A grackle, waves in the water, wind in the trees, a robin, cabbage white butterflies, an insect on a flower, a brown sparrow, a purple flower, a white flower with a green center, a pine cone, cat tails, lupines, rocks – these creatures and natural objects were on one team’s list during the first few minutes of a unique intergenerational excursion to Fresh Pond Reservation last May. The mixed teams of kids and adults belonged to Art & Science in One at Tobin (AS1), a pilot program funded by Cambridge Community Foundation. AS1 enabled the kids to leave their school for two hours in search of not only fresh air and sunshine (which were discovered aplenty) but connections to the science curriculum that were interdisciplinary, hands-on, and engaging.
The star of the show, however, was happenstance, as is often the case in the natural world – a dead baby bird, lying on the ground by a grove of pine trees. The reservation’s ranger, Jean Rogers, came on the scene, and there ensued a discussion of nesting behaviors. The bird was drawn in some detail by most of the children. This was no abstract art lesson, no book-based animal biology lesson, but real-time science in a real habitat.
The eight fourth graders at Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori School (one of about 500 public Montessori schools in the U.S. and one of only seven in Massachusetts) were paired with an equal number of adult Cambridge School Volunteers, and led by professional science illustrator Erica Beade, who also teaches classes at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Working with the program’s intergenerational group, as well as training the volunteers separately in nature journaling techniques, Beade developed lessons in collaboration with the classroom art teacher as well as the class teacher (in Montessori systems, there is a single teacher for all subjects).
The program was deemed a success by both the kids and adults. One of the young participants told her adult partner that while riding home on the bus, she began noticing so many things about the natural world that she never had before. And one of the adult volunteers described how special it was to wander through Fresh Pond with sketch pads and pencils, stopping to observe and draw flowers, insects and trees. “I formed a very special bond with my partner, and we both bravely explored the drawing process, encouraging one another,” she added.
Indeed, so many things were done in AS1 that were never done before. For spring 2014, a revision of the program may expand to include the entire class of mixed fourth and fifth graders.