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Currier students learn in nature’s classroom

Press Manchester Journal

Author Bob Niles

Published October 2, 2023

Andrea Myklebust of the Smokey House Center explains natural fiber artistry to the youngsters from the Currier Memorial School.

DANBY — It was like an Easter Egg Hunt in the dirt. Instead of a search for colorful eggs, however, Currier Memorial School (CMS) students dug for soil-covered spuds.

“We found hundreds of potatoes,” called out one youngster. “Thousands!”

Harvesting potatoes was just one of the hands-on learning tasks for Currier students on their recent visit to the Smokey House Center in Danby. The school sent two groups of children to enjoy some quality time on the farm. The morning excursion featured students in grades 3 through 5. The littles — kindergartners through second graders — took the afternoon shift at Smokey House.

The idea of young children learning and appreciating the value of nature in an outdoor classroom is consistent with the values of Stephan and Audrey Currier. The young couple’s 1964 financial contribution set in motion the building of today’s Currier Memorial School for young students of Danby and Mt. Tabor. Their tragic 1968 death in an airplane accident led ultimately to the establishment of the Smokey House Center with its mission of helping local youth connect with nature.

“I love our partnership with Smokey House,” says CMS Principal Carolyn Parillo. “The Center serves as an outdoor classroom for our kids that opens their eyes to new ways of learning. They bring back new knowledge with every trip and can’t wait to return for more.”

This most recent visit was much more than digging for potatoes. It also taught a crucial life lesson: patience.

“Slow and steady,” Walker Cammack, program director of Living Labs at the Smokey House Center, told the kids. “That’s the key to success in harvesting the field.”

The trip also focused on plant-based artistry and fabrics. The students collected marigold flowers and leaves of indigo. The green indigo leaves were then crushed in salt and water. The salt, the kids were informed, draws the color from the leaves. When the fabric is steeped in the mixture and squeezed by human hands, it magically turns to a purple shade of blue … indigo.

The students learned that the marigold pedals they picked would be boiled in water. Once again the color would be drained from the flowers creating a yellow liquid bath used to create a fabric with a lemony hue.

The students were shocked to learn the origin of the brown liquid they used for painting pictures. Upon hearing that boiled walnuts were the source of the ink, the students were shocked. “Wait, what?” exclaimed one boy. “How did this become that?”

The young artists went on to paint pictures of flags, flowers, and even attempts at abstract works of art.

“My big sister told me artists sometimes just scribble,” said one young girl. “So I’ve decided to just splash.” The result was a work of art with a hint of influence by Jackson Pollock.

“We are dedicated to continuing our mission of hands-on learning opportunities for youth,” says the Center’s Cammack. “We look forward to exploring new ways with Currier for teaching youngsters the benefits of nature and how it can be used to make our life better. We expect the students to come back to the Center again and again during the school year.”

One hands-on opportunity for the Currier students involved learning the process of turning textile hemp and flax into fabric. The outer layer of dried plant stalks is peeled off, leaving long stringy strands that can be separated into individual threads that are then used with a spinning wheel to make fabric. Another option is to braid the hemp fibers into cords or ropes.

As the students left the Center they were gifted with heads of large sunflower plants to be dried at school. In a few weeks there will be hundreds of healthy sunflower seeds for the children to eat … maybe even thousands.

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