Seventh-graders from Camden Rockport Middle School in Camden, Maine, were poking around Chewonki recently, notebooks in hand. What was most noticeable about them was how intently they were looking. They quietly scrutinized the farm animals, the November forest, and the shoreline.
Camden Rockport Middle School is among the schools with whom Chewonki Outdoor Classroom works, explains Outdoor Classroom Co-coordinator Katie Yakubowski, and these students were involved in “a very cool project-based learning exercise called ‘Learning How to See.’ It incorporates science, specifically focusing on observation skills and symbiotic relationships; art; and language arts.”
Nine groups totaling 95 Camden Rockport students came to Chewonki for a three-day, two-night Outdoor Classroom encampment “to learn about different ecosystems and practice making in-depth observations of nature,” says Yakubowski “They did careful observations around their campsites and also did an Estuary Study, a Farm Study, and either chores or a work project. They also went on the Challenge Course [ropes, wires, and high and low elements] to do some group initiatives in the woods.”
The students recorded their findings through scientific documentation, artistic expression, research, and creative writing in journals. Back at their school after their visit to Chewonki, the students exhibited their “nature journals,” each a unique work of art, for the school community to enjoy.
Student Veronica Waters explained that project-based learning: “Students engage in real-world problems or challenges which they can explore through multiple perspectives. As a result, you can get lots of different right answers.” The question that prompted the students’ scientific inquiry and creative expression, she said, was: “How is life interconnected and interdependent?”
Yakubowski describes the venture as a great example of the imaginative ways that the Outdoor Classroom and schools can partner to strengthen learning through nature-based experiences that support academic goals and emotional growth. The Outdoor Classroom staff was as excited as the students about the visit, she says. “The theme of symbiosis was great, and our educators really enjoyed this program because the kids were so well versed in taking observations and the chaperones were completely committed–our activities tied directly to their school project.”
Charlotte Denehy, a seventh-grader at Camden Rockport Middle School, wrote a poem after her visit to Chewonki. Here is an excerpt:
Dear Mother Earth,
I appreciate you.
Your pleasant and unpleasant places included.
You provide me with so much.
Knowledge, home, beautiful memories…
But most of all, you give me joy.
Joy through learning.
Learning through smelling the pine trees on Chewonki farm, through feeling the wind in the crisp fall air…
Learning through sitting in the tall grass while listening to the chickens, through hearing the crickets’ patterned noises…
You bring me joy by guiding my thoughts when I’m lost.
But you also let me find my own way back.
And sometimes, you let me escape reality for a few moments.
Like the moments I spent enjoying the Perch.*
Far up in the strong trees of the Chewonki woods.
It was quiet and peaceful there…
A pleasant place. A place to appreciate…
I appreciate you, Mother Earth.
And all you’ve done for me.
*Editor’s note: The Perch is a wooden platform suspended in a cluster of trees on Chewonki Neck.