Ah, kids and the pandemic. So many desperate Facebook posts; so many thinkpieces, just like this one). Some people say they are far better off at home. Some say their little minds are wasting away into goo.
I look back to my daughter’s school longingly – she will be a happier kid when she can get back there, hug her teachers and run in circles with her friends – but then my gaze keeps going.
To the jumbly streets of the neighborhood just outside the gates of the school, where a security guard stands watch every day during regular operations.
To the parks and plazas that, throughout most of 2020, stood empty.
To the mountaintops beyond that. To the coasts beyond those, full of people who, right now, are trying to figure out an immediate future without the regular tourism bustle of a Costa Rican high season.
Costa Rica is my daughter’s classroom, and what a classroom it is. But it took being completely confined to our house for me to realize how little I take advantage of the world when it comes to her. Only when I became completely unable to take her to the river in the park to learn about freshwater life and pollution, or to a small town in the mountains to learn about coffee production, did I realize how pointless it is to even think she is being educated, if she is not doing those things.
This is a well-trod soapbox I’m standing on. There are many, many wheels here that don’t need reinventing, especially when it comes to exposing our children to the natural world: the Forest Kindergarten movement and, in Costa Rica, Guardianes de la Naturaleza are two incredible examples, as are books such as “How to Raise a Wild Child.” On the human side, there are so many wonderful teachers and schools that connect with community leaders and struggles both near and far in extraordinary ways.
At home, I’ve realized what should have been obvious: that these efforts need to be not an extracurricular, but the beating heart of our schools.
In April 2020, I co-founded the Costa Rica Corps; we hope that this entity will one day, public health conditions allowing, guide young Costa Rican adults into service experiences where they learn as much as they provide. Less clear to me, but equally important, is how we can broaden and deepen the learning experiences for younger kids. I know it requires individual private and public schools building meaningful partnerships, with each other and with communities, to tackle this question together. This is something that Guardianes de la Naturaleza also promotes.
I know it requires redefining “community service” as the essential learning process that it truly is. I know it requires casting out old ideas about rural and low-income communities as recipients of food donations or murals, and embracing the reality: that they are not just a beneficiary to be served, but also a teacher from which to learn. So many of our most innovative and creative solutions, dynamic initiatives and transformative leaders are out there, just waiting for our kids to engage with them. Not on a field trip or through a clothing drive, but as an integral part of their curriculum.
I have been dreaming about ways to support efforts along these lines, whether that means building a Costa Rica Corps Junior or simply supporting people who are already doing the work of bringing the center of gravity of our kids’ education out of the classroom and into our communities. No matter where the path leads, I have a lot to learn.
If you’re doing this work and would like to share it here, or if you’d like to just dream with me a little bit, please get in touch. I hope that, out of all this shut-in-ness, we can bring more of our kids into the streets of their country, and into the forests, and into the light.