It's the time of year that Carolina Wrens are nesting outside my office window. I can see the mama wren carrying worms and caterpillars to the nest, which Pathfinder kids are observing closely.
Last year they were in the laundry chute, this year they nested in our shelf where we keep outdoor toys and gardening supplies. The nest is right at kid-head-height, and we've tracked them from egg to fledgling.
"Look, aren't they cute?" one member said.
"But we are scaring the mom every time we open the door to CubbyLand."
"We need to protect the birds!" some concerned members said. "I got a worm, we should feed them!"
"Their mama has that part under control," my co-staff told them. "It's important not to feed birds the wrong thing, you could hurt them even though you are trying to help."
"But we keep opening the door and scaring her!" they said, brows furrowed.
"Well, what do you think would help?" I asked.
"Let's make a sign to warn everyone not to use the door."
"Sounds good! I'll get some caution tape in case people can't read, and we can make an announcement at Morning Meeting."
The next day at Morning Meeting, I asked for consent. "Is everyone OK with using the front door while the baby birds are nesting? It's OK to come look at them, we just want to give the mama bird a break."
Some kids were not willing to forego a shortcut, but they agreed to go slowly and carefully. Most people were glad to do something to help the baby birds, and consented to using the front door for the next few days.
I look at the sign they made, and I can’t help but think about how reading and writing is an important part of our community because of the information that people want to communicate to each other. They know the power of words, we have signs everywhere with the rules. When a member asks to do a write-up, the first thing we do is read the words of the rule out loud. If it’s not clear, that’s something we need to work on next week at Change Up meeting. Words clearly have power.
Every day, we're learning as we go in an integrated environment without clear-cut “subjects.” Why shouldn’t biology, reading, writing, physical education be holistically integrated? Additionally we teach “curricula” such as communication, proposal-forming, and consent. We learn all of it all the time. flowing seamlessly from one subject to another.
When they have a good reason *why they need* to use these tools, they learn them very quickly. And we're here with them as 'village elders' every step of the way.
Monday morning I took a look outside to check on the nestlings. The nest was empty! It seemed a little early for the birds to fledge. I kept an eye out for them and didn’t see fledglings around….
The next day, I found this gorgeous black rat snake just above the nest. The snake was unusually docile, and the kids were amazed by how soft and sleek it was.
“I’m 99% sure this snake ate those baby birds,” I told the kids.
We took some time to process. “That was a really dumb place to put a nest if snakes could get to it,” said an 8 year-old.
“I’m so sad about the birds! Maybe we should have a funeral or something…”said a sensitive teen. “But that snake was kind of beautiful…”
“It’s just nature,” said a 5- year old matter -of-factly.
And so the real life learning continues….