Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Windy day

Wow. Was today ever windy!

Cuurant bushes in the wind

Sprouting green beans

Oat and Pea Cover Crop

We looked for Morels, found none, but did find these.

Sapsucker holes

The big oak tree by the pond.

Armatage Day 3

Last Friday was our third day with Armatage School's 5th graders. We had our final three activity periods and then had to clean-up and take down tents. It was the last day of the visit and we could tell it went well because it felt like the visit was too short. As the day went on I was already feeling a little nostalgic. I was sorry that all of these 5th graders were graduating and next year we'll get a whole different group. I was sorry because I really like them and also because I was just getting their names down.

As the visit was finishing up, a steady stream of parents and families of the students started arriving. Armatage had planned for a celebratory cookout and had invited the families out to see the Land School. It was fun to eavesdrop as the students tried to tell their families everything that had happened in the previous 3 days. There was definitely a lot, something for everyone.

Each of the activity group leaders commented to me about how much they enjoyed working with the students. The students asked great questions and listened well. We enjoyed meeting and working with each of their staff members and the parent chaperones were great. About halfway through the visit we learned that the parent helpers (who worked tirelessly in the kitchen) were actually parents of 4th graders. It is a testament to the organization and dedication of their parent community that they were able to recruit those volunteers.

Thanks to Armatage students, staff, and parents for a great visit! Send me your best photos for the blog. Please.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Armatage Day 2

Today the roosters crowed at 3:45 am. One of the girls from Armatage informed me that she is a hard sleeper, but the rooster was loud enough to wake her up. I cringed a little to think of her lost sleep, but then she told me how exciting it was to be in the country and be woken up by a real rooster. What a thrill! Plus she was able to get right back to sleep.

Our morning began (after the second wake-up) with a big breakfast of pancakes with all the fixings. The cooks predicted the students would be hungry after yesterday's work, and she was right! I could not believe the piles of pancakes that ravenous 5th graders can pack in. We went right into the morning activity periods, complete with the perfect spring weather that makes us glad we live in Wisconsin. Not too hot. A few clouds. A slight breeze. On a hike, some students scared up a new fawn that was bedded down not more than a foot away from them. The woods are now dense with vegetation and the early spring flowers have given way to late spring and early summer flowers. The trees have leafed out almost completely.

The afternoon included 2 rotations of special activities. Half the group went to the Bartz's dairy farm and half stayed to play Alpha Wolf in our woods. Then we switched so everyone could do both activities. I got to lead Alpha Wolf, which is essentially Marco Polo in a massive woods, except you howl back and forth and you can open your eyes. Even with open eyes I am still cut up from sprinting through the prickly ash and wild raspberry patches. Badges of honor, I say. The dairy farm was informational and inspiring as always. We are lucky to have such neighbors as Mark and Renee; to take time on the first nice day in a while, when there is obviously a LOT of planting still to do.

Tonight our friend Nancy is coming to give a presentation on Owls, and the kids are hoping to play some Alpha Wolf in the dark.

Note to self... remind students and staff to reapply sunscreen often.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Welcome Armatage 5th Graders!

As I write here, the dining room of the Homestead is filled with the excited and hungry sounds of 44 Armatage Montessori students, about to devour a spaghetti dinner. They will be here until Friday afternoon. We are packing in 7 different activity periods, including archery, wool work, land exploration, pond study, earth art, garden work, and wilderness survival. Shwew!

6th Grade Overnight

From Monday to Tuesday this week we hosted the entire sixth grade, along with Juli Ann and Zoe and various parent chaperones. It was great fun and there are more stories than I can begin to tell here. Hikes on the land yielded morel mushrooms and sightings of a rare orchid (the showy orchis). Garden work led to weeding and mulching of garlic and asparagus. And animal work included dyeing the wool with Kool-Aid among other things. There was a campfire with Smores, lots of free time to play, and some incredible food (thanks to Zoe for anchoring the kitchen crew!). A big thanks to students, staff and parent helpers for making this a great visit. Also special thanks to Erin D. for making some yummy soup for our lunch.

First the flower, then the fruit, Photos

Apple blossoms. The wild apples are blossoming now and are easily found. This is the whitney crab at the farmstead. 

Red Currant flowers.

White Oak Flowers

Geometry Overnight, with Photos From Martha

The geometers came out for an overnight from Sunday until Monday this week. They arrived in time to make supper on Sunday evening. Then there was a sauna followed by games and lemon meringue pie. In the morning they did a full breakfast with pancakes and sausage and then there was an hour of stewardship time. Some students mopped the floors, others did animal chores, and others helped bottle maple syrup. Then they spent time creating a geometry based scavenger hunt and then tested it out. For most of the students it was their last overnight at the Land School as a student.

Thanks to Martha A for awesome photos.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Land Exploration

by Andy

This year our E1 teachers came to us with an idea.

How about some unstructured time on the land during the Environmental Ed Camp?

