Signs Of Spring
Lesson Plan No. 2 – February 2013
by Jane Valencia
You may distribute this lesson plan freely, but please keep all text on it as is! Thank you!
Below is a Lesson Plan For Early Spring, the NorthEast time of year — a time associated with perception and the stirrings of new life. Again, the words here are more of a collection of inspirations, but this time I’m including a couple of “bookends” for your time, in the form of Opening and Closing Circles. I describe what I mean, and how to include the ideas in a way that feels natural for you and responds to the energy of the kids with whom you are with. As always, choose what works for you in this article, or use these thoughts as fodder for your own sensibilities as you step out into the budding of Spring!
Please feel free to ask questions or comment below. I also invite you to share your stories of your nature adventures!
I love this time of year! The days are perceptibly lengthening. Buds are ever more apparent on the trees. Baby Cleavers(Galium aparine) are putting forth their starry leaves. And the Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalus) have begun to bloom, heralding the new year. The weather may shift from cold and wet or snowy to sunny and dry, and anything in between, but the world around us has begun to sing the awakening and stirring of new and renewed life.
This is a perfect time of year to step out and experience this emerging joy. Before setting out on your adventure with children, teens, or other adults do consider taking a moment to savor the scents, sounds, sights of the world around you. Depending on the energy level and other factors relating to who you are with, this can be a quiet, meditative attuning, or a moment as quick as a breath.
Bringing Us Together, One Heart, One Mind
Waldorf education and many other learning opportunities (including team sports) begin their sessions with some sort of Opening Circle, or expression of unity. Musicians do this by literally becoming “in tune” with one another. In the nature awareness lineage in which I teach, we “bring our minds” together with an expression of gratitude for the world around us, and for various things that feel meaningful to us. One can bring a group into unity in any number of ways, from reciting a verse to singing a song, to a mere few words such as, “Wow, here we are setting out on an adventure! I wonder what we’ll discover today?”
The common ingredients of “bringing folks into unity” are appreciation–for each other, for the time you’re about to share–and connecting with an experience or story, quality or mystery that is larger than oneself. It is recognizing and honoring in some way that you are joining with others to experience something vibrant and magical. You’re all entering into a time of discovery or purposeful action, or both or more! If you hold in your mind and heart that this is a special occasion, in which you are engaging with the life around you as well as with the people with whom you are with, you will indeed encounter something wondrous.
When I teach, I hold an actual Opening Circle in which we recite a poem, sing a song, engage in animal forms, or offer words of thanks for various aspects of nature around us and for the people in our lives. When I go on a wander with family or friends, I may merely express my appreciation that we’re sharing this together with greetings and hugs, or I might actually have us stop to listen, smell, observe and delight in the world around us, even for just for a minute.
It may not always be easy to experience silence with others, but, oh the rewards are worth it! With kids (adults too) I may sometimes flat-out request that we take two minutes to just listen to, smell, touch, even taste (when we know our plants and the safety of our environment) the world around us. If we are quiet outside and attuning to what’s around us, the birds begin to relax and we might begin to hear their singing once more, and not their alarm calls (if we were even aware of their alarm before!).
This time of year the birds are beginning to return to their activity of singing and courting, and establishing their territory. What bird sounds do you hear? Even if you don’t know who the bird is making the sound, how does that sound feel in your body? Does it sound relaxed and melodic (“all is well”)? Does it call you to attention in some way? Does it outright sound like a “watch out!” Or does it have some other emotional inflection for you?
Go ahead and entertain the notion that you understand what the birds are saying around you, or singing about. Maybe you don’t understand the “words”, but it’s quite possible you understand the tone, just as you might understand the tone and emotion of people speaking another language.
This time of year is a marvelous time to begin attuning to the language of the birds. And to their activity. Any signs of nest-building, for example? Maybe it’s too soon for that. But maybe not. Don’t assume you know what the birds are up to. Be curious, and invite your companions into your curiosity!
With snow or mud, you still have some great opportunities for looking for signs of animal activity. You might find animal prints that lead into grasses and into small tunnels in hedges. Look for scraped bark on trees, nibbled twigs and grasses, perhaps piles of shells (squirrel middens perhaps). Look for scat–animal poop. You and your children can engage imaginatively about who or what created what you’re noticing, why those animals engaged in their activity here. Where they might have gone, what they might be doing right now, wherever they are. Entertain the possibility that animals may be nearby right now, very much aware of what you are doing, but hiding, waiting for you to leave so that they can get on with business as usual — sleeping, foraging–or?
What Is Happening With The Plants?
Is it warm enough at times for the sap to run? Which plants have catkins (and what do those catkins resemble?), which are putting forth leaves? Which trees feel like they are “waking up”? This year I particularly enjoy coming upon the remains of autumn — seeds and seed heads and dead leaves that are still present, even as the green is beginning to emerge. Which plants never lost their green?
If you have been aware of plants in the past, which ones do you find yourself greeting? Which feel like the return of old friends?
Truly, a wander at this time of year, turning one’s awareness to signs of spring is very much a greeting and welcome!
Story Of The Day
However long or short your wander, do make time to pause before you part company or turn to other activity to share at least a little bit with each other about what you loved about your time together, something about what you noticed. Telling our stories, responding to thoughtful questions helps us–children, adults, any age!–to uncover meaning in our experience and to make connections that might otherwise be lost to us. To be human is to share stories! And that is as much part of our nature as nature (which is to say, much larger than we tend to think these days!).
Stories of our experiences in nature (even uncomfortable experiences) help deepen our connection, our heartfelt unique relationship with nature. Once again, bring in some gratitude and appreciation. An experience may have been uncomfortable (say, a thorn jabbing one’s face) but there may be something one can admire about it or about how one has gone forward from it. We never want to try to plaster a happy face on experiences that are edges, but we can understand that Nature has its own relationship with each person. That relationship is one we can respect, one we can regard as Mystery.
When we share nature with children we are servants of nature as much as guides. We’re here to offer support and safety, and to open ourselves to wonder as much as we hope to offer to those we are with.
… and Closing.
And, finally, when you are parting ways, or ending your wander, do take a moment to “separate your minds”. Give a wolf howl all together, or sing a song if it feels appropriate. Or merely note: “Well, we’ve finished our adventure, and now we move on to another part of our day!” In some way–and it can be quite short and sweet–acknowledge and appreciate the time you had, and note that it’s ended for now, and that you are all moving to some other part of your day.
Early Spring is a sweet time to explore, imagine, and wonder. Enjoy your adventures!