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Twenty Seconds

By Whitney Russell

Children offer a special gift by sharing with us their sensations of delight and wonder at the natural world, pure and unrefined. As teachers, we have a special opportunity to help children better appreciate their experiences and to allow them to resonate within a format which values and nurtures their natural curiosity.

The kindergarteners at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, wind down their recess each day by retracing their steps for a walk out the back door of their classroom and going back outside. Taking a brief twenty seconds outside each day allows students a chance to use their senses in a meaningful way. Their experience remains fresh, but this time their minds are focused and eager to find something they had missed the day before, or in hopes of witnessing the same magic they had experienced yesterday.

Using their sense of hearing, the children are amazed by the unending roar of crickets, a sound they had never noticed before. They wish that the whole school could smell like the air when it rains, and, of course, they have to catch and taste snowflakes with their tongues when it snows. The children compare goose bumps on their arms when it feels cold outside, and you would think it was Christmas morning when they watch hundreds of birds fly over in the midst of the fall migration.

Children are born scientists, so naturally these experiences lead to inquiry. Back in the classroom, they ask, "Why can't we hear the crickets in the winter? What is migration? What kind of birds were in the sky?" With a simple backyard birds poster, the students morph into ornithologists to identify birds, and together, we research what happens to crickets when the weather turns cold.

With only twenty seconds dedicated to nature each day, the science curriculum turns into life.

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Mrs. Whitney Russell teaches kindergarten at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School.