We had plenty of free time built into the schedule, but they were asking for something different. Instead of free time at the Athletic Field or free time in the Homestead, this was to be extended free time in nature. This was not something we were used to. At first we assumed that we would divide up and do nature related activities like go on a nature hike or do earth art. But no. The word came back that it was to be entirely unstructured, with adults there to be safety supervisors and little else.

As a paradigm, this was something that we were not used to for designing a camp schedule. It is vaguely distressing to have what amounts to a big blank spot on the schedule. For me personally, as an adult I feel I am responsible for creating an educational experience, and unstructured time could feel to me like I am not doing my job of creating and planning an effective experience, like a cop out. It also looked to me like a recipe for something unexpected to happen. You know what they say about idle hands.

The reason April and John were proposing this was because of research into how children's minds form attachments to places. There is something different about truly free exploration in the way experiences are coded in the brain. It makes a difference whether the direction is coming from an external source or not. John mentioned that there is a school in Connecticut that started mandating a 2 hour outdoor recess over the lunch break, and the students are actually doing better. Outdoor exploration in nature appears to have a balancing effect on the psyche. I am not up on this specific research (I'd love to learn more!), but I do know that same feeling from my own childhood. It felt like my brothers, my friends and I would basically be set free for the entire summer to explore the little woods behind our house and go fishing in the trout creek a few blocks away. I also could spend like an hour walking six blocks home from school. Time can shift during outdoor exploration.

So once the paradigm shifted and Land Exploration was planted in the schedule, we just had to decide how to do it. We decided to divide into our three activity groups and go to three different areas. April took a group to the Sunlit Maple Trail area, Jay took a group to the pond, and I led a group to the "far ravine" and the Sleeping Woods Trail area.

As my group set out for our adventure and walked to the far ravine, I occasionally had my teacherly persona pop up, as I pointed out plants and Land School history. I could sense how wrong this was, even as I was doing it. I was used to leadership and the students were accustomed to looking to me for leadership. It took willpower to try to shift my perspective. I decided to just be one of the students on the exploration activity. Once at the ravine, I just gave them a boundary of where to go and not to go. Most explored the dry creek bed. There was a brief burst of trying to break rocks to see what was inside. I stopped this (reluctantly) for safety reasons. I was mostly looking for agates and then some of the students joined me. I was aware that even my interjection of my quest for agates colored the experience for some of the students, because soon the land exploration was about rock collection for these students. The two hours flew by. There were many discoveries and experiences. We could have gone for more, and were left wanting to climb on trees and have more imaginative play.

The next day April decided to trade structured outdoor games for more land exploration. I went along with her to the Sunlit Maple Trail and just sat with her as she watched the children explore. I could tell that with the adult as a watcher and not an intimate participant their play was different. They looked to their own leaders and challenged each other to different physical interactions with the environment. Although April was there to step in if needed, she was apart from their world.

I am excited for land exploration to become a permanent part of our "curriculum" here at the rural campus. I am certainly won over.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Class D Visit "the best yet"

The second and third days of the Class D Environmental Education camp were just as great as the first. We had more awesome food. The activities continued. And we developed a brand new activity simply called called "Land Exploration." There was plenty of free time to play on the land and on the A-field. We had an evening program on Ojibwe history and dreamcatchers. The weather was just fabulous for a class visit - not too hot and no rain. The children have a real love of the land and it shows. Thank you April, Chele, Jay, Brooks, Marcy, Junauda, Cedric, Kerri and Forrest.

Tomorrow we are hosting a solar dehydrator workshop, and then on Sunday the Geometry Class is coming to design a rural campus geometry scavenger hunt. What fun!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Welcome Class D!

Today the weather was absolutely perfect for the first day of Class D's visit.

Before lunch, they moved right into their rooms and then had a short orientation. Then after lunch we had two  luxurious 2-hour activity periods. There were groups doing wool work, garden work, insect study, and survival skills. After activities, we had some free time and then we were treated by Chele to a delicious supper. Lemon pasta,  Pesto tofu, romaine and raspberry salad, and yummy bread. Then a campfire with smores and singing (thank you Brooks!), before going off to bed.

Thanks to April, and all the staff and chaperones for a great day!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Class F Potatoes, End of FS4, Plant Sale, CH Visit, Hand in Hand Visit

Class F Potato Planting Day last Tuesday

Class F comes out every spring to plant potatoes. This year it almost didn’t happen. Sure, we got them on the schedule ages ago. But the weather doesn’t care about schedules. The previous week we chose the beds for potatoes and the soil was prepared. It had finally dried out enough to work the ground without creating ruts in the field and molding the silt and clay soil into rocks. Then Monday morning we awoke to a thunderstorm, complete with the first hail of the year. The weather for the week actually forecast possible rain every day. We needed to make nine 250-foot trenches for the Class F students to plant the potatoes. In order to open up the trenches, we needed to drive the tractor up and down the beds with a big set of steel discs. The ground was just too wet. It was actually a muddy mess. My heart sank as I imagined all those children who really wanted to plant potatoes. We contacted Erin and told her to be ready for anything, but to plan on coming out anyway and we would dig one trench by hand if we needed to.

