Kate Caliri teaches language arts and social studies to third and fourth graders at the Pathfinder School, a private school in Traverse City. Pathfinder uses its unique campus to connect students to the outdoors throughout their daily studies. Kate’s classroom is nestled among the many trees on campus in a cabin that is appropriately named “Bayview,” a place she describes as “a natural space where kids can thrive.”
“It’s important for me to teach using the beautiful land around us in Northern Michigan – to use our natural resources to empower my students to think and feel ‘yes, I’m connected with this’ and then continue to find connections all day long. As kids are empowered to explore the natural sense of wonder that accompanies nature, the excitement of discovery helps them develop into lifelong learners who want to have a relationship with their space.”
One of the daily questions her students are asked is “How are all things connected?” and by revisiting this question daily, students have been naturally encouraged to present their findings throughout their lessons and activities – building off one another’s thoughts and connections. “When we go on walks through the woods and around campus, not only are there unique opportunities to incorporate the environment into our classroom lessons, but being in nature gives students time to socially and emotionally connect to the environment. It opens up their little spirits.”
Kate recently borrowed one of the Boardman River Nature Center’s available Nature Education Boxes – Michigan Mammals – and used its contents in a unique way! Her students used their ingenuity and imagination to recreate a day in the life of Northern Michigan Natives and the courier du bois who traded with them during the 1700s. Her students used the animal skins within the Nature Exploration Box to inspire authentically traded goods. Everything from painting an aluminum canoe to look like it was made of birch bark to trade and communication through song helped bring historical lessons of language and social studies to life. “The students took the lead on researching the traditions and materials used during the time period to truly imagine and recreate.”
“Using Michigan’s historical use of natural resources, creative connections can be made to subjects like economics, social studies, science and our climate. You have to think what’s best for the kids and then try those things, and we’re able to talk about subjects that may not traditionally fall into specific grade level standards but excite students about learning which becomes so important. When students are racing down the sidewalk to get to school so they can go find things in the woods and discover the mystery that’s out there, it shows how empowering their sense of wonder can be.”
Kate’s advice to other educators includes the importance of self-care – “If you are doing things you love outside of the classroom, it will translate into your teaching. Also, make sure to laugh with your students.” When not teaching her class, you can find Kate out and exploring “the woods” thinking about the next hike with her students and finding peace among the trees. She also enjoys playing the harp, reading, listening to music, and playing with her dogs. Kate certainly is an excellent example of an educator with a creative vision and passion for teaching environmental education.