Author Cindy Ross has a new book entitled, The World is Our Classroom- How One Family Used Nature & Travel to Shape an Extraordinary Education (Skyhorse Publishing, NYC). The content in this piece is excerpted from her book. Cindy will be presenting on this topic at GMC next Monday, October 1st. Find details below.
As I rummaged through the drawer of hats and gloves looking for matching pairs, I heard the teakettle whistle in the kitchen, reminding me to make hot chocolate for our thermos. Tonight, our family was going out to play under the full moon.
We first started going on full moon walks for ourselves, because my husband Todd Gladfelter and I, loved them and we needed these little doses of moonlight in order to stay happy and function in society. But after we became parents, we went for our children. We wanted Sierra and Bryce to see that there is much magic in the natural world and most of it is accessible to anyone. We also wanted to show them it was not necessary to travel far from home in order to have an adventure, learn, and experience something new. Nearly every month, our family went into the night to “play” by the full moon.
Right outside the door, there is the capability to entertain, occupy and teach children many of life’s lessons. Given the right formula of free time, open space, a few materials, and a tiny bit of guidance, a whole universe of learning is amazingly close by. Kids would also learn to entertain themselves and not constantly rely on outside stimulation.
We have walked in our local public lands under balmy summer moons in T-shirts, with katydids singing and lightning bugs flashing in a multi-sensory display. We have walked under autumn moons and watched migrating geese as they became silhouettes against the silvery disk. We have walked under spring moons and felt the warming breeze on our skin and smelled the rich earth waking up, and we have walked under winter moons, when the wind blew the ice-coated tree limbs that sparkled like jewels and tinkled like musical instruments.
Once we arrived at our location that evening, Sierra and I stood holding hands, thanking the sun out loud for its warmth and light all day long. We then turned and faced the opposite direction in the sky and waited to cheer the full moon in its rising. A thin sliver of the apricot moon poked above the hulking shape of the Blue Mountain Ridge. Everyone stood up and witnessed its rising. More of the moon materialized until it turned into a brilliant orange sphere. Todd explained to Sierra and Bryce that the moon makes no light of its own, but simply acts like a mirror, reflecting the sunlight back to us long after the sun has sunk below the horizon.
“Does the moon’s face change?” Bryce asked. I told him that the moon rotates with the earth, but it does not spin on its axis like the earth does. The same side of the moon is always facing earth. We never see the other side, the far side of the moon. Sierra remarked that the moon looked larger and closer when it was rising. I explained that it is an optical illusion because it is so close to the horizon that the moon tricks our eyes into comparing it with nearby objects to create the impression of increased size. Through our binoculars, the kids got a close-up look at the craters and valleys and mountains on the moon, the dark patches that astronomers call plains and seas.
Much of the knowledge Todd and I shared with the kids, we had gleaned from our past life experiences. If we did not possess the knowledge to explain and educate, we looked it up, either beforehand to enhance the experience, or afterwards, together, after we wondered and came up with a list of questions.
The process of educating our children emerged naturally through our encounters with the world. It never felt forced nor boring; we were all curious and wanted to dig deeper and learn more about the topic.
When Bryce pulled out a red handkerchief on that moonlit walk, he was amazed that he could see color. Todd told him that without light, there is no color. It does not have to be sunlight or light bulbs; it can be from the light of the moon, which is technically reflected sunlight. These are the kinds of simple yet profound experiences that can ignite a spark in us, propel us down a certain path in life, without even realizing it. As a parent, I made a conscious effort to teach Sierra and Bryce how to see and appreciate light and color in the natural world. These are the kinds of things Todd and I found just as important as teaching simple math and balancing a checkbook.
As we stared up at the constellations, a brilliant shooting star raced across the sky. We knew it was special to see a shooting star in full moonlight because the sky is so bright. Right afterwards, a great horned owl called in a nearby conifer forest. We cupped our hands and called back. All these events made the night feel magical.
Encouraging our children to view the natural world as magical was important to us as parents. Seeing through this lens evokes a feeling of awe, a sense of wonder. The wonder state often occurs when you don’t quite understand what or why something is. It appears to be mysterious, until you learn the reason, the explanation, but the magical feeling often remains. It is a wonderful way to view the world and it ensures that you will always have the ability to be surprised and amazed.
I held Bryce’s hand on the return hike. “Look at the moon shadows, Mama!” He lifted up his arms like a monster and yelled back to his sister, “I’m taking a moonbeam bath!” and ran down the moonlit trail playing monster. Contrary to what much of the media and society would have us believe, families do not have to spend a ton of money on entertainment in order to have fun and learn. Opportunities to seek magical experiences and learning is right in your neighborhood. Sometimes all it takes is going outdoors and gazing up at the heavens.
Join us for this special FREE talk and multimedia presentation:
The World is Our Classroom: How One Family Used Nature & Travel to Shape an Extraordinary Education, with Cindy Ross
Monday, October 1, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
GMC Visitor Center, Waterbury Center, VT
Cindy’s story begins in the Rocky Mountain wilderness on a unique and extraordinary journey: two parents leading their young children 3,100 miles on the backs of llamas. This Canada-Mexico trek illustrated to her and her husband, Todd, what experiential education can do. Inspired by the experience, they went on to create a new way of supplementing their children’s education, focusing on two arenas for learning: the natural world and travel. In this age of world connection, it is important to raise broad-minded and empathetic children who are knowledgeable about other cultures. To accomplish this goal, they chose an unorthodox approach: they orchestrated learning opportunities as their family traveled the world, moving about on foot and bicycle, living simply and intimately. But just as important, and more accessible for many parents, were the opportunities for learning closer to home, as well as those provided by the natural world. These adventures brought intangible gifts: values such as compassion, self-reliance, and appreciation, among others that are not always fostered in a traditional curriculum but crucially important in raising children.