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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Get Out! – and Find Four Things

Someone once said education should be pleasurable, but I’m afraid too much rote learning is dull and terrifying and unpleasant.  That’s why I was happy when a reader of this blog, Polly Brown, introduced me to a game even I can play.   

She writes in her blog, ( “Someone…said research had shown that the typical American kid spends an average of just seven minutes each day outside.  ‘Yikes!’ I thought later, as I walked under oak woods and tall white pines, past a beach still covered with snow.  I couldn’t have heard that right.”

She suggests playing a game, but you can call it an assignment or meditative exercise, to open up the outdoor world.  It comes from Holling’s Minn  of the Mississippi published in 1951.  Holling wrote, Ms. Brown reminds us, “a miniature natural history museum could consist of just four things – a pebble, a leaf, a feather, and a button.  Something mineral, for geology; from a plant, for biology; from an animal, for zoology; and made by a human, for anthropology.” 

“Find Four Things makes a wonderful assignment for homework outdoors.”  She says kids can do this in their backyards or other outdoor places.  They should skip things found indoors — so no shells from Florida sent north by cousins.  If animal remains — a feather or shell — can’t be found, perhaps there’s a trace of a tooth mark on an acorn or a footprint or the trail of insects on the inside bark of a tree.  

She works with children in this adventure game, then they share their collections, learning about where the items came from.  And they set their discoveries on a table to become a miniature museum.

A poet and a philosopher, Ms. Brown says, “I’m here mostly to practice gathering and letting go.  I stand outside, under an enormous sky, and hold enormous things in my small and always aging heart.  All the living beings of the natural world – not just we humans – dwell in the compost pile of what has been, and in the seeds and (often invisible) eggs of what will be.” 

And this is truly lovely:  “As I lay down my collection, gathered from that dear rubble the melting snow reveals, I think of all those children trapped indoors.  I really don’t believe that thing about seven minutes.  Still, just in case, I mutter to the air at large: Let my people go.”


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