@ The Center for Arts and Learning
46 Barre Street
Montpelier, VT 05602
It is vitally important for human beings to stay connected to the earth. Children at River Rock spend time outdoors, rain or shine, in cold or hot temperatures, for a minimum of two half hour periods. At River Rock we don't call this "recess," we call it "outside time" because it is not simply a break from the "real work" of the day. It is often some of the richest and deepest work they do all day. Immersion in the natural environment cuts to the chase, exposes the young directly and immediately to the very elements from which humans evolved: earth, water, air and other living kin, large and small. Without that experience, environmental psychologist Louisa Chawla says, "We forget our place; we forget that larger fabric on which our lives depend." River Rock takes regular trips to the nearby Winooski River and to Lake Champlain a few times during the year. On days when the weather is particularly beautiful, and the childrens' investment in their work is really rich, we stay outside most of the day. Sometimes the children make comments about the fact that they didn't have to do any "work" today. And that offers us the opportunity to discuss with them their concepts of work and play. It also gives us a chance to reflect back to them the richness of the work we see them doing outdoors.
When the children are outdoors they engage deeply with their environment and develop dramatic games. In one, the children were dragons and had to protect their dragon eggs (big rocks) from the evil ones. This went on for days and days and extended into other parts of the day. For activity time they made cases for their eggs. During writing time they wrote descriptions of their eggs, the kinds of dragons they were, and planned ways to avoid the evil ones. Another drama that children were involved with involved a large family. There was a mother and about six children. Some of the children ran a restaurant to supply food for the family. The food was made with pine needles, dirt, leaves, grass, pebbles, sticks and water and was served on planks of wood or cups or buckets from the mud pit. These dramas involved children ages 5 - 12. The harmonious nature of the play was striking. If conflicts arose, they almost always dealt with them on their own. They did not want or seek adult intervention.
Children are active beings. They need to move. Sitting for too long over the course of a school day can have very negative effects. They lose their ability to focus and they lose control of their own energy and impulses. On days when it is just too cold to go outside, we notice a real difference in the well being of the children. In order to counteract these negative effects, we offer them lots of extended project time. But there is no substitute for being outdoors. It calms the children and rejuvenates their spirits. As Richard Louv says in his book Last Child in the Woods, "Direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults."