Keeping Magic and Mystery Alive Through Outdoor Education

16611_627537380645131_1110603493_nIf you want to see a group of kids run, not walk, to class, drop by Phoenix Rising on an Outdoor Education day. Facilitators Genevieve Becker and Porter Eichenlaub share an infectious passion for their subject which inspires students and enlivens learning. “You can build integrated lesson plans around a lot of different academic subjects that are really immediate and compelling for the kids,” says Porter. “The natural world can be a great vehicle for igniting passion and enthusiasm for any kind of learning.”

Multiple studies have shown that time spent outside, both structured and unstructured, provides physical, mental and emotional benefits for children and adults, including an enhanced ability to focus. However, Genevieve, a lead stewardship specialist with Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation and Porter, who also teaches at the Olympia Waldorf School, see greater potentials. “If we know about nature, if we feel connected to it, then we can care for it. This creates a long term healthy system,” says Genevieve. Porter echoes that sentiment. “One of the best ways to inspire people to really care about our environment when they’re older is to have a strong emotional connection, a sense of wonder in the natural world early on in life,” he says.

With that in mind, their goal is for students to leave Phoenix Rising after sixth grade with specific skills, knowledge and attitudes. “Strong values can be instilled,” says Porter. “I want them to develop their own land ethic based on a solid relationship to the woods here, the fields and streams and ocean. In addition, we want them to leave with some solid wilderness skills. By 6th grade kids would be able to go out on a three day backpacking trip or a two day camping trip. That’s where fire-building and safety skills come in.”

Genevieve sees additional benefits. “I want the kids to experience the sense of community in nature, the sense of self, and a level of comfort,” she says. “To be able to be out there and not only survive but be comfortable is an empowering feeling.” Perhaps most importantly, says Porter, “We want them to leave with a sense of curiosity and wonder that’s still awake about the natural world, to know more things than they did when they started here, but still be really excited and curious about all of the mysteries and the magic that’s around.”

For a fun way to learn more about Porter and Genevieve, view their videos: View Porter’s Video View Genevieve’s Video

Chicken Mail, Frogs and ‘The Hug Thing’: Career Week(s) at Phoenix Rising

jeanette and kidsHave you ever mailed someone a chicken? Probably not, but after a class visit to the post office last week, Pre-K and Kindergarten students now know that it’s possible. They also know that biologists get to spend a lot of time outside, nurses have some pretty interesting toys and there’s more than one way to heal someone. It’s all part of their unit on Community Helpers, which has included such guests as a real-life E.R. nurse (Jeanette, mom of Hazel and Dalton), a Kinesiologist (Eva, mother of Aris and Ava), a biologist and more.

“I wanted to broaden their idea of potential jobs in the community and understanding that real people have these jobs as they grow up,” says Pre-K teacher Carol Shimono. “I know that what we pretend to be as children often has such an effect on our opportunities later in life.”

While the children may not be able to describe in detail what they learned from each visit, they’re clearly enjoying the experience. “I got a turn with the hug thing,” says Zofia, age four. “It was to test your blood.” A blood pressure cuff by any other name is apparently more exciting. “The kids have enjoyed all of the different activities,” says Carol, “because once we do something, they get to play with either the equipment or some pretend version of it.”

Later this week they’ll be learning about scientists from Mr. Neil and getting a visit from some E.M.T.s. The unit will wrap up with a trip to the fire station and a special glimpse behind the scenes at Puerto Vallarta restaurant. “Some want to be firefighters during all of their play but now they get to try out the role of a postman or someone who has a restaurant,” Carol says. “I wanted them to have more choices, more experiences and opportunities for what they can eventually create for themselves.” View Photos Watch Video

Science Fair Features Projectile Potatoes, Homemade Plastic and More

sydney scienceIf this year’s Science Fair were a movie, a potato would have had the starring role. Whether fired from a gun or compared in its organic and non-organic forms, the humble vegetable took center stage. The potato gun created by fifth grader Tahsis generated considerable excitement, as hordes of children chased the unlikely missile into the woods with cries of “Find the potato!”

Meanwhile his classmate Vinnie’s experiment turned out differently than expected when the organic potato failed to surpass its non-organic cousin’s root growth, despite the latter’s exposure to growth-killing pesticides.

