/scaffolding required. Many discuss the importance of matching or adapting the educational experience to the child's level of experience (the first discussions of individually differentiated education).


Comenius believed simple ideas must be presented before complex ideas. He also believed that children needed one hour of play for every four hours of instruction.

Locke believed sensory experiences precede ideas.

Rousseau conducted a thought experiment of what a child might be like without social impositions and constructions. He discussed the importance of nature in education. David Elkind discussed Rousseau as a precursor to theorists like Richard Louv, who coined the term "nature deficit disorder" in this context, and the fact that television is decreasing parental interactions and the opportunity for children to develop focused attention and concentration.

Steiner believed in the importance of combining the personal and the social. While he though socialization was important, he also valued the importance of the individual (after all, one of the key aims of education is to teach children to think for themselves). Art accomplishes this, as it is both for our own pleasure and to others. He believed art experiences were integral to education, not incidental.

5) To become a student of any of these "grandmasters" is to become a defender or disciple of them.Elkind argues that research is difficult because, not surprisingly, those closest to the grandmasters are the most biased (so accounts and works written about them by people who knew them best are the least objectively valid).

He believes this fact is interesting, because all of them explicitly state that they don't want carbon copies of themselves; they encourage their students to think for themselves.

At the conclusion of the lecture, Elkind addressed the question of why he chose to bring these "grandmasters" together by stating (without additional explanation) that he believed their philosophies complement each other and that it is by combining them that one would create a comprehensive system of education.

______________________________________________

Yet again, I would like to thank Montessori Center Internationale for providing the local Montessori community with the opportunity to hear renowned speakers in the field of early childhood education, and for continuing to provide an excellent series of continuing education lectures (it is seldom that one gets to take continuing education hours listening to someone whose breadth and depth of knowledge rivals that of Prof. Elkind).


Although I genuinely look forward to reading the book when it is available, and felt that his knowledge about the subject and the biographical research was impeccable, I couldn't help but leave with the feeling that the central thesis had not yet been completely thought out. How these specific theorists had been selected (why not include Freire? Dewey? etc)? What is the significance of the similarities he found in the biographies of these theorists- are these similarities merely the characteristics of giftedness, or do they speak to something more essential about the nature of education? How could these different philosophies (with completely different epistemologies) be combined into a coherent system of education ? Was Elkind's project directed at something other than providing a summary of these philosophies of education and a biographical sketch of these theorists?


I could tell that many of the audience shared this sense of unease as to the central premise. "What was the point?" someone at my table asked. Although this could certainly be taken as a flippant criticism of the speaker, it occurred to me that given the nature of his endeavor, it might not be insulting to take this question seriously. Is the book intended to be a survey of the philosophy of early childhood education (a more focused and biographical version of Amelie Rorty's Philosophers on Education)? Why choose these "grandmasters"? Why mobilize all of these resources? Why address a group of practitioners with so much biographical information? What is the value in modern practitioners studying these "grandmasters" of the past?


For a moment it occurred to me that this might be an example of the danger of reducing a system of thought to mere psychology and biography, particularly given some of the observations made in the lecture (the relationship between long hair and revolutionaries, etc), but the more I thought about it, I thought that perhaps autobiography is the central point. There is certainly a danger in trying to "shrink the shrink" so to speak, but I'm willing to hasten a suggestion. Nietzsche says all philosophy is always the biography of the philosopher and what unites these grandmasters is their place in the philosophy (and the biography) of David Elkind.


To take a stab at the unspoken central tenet of Professori Elkind's argument, I would submit that masters are necessary both to every discipline, and to every individual who goes beyond merely learning about a discipline to dedicating his or her life to it. That is the both the common thread among these philosophers- each shared the conviction that their ideas were not worth an hour of toil if they did not reverberate, clarify, and ordain their entire life with a sense of purpose and meaning- and their relation to the speaker. As someone who has dedicated his own life in pursuit of these ideas, these are not merely "grandmasters," they are David Elkind's masters. The point of understanding history, consciously examining our assumptions, presuppositions, and conceptual frames, and retracing the lines of thought of the past is to arrive at the present and to understand both the discipline that we practice and to understand our relationship to it. That is ultimately the purpose of all education. Montessori calls this "our cosmic task."


"I shall inhabit my name. That is why we mobilize so many resources. That is also what our monotonous biography can be used for: to constantly begin again the search for the conditions by which the proper name of each one of us can be inhabited."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!


Happy Halloween!


"Frost bites the lawn.

The stars are slits

In a black cat's eye

Before she spits.


At last, small witches,

Goblins, hags,

And pirates armed with paper bags,


Their costumes hinged

On safety pins,

Go haunt a night

Of pumpkin grins."


-John Updike


Today was the Halloween celebration at the school. In true Montessori fashion, the children spent the morning baking and decorating their own homemade treats for the classroom party.


