Think back to when you were a kid in grammar school. What would it have been like for you, if you were able to throw a bucket of water over your “favorite” teacher’s head without fear of retribution? What if, once a year, you were allowed, encouraged even to get the principal or head of school soaken wet?
And what if, even after you left that school, you were still allowed to come back at the end of the year and take part in a wild and wet, water-splash-out of students vs. teachers and parents?
Six years ago, I began working at the small progressive school my kids attended so I could be near them and see firsthand, what it was all about and why my kids barely got any homework. Coming from a catholic grammar school and an all girl catholic high school, I was a little skeptical of the progressive education that I’d signed on to for them. I ended up getting an education for myself, on what it means for a child to be in an environment that nurtures their curiosity and fosters the development of a life-long love of learning. For eight years my son went to the He left after 5th grade. My daughter is finishing up 4th grade. Next year will be her last. I’m already feeling sad. .
The curriculum at Randolph School is project based. Several months are devoted to one study at a time, such as birds, Native Americans and human flight. Math, English, Social Studies and Science all get incorporated into the study using a hands on learning approach. These kids are out and about, seeing, doing, building and loving what they’re learning. They’ve done some pretty awesome things too, like making paper and cooking an annual ThanksGiving meal with vegetables they planted and harvested themselves. They’ve tapped maple trees, collected sap and boiled it down to make their own syrup for a pancake lunch. They’ve been schooled on tracking people and animals, building shelters in the wilderness and trebuchets in the back field. They know how to use the resources they have to solve a problem. Each child builds a rocket and launches it every year and each year ends with an adventure day which usually involves a hike along the Hudson river or in this year’s case, a walk across the Hudson River on the newly opened, Walkway Over the Hudson. After the adventure there’s an all-school barbecue. After the barbecue, the older kids, students in kindergarten through 5th grade, get to camp-out behind the school with parents and teachers. Tents are pitched at the bottom of the same hill the kids and teachers, sled down during the winter. A bon fire is made, songs are sung, stories are told, s’mores are eaten.
Somewhere in-between the end of the adventure and the beginning of the barbecue, a twenty-plus-year-old tradition lives on. It began when two teachers who overheard a plot being hatched by two students to bring water guns to the camp-out, staged a surprise counter-attack, fully equipped with their own loaded water-guns and behold, a no holds back, teacher-parent-student water splash-out filled with 100% pure fun was born!
It’s tough being a kid. Society is drenched with all kinds of peer pressures and technological enticements. Finding a place in early childhood where children are free to be themselves, free of some of these stresses just long enough to give them a solid footing is a blessing.
So much of parenting is like playing pin the tail on the donkey. Without foresight, you point yourself in what you hope is the right direction and move forward, praying that you hit the target. Sometimes, you get lucky and hit it dead center. Other times, you veer way off to the left or the right and have to go back and try again.
Sending my children to a school that encourages kids to be kids was a “hitting the target dead center” move — a blessing.
The result, is that they love to learn, they always will and I am very grateful.
What do you love about your child’s school?
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” Henry David Thoreau
There are so many beautiful places in the Hudson Valley. Our scenic landscape is plentiful with lovely day-trip opportunities chock-filled with hidden alcoves and woodsy trails that run along the majestic Hudson River.
A few years ago, another mom and I began a weekly walk in the woods at just such a lovely place. This mom and I meet during school hours at the same location and time, every Thursday. We spend an hour following one of a few hiking trails that lead down to the Hudson River. The terrain offers great exercise, which was the initial motivation for this weekly excursion. Rarely, do we miss a week during the school year, switching days if we have to, in order to keep our walking ritual. We’re committed. In the winter, my walking partner even brings snowshoes for us to wear.
Over the years however, our weekly jaunt has become so much more to me than just another walk in the woods. Aside from being one of the fastest passing hours of my week, it is by far, one of the most meaningful and treasured hours of my week and it is spent with another mom who has become a cherished friend.
From the moment we meet in the parking lot a conversation begins. We never really know what direction it’s going to take and we often cover many topics. By the short time it takes us to get down to the entrance of the trails, we are in our walking groove; me on the right, her on the left, always.
There is a large fence with a small opening that you need to pass through to gain access to the where the trails begin.
Beyond the fence, magic happens. Every time.
Instantly I begin to feel all that is heavy on my heart and mind lift and dissipate. Everything about my life comes to a soft, grinding halt. I can breathe again and I do, deeply. The tempo of the woods is slow. The environment is serene. I am safe to say whatever I need to, knowing, that what is said in the woods, stays in the woods. There are no judgments there, only trust. It’s where peace lives and friendship grows.
Sometimes, we sit on a wooden bench over-looking the train tracks that run along side the river and take-in the beauty that surrounds us. It’s so easy to lose track of where we are in the forest, although we never get lost. And while time seems to suspend itself, I hardly ever check my watch and we always end up back at the fence in just about an hour’s time.
Inevitably, we leave much behind to rustle among the leaves and rest upon the limbs of the trees we pass each week. A collection of thoughts, hopes, fears, tears and an abundance of laughter mark our path. And Undoubtedly, I always leave, taking more with me; more clarity, more gratitude, more courage and more hope.
Spring Break and an amazing trip abroad with her family has kept us from our weekly ritual for the past three Thursdays. I am missing the secret keeping woods that magically remove me for one hour, once a week, from life’s daily stresses. I’m missing my friend, my confidant.
I’ve never taken our woods, walks or words for granted. I treasure them all, more and more, each week.
And I’m not going to “out” my friend or the location of this special place as much as I did my Book Club.
I’ve only taken four people beyond the fence.
Sometimes something that special needs to stay that way. Special.
What I am going to do, is say:
“Thank you, for taking me beyond the fence, dear friend.
I look forward to seeing you again, next week.”
Tell me, do you have a special place, ritual or friend that you cherish?
Photo Credits: me