Then the sun came out on Monday during the day and the wind picked up. By Monday at 5 pm we decided that it was worth a try. If we didn’t get the potatoes planted on Tuesday, there wouldn’t be another good place in the schedule for over two weeks. We brought the tractor over and tried it out. The wheels compressed the soil and as soon as we put the discs down into the muddy ground, they either stopped the tractor or caused it to veer off track. So we made some very shallow trenches, each with some deep ruts on either side where the tractor got stuck or slid sideways. After four trenches we gave up. But at least four was better than nothing.

Tuesday morning came and Class F arrived right on schedule. The sun had come out and instead of showers it got very very hot. It was like a little potato miracle. The soil was significantly drier than just 18 hours ago! After the students got started on the first two shallow trenches, we made all the rest of the trenches with the tractor. Nice and deep too! The ground was still slightly muddy, just enough to make the soil feel cool and pliable under the students’ bare feet. The students worked all morning, and then finished the job after lunch. The potatoes are now snug in their new home. Thanks Class F!

Farm Stay 4 Finishes Up

Last week Farm Stay 4 ended on Wednesday. The last few days of a Farm Stay are always poignant. The eighth graders realize that this is it, the end of their official connection to the Land School. Everyone wants to make the most of the final moments. Inside jokes are codified and official Farm Stay songs are selected. Even as the Farm Stay is still happening, there is nostalgia for it. They are also subconsciously preparing to detach from the group and re-enter their family dynamics and their urban campus social groups. Within this emotional landscape the students are also asked to finish their projects, continue to do their chores, and maintain their attention for the present moment. As teachers, we are also caught looking forward to the next challenge and backward in nostalgia while we guide them through the final days. We try to offer our last pearls of wisdom and elicit from them the contemplation and self-reflection appropriate to the moment. This includes a closing ceremony on the last day.

On Thursday we had a sort of transition day for Farm Stay 4 at the urban campus. Donna and I went in and helped the students prepare presentations for the E2 and the Junior High. As a group we made a veggie soup for lunch in the Junior High. After that the students went over to the E2 level and Donna’s Occupation group gave Class F an overview of what the Farm Stay is, and my group worked with other students in the commons seeding flats of pumpkins, winter squash and other veggies and flowers. After the work on the E2 level, there was an entertaining presentation to the whole Junior High, which included a total tick tally for the Farm Stay, among other things.

Thanks to the students and parents of Farm Stay 4! A special thanks to all the urban campus staff who helped make this Farm Stay a success by coming out to the Land School to help: Doug Alecci, Dave Zdenek, Erin Allen, and Sarah Richardson.

Plant Sale

Last week was week-zero for the countdown to the plant sale. Plants that were started in February and March were finally getting their day to shine.  As we unloaded the truck in the Lake Country parking lot, I felt pride and gratitude. Preparing for the Plant Sale has involved every group of students that has been to the Land School since the middle of March. In addition, the E2 students have helped out in their commons on two separate occasions. Not only did we empty both rural campus greenhouses, but the Land School plants also joined up with a host of plants sourced from other greenhouses to make a truly spectacular display. Then a small army of volunteer students, staff and parents assembled all the orders and processed the numerous lists as people picked up. All with smiles and good cheer. A huge thank-you to everyone involved in the Plant Sale, especially the organizers!

Children’s House Visit

On Thursday afternoon Donna and I visited each Children’s House Classroom and presented a lesson on the parts of a plant. As part of each lesson, we visited the plants in the Plant Sale and identified plant parts on real plants. Ah, the joy of discovery! This was our fifth visit this year and by now all the afternoon students are familiar with us and know about the Land School. This is wonderful because next year when all the E1 classes come up in the fall, all the first years will already know us and this makes the first visit go much better.

Hand in Hand Montessori has their Planting Day
Last fall we welcomed Hand in Hand Montessori for their first ever Land School experience. We developed a mutual admiration and a desire for the relationship to continue. As a preparation for next fall, we invited them to come out and plant so they could be involved in the beginning of what they are going to harvest in the fall. On Friday a group of ten students helped plant potatoes, do animal chores, plant hostas near the Homestead, and plant in the greenhouse. Thanks Hand in Hand!

Coming this week:
This week on Tuesday we welcome 100 students from Great River High School for their Spring visit. They will plant in the garden and do various stewardship projects. Welcome GRS! Then on Wednesday we become a three-day Environmental Education camp for Class D. We can’t wait for the activities and campfires and fun!

Random Farm Stay 4 Photos

Making bleach stenciled shirts for microeconomy.

making photo cards.

Ginger cookie production

Wind chime mass production.

Flan to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. On the sixth.

picnic supper on one of the last nights.

Journaling in the tree house.

Pong Ping

Hanging in the basement.

Bonding time.



Lucia, Leighton, Pheobe
Working in the Blueberry bed.

Getting mulch for the blueberries

Sadie weeding with Anna

Andy's mentor group

Donna's mentor group