This May I was happy to be invited to teach an ethnobotany lesson to Peggy Koivu’s 1st and 2nd graders in the Odyssey Program, from the Bainbridge Island School District, at Camp Indianola, in Indianola, Washington.
Here is one group of students making ‘nature beads’ out of 1″ lengths of Red Osier Dogwood and Swamp Willow twigs, that were harvested from the boggy edge of a nearby wetland. The students are able to drill out the pithy centers using drill bits they power with their own hands.
We were fortunate to have a beautiful warm spring day to work outside in full view of Puget Sound. I worked all day with groups of 6-8 students, with lots of support from a parent or a teacher with each group.
Students record observations in their journals about the three distinctive ecosystems that the materials for our project come from, the intertidal zone or shoreline, the estuary, and the forest.
Over twenty years ago I was fortunate to take a class about teaching natural fiber weaving projects to kids. It was taught by Michelle Berg, co-founder of The Basketry School, in Seattle, which sadly is no longer in business. Michelle inspired me to keep the projects simple and fun. Every year since then, I’ve developed a new project to teach young students, with each project taking me into a different direction for my own learning.
But this year I did something different. I offered the same project to all the classes I was invited to. This helped reduce my preparation time for the materials, which is quite labor intensive, yet it still allowed each group, and different age level, the latitude to go in many directions with the lesson. Social studies, First Peoples cultures, botany, ecology, environmental science, math, and of course art. What I love best about my new approach to teaching natural plant fiber weaving is this: because I was more practiced with the lesson, I had more energy and head-space to be a better listener. My greatest reward was to see students take off with the skills they were learning and become inventive.
Students sketching their cedar leaves before pealing the leaves and bark off their cedar branches.
Students learned how to bend their cedar limbs to make a hoop, then weave a sweetgrass net to hold and protect their clam shell rattle.
To be present, listening, and encouraging, with each group of learners is my goal. It can be a challenge with all the excitement and exuberance, but planning to utilize the support of adult helpers, and meeting ahead of time with the teacher to be in line with her/his expectations, can really be helpful.
Many thanks to Peggy Koivu for inviting me to share this experience with these wonderful students. I would love to be in her class, even at my age. She creates a caring community in her classroom and beyond. Both of my sons were privileged to have had Peggy as their kindergarten teacher so many years ago. And she just keeps getting better!
I’m grateful to the Bainbridge Arts Education Community Consortium for their support of this type of active, hands-on-learning through the arts. It was wonderful to be able to work right in my own hometown at beautiful Camp Indianola.