We have had a busy fall in First Grade- building community and making new friends, learning phonics rules, decomposing numbers, and perhaps the students favorite, a study on the state of Georgia. Known as “The Peach State,” “The Goober State,” and “The Empire State South,” the nicknames could go on, as could all the fun we have had learning about each region through song and dance, slide shows, stories, and field trips. Moving this unit to the fall gave us the opportunity to shake things up a bit from how we have done them in the past, and I took this as an invitation to step outside the box, and the classroom.
We started with the Coastal Plains, focusing on the beaches and the Okeefenokee Swamp, and all the critters who call this place home. Next we moved into the Piedmont Region, learning all about the Atlanta landmarks and the community around us. Saving the best for last (in my opinion!) we are currently wrapping up our unit by studying the Mountain region including the landforms, people, and animals that make this region so unique. Because a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail was not in the cards for 80 First Graders this year, we opted for a walk in our very own Discovery Woods, which was a close second. I brought in my favorite backpack, a 65 liter Gregory Diva which has seen mountains ranges from Idaho and Utah all the way to North Carolina and Georgia, and we headed out for an adventure on a beautiful Fall afternoon.
We walked and talked, threw stones in the creek, and followed the imaginary blue blazes as if we were really along the Appalachian Trail. But it was when we got to the outdoor classroom that that real fun began. With each item I pulled from my pack, their eyes grew bigger and bigger. A flashlight made to wear on your head? A stove that can cook ramen noodles in the backcountry? An inflatable sleeping pad with a checkerboard sketched on it? I really got them when I unrolled my sleeping bag from a sack the size of a Ziploc bag. I could sense that the idea of living out of a pack on your back was a bit crazy, but a big adventure! Needless to say, they were captivated, and I was totally in my element telling stories about trips and experiences while sharing my passion for the outdoors. Discovery Woods was the ideal classroom for this type of hands-on learning.
I showed them a little journal I keep in the side pocket and shared with them that you never know when inspiration will strike. As the Scout motto says, always be prepared. It was only fitting to share this little piece of advice with them since Juliette Lowe, founder of the Girl Scouts, hails from our very own Savannah, GA. Giving each student a pencil and piece of paper, we invited them to reflect on what resonated with them as we soaked up the sunshine in our special class in the woods. Right before my eyes, my passion for teaching and connecting with the students merged with my love of hiking, nature, and spending time outside. It was one of those sweet moments where all felt right in the world.
For some kids, it may have been just another walk in the woods, but for others, it was the time they truly learned about the endless opportunities that surround us.
Learner, Thinker, Writer: Sarah Bristow (@BPfuninfirst) serves the Trinity School community as a First Grade Lead Teacher.