In crafting our Head Start curriculum for this Spring, our smiling sun lured us away from the barn, outward to Stoney Lick Farm’s wooded paths, buttercup field and sparkling pond. So, in addition to our usual equine element of the farm experience, we integrated free-range, student-driven outdoor activities. Inspired by memories of our own childhoods, we decided on exploration as the first day’s theme. This was done in the hopes that, once our ‘friends’ learned to explore with us, the playground, park, and backyard will stir their imaginations as they find joy in everyday nature.
To accessorize this exploration mission, we supply each pair of little hands with a darling metal bucket, in which all the farm’s treasures can be carried back to the barn for show and tell. With these distributed, Sam, Joy, Scott, and I each recruit our own group of four or five ‘friends’ to explore for the next hour. Setting off from the barn, we each pursue a different path. Scott heads toward the manure pile to find worms and roly-pollies. Sam maps his route to the pine cone-laden areas of the arboretum. Joy frequents the squirrel hangout, where broken nuts litter the ground. I direct my steps to the open field, where endless buttercups cry out to be rolled in. In our travels, we all take a loop around the pond. Along whatever path we choose, we collect pine cones, flowers, sticks, pebbles, moss, pine needles, and cattail down, while doing our best to avoid chestnut burrs and deer scat.
At the start of the hour, our ‘friends’ look straight ahead and gravitate toward line formations. With prompting, eyes begin to observe. Feet scamper, skip, and trip. Hands touch, pluck and throw. As buckets start to fill up with nature’s bounty, we giggle. We envision the downward descent of the pine cone from the tree tops. We hunt imagined cheetahs. We snarl and howl and growl like wild animals.