One of the things that really helped me about living in Costa Rica was the peaceful acceptance of the vicissitudes of life so contrary to the New York high speed, high intensity attitude, where everything seems focused on achievement and beating the competition. Costa Ricans have a saying: “Pura Vida” which roughly means, relax and live life joyfully. In Costa Rica I was able to let go of much of my anxiety about all the developmental milestones that my son was not reaching, to practice more patience and acceptance of my son - and of myself with all of my hang ups.
Zachary waited at the farm, hours after school had ended, excited to be the first student to meet our newest companion. As late afternoon cast long shadows across the pastures and the cows were in their yard after evening milking, a blue Jeep, pulling a trailer, turned into the red farm-gate. Otis! The appaloosa mustang looked around cautiously as he descended the ramp, assessing the pastures, taking note of the cows across the fence. “That’s a fine looking animal!” Will, the dairy farmer, said, nodding in approval. Zach stood near Otis’ head and offered a hand, allowing Otis to breathe him in – a horse’s equivalent of asking your name.
The next morning, Otis spent some time at the fence, eyeing his bovine neighbors, flaring his nostrils as he accustomed himself to their scent and all the other scents of the new air. The cows, equally curious, approached their side of the shared fence and watched Otis as he took graceful laps around the ring. Every few laps, Otis would halt right in front of the fence, and the cows, his awestruck spectators, would back off momentarily, startled by the unfamiliar creature. Later, all of the Otto Specht students gathered together to meet this new creature, who they would soon be learning and working with. A sign, painted by the students, hung from the railing of the corral, decorated with the students’ handprints and the words “Welcome Home Otis.”
Otis quickly settled into his new home, thrilled to have fresh grass, and becoming accustomed to, and even, it would seem, fond of the cows across the fence. The children gladly worked to care for the horse, mucking stalls, carrying water, and clearing undesired plants from the riding ring and debris from the paddock. Students found a sense of purpose working with Otis, which helped them brush aside other concerns and social anxieties and delve into the work. The fifth grade girls exclaimed that Mr. Bosch always knew the right jobs to give them when working with Otis. He knew who could stand mucking the stalls, and who could carry the heavy water buckets. Life lessons were also readily learned with Otis. The students could reflect upon themselves through what they learned about the horse. For example, they all learned that we do not feed Otis from our hands since he would get spoiled and then he would expect treats from us whenever he saw us and be disappointed when we didn’t have them. “What does that remind you of?” Mr. Bosch asked the third graders. “The red truck!” Ori quickly replied. “Exactly!” Mr. Bosch confirmed. “Ever since I gave you one ride in the red truck, you have asked for it every gardening class.” The third graders nodded. They understood this lesson, and look forward to many more.
As the school year drew to a close, harvests and seed saving filled our last days of Farming and Gardening. The spaces cared for by our students produced hundreds of pounds of food for the Fellowship Community kitchen. Beautiful dishes of fresh salads, carrots and radishes, warm, nourishing beet greens, and earthy, deep red beets brightened the tables of members, co-workers, and guests. Students joyfully sampled the vegetables they grew and delivered them to the kitchen with the pride of real farmers.
Handwork has a specific task within the curriculum. It awakens the creative powers which will be useful in as many ways as possible in later life and work. It helps the young child to develop a healthy imagination and helps to unfold his/her will and feeling life. What’s almost more important than the child learning to use his/her hands in a practical way is that in adult life, it will help form good judgement and balanced thinking.
In Handwork, we use mainly the right side of the brain (creativity, intuition), which helps the students crossing the “mid-line.” It requires the involvement of many skills including: body awareness, hand-eye coordination and possibly most importantly, brain communication.
When a student enters the wood shop, she is welcomed into a space where she can use her hands, mind, imagination, senses of beauty and proportion, will power, and simple tools to create something beautiful. She is invited to look forward to the pride and satisfaction that her completed project will eventually bring. She is looking forward to success.
Woodworking requires that the maker engage all of his faculties in an integrated manner to transform organic material into something beautiful and useful. It requires purpose, patience, concentration, and commitment. Woodworking can also be fun! Social interaction is common and welcome, as long as it is not distracting or disruptive. Tools, especially ones that are cared for and well-maintained such as the ones we use, can be both highly satisfying and dangerous, and we work within clear safety guidelines, conscious of protecting ourselves and the others around us.
Although there is still a nip in the air and snow on the ground, the classes working in our greenhouses are anticipating spring! Several of our plants have been left to set seed for next year, including radishes and lettuce. Even in the depths of winter we were able to sell some of our beautiful rainbow chard at the Hand and Hoe, bringing in $50 to support our farm and garden programming.
When our students discover that they are writers, a whole world is unlocked within them. Our work as educators is to give them the keys. The main lesson teachers and our reading and writing specialist, Elizabeth Harriman, work to remove obstacles and anxieties and provide students with tools and guidance along the way.
Fall harvest is winding down in the fields of Duryea Farm at the Fellowship Community. Otto Specht third graders along with farm educator, Jose Romero Bosch, finished bringing in the last of the lettuce they planted earlier this fall before winter snows set in. As the weather outside turns cold, however, and the ground begins to freeze, inside the greenhouses warm temperatures and healthy soil allow us to continue growing and providing fresh produce to the members of the Fellowship Community. This fall, students threshed seeds they had saved from last year’s crops. Now, Greenhouse 2 is filled with vibrant beds of rainbow chard, radishes, and a variety of lettuces grown from these seeds. Just last week, high school and middle school students planted over 300 more radishes and 125 more lettuces, which will be greatly enjoyed at midwinter meals.
Outdoors, in forests and fields, our lessons are ever-present. They do not dwell in the realm of theory and abstraction. The children remain awake to each other and to their surroundings. They problem solve, help each other, and follow along – not simply because the teacher has created a set of instructions, but because the group is moving, because the water below is wet, because something else is around the next bend.