In the afternoon, the children assembled outside to enjoy a perfect fall afternoon and some delicious refreshments. The children shared some apple cider, pumpkin loaf, fruit, and sugar cookies.









No sooner were the tables cleared and their little faces washed clean of frosting then it was time for the children to put on their costumes for the Halloween costume parade.


Let the rumpus begin...



There was barely a witch, ghost, or spook in sight; instead we were overrun by a motley crew of beautiful princesses and mermaids, Greek gods and goddesses, exuberant cowboys, ticklish space explorers, spirited unicorns, fierce werewolves, and an eclectic mix of wild beasts.











My assistant, Katie, put together one of the best costumes I have ever seen for an early childhood classroom- she came as an injured monkey (that fell off the bed!)- the children got the joke right away and were very amused!



Happy haunting!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2012-2013 Enrollment Information Coming Soon!

Stay Tuned...


Our 2012-2013 Enrollment Season begins on Tuesday, November 1st. Our website will be updated on Tuesday with the 2012-2013 Application, Open House Dates, and Enrollment Information.

Bloom! Montessori is Bicycle Friendly!


Bloom! Montessori is Bicycle Friendly!
One of our long-standing facility improvement wishes has been the installation of a bicycle rack at the school. We envisioned the rosy cheeked children happily riding to school with their parents, locking their bikes to the rack, and then riding home at the end of the day. Well, that vision is finally a reality!

I ordered this pretty bright yellow rack a few months ago, and after months of waiting, it was delivered this week, right in the middle of a snowstorm which dumped 8-10" in town (naturally!). So, I waited patiently (until the weekend); then, prevailed upon my very tolerant husband to go dig some 12" holes in the freezing ground and install it before Wednesday's storm.

Not long ago, children routinely moved around their neighborhoods and traveled to school by bicycle. In 1969, 48% of children aged 5-14 walked or rode their bicycles to school; by 2009, that number had declined to 15%; however, the percentage of children who lived within one mile of school has remained fairly stagnant. To understand the decline, the Centers for Disease Control conducted a nationwide survey of parents and students to identify the most common barriers; most parents cited distance to school, traffic related danger, weather, crime danger, and opposing school policies (schools that do not allow children to bike to school) as the main factors. Many of these concerns work in concert to create a self-perpetuating cycle. For example, as motor vehicle traffic increases, parents become increasingly concerned that it is unsafe for children to walk or bicycle to school; as a result, they begin driving to school, thereby adding even more traffic to the road and sustaining the cycle. In fact, 25% of morning rush hour traffic is comprised of parents driving their children to school!




We are fortunate to be a little neighborhood school and we want to do our part to encourage parents to consider this mode of transportation. Bicycling with your child is a wonderful way to spend some quality time with them, to become more physically active as a family, to support your child's gross motor development, and to positively influence your child by setting a healthy example. Bicycling is excellent exercise- the average 170 pound person, biking for an hour at 10 mph, will burn 300 calories! There is also a potential for a completely different workout every time you hop on your bicycle- you can vary your speed, distance, route, intensity, and ride up or down hills. Additionally, unlike motorists, cyclists see more of nature, save on travel costs, have better health and more energy, and reduce the pollution caused by vehicle emissions.


We ask that cyclists park their bicycles in the middle of the rack, leaving space at the ends for parents who wish to lock Burley trailers to the rack. Because there may be more commuting cyclists than available spots on the rack, we also ask that bicycles are not stored at the school overnight. We also ask that bicycles not be locked to the fence, or parked in a manner which impedes the sidewalk or access to the building.


Need some additional motivation? Here are some of our favorite bicycle links:



- A great site describing the factors that have contributed to the decline in children walking and cycling to school by an organization which advocates for safer routes: Safe Routes to School Program, The Decline of Walking and Bicycling, http://guide.saferoutesinfo.org/introduction/the_decline_of_walking_and_bicycling.cfm



-A local nonprofit dedicated to making bicycling in Longmont safer and more enjoyable (their site includes maps of local bike paths and popular routes): Bicycle Longmont, http://bicyclelongmont.org/content.aspx?page_id=51340



-One of the coolest bikes we have ever seen for transporting children: Madsen Bucket Bicycle, http://www.inhabitots.com/a-bike-bucket-for-your-brood/



-A lovely blog written by Dottie Brackett, a Chicago attorney, about her adventures in bicycle commuting: Let's Go Ride A Bike: Life on Two Wheels, http://letsgorideabike.com/blog/



-A great blog written by a Canadian mother about bicycle commuting: http://www.girlsandbicycles.ca/



-A beautiful blog that combines European fashion and cycling: http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/



Our favorite bicycle shops (anywhere!):



