bugs, Clay, Crafts, forts & such, nature study, Spiders, Sticks, Woods

Beard’s Ideal Curriculum

05.24.09 | 15 Comments


Before a child can build, hunt, farm or write code they have to learn to be a person in the world.  I don’t mean learn to be person in our urban rational world.  I mean learn to be a person in our natural intuitive world.  Children experience the world by touching, balancing, smelling, repeating.  Plastics and concrete are not particularly “experience” rich materials.  However, woodland full of soft moss, squiggly creatures, decomposing humus and running water is the ideal setting for honing a child’s intuitive nature.   Before children can engage in the rational process of hypothesizing, implementing and refining they must first experiment in play.  Allowing children to simply play in nature is the primary agenda at Seth’s nursery school.



I had never seen a bug bucket quite as full as this one.  Overflowing with banana slugs and millipedes this bucket signified a year’s worth of bug practice; the practice of catching, handling, observing and respecting insects and other small creatures.  Insects are not only fascinating, but they are part of our ecosystem.  In Beard’s mind it was essential that boys have a working knowledge of insects.  Beard promoted insect study in his curriculum 100 years ago.  His suggestion still rings true today, sound advice that I as a parent am taking to heart.


This is our resident bug wrangler.  She is 4 and wears a princess shirt, but don’t be fooled.  She is as inquisitive as they come, and very little in the insect world escapes her expert scrutiny.  Get a load of that spider – it’s huge!  It was carried around for 10 minutes in this sand shovel.  It was shown to colleagues, poked and prodded, and everyone was in agreement that it was the biggest spider they had ever seen.  The spider’s contribution to our day was monumental.  He let us look at his legs and the texture of his abdomen, and all his other interesting features.  We learned more about the physical nature of spiders from this one spider wrangling incident that we could have from pictures or words.



Clay is an ideal medium for learning in an outdoor setting.  After all, clay is just another form of dirt.  In my opinion when we move our hands on natural surfaces our brains are stimulated.  I for one can tell you that my best insights come when I am tending my compost or planting with bare hands.  Somehow the connection of hands to earth makes the senses flow.

In this case the kids were manipulating the clay and sticking natural objects into it.  What better way to observe how a leaf works than to weave it into your creative process.  Not only are they constructing with nature they are sculpting with it.  The hands are learning, vision and the brain are secondary.  The connection here is earth to hand, informing the intuitive process.





In the middle of class Seth and some of his colleagues fanned out to spread the great news, “we are building a stick fort, come join us!”  Kids encouraging other kids to help them build using sticks.  Sweet I thought another culmination of all the hard “play” we have put in this year – communal building.   Everyone came together to partake in the primal pursuit of shelter.  It was a tee pee raising all right, one stick after another.   The intensity of the activity was frenetic.  The place was swarming with kids wielding sticks, but not once did anyone get poked or scratched.



Now a’ days the word team work conjures up images of Barney and his bouncy crew.  In Beard’s day team work was crucial to survival.  People had to work as a team to build shelter, boats and pretty much everything else they needed.  Our tee pee building crew was a well oiled machine.  I was dumbfounded by how well each child found a place for his or her skills in the process.  Stronger children were handing up sticks to other children who were carefully placing them.  Some of the sticks were so big that to lift and maneuver them took up to 3 children.  As a result some of the children took leadership roles and directed teams.  Below I am being ordered around, “Seth’s mommy!  Enough camera, start handing us sticks!”



There is nothing more satisfying than witnessing a child blissful in the outdoors.  Take your children outside all the time at every age.  Nature is the best teacher.  She has been teaching us for millions of years.  Children are primal intuition, our link to the planet that spawned us.  Cherish that connection and allow your youngster to play, play, play!


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