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Nature's Classroom: Morse First Graders Visit Peabody Preserve

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees." - Henry David Thoreau

Spring was in full swing as Morse first graders enjoyed their regular school day at Peabody Preserve Outdoor Classroom last week. Blessed with beautiful spring weather, first graders had English and Social Studies lessons and special Music and Art sessions, all in nature's classroom. 

Learning at Peabody included visiting the butterfly garden, a nature trail walk, throwing and catching with scoops in Physical Education, and a unique imaginative task. Owned by the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns, the 39-acre nature preserve offers an exceptional learning opportunity and tool for motivating learning from a wilderness experience perspective.

The day began for the excited students with an announcement by Mr. Farrell, Morse's PE teacher who also coordinated the trips to Peabody. "We are going to do all of the things you normally do at Morse, but today we will do them outside!" Several first-grade students enthusiastically pumped their fists and said 'Yes!' Then they hit the trails for hands-on learning. 

Letting the peacefulness of the Preserve wash over them, the lessons began with a quiet moment. Listening to the many sounds of the woods, feeling the cool hug of the forest shade, and the sun streaming through the branches on their faces, teachers used the setting to create the tone for learning. 

In Ms. Delo's class, students created S-P-R-I-N-G acrostics, discovering they were poets like Henry David Thoreau by stringing their words and phrases together. Starting with the quiet moment, Ms. Delo told her students, "Breathe and listen to nature all around us because everything you feel in this moment is how you will feel all day." With that, the students’ creativity flowed. “I feel great because I am at Peabody," Azaria beamed as she read her I phrase from the acrostic.

All of the sensations of the forest were acknowledged by students, as ELA and Science were combined in Ms. Salazar's class. The first graders quietly tapped into what was happening around them in the Preserve using sight, sound, smell, and touch. They then put those sensations into verse to create personal Peabody poems.

Social Studies and ELA lessons were combined in Ms. Richardson's outdoor class as students read an article together about Community Helpers, building off their Walk Around the Community. A lively discussion about the importance of Community Helpers followed, an example of which surrounded them in the Preserve that is stewarded by many community volunteers. 

"My favorite thing all day was the stick people," said Khushi. This proclamation was answered with "they're magical" cheers from several of Ms. Salazar's first graders. Guided by artist Joel Sherry, students uncovered the mysteries of Stick Sprites in the Peabody Preserve. Built out of sticks, the human-like creatures were hidden among flora and fauna, and the students were tasked with finding them. Students were then encouraged to use their imaginations to create stories about who the sprites are and what they might be doing in the wooded Preserve. Mr. Sherry received a grant to create 100 sticks sprites, and channeling his artistry, to date he has made almost 40 of the fairies. 

A musical meditation took place with Mr. Mizen as he led a 'rhythm of the forest' inspired music class. "Close your eyes, but use your mind to float to animals nearby. Are they eating a leaf, spinning a spider web, chirping a tune?" Singing and chanting, he shared different types of rhythm and musical beats found in the woods with the students. Using drumsticks, and accompanied by varied tempo songs from different genres on the portable speaker, the first graders played their own rhythms in time. "We just learned how there are patterns in music and nature," said Olivia. 

Art with Mrs. Dietz was a beloved project as the first graders did a mini scavenger hunt and, with their treasures, created woodland masterpieces. Students used twigs, leaves, rocks, and moss to make people and critters. "Mine is a polar bear," said Linnea. All materials were gathered from the ground, as not harming the plants and fauna is another guiding principle in the Preserve. "The students love this project and often tell me they've gone on to do it at home after learning it in the woods with me," said Mrs. Dietz.

Peabody Preserve Outdoor Classroom received lesson ideas from CELF (Children's Environmental Literacy Foundation) this year. The Preserve is open to the community and remains pristine by being a 'no trash' or leave no trace sanctuary. The trail system in Peabody takes hikers past a pond, a freshwater wetland, a saltwater wetland, and through a forest, offering glimpses of the Hudson River. Also included are pockets of open circles of benches off the trails created by the Boy Scouts where the 'classes' occur.