Growing Kids. When I first found GK, the meaning of this name seemed quite simple. But now as I reflect on the time I’ve spent volunteering as an intern with this program, I have become aware that there’s a great deal more substance to these two words than I initially thought. It could refer to Growing sustainable Kids, because we help our kids to recognize that it is their own responsibility to be mindful of the footprint they leave on this planet as individuals. It could also infer Growing food with Kids, because we help our kids to recognize the significance of understanding where their food comes from, both biologically and geographically. These two renditions that came to mind encompass a portion of what our kids get to take with them from our program. What I am hoping to share with you rather, comes from a more personal level: how my part in GK has led me to Grow by learning from our Kids.
GK interns with the Britannia Bounty!
Photo Credit – Ian Marcuse
As you may have gathered already, Growing Kids has a special place in my heart. Before I connected with the EYA, I’d done a lot of educational work with children around Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, but for some reason, I had never once encountered the concept of experiential learning. When we were introduced to it at GK training in 2012, it put a complete backspin on the approach I had been taking while interacting with kids as an educator. I had always been delighted by the way children so boldly express their thoughts and feelings, unbound and unaware of the constraints of grown-up courtesy and expectations… but I had never truly recognized the true value in their perspectives.
As a preparation assignment for our training in September 2012, we were asked to watch Sir. Ken Robinson’s TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” After watching it, and discussing it, I began to see things a little differently. I started to understand just why children are so effortlessly creative, and why so many adults, including myself run straight into a brick wall when faced with thinking of new ideas. As someone who has ventured though our modern school system and visited many schools over the years, I will say that I do agree with Robinson. How can creativity be nurtured and enlivened in a setting that is so stagnant? Most elementary and high schools still operate in the same way as they have since I was in school, with box-shaped classrooms, with the desks are aligned in perfect rows, facing the instructor who is the source of all-knowledge-to-be-learned (no disrespect meant, Teachers! You guys are amazing and have a tough job!). Students are given assignments based on books and videos to learn about the world around them. Yes, it’s true, they do get to go on ‘field trips’ once in awhile. But here comes my point: Am I going too far to imagine a school where ‘field trips’ are the primary source of education, and spending time in the typical classroom is secondary? Wouldn’t this form of education be more rewarding for students, and have more stable retention in the long term?
Sometimes when I’m teaching I wish I could just morph into Miss Frizzle. Then, if we we’re learning, say about bees, all I’d have to do is round up my students, shrink my magic school bus down to the size of a little yellow buzzzz’r in a matter of seconds, then just casually have a look at what goes on inside those hives from a first-[insect!] perspective. Now that would be incredible… That is, minus all the waiver forms that would need to get signed!
Unfortunately, magic school buses have yet to be invented in this world, but this does not mean we are out of options. What we do have is our big, beautiful Earth, a never-ending classroom- and at Growing Kids that is where we do most of our learning! We go outside to learn with our kids. We get our hands dirty, pick up worms, sniff basil and munch on fresh radishes straight from the ground. We plant seeds, watch them grow, and observe different insects come and go as they suck up nectar and pollinate our flower friends. So many styles of learners are embraced through this approach- visual, tactile, auditory, kinaesthetic… the list goes on. And most importantly of all, creativity, diversity and personal strengths are promoted and nourished. It is a form of learning for all members involved, and every person’s ideas are respected and listened to.
Through Growing Kids, I have learned so much from the kids we work with. My grown up problems seem so trivial when rivalled with the inspiration these children fuel me with; to look at the world with pure wonder and amazement. They see that our Earth is always changing, it is never static, and there is always something new to smell, touch, taste or listen to out there every day. I say it’s rubbish when people imply that we must let go of this fervour as adults. Instead, I say we need to be more like kids, to remain energized, invigorated, and always moving forward with the ebbs and flows of life. If only our schools and community groups could be provided with the backing and resources to deliver our kids a learning experience that promotes explorative minds all the time, rather than in one off field trips, or 1-2 hour visits every few weeks. Think of how much faster the “human brain cloud” (my own personal definition for our collective intelligence) would grow… Future Earth would be erupting with imaginative, diverse and passionate individuals!
At this point, it is commonly known that we, human beings, are reducing our planet’s ability to support life in its infinitesimal forms at a far greater rate than ever before. To so great of a scale in fact, that we are seeing evidence of these changes within the duration of our lives. We would not exist without this incredibly unique planet Earth, or the countless number of ecosystem services its organisms provide for us. Don’t we owe it some respect? It is easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated with the massive scar that our species is leaving behind, but the time for humming and hawing is over. It is yours and mine’s personal responsibility to do what we believe will change this pattern, whenever it may be that we come to recognize this fact. Time only goes in one direction, and we can’t afford to create barriers for ourselves; to lose focus or aspiration for the better. My motion lies in my awareness that when we are gone, these kids will be the ones who remain to represent us. Some may call me a dreamer, but I believe our species still has a chance to do good for our world. As many have said, children are the future- but they need back up! So I’ll end with one final question: Can you come up with one subject in school that has greater significance for humanity than delivering our youth with the tools they require to sustain life itself? I sure can’t… So let’s get Growing, Kids!