The Seattle Dutch Bike Company, (Seattle, WA), http://www.dutchbikeseattle.com



The Mindful Bike, (Denver, CO), http://www.mindfulbike.com



Great Bicycling Resources for Children:



-Strider Bikes: Want a painless approach to teaching your child to ride a bicycle? The stryder method teaches children balance and coordination before pedaling, helping your child to experience success. Visit their website at http://www.stridersports.com/



-Boulder Indoor Cycling: Teaches fundamental cycling skills to children aged 2-10; offers camps on days when schools are closed! http://www.boulderindoorcycling.com/



We hope that you will enjoy this new addition to our facility!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Field Trip to Ollin Farms





On Friday, the children went to visit Ollin Farms, and their favorite farmers Mark and Kena Guttridge, on their final trip to the farm for the CSA season. While visiting the farm serves the important purpose of teaching the children about where their food comes from, how it is cultivated, teaching them valuable concepts in nutrition, botany and science, and encouraging children to develop an appreciation for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, this trip served another very important purpose- the children were going to select their pumpkins from the Ollin Farms pumpkin patch.





The trip began in the same fashion as most of our field trips- with excited children rousing their parents at first flush of morning, sharing a hearty snack with their friends, and situating themselves in front of the fence to anxiously await the first glimpse of that icon of American public education, the big yellow school bus.



The children were entertaining themselves by singing The Wheels on the Bus, when our favorite bus driver pulled up, overheard their singing, and surprised them by tapping the horn just in time for their "horn on the bus goes beep beep beep" refrain. SVVSD bus driver, Daniel Grove, is what every bus driver should be- kind, patient, and visibly fond of children. We had been fortunate to have him as our driver on our last field trip to Fiske Planetarium, where he reminisced about his own children, who had also attended Montessori schools, and remarked upon how well mannered the children were.





The doors to the bus slid open and our merry little travelers set off on the short trip to the farm.




Our bus had arrived at the school early, and the children are so used to the routine of finding their seats, buckling up, and traveling with polite manners, that we got to the farm earlier than expected. We were in the process of considering where to wait until our host arrived, when Bruce passed by and invited the children to help him feed the sheep. The words had barely escaped his lips and the children were off and running at full speed toward the sheep.



Of all of the field trips the children go on, I must admit that the trips to the farm are my favorite. As the children are racing about these wide open spaces, experiencing nature, caring for plants and animals, hunting for highly prized rocks and sticks, rambling through marshes, delighting in fortuitous encounters with frogs, turtles, insects, or crayfish, and testing their strength and agility with a variety of impromptu physical challenges (balancing on rolling logs, hopping from stump to stump, climbing up fences, and heaving heavy vegetables), something quintessential to childhood, and maybe to humanity, is revealed.


Interestingly, despite their different modes of investigation, most disciplines recognize this phenomena and attribute importance to it. In the positive sciences, Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson calls this biophilia, the tendency of humans to affiliate emotionally with other life forms, to develop a love, abiding curiosity, and an attachment to nature, and to spontaneously assume the responsibility for caring for the natural world. In the social sciences, Dr. Montessori calls it "normalization," the peaceful and joyful state which children enter when their environment meets their needs, obstacles to their development have been removed, and children are free to pursue their own purposeful endeavors. Philosopher Martin Heidegger calls this "the Saving Power," or the experience of standing amazed, astonished, and inspired before an experience which is so full, and beyond complete description that it it reveals nature as something which surpasses our own institutionalized thinking of it and inspires the care and concern for other living things which is the basis of ethics itself.


No matter what you chose to call it, it is certainly the case that our emotional and affective love of nature develops long before, and is even more integral to childhood, than our logical, abstract, or rational curiosity about it. The timeless love children have for unhurried afternoons spent exploring natural surroundings, is immediately evident, completely contagious, and extremely important to human development. In fact, contemporary research is beginning to understand just how important these experiences, and regular interaction with nature can be. In one ground breaking book on the topic, Last Child in the Woods, journalist Richard Louv coined the term "nature deficit disorder." Louv argues that the increasing trend of children spending less time outdoors (due to a loss of natural spaces, over-groomed pea gravel play areas, increasing electronic media consumption, and parent fears about children's safety) is disrupting the ability of modern children to connect with nature. Louv persuasively argues that regular connection to nature is so integral to the human experience that a lack of time spent outdoors can be directly correlated to increasing rates of juvenile depression, anxiety and mood disorders, obesity, and ADHD. Indeed, a 2009 study by the University of Illinois, one of several studies which Louv cites in his book, found that "regular exposure to ordinary natural settings in the course of after school and weekend activities was more effective then both attention restoration therapy and medication in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children."


But I digress... the children made their way to the sheep pen just in time to discover another wonderful use for pumpkins- as a tasty treat for a herd full of friendly sheep!






