This past October, a few of us at Spire School attended the forest preschool conference, Reaching Nature Connection, in Bishop, CA. There, among many valuable and inspiring topics, teachers from the school Wild Roots talked about the way they give "nature names" to their students, and how it helps their children to form bonds with sometimes unlikely creatures. At first, some of us were unsure how we felt about given rather than chosen nature names, but after the leaders at the conference talked about the beauty of nature connection that comes from learning to personally connect and identify with any creature (not just one's favorite!), we decided to give it a chance. The teachers at Spire School discussed for a long time if we should pick nature names for our students or if we should let the forest spirits decide… in the end, we decided to have everyone pick randomly to give them agency in picking, but also allow for the beautiful magic of chance.
We decided on 14 animals that we see in the Presidio to choose from (Roly Poly, Banana Slug, Bee, Hawk, Gopher, Earthworm, Hummingbird, Sparrow, Crow, Songbird, Butterfly, Ant, Spider, and Mouse). We chose to only include animals we see at school to help foster the students’ connection with their environment and the creatures that call it home. From those 14 animals, each student and teacher chose at random from our magic fairy bag.
The Nature name ceremonies
When it came time to choose nature names, the forest fairies must have been watching, because it truly seemed like every child was picking a creature that fit them. Even for students who got the same nature name in different classes, the names seemed to be perfect for them for very different reasons. Nature names for Spire School has become a kind of exercise in empathy and seeing oneself as a part of the natural world. To be able to see pieces of yourself reflected in the life around you is a beautiful and powerful thing.
We as teachers made it clear that friends were not being told what creatures they could pretend to be in play (they can be anything they want!); but that nature names are a gift from the forest to be used how the child wants. Even for those students who were not as initially excited or accepting of their nature names, they eventually came to embrace their connection with the help of their friends and from seeing their chosen creatures in our outdoor classroom.
Nature name meet-up!
Each Spire School class of 10 children and 2 teachers picked from the same 14 nature names, so everyone has at least one nature name buddy in a different age group!
This week we had our first nature name meet-up with our Older Group and T/TH Younger Group friends. To start off our creature playdate, we all sat in a circle and went around saying our names and nature names, excitedly finding our nature name matches along the way! After everyone was introduced we split into two groups… the Crawlers and the Fliers!
The Crawlers got low to the ground and searched for their creature connections, and found almost all of them! They even found a caterpillar that they showed to their butterfly friends as soon as the two groups were reunited! While the Crawlers were on their bug hunt, the Fliers spread their wings and headed down the Eucalyptus Loop. On their way, they swooped down to the forest floor to collect ingredients for a potion that could make anyone fly! They stirred the potion and sang the magic song… “If I had wings, oh I would fly, like a butterfly up in the sky, like a butterfly oh I would be, in the sky so free”. Once they had tested out the potion, they bottled some to bring back for their Crawler friends! Our nature names not only help us to connect to our outdoor school environment and the creatures we share it with, but also our larger Spire School community!