Roamschooling the Garden of the Gods.

roamchooling: the how and why

As you may know, we are big fans of roamschooling. Since people have asked me about how roamschooling works, I thought I’d give an example of the way it plays out for us “in the field”, so to speak. Every roamschool is different in that generates a variety of learning opportunities rooted in the curiosities of a particular time, place, and ecosystem. This post is a good example of how “roamschooling” works out in day-to-day life.

1. finding a roamschool “site”

On the drive back from Colorado to Alabama, we headed through Colorado Springs en route to Texas. The time had come for a little family plant-watering, so we looked for signs indicating a wilderness area or park. I saw a sign for a park named “Garden of the Gods”. It was amusing enough to warrant further investigation. After following the signs through town, we noticed a strange sight- some large, pointed red rocks rising from the ground in the hills ahead.

“I’ve never seen anything like it…..” exclaimed the Eldest.

We decided to make a picnic of it.

The Prophet pretends to read the trail signs.

2. nature study observations

“So…. why aren’t there any tall trees in the Garden of the Gods?”

At this point, we make a note to update our nature journals about seeing the possible scrub oak. The Eldest reminds me to take a few photos for species identification at a later time- when we have access to a field guide. Since roamschooling almost always presents unexpected learning topics (in this case, the scrub oak), taking photos reminds us of what we can explore in depth once we leave the field. Believe me, the sense of wonder and curiosity resulting from such discoveries leads the young folks to demand a follow-up.

3. sense-based impressions and keepsakes

The amazing, powerful wind swept us along.

The Prophet enjoys a rock, while the Gnome (in the background) touches the dry, arid orange dirt. We can’t help commenting on the tactile surprises- how different the Garden of the Gods engages our senses.

Everyone collects a rock, a piece of a plant, some keepsake to evoke the particular sensual impressions made by our surroundings. In the car, we’ll take out our keepsakes and play with them- discussing how they are particular or special to our roamschooling location, possibly sketching them or weaving stories around them.

Though it takes us a while to find a picnic location in which our food does not blow away, we finally settle near a grove of shrub oaks.

4. investigating local information resources

Exploring the displays at the Garden of the Gods park center.

Rather than beginning with the nature center or park center or flier, our roamschools begin with the wandering and the exploration of the site. This keeps us open to new impressions and allows to absorb what stands out rather than to look for what is considered to be “officially” interesting. But the official stories are fascinating as well.

So we end our on-site roamschools by seeking more information about the site, usually by visiting a visitor’s center, talking to park rangers or people who seem eager to answer our questions, and looking for fliers or brochures to prompt further learning. The kids tend to ask questions which they formulated “in the field”- questions that prove much more interesting than those they would ask had they entered the field with a prior assumption of what to ponder or wonder.

The King offers a Tex-Mex snack. So generous for a faux artistocrat.

5. follow-up

Follow-up is all the ways in which we discuss and explore what we learned- or what we want to learn- after the roamschool has concluded. There is always a nature journal component as well as a storytelling component (in which we tell stories about things we have seen and explore the actual history of the place). Some parts of follow-up take place in the car; other parts require us to wait until we return to home base (nature identification, historical investigations, etc.).

I’ll share our home base nature study of scrub oaks soon, but I did make a worksheet exploring the geology and elevation of the Garden of the God. All four kids enjoyed visualizing and coloring it.


6. keep on chooglin’

The questions and interests revealed by one roamschool often sets the scene for the next. For example, an interest in scrub oaks might lead us to a visit an nearby arborist or a Japanese botanical garden. The fun of roamschooling is not static- it unfurls into further adventures and ideas. It also prepares young folks for the fine art of loving the life they lead by encouraging observation and appreciation of differences between one place and another. As the Eldest says when inspired by Credence Clearwater Revival, “Keep on chooglin’…”

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