The well trained little flock of sheep came running out of the barn as they saw the children approaching, anxious to see what vegetable delicacy lay in store for them. The children were elated to find Lluvia, who had visited the school last December when she was only a few weeks old, was now a large black ewe with quite formidable horns. The flock now contained a new little black lamb and an ewe who would probably deliver this winter.








The children contented themselves with hunting for natural specimens (some wool, a few interesting insects, and some interesting lichens which one girl proudly explained were "fungus that partner with plants" to our amused host), trying to balance across a large fallen log, and climbing around and looking for sticks in a large wood pile.





A few moments later, Farmer Mark and his preschool aged daughter, affectionately named "Farmer Coral" by the children, appeared.


Farmer Mark is a passionate advocate for both sustainable farming and education; he is also one of the hardest working people I know. When he is not busy running his successful farm, preparing CSA shares, planning Farm to Table dinners, planning summer programs, and making the rounds at the Longmont and Boulder farmer's markets, he can be found creating internship opportunities for high school children, sharing his knowledge of sustainable food production with visiting groups from Africa through the CSU Extension Office, and preparing educational outreach programs for the Longmont Museum and the Wow! Children's Museum; nevertheless, he still made time to personally oversee our tour of the farm.


The children were thrilled to see him. They are used to seeing the familiar white van he drives drop off the weekly CSA shares at the school, and the minute it turned down the dirt road leading into the farm, there was an immediate chorus of little voices whispering "Farmer Mark is here!"






The children set off scampering after Farmer Mark and Farmer Coral. They stopped to see the fields of vegetables and to listen to Farmer Mark explain about winter crops, and how some different vegetables have different growing seasons.

He showed the children the greenhouse and told them about how floating row covers can be used like blankets to provide extra insulation for crops.



Then, he invited the children to see the creek. The creek is one aspect of the farm which neither the children nor I had seen previously. The children's interest was immediately piqued. They raced off, not even sure where they were going,


pausing only for the obligatory log rolls down a perfect little sledding hill which they found near the apiary,



until they reached what would be an amazing picnicking spot on the bank of the creek. The crystalline water softly gurgled around them as our little explorers set about making little leaf boats to send down the stream, finding great big sticks and branches to pretend to fish with, prying stones and plants from the water, pouring water with cups that the Guttridge children left strewn about the bank for their own play, wading about, and examining a crayfish.


A few of the children had been fortunate enough to come to the farm dressed in waterproof wellies, and they were the envy of all, as they waded around in the cold water.



The children would have been completely content exploring the creek for the rest of the day; in fact, I daresay that it would have been nearly impossible to drag them away if it had not been for one thing- chickens!


They love chickens! About ten months ago, the children completed a unit of study about birds, incubated some eggs, and raised Maran and Arancuna chickens. Initially, we had planned to give the chickens to the farm when they were old enough, but the children enjoyed them so much that we bought a little coop and kept them. In the last three months, the chickens have begun laying eggs and throughout the day one of the children's favorite past times is to go gather the eggs from the nesting boxes and carry their beloved (and quite tame) pets around the garden.


Ollin Farms has a large flock of chickens- consisting of many different breeds (some amazingly beautiful birds), a few roosters, and a large hen house. The excited children left the creek with barely an argument and followed Farmer Mark to a large pile of pumpkins that the squirrels had been feasting upon. Then, they helped Farmer Mark carry the pumpkins to the chicken pens.





They watched the hungry chickens devour the pumpkins and looked with interest at the roosters and a couple of turkeys that were sharing their pen.


The children, who are used to their tame pets at the school, wanted to hold the chickens. They were quite surprised to find that these chickens were uninterested in being carried about like dolls. Luckily, little Farmer Coral had tamed a cute little chicken named Charlie,who volunteered to allow the class of preschoolers to pet him.











After a while, the reluctant children were willing to leave the chickens and make their way down to the pumpkin patch to select their pumpkins.



Each child selected their own pumpkin and labeled it with their name.



Then it was time for a little Autumn refreshment. We assembled to share some apple cider and fresh Gala apples from the farm with our hosts.








All too soon, it was time for the children to load their precious cargo onto the bus and depart for the school, ending both a memorable field trip and an amazing CSA season.




We would like to sincerely thank Mark and Kena Guttridge for their hospitality and for an amazing CSA season. It is impossible for me to imagine a better Farm to School experience for our children. We adored the fresh fruits and vegetables supplied by the farm, and the children developed an interest and understanding of good nutrition, botany, science, and sustainable farming. Thank you for everything!



We would also like to thank St. Vrain Valley School District Busses and Transportation for providing us with the transporation for our field trip and Daniel Grove, the kindest, most patient, bus driver I have ever met.



Finally, our thanks go to Lianne Tengler for lending an extra hand during the trip!