Have you ever sat by the river?
More than 6,500 students who visited the FOR’s property this year have listened to the burbling riffles of the river. During each field trip, we challenge students to sit quietly for a few minutes and take in all that the river has to offer. It is my favorite way to teach visiting students.
Most students settle in quickly and begin to widen their eyes to treasures of the river. They begin to hear the water flow by and birds call to one another. They feel the breeze blow across the river; through trees and vegetation. They see the wildlife relax and come out of their hiding spaces. They notice where the eddies turn the water to flow backwards. Their imagination comes to life as rocks begin to look like animals.
At the end of our quiet time by the river, I ask students how they feel now. While there is the rare response of “I feel bored…” almost all the students will respond that they feel “happy, calm, and relaxed”. Even the liveliest class seems calm after the precious moments with nature.
Many of those precious moments occur because of the wonderful creatures that call the Rappahannock “home”; bald eagles, great blue herons, and yes, we have snakes! At this moment, almost as if on cue, one of the animals we mention often comes into view.
We have watched in awe as the bald eagle soars overhead, fish jump to catch an insect snack, and Canadian geese fly upriver in V formation. Other birds will call to each other across the woodpecker pecks along with an obedient drumming sound. One class witnessed a snake catch a fish, swim to shore and have brunch while not seeming to notice that many pairs of wide eyes were watching it. Other classes have giggled as a flock of geese bobbed along for lunch, their bottoms wriggling in the air.
These moments by the river are more important than any science or history lesson we can offer while on a field trip. We cannot expect children to understand how important it is to protect natural spaces without experiencing the joy of it firsthand. They need to see it, hear it, smell it, and feel it.
In these quiet moments with their feet dangling within feet of the riverbank, I remind them that nature is always there if they need to find the feelings of peace again. Our hope is that if children learn how to be in nature, they will search for nature to find the calm whenever they need it.
By Jennifer Gron, Environmental Educator