‘Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.’ Socrates
It is not every day that I get to see a red-tail hawk swoop down for a midday meal in the grasslands. I had to stop for that one. And for the clouds that towered over the golden hills. It’s one of the most soothing landscapes I’ve even seen.
That is little boy’s classroom on the one day a week when he goes to Forest School. We sat in a circle in the middle of undulating dry grasses this morning, talked about snakes and owls and bugs, reviewed the things to do such as ‘wander far enough but not too far, know the number of whistles for this and that’, before the small feet peppered the dusty trail, following behind the teacher.
There is joy infusing our hug as I get ready to go on my way and little boy on his with the group.
Giggles, whispers, the trepidation of another day that brings learning through open eyes tasting the blue sky and the golden tall grasses that speak of dried-up lakes and hidden animal burrows. The land has stories to tell, it’s only fitting that we’d take ourselves and our children out here to listen.
It’s not in the books, not in the sitting upright and reminding your eyes to stay put on the word of the day. Not unless the word connects with the world you see with your eyes, the world you walk on and see transform from one day to the next, the smells that tell you learn to tell apart as you spend more time in places that you crawl through if need be to look at a bug, places you let crawl through you as reminders of life in its primal, must-see-or-else form.
Come noon, I find my way back to the hills to pick up little boy. I stop a few times, it’s that beautiful. I breathe the place in: colours, smells, sun splashed lazily over velvety hills in the distance making them look like they are underwater. As if I am staring at algae-covered rocks in a stream. Two worlds in two. A world of many faces; ours.
This is what I want the boys to learn of in our school at home and in classrooms of hills and clouds.
That the world has mysteries we cannot see unless we bring ourselves close enough to it.
That everything has a key somewhere and as we get closer to understanding, we get closer to reverence, never away from it.
That we do not own the world, but are part of it. Conquering never works, gently prying the door open to knowledge, not vying for high marks and loud approval but the feeling of having understood a tinge more, that is what I dream for the boys.
That they will be humbled by the richness of a handful of dirt and the secrets a leaf reveals as you hold it up against the sun.
That math and science are never the hated subjects, but keys to answering the whys we find as we go along.
That it is all a big picture with boundaries that keep on growing as our understanding of it grows.
That school is never to be a place where we get farther away from ourselves so that we fit in, but a place where we get closer to knowing who we are, to affirming our thoughts and dreams, knowing as we go that the world has a place for each and every one of us, as we are. A place to be safe but bold, to wonder and let curiosity seep through. To help more thoughts grow.
Another hawk dances with the grasses. Another glimpse of life, death too, implied and not seen, and if seen, accepted as part of it all. Gracious, both side of it. The boys will learn this. They will learn that a glimpse is all. That we must take fully and give ourselves to it fully, that the glimpse is a gift repeating itself every day thousands of times.
The side of the road is decorated in chicory flowers, as if the sky kissed the ground every now and then leaving marks of blue. Same fascinating colour, the reflection of the blue endless sky in small countless ones growing towards it, each holding the story of storms to come like delicate mysterious oracles. It is true.
The boys and I learned about it yesterday, and the amazement matched the mystery. Drawing blue petals on stalks on green, listening, asking questions, tilting their heads and blooming in almost incredulous smiles…
‘How do they do that, Mom? How do they know?’
That is what we will learn, and beyond. We will find ourselves privy to the conversation the earth has with the sky, we will have to be quiet enough to hear, keen-eyed to see, but mostly humbled enough to know that we are but another piece in the big puzzle called life, that we do not make sense without the other pieces.
That we are being given the opportunity to see it all, wonder and learn about it together is a gift as precious as life itself.
That is our dream school. We will only go as far as our gratefulness will take us.