Celebrating Little Rancher’s School Summer Camp 2018
“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and when the grass of the meadows is wet with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning.”
It’s a celebration as our first season of Little Rancher’s Summer Camp comes to an end! We had an incredible nature-based summer program teaching kids in our community. The campers worked in a Montessori-inspired classroom, learned where our food comes and how it’s grown and experienced the joys of outdoor education. As our world becomes more chaotic, rushed, and out of touch with sustainable living, it’s our goal to guide children to connect with their natural environment and learn the importance and beauty of local agriculture. Experiential learning opportunities increase confidence in children and gives them the ability to direct their own lives.
Growing up on El Morro Valley Ranch inspired me to become an educator because I wanted other children to receive the same types of authentic, hands-on learning opportunities. After receiving my teaching credential from the University of San Diego, I taught for 10 years in various traditional, public and private schools in California, Costa Rica and Utah. Teaching in Costa Rica and at Another Way Montessori School in Park City, Utah were two of my most influential experiences due to the way their programs balanced academics with outdoor education. It’s from these educational models and growing up on the ranch that I began to extract and meld my own pedagogy for Little Ranchers School, which includes Montessori methods, outdoor education and child-centered learning.
Each morning campers showed up with smiles on their faces, eager to play and greet a new day. We would begin with outdoor play then join in for circle time filled with songs, Spanish lessons, movement, and a Montessori-based academic presentation such as reading or math skills. Children were then dismissed to choose various works in the practical life, language, math, geography, science, music and art areas of the classroom. Our classroom is designed to engage the child while the teacher is the guide and observes when the child is ready for a teachable moment. Children have free-choice to work in the area they please and advance in learning at their own pace. After classroom work, we continued to enhance learning through outdoor education.
Through my continued growth as an educator, I’ve experienced the positive impact outdoor education has on a child. Hiking with the students suddenly turned into a magical, enchanted forest experience where the children were completely engaged in studying elk scat, wildflowers, and fungi while their imaginations began to run wild. One early morning, a mud cake contest broke out in the sandy creek. Each child created a unique masterpiece out of pinecones, sticks, grass, and juniper berries. They were completely immersed in nature, working collaboratively and happy! During one of our hikes, one of the students shouted, “this is our natural playground!” After our big hikes, the children would empty out their collection baskets where sticks transformed into painted fairy wands, pine cones were spread with peanut butter and birdseed to make a feeder, or the students glued collages out of natural materials to make leaf unicorns and penguins.
One of our favorite adventures was hopping in the ranch truck to go help feed the cows and experience life as a “little rancher”. Chatter and excitement would fill the truck while many “why?” questions began. This enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge is what I believe learning is all about and what inspired us to start this school.
Gardening and outdoor time was a blast! Gardening provided a wonderful opportunity to teach lessons such as the life cycle of a green bean and how to grow healthy food. The campers planted squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, marigolds, and onions. They also loved watching the swarms of hummingbirds around the feeder while having snacks on the deck. Cooking at the outdoor “mud kitchen,” jumping on the trampoline, climbing trees and of course going swimming with the goldfish and dragonflies were some of the other highlights!
Overall, our goal was to instill a love for learning and in return, they inspired us with their insatiable curiosity, endless imaginations and unique intelligences. We plan to continue day camps this fall as the school year approaches. Come out and join us! Please contact us for more detailed information and scheduling. Thank you for the encouraging support! I also want to say a special thank you to Brianna Clark, who was an incredible assistant this summer and also taught yoga to the kids. We are happy to be back home and part of such a wonderful community!
In closing, we leave you with these inspiring words from the great Willie Nelson, “Take your kids to a farm, so they don’t think food comes from a box.”