Since 2004, Bonnie Benjamin has taken her first grade class at Sanders Street School in Athol to Skyfields Arboretum each spring for an outdoor lesson in the local landscape.
"They're learning outside, in the midst of nature's classroom, and that's the best place to learn," says Benjamin. "Children need a chance to look with the wonder and amazement of a child's eyes. As children experience the miracles of nature, they learn to make the big connections to the earth as learners and stewards. Learning to see is like learning to read. You need practice."
But today, as described in Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, fewer children have the traditional opportunities to get out into the natural world and learn to learn. Louv's work was one of the inspirations for Mount Grace's MassLIFT-AmeriCorps program, which includes service learning and outdoor learning opportunities for youth among its core goals. Athol students working with MassLIFT have taken on hands-on projects to build and research sites for nest boxes for birds while learning about local species, monitor the water quality of the Tully River, and learn to identify and certify vernal pools.
This year's MassLIFT Service Learning Coordinator aims to strengthen our school-based programs by expanding our partnership with the Athol Bird and Nature Club and improving the lesson plans on Pollinator Gardening, Vernal Pool Certification, and Stream Health Assessment. We will offer rich outdoor learning experiences, and integrated lesson plans based on Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.
Benjamin, the 2013 recipient of Mount Grace's Community Steward Award, is part of the effort, working with our Service Learning Coordinator to create and revise lessons. "The program needs to fit easily with the Massachusetts curriculum," says Benjamin, "These programs will support teachers so that they will be comfortable incorporating it in the school year."
We are seeking more volunteer teachers and retired teachers to help fine tune lessons and lead workshops so that Mount Grace can continue to deliver these programs on a sustained basis.
If you are interested in volunteering to support this program, please contact our Service Learning Coordinator, Martine Wong, at 978-248-2055 x21 or firstname.lastname@example.org.