New Paths to Learning

dsc_0016Hidden beyond the shoulders of Sunflower Hill is another world, one that Inly’s children have only caught glimpses of from the trail that skirts the edge and winds down to the bottom of the driveway. From tree-plank benches, they are able to peer down into the secrets and hypothesize on what happens in the forests and wetlands, sketching in their minds or on paper what they see and imagine. There are even animal homes and tunnels that dot the trail’s landscapes, including a fox den recently taken over by a groundhog. Deer and turkeys have also been spotted along the trail, now covered in oranges and reds from autumn leaves, eventually slipping into to their secret habitats.

But something is changing. A new path has opened. One that will bring the child’s eye—and all other senses—closer to the hidden mysteries. Thanks to the time and resources of various families, the final stage of the quarter-mile trail development is nearing completion. Beginning with a serpentine wooden boardwalk that stretches across the stream and wetlands on both ends, children will be instantly greeted with a symphony of bird calls and songs repeating from hickory tree to spice bush to scattered stone walls. Recent rains foretell the seasonal changes as the stream becomes a sliver again and a more present gurgle following the melting snows of the winter and spring to come. Winding past these sights and off the boardwalk, the child will be greeted with maples (containing sweet sap to be harvested in February) and the scent of pine woods. They will pass ferns and rotten logs, home to many smaller creatures, as well as other half-buried markers of a human past. There are so many places to pause and explore, to hold a magnifying glass close and see the recently unseen, to imagine through drawings and words, or simply to be aware of the universal connection of all things.

These trails are full of potential for each child and teacher to unlock. Not only is there the wide scope of scientific concepts, but also bridges to literature, language, and writing; representations of symmetry and geometry; touch points of geography and cultural; musical melodies and rhythms; the grace of movement; the beauty of color and shadow; and so much more. The trails are wild extensions of the domesticity of Sunflower Hill, where students find structure and patterns to guide and help them better understand the outdoors, themselves and the world, which in turn is a both a reflection and extension of Inly’s Montessori classrooms, the da Vinci Studio, and the smaller outdoor spaces on campus.

As Richard Louv says, “The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

By Bruce Frost, Upper Elementary Teacher

Bruce is a veteran elementary school teacher with almost 20 years experience in the classroom. He holds a B.A. from Northeastern University, a M.Ed. from Lesley College, and an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Prior to teaching, he worked within the publishing field for many years—an experience he brings to the classroom through his love of literature and writing. Among Bruce’s accomplishments during his tenure at South River School in Marshfield are integrated curriculum development and the creation of a 3,600-square-foot organic garden and outdoor learning center. In addition to his role as upper elementary teacher at Inly, he has trained in constructing and managing the World Peace Game and is the coordinator of the Outdoor Classroom and organic garden, where he shares his joy of exploring the creative possibilities and responsibilities within our world. Outside of the classroom, Bruce not only continues to garden and write but is also an active runner and outdoors enthusiast.

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