I don’t do school trips. At least, not since S. was in grade one. Parents were given explicit instructions not to buy any treats for the children in their group, but when we met back at the bus at the end of the day it turned out I was the only parent strong enough to withstand the whining about ice cream cones. Coincidentally, I was also the most unpopular group leader. But that was ten years ago and I have moved on. That, and E. invited me to go with her class to the Royal Botanical Gardens. How could I say no?
The weather for the trip was overcast, cool and windy (which is just the way I like it). I was ready for the mud in my sabbatical boots and had my camera in hand. The trees were in full fall bloom with orange, green and yellow everywhere I looked. Even the trails under our feet were lit up with colourful fallen leaves. Our group, with a dozen or so grade seven students, were accompanied by an RGB leader, a classroom teacher, and two parents, so I had plenty of time and space to not just shepherd kids along but enjoy myself, too.
Our leader, Jackson, called himself a nature geek. His goal for the day, he said, was to help the children to connect with nature. He led us on long walks in both the morning and afternoon sessions–he estimated that we walked about 10 km in total–and gave us a running commentary on the trees and birds as we encountered them. He also answered questions with good humour, such as, “What does the fox say?” (which is hilarious if you are in grade seven and listen to pop music. Google it to find out why.) His enthusiasm, especially when we saw the bald eagle flying overhead, was infectious.
The best part of the day, however, came midway through the afternoon. Jackson was leading us single file through a large grassy field when he suddenly stopped and turned around. He told us that we were going to stop walking and be silent for at least ten seconds. He wanted the students to look around, and to listen carefully. “This is a very spiritual place,” he said. “Just by being quiet here for a few moments, you can connect with nature on a different level.” All of us–even the chatty grade seven students–paused in silence. I am sure it was far more than ten seconds that we stood there not moving, listening to the wind in the trees, the birds singing, the tall grass swishing around our legs. It was beautiful.
I talked with Jackson afterward and thanked him, not just for his leadership but for teaching the spiritual practice of silence. Our children rarely encounter silence at school or even at home, and even when they do it is not necessarily regarded as something that is positive and life-giving. Listening carefully to the sounds of creation is something all of us would do well to learn, I said. He agreed. He also told me that he includes that lesson with every single school group he leads. Bravo.
I am so grateful for leaders like Jackson, and I am glad that my child had the privilege of learning with him that day. We need more teachers who are ready to address the whole student–mental, physical and spiritual–instead of pretending that they are just brains and bodies. Young souls need teaching and tending, too. I think someone should give that man a raise!