It’s been an amazing last seven years working for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. I’m proud of the grants we have made, but even more proud of the relationships and partnerships that have resulted from those grants. We’ve done so much good, and I know that the foundation will continue to advance the legacy of our namesake. The brightest years are ahead for this amazing organization, but today, I’m excited to say that I’m starting a new job as an assistant preschool teacher.
Don’t get me wrong, I will still be the executive director of the foundation – I just wanted to see if anyone would fall for the head-fake in my title and first paragraph. It’s also true that I’m going to be assisting my wife in home schooling our young children. We got started this week, and I already feel like preschool teachers are criminally underappreciated and underpaid … and we only have to wrangle two wee ones!
At the start, I want to acknowledge that deciding whether to send young children back to school is one of the hardest decisions that COVID has forced upon families. I also know that some families don’t even have a choice. Perhaps some are caring for immunocompromised family members and can’t risk their children bringing the virus home from school. Perhaps others are finding that the only way they can stay employed and make sure their children are developing and learning is to send them back for in-person instruction. We don’t judge any family for the decision they make. In our situation, we decided the best choice was preschool at home.
Even after just one day (as of this writing), I have learned a few things. For one, it’s a welcome change of pace from my day job! You better believe I enjoyed singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” while enthusiastically patting each body part. That beats emailing every day of the week. I also learned that painting has a splash zone, so don’t set your crafts table next to the white blinds covering your windows.
What I noticed most acutely, however, was the difference that going outside made in the rhythm of the day. Considering it was our first day, J.R. and Cecilia responded reasonably well to our first few activities, which involved learning about apples in the curriculum we are using. Their attention started to drift and engagement fell off though, right up to the point that we said it was time to go for a walk.
As we wandered down our sidewalk, one that we’ve walked together hundreds of times, we kept an eye out for different foods that were growing. We have an apple tree in our yard that tied our food-hunt into the curriculum, but we also spotted figs, tomatoes, and watermelons in our neighbors’ yards. Our kids were instantly engaged and energized by the experience.
There was nothing really surprising about how the outdoors enriched our children’s learning experience. They’ve always loved to be outside, and so it makes sense that they would want to learn outside as well. I think there is a larger lesson contained here. We don’t just need to learn about nature, or from nature, but we also need to learn in nature. And even if we’ve seen the same part of nature hundreds of times, we can still find something new to learn when we look for it.
Wish us luck as we walk this homeschool path. To all you parents out there, best wishes for the school year, stay safe and healthy, and remember to get outside and learn with your kids!