A group of blindfolded adults smelling trees, pretending to be squirrels dueling it out over acorn stashes, and singing songs about alligators in French accents were spotted along the Mt. Willard trail in Crawford Notch on Saturday, April 18th.
Observed from afar, it might seem their only goal was to laugh and have fun. But in addition to loving an excuse to behave ridiculously, everyone present – a Plymouth State University instructor and two environmental science students, and ACT staff – were learning about environmental education. The workshop was offered by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and its “Mountain Classroom” coordinator Mike Dufilho, who expertly presided over the day.
We had a straightforward mission: step into the shoes of fifth graders and let go of any adult self-consciousness. Rebecca Brown, ACT’s executive director, set the tone for the day with a sudden death contest against a PSU student in vegetable impersonations, doing a great job of channeling her inner beet. After learning a few clever ice breakers, including butts ‘n’ noses where we stood toe-to-toe leaning into our circle trying to shoot a ball through our opponents legs. When the ball made it past our legs, we gave a fact about the White Mountains before turning around with our butts in the air as we peered through our legs once again not allowing the ball through. It was a lot of butts ‘n’ noses. After these irreverent ice breakers we set off to hike Mt. Willard because it was the best place to mimic a lesson that might be taught in the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest.
This spring ACT’s Cooley-Jericho Community Forest in Easton is being turned into an outdoor classroom. Dufilho and other educators from the AMC will be teaching elementary school students from SAU 35 about basic forest ecology. They will also be teaching future teachers. Plymouth State students will join them to learn how to excite kids about the natural world.
The theme of our day on Mt. Willard was “consumers, producers and decomposers.” Mike had a simple flow chart that tied each activity to the lesson plan. Every silly song we sang, game, game, and contest had a specific teaching purpose. If you’ve ever taught, you know how much trial and error goes into good lesson planning.
One of the first activities of the day was being blindfolded, spun around, and disoriented before a partner led us to a tree. Then we used our senses – sniffing, running our hands along the bark, even tasting, to deduce clues of texture, mosses and other irregularities.
Rebecca located her balsam fir in record time, while a PSU student was frog marched by his instructor Rachelle Lyons through deep snow so he could not locate his tree. It was refreshing using specific senses to hone in on a specific tree, when we spend most of our days inside or looking at a computer screen. This activity reset our minds to notice our surroundings, think about plant identification, and the abundance of producers in NH’s forests. It was a good reminder that plants are inextricably linked to the entire cycle of producers, consumers and decomposers.
At certain moments I did roll my eyes silently. Seriously, you want me to use a terrible French accent and sing about alligators? I caved to the peer pressure and dutifully joined in on the camp-y tune. At the end of it the alligator ate the singer’s friend, and thus the idea of predators was sneakily introduced in our consciousness. Later on Mike pointed this out to us and it was an ‘ah-ha!’ moment where you began to realize every activity had a purpose.
About half way up the mountain we stopped and duked it out as red and gray squirrels, plundering acorn reserves (black beans we hid on the forest floor) and trying desperately to survive until April and spring weather. It was a playful example of competition with real world applications.
Mike will be leading groups of students from SAU 35 through the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest this spring and teaching them about the forest of NH. It will be an exciting adventure for everyone involved, and there will definitely be a great deal of laughing and shenanigans during each outdoor classroom visit.
If you have questions or would like to learn how you can participate in bringing kids outside and exploring the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest, please email ACT Outreach Coordinator Lianna Lee, email@example.com or call our office at 603-823-7777