Saturday, March 29, 2014

Nature Walks: Building Dynamic Thinking for Our SPD Kids

We'd been looking forward to Island Quest, an exploration of South Carolina's barrier island, Bulls Island, for a month! Unfortunately, the day was overcoast, wet, rainy with temperatures in the 60s. Imagine taking children ranging in age five to fifteenish, some with autism, sensory processing disorders, or other reasons to struggle with resiliency. Did the overcast, cloudy skies forecast doom our nature walk?

No! Students, staff, and chaperones had a blast in spite of spending two-hours in a car full of kids, a half-hour on a ferry, walking three miles — half of the trek in rain showers — BEFORE eating lunch.

Yes, at dark moments when the sun had abandoned us, we felt doubt and discomfort. We were soaking wet. Hair dripping with water. Sea water giving us free facials. Chilled by wind gusts. We cycled through the five stages of grieving our dampened condition and let go! We embraced the quiet rain and enjoyed whatever the day gave us.

Wonder is what saved the day! Since the beginning of the school year, we had faithfully walked the nearby wildlife refuge every Friday. We'd walked it on hot days, cold days, wet days, muddy days, snowy days, icy days. Kids who hated going outside have fallen in love with the creation. Kids who couldn't stand the sight of squiggly things now see beauty in them. The habits of walking regularly and of lengthening attention spans have reaped a harvest. We'd progressed from that first disastrous trek in which chased down little ones darting here, there, and everywhere and seeing nothing to a group that impressed the naturalist who guided us (more on that in another post). They see wonder in animal tracks and bird songs; little things like snails, rocks, lichen, moss, fern, and fungi; big things like alligators, live oak trees, and rotten logs.

How do we scaffold wonder?

We walk every week, any weather, with rare exceptions. An outing lasts at least an hour and a half. Our trail is a mile long, but it's more like a mile and a half due to rabbit trails.

We assign children to one adult guide. We space the groups out on the trail so they learn to follow one person. We vary the guide and the group composition every week to promote flexibility for our static thinkers. This time, we all went together and we all followed one guide. Months of nature walks meant they could adjust to a different game plan.

At school, we spend time outdoors. We notebook outdoors. We eat outdoors. We play outdoors. We work outdoors. It feels natural to be outdoors for several hours.

We prepare without over-preparing. Even though there was only a thirty percent chance of rain, we came with boots, raincoats, cheap emergency ponchos, etc. We had bugspray, hats, and sunscreen in case the sun came out in full force. We didn't give too much information. Would you tell kids they had to walk almost three miles before they could eat lunch?

We adapt whether it's hanging out our clothes to dry or finding joy in broken things.

We overcome our own discomfort with things that disgust us.

We stop and study interesting things. Wonder thrives.

We treasure keepsakes.

We respect living things.

We respect our guides.

We enjoy being together.

We dance in the rain.

Pamela did have a moment in which she was quite miserable. We had just left the beach. It was a wee bit cold and rainy. She had figured out we'd have to walk over a mile before we could stop and eat. She fussed and wanted to stop. I told her that there were no roads and the only way we were getting back was by walking. Otherwise, we'd be stuck like The Swiss Family Robinson and we'd have to build a hut and survive on whatever lived on the island. She accepted my perspective, and that was her only moment of real complaining. The day offered enough wonder to make the discomfort and long trek worthwhile.

When we finally reached the boat for our return voyage, it began to rain again. God rewarded us for our perseverance and showed off his creation. We spotted dolphins following our wake far off in the distance. All manner of birds greeted us as we slipped into port. Even the drizzle cannot stop nature's beauty and bounty.


Bonnie said...

You made me long for the beach!

Susan said...

Love this post, especially the suggestions for how to reduce complaints from unhappy children - getting used to it and building up our stamina for staying outdoors is the best help. For next winter I am going to build up our supply of winter gear. My children that attend school were much better able to handle the cold than the rest of us. They have sufficient gear and school policy is that recess is outside unless the weather is dangerous. As long as it's warmer than -30˚C, the kids spend at least some time outside. I haven't been as tough on my kids at home and the difference is noticeable! Thanks for the reminder to spend time developing these healthy habits!

Bright Side of Life said...

Wonderful post, Tammy. What a fabulous experience for all involved.

Naomi said...

So many things you said here resonate. Praise God for your passion to help moms and children see His glorious truths!