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Five Snapping Turtles Sitting on a Log

by Becky Jackson

As on many warm fall afternoons, my children and I were drawn to our backyard pond to enjoy the day. After a picnic lunch, the kids scattered to investigate the willow trees, run on the dam, and search for carp and catfish. Three-year-old Skyler conducted buoyancy experiments with pieces of wood as he pushed them out from the bank. I was reading when 6-year-old Abby observed a big log floating in the center of the pond.

"Mama, I see a snapping turtle on that piece of wood Skyler put in. See!"

A few minutes went by and the kids hadn't moved. I listened to some of their eager observations.

"Now there's two! Oh look, there's another one! Three snapping turtles all in a row!"

"One, two, three, four."

"Why do they keep getting on there?"

"How many can fit on that log?"

For a solid 15 or 20 minutes, they all stood, observing, questioning, speculating, and laughing as snapping turtles climbed onto the wood to bask in the sun.

Oh, how they were absorbed in their learning! I wondered, how could this be replicated in a school setting? The short answer is: It couldn't. But more importantly, these kind of learning experiences are not valued by school-based education at all.

Watching turtles and playing by a pond on a sunny afternoon won't raise test scores--at least not directly. It wouldn't improve spelling or phonemic awareness, so why bother? After all, this academic-only perspective says, why waste time on ANYTHING that doesn't raise test scores or hasten the already young beginning reading age?

No, snapping turtle behavior will not be on a standardized test. Neither will the monarch butterflies we watched migrating or the plum jelly we made. The raccoon that crossed the road last night won't be on the test, nor the numerous question and answer sessions we've had about God. The sound of a woodpecker? Nope. The difference between an acorn and a hickory nut? It won't improve the score.

Further I ask, who cares if a kid can identify parts of speech, if their vocabulary doesn't include "please" and "thank you"? What's so great about being able to spell if you don't have the desire to write a card to your grandmother? So what if you can classify animals into groups if you don't nurture your own pets? And what's the use of knowing how to pronounce cirrocumulus if you can't appreciate the shape and beauty of the clouds?

As education becomes a game of "who gets the most points", millions of children who can match the definition with the word in black couldn't name a single tree or bug in their own backyard.

There's not much time for arts and crafts in first grade classrooms today. Music and games are squeezed out of the curriculum. Those kinds of things can't be ordered, scripted, and measured.

Five snapping turtles sitting on a log won't be on "The Test." But the experience will remain in my children's hearts as life's real tests come their way.

This article was first published on Suite101.com on November 29, 2001, and is reprinted with permission from the author.
Copyright 2002 by Becky Jackson


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