Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rockets on the rise

Time for another guest post from our friend Elaine Blanchard at!

Old Forest Hike

Christine Todd teaches a class of nine fourth-graders at Snowden Elementary who are called the Reading Rockets. The class is small in size and Ms Todd is focused on helping each Reading Rocket to improve his or her skills in reading, arithmetic and the sciences. Mutual admiration exists between Ms Todd and the members of her class. It would appear this teacher intends to love her students into learning more.

I volunteer on Tuesdays and assist Ms Todd with the class. I enjoy the work and the pleasure of getting to know these special people.

After hearing Richard Louv (author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder") speak at GPAC last month, I made up my mind to arrange a hike through Overton Park’s Old Forest so the Reading Rockets could have a valuable experience with nature and learn about one of our priceless resources here in Midtown.

CPOP's Jimmy Ogle met us at the bridge by the playground and began our outdoor adventure by sharing some of the park’s history. We learned that Overton Park was developed in 1901 and named for John Overton, one of the original founders of Memphis. The children were distracted by a man with his dog and they ran to pet the miniature pinscher. The dog-owner graciously allowed them to pet his dog and then we turned toward the forest.

Our guide described the ways a dead and fallen tree feeds life in the forest while the children ran in nine different directions. With amazing patience, Mr. Ogle encouraged the group to walk only on the beaten path. Their assignment was to collect leaves: oak, magnolia, persimmon, pecan, tulip poplar, sweet gum. One child discovered a spider and every child swarmed to have a look. Huge oak trees looked down on a wild and happy group of children as they discovered fungus, a gnome home, and grape vines large enough for Tarzan to use for swinging across a jungle.

We heard about the forest canopy and how smaller trees grow toward patches of sunlight. Arms were stretched around one huge tree trunk. It took one adult and three children to stretch around that tree! We saw a few birds take flight. At one point we all stood still and listened to the forest. Mr. Ogle taught us how to recognize poison ivy. By the end of the hike our guide could call each of the children by name. And he generously offered to meet us again in the spring when the forest will have new sights and sounds to experience.

It was a perfect day, sunny with mild temperatures. The Reading Rockets walked into the Old Forest and found so many wonders. They found in Mr. Ogle a new friend and teacher. They walked back to the school talking about the forest as if it is now a part of their classroom, a very old place with new things to teach the Reading Rockets.

Thanks to Elaine Blanchard, Christine Todd, and our own Jimmy Ogle for giving their time to share the Old Forest with the Reading Rockets. But most of all, thanks to the Rockets for being excellent nature-hikers!