It was all part of the third annual Science Fair, which had thirty-one volunteer participants this year. Experiments ranged from making plastic out of vinegar and milk, an experiment judge Miro Bouchakian called “original, unique and creative”, to counting the number of brush strokes it takes to untangle hair by using different tools. Some students combined various passions in their projects. “I have two favorite things: I love science and I love art,” says Sidney, a fourth grader. “When I found the artistic idea of having a science project, I wanted to make something very artistic and very beautiful.” Her experiment involved different types of kaleidoscopes.

Owen, a sixth grader, was thinking ahead. “At some point there’s not going to be enough oil,” he says. “They’re going to have to resort to other things. I thought it would be interesting to work on alternative energy sources.” He created a battery that ran on water by separating hydrogen from oxygen. Science Lab facilitator Neil Kaber looked like a proud parent of thirty-one children at the end of the day. “This was the greatest Science Fair we’ve ever had,” he says. “They really followed the Scientific Method.” Congratulations to all of our scientists! View Photos Watch Video

Phoenix Fifth Grader in Semi-Finals of National Contest

azuraIf you were an author, imagine hearing this from a ten-year-old reader: “Your book was so much more than a required English book. It taught me to be more giving and self-sufficient . . . it really made me think about the world. I saw that not everybody has the most glorious life.” This particular testament to the power of literature came from Phoenix Rising fifth grader Azura, a.k.a Zuri, a participant in the Library of Congress’ Letters About Literature contest. Azura is currently a semi-finalist, one of seventy-eight out of the original 50,000+ entrants.

“It makes me feel awesome,” says Azura. “I feel more confident in what I do because someone has seen it and they think it’s good. I feel better about my work.” She actually began to visualize winning back in January. “We were doing this project called the House of Wisdom and it had a couple of slots where you could write what you wanted,” she says, “so I wrote that I wanted to win the writing contest.”

For the contest, students were allowed to pick any book they wanted. Azura chose Almost Home by Joan Bauer, a story of a homeless teen whose only companion is a dog. It had a big impact. “I realized I was greedy,” she says. “Over Christmas, I was in a store with my dad and I wanted a new bike. I begged and whined until I got it. I do this a lot. . . but what I really need to do is keep on dreaming with a happy heart. Also, I want to think about other people and not just about myself.”

Fifth and sixth grade facilitator Sophie Sykes noticed a dramatic increase in the level of focus and commitment to better writing through this project. “They were more willing to rewrite their papers and take a look at the type of sentence structure that they hadn’t looked at before and they sometimes find pretty boring,” she says. “Zuri in particular was extremely willing to write as many drafts as it took to fix every single one of the sentence problems, the capitalization, the grammar, and so on.”

The next stage of contest results will be released on March 20th and 21st, at which point we will find out whether Azura advances. Congratulations to her and the rest of the budding writers in fifth and sixth grades. “I believe that all of them came away with the understanding of how important it is to know how to write,” says Sophie. “It can really help you start to establishing an identity for your own expression in the world.” Read Azura’s Letter


Goodbye, Grumpy! Tips to Ease Daylight Savings for Kids

sleepy3Let’s face it: Daylight Savings Time is often a recipe for irritable, sleep-deprived children – and parents. Case in point? On Monday morning after North America ‘sprang forward’, one Phoenix Rising parent dropped off her child unusually late, explaining, “She really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning.” Pause. “Actually, neither did I.”

She was not alone. According to Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who specializes in pediatric sleep, “That hour [of missing sleep] is even more difficult for kids to deal with than flying cross-country to a whole new time zone. It can throw off their sleep, appetite, attention span, mood, everything.” Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the impact. Here are a few tips from various sleep specialists:

1. Move bedtime up 15 minutes or so for several days before daylight-saving time begins. Oops! Too late for that one. However, remember it next time Daylight Savings rolls around.

2. Keep the sleeping area dark. Sleeping blinders work well for this purpose, but dark curtains can serve the same function, especially if the sun is still shining at bedtime.

3. Keep Morning Lights Bright
Children who are exposed to bright light first thing in the morning can reprogram their internal clocks faster.

4. Keep the bedtime routine the same after the clocks change as you did before. The consistent routine will provide a sense of normalcy. According to Toddler Center, “Children with good sleep routines, who have a quiet time routine before bed, stay in their bed through the night and don’t need help to get to sleep, cope well with the changes in time as they know what to expect at the end of the day regardless of the time.”

5. Have patience! Easier said than done, but bear in mind that changes in sleep patterns are hard on everyone, including you. Be nice to yourself and cut your kids a little slack.