This week we traveled to Africa, exploring the vast and diverse continent by focusing on a few countries with which we had some personal connections. We began the week by making a traditional Nigerian flatbread, which varies regionally but is almost universal in its basic form - a sourdough base that is kneaded and stretched and cooked over fire. We used the wood stove and the flatbreads were delicious - we will surely be repeating this recipe regularly.
We drew our maps, locating a handful of the 54 countries in Africa (though some of the children opted to draw every country), each in a different cardinal direction: Senegal in the West, Tanzania in the East, Tunisia in the North, South Africa in the South, and Nigeria in the center. We were able to connect to each of these countries through personal stories and folk tales we read. We had looked through photographs from the year I lived in Senegal, and I had read a few pages of my journal so they could get a sense of the smells, foods, and people with whom I had interacted. We learned that Robin’s grandfather’s family come from Tunisia, and we were able to hear a little bit about its history. We began our penpal exchange with a school in Tanzania, The Precious Project (http://preciousproject.org), and the children were so eager to write their letters, put together homemade packages, and learn more about the community in Nshupu, Tanzania. We will be sending off the letters this week, and will be patiently awaiting our first letters that will be on their way this week as well! And we read a folktale from Nigeria called Why the Sky is Far Away.
We continued our flag studies in our homemade passports, drawing the flags of each of these countries (and more), and learning about the significance of the colors and patterns of the flags. The children are working so diligently on their independent country projects, some visiting the library to do their research and writing pages of notes, learning words in the native languages, and exploring the foods and customs that they will be sharing with all of us in just a few weeks.
We reviewed our math skills with the abacus, which was a great challenge. In music we are diving deeper into the story of Peter and the Wolf, with each child having chosen a role and beginning to find movements to follow the music that represents their character. Rachael came to teach another form drawing, spending two days going through the full process with the children - from drawing it in the dirt, to building the form in nature, to drawing it on the whiteboard, to finally completing it in their form drawing journal. We made bird feeders, and learned more about yerba mate and the incredible collection of mate that Nacho has!
Finally, one of the most powerful moments of the week was when a group of children decided to go on an adventure to Fulling Mill at the end of the day. We have traveled the paths of Fulling Mill Brook for the past few years, but the children have never gone on their own before so this became quite an adventure. After about 20 minutes, I gathered the children from the trail and guided them back to school. Having not made it to their desired destination this first time around, we discussed how they could perhaps go about it in the future. To my surprise, the following day they came to school highly prepared - bags packed with tools, extra clothes, snacks, and sleeping bags. I offered them the last half hour of the school day to try their navigation skills again. After giving them 15 minutes on their own, I followed their path and soon heard voices at their destination: the brook. They had fully set up a campsite on a massive boulder on the opposite side of the brook. Some of the children were dancing and singing on the boulder, others were maneuvering the rocks along the brook, others were gathering firewood. It was a magical sight to see. After a few minutes, I reminded the children of the timing and the plan, and they quickly - without a single complaint - packed up their belongings and asked me to follow them back to the school. In one day they had taken a thin dream of an adventure and transformed it into a wildly successful mission which taught me, as they endlessly do, just what they are capable of once given the freedom to explore on their own. I told them on the walk back that their school campus had just expanded. Their grasp on their surroundings has grown stronger, and their newfound confidence will not only help to guide them in future adventures, but has also inspired every other child at the school to step out just one bit further into the unknown.
While I do not hold age as a measurement of capacity, I do want to mention that the children that initiated (and completed) this adventure were the youngest of the group:)
The infinite learning journey…and now another week is ahead of us.
See you all tomorrow,
The Allen Farm program is for children ages six and older. Follow along our learning and exploration in the woods, on the farm, in our yurt, and across our island community, at the upper Woods School.