4/20/2010

A school that's not all doom and gloom

I've been on the road this week. First stop was the "Dilly of a Day" festival (celebrating dill, the Herb of the Year) in Carmel, Indiana, just outside Indianapolis. What a great event it was, sponsored by the Indianapolis Herb Society, a Unit of the Herb Society of America. Donna Frawley, of Frawley's Fine Hebary in Midland, Michigan, and I, were the main speakers. Donna gave a rousing cooking demonstration, with dill bread, dill spreads, dill butter and dill soup. My part was, "Sweet Dreams from the Garden" and I'm sorry you can't hear the flying frog song that Horace the Frog sang as the opening for my program (he's battery operated, travels with me and cracked everyone up as an introduction to how unpredictable dreams can be). This is an annual event for the Herb Society but was the biggest attendance they've ever had and they had to cut off reservations at 225 people. I sold my books and herbal wares and the folks treated me wonderfully. (More about that visit later, and the fascinating gardens and dairy I visited).


My next stop was a visit to the Four Winds School in Warrenville, Illinois, on the southwest side of Chicago. The folks there had contacted me months ago to see if I would be willing to come and teach a project for parent-volunteers on building wattle fencing around their playground. (I'm only guessing, but assume they found me because of my books on Bentwood Trellises, Fences, Gates and Arbors). I admit I thought they were crazy and have hesitated to agree to teach the project. Why would a school, even a small, private school, want a wattle fence? Did they just see The Lord of the Rings movie and decide they wanted wattle fences? To make them by hand, with volunteers, is both time consuming, and requires a lot of materials. But since Warrenville is somewhat between the Indianapolis speaking stop, just finished, and the next one, in Madison, Wisconsin, on the 23-24th, I decided to stop at the school and size up the project before I signed a contract.

What a surprise I had! I didn't know schools like this existed. It made me want to go back to school, or teach, or something. It reminded me of the kind of school I grew up attending, with a lot of opportunities to interract with the natural environment. Once I saw what they offered and the facility, I understood why they wanted wattle fencing. (The fence will primarily be visual, and an arbitrary boundary for the youngest kids).

A little bit about Four Winds School follows here, and you can read their purpose and mission statement on their website. It is part of the world-wide system of Waldorf Schools, which strives to encourage the development of the complete child, treating each as an individual. They have around 120 students, preschool through 8th grade. The school's administrator, Marianne Fieber, explained that a teacher follows the students through all the grades, meaning, the teacher you start with in first grade, is with you throughout your years at the school.

The curriculum is varied, giving the students a wide range of learning experiences, and as it says on their website: "we are deeply committed to providing education that encourages, captivates, challenges, and inspires your child’s mind, body, and spirit." And that includes the food they eat! I've heard so much about the bad food in schools, the nasty, greasy, salt-laden foods that most schools provide. Well, not at Four Winds! The students and parents order the child's meals, a month in advance. Two-Mothers Catering prepares the school lunches and delivers them, not in wasteful styrofoam, but delivered on washable, reusable metal plates. Individual student's meals can be vegan, vegetarian, with meat, with or without dairy. They are healthy, often organic, and delicious.

Marianne toured me around the grounds. There are typical playground items, along with very cool little playhouses and "cabins" scattered about. But one of the more impressive elements is, they have woods. There are dozens of pathways going into the woods on the 5 acres of school grounds (which is surrounded by housing and yards that back up to the school's woods). Get this - the kids, with supervision and permission - can go into the woods and build little dwellings. They can climb the trees! Teachers take small groups into little clearings where the kids sit on logs or the ground, and have story time. In the fall, in the evening, parents and teachers bring lanterns and take nature walks.

This is a school that lets kids learn and be creative. They have small garden plots where the kids learn to grow food plants. There's a sort of earth bermed amphitheater where the parents and teachers hold a festival in the summer. The spot also serves for sledding in winter, as well (how many schools do you know where kids are encourged to bring a sled to school?)

The teachers seem incredibly dedicated to the students. One teacher was using her break time to sit on the lawn and unwind some yarn in preparation for the next class's project. The students were engaged and involved in their projects. I peeked in at a music class and watched briefly as the children practiced on recorder-like instruments.

The proposed wattle fencing will, I believe, be a wonderful addition to the school ground. It is intended to loop around the playground equipment and is meant to lightly corral the youngest students, while the older ones will still be allowed access to the trails, kid-built stick dwellings and tree climbing areas. It was a necessary stopover for me, to actually see the materials they have and see what they envision for the project.

I came away excited about this little gem of a school that doesn't treat children as if they were herds of animals. This is a school that provides something other than an asphalt playground with a chain link fence around it. Here's a school that treats children like they deserve to be treated, as individuals, giving them a well-rounded education, good food, lots of exercise and the opportunity to develop their creativity and curiosity under caring guidance.

I look forward to working with the parents and volunteers this coming October and teaching them how to build wattle fencing to enhance the already amazing school facility.

Happy gardening tonight from Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, where spring is still beginning. (Oh, and in Indianapolis, morels were $50 a pound 2 days ago). 

 I've always fantasized about following the morel mushroom arrival all the way up to Canada and I'm almost accomplishing that with this trip.

5 comments:

Steven Anthony said...

awwwwwwwwww if I had known I would have come to carmel, Im not that far away, would be cool to hear you speak....as always enjoyed the post;)

Jim Long said...

Well darn, wish I'd known. I had time, even kicked around a day photographing wildflowers and looking for interesting food.

Bean said...

Hi Jim! I am new to your blog, and wondered what the name of the flowering tree you have pictured at the beginning of this post is? We have two of them in our yard, too - and everyone here absolutely LOVES them! I would be very happy to tell my neighbor what variety to look for when he's at the nursery, too! thank you so much!! (p.s. I actually have a picture of it as my blog header right now, too! haha!!)

Jim Long said...

It's a crab apple but I don't know which one. Probably if you do a Google search for crab apple, you will find photos to identify which one this is. They're pretty easy to find on-line and at nurseries. The one at the school is especially beautiful and I think has pea-sized apples in the summer.

Bean said...

thanks Jim! I must have two different crab apples growing together- the tree that gives me these flowers never fruits, but the taller tree that it grows directly next to it does every year!