Four Circles Learning Site Update

This site is currently inactive, but remains as a reference for those wising to read any of its content.

Keep fighting the good fight to make education and life-long learning accessible and relevant to all.

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Pam Moran: Let’s Bring Back Environmental Education

Me, at work, with a group of homeschoolers...

My lifelong mentor and world renowned environmental educator, Bill Hammond, taught me that if I was gonna be against something, then I had to decide what I was  for and fight for that! Being for something makes you really think about your values and your will to make it happen.

Pam Moran, an educator whom I admire, gets that. She shares what she’s for in this elegant post for bringing back Environmental Education. All schools, but especially public schools, should make EE a priority.

I couldn’t agree with her more… here’s her post: More than Earth Day: Let’s Bring Back Environmental Education.

What are your thoughts about EE in schools?

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Nature-based literacy – building lifelong learning and connecting kids to nature

snail kite food

Image by debh2u via Flickr

Nature-based literacy is combining reading with being outdoors, helping kids (and adults) develop a love for both, and nurturing a lifelong connection to nature and learning. Having been an environmental educator for more than 30 years and a librarian for part of that time, I am a big fan of nature-based literacy as an approach to get kids outdoors and encourage them to read more.

So how do you  create nature-based literacy events or programs? Start small, think big.

If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, librarian, or anyone who interacts with even one child regularly, you have the perfect opportunity. Simply grab a really cool book about nature and take your special child outdoors to read. Take a hike or just sit under a tree outside your house and read together.

If you are working with groups of kids or families try this idea. Plan a themed hike or event.  I’m doing two of these this year for the CREW Land & Water Trust. One is called Stargazing and Storytelling. The other is called the Birds, Bugs, and Bears Hike. Both are for families of all ages.

In both cases, we’ll be outdoors, spending time in nature, learning about and enjoying what’s there, but we’ll also take time out during the hike and during the star-gazing to read stories or excerpts from stories related to the topics. I’m also creating reading lists for parents to take home and use to extend their experiences outdoors.

Other cool themes to use are:

  • Nature’s Alphabet – have kids look for things in nature than make the shape of different letters and read books related to them
  • Food webs – have kids search for connected parts of a food web
  • Flowers – go on a wildflower scavenger hunt and take a field guide with you
  • Scat – kids love to look for and find animal poop – get a field guide to scat to make it a fun learning experience

If you’re looking for great books to use for nature-based literacy, try some of these authors:

  • Byrd Baylor
  • Carl R. Sams II
  • Eric Carle
  • Lois Ehlert
  • Leonora Hornblow
  • Janell Cannon
  • Jean Craighead George
  • Scott O’Dell
  • Thornton Burgess

There are many, many more wonderful nature writers, but these can get you started. For lots more on nature writers, good books, and getting kids connected to nature, check out the Wild About Nature blog and the Children and Nature Network.

It’s as simple as that.

What good books or authors do you recommend? What ideas can you share here for connecting kids with reading and nature at the same time?

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The Public School Challenge of Unschooling

I spent 24 years in various roles in public education. I believed in what I was doing. I learned about being a teacher by being a teacher, not going to “teacher school”. I learned it from mentors who saw in me a gift for working with children and a passion for nature-based education. I was lucky enough most of my years to work for administrators who hired good teachers and gave them the freedom to help children learn and explore the world in and outside the classroom – hands-on, minds-on, community-based education. My students consistently out-performed others on state and national assessments.

Then, along came standards-based education and NCLB – and everything changed. Teachers were put into boxes and kids into shackles. No one was allowed outside the classroom. “Time on task” became the mantra. No one taught science or social studies or integrated, thematic, community-based units, because only reading and math were being tested then.

Good teachers, no, GREAT teachers, became average teachers or became frustrated trying to conform or left the education field for other opportunities. I stuck with it for a few more years and tried to buck the system, do what I believed was right for kids. I saw kids getting bored, frustrated, overlooked – in the name of “getting through the curriculum” and “preparing for the test”. I watched 3rd graders throw up the morning of the state tests, terrified they would not do well enough to get promoted to 4th grade. I wondered why we did this to our children. And I decided maybe I’d make more of a difference by doing something else.

I took a break from teaching in a school and began, once again, to teach outdoors. Teaching in a non-formal setting where children can explore and ask questions, perform self-directed experiments, create poetry and essays and art about what they learn, and bring their parents back to explore some more (with the kids as the teachers) makes more sense to me. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to be a public school basher. I know there are some pockets of greatness out there, doing all kinds of good things with kids in and around the community. But I want ALL public schools to get out of the “one size fits all, every kid on the same page at the same time” mindset they are in right now. Because of that, I’ve recently been exploring this notion of unschooling.

And yesterday @LucasBessey sent me a link to this video he made about unschooling. I like it. It makes me sad for what public education has become in some places. But it makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways. Strong words from a lot of infamous folks through the ages…

Take a look. What do you think?

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Four Circles Learning Supports Reading with Matching Funds

Four Circles Learning is putting its money where its mission is… helping people learn to love learning – and this time it’s for kids. Kids need books – good books – to read so they learn to love reading, and we are committed to helping schools get the books they need.

We’re challenging southwest Florida community members, businesses,  Bayshore Elementary parents (and the businesses they work for) to give donations specifically for books for the Bayshore Buccaneers media center during their “Funds 4 Books” fundraiser in cooperation with Mackin.  The online donation page is up and running today, September 7th through November 2nd. Four Circles Learning will donate up to $300, matching donations made by parents and other businesses. Are you willing to match an additional $300 or more?

Won’t you help out? All you have to do is click on the Bayshore Elementary link above and go to their Funds 4 Books page… Library books cost about $25 each, including processing with labels, so every $$ helps, and the kids win with every new book we help to purchase!

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Honoring Different Ways of Knowing

We spend so much time in schools developing programs and tests that honor only a limited range of ways of knowing… Daniel Tammet, an autistic savant, reminds us through his experiences why it is so crucial for us to honor different ways of knowing and learning.

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Superhuman brain infographic

Superhuman: the Incredible Savant Brain.

Infographic by

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