Zero Voice: Making it quiet on the trail

Kids are loud.

I don’t always want to hush them up, especially when outside. On the other had, if they miss the sounds of the outdoors altogether then I don’t think I’m doing my job as a teacher.

Yes, kids are loud, but teaching kids the value of  being quiet is a gift.

On Saturday, April 24th, I took  6 Kindergarten and first graders and two third graders on a hike to Pheasant Branch Nature Preserve in Middleton. For the first part of the trip, I didn’t set any volume boundaries. We simply  walked the trail. The kids saw red-winged black-birds and heard their cry. The sounds of other birds filled the air. It was a cool, wet and beautiful morning. We walked to an overlook where a huge spring was gurgling below us.

“Hey Miss Diane we found quick sand,” shouted John.

John and his good pal Paul were my shouters  today.  Shouting is normal for these kids, especially when excited.  In small doses this is fine. It makes no sense to stop their exuberance. Or does it?

We continued our hike, which included geocaching. We hiked up a hill following our GPS devices through a freshly burned oak savannah to another overlook. We could see the spring and Pheasant Branch Creek in front of us plus a sliver of Lake Mendota. On a clear day, the state capitol would be visible.

“I don’t want to leave,” said Joe.
“Yes, it’s pretty nice, we’ll have to come back,” I responded.

The platform made a perfect spot for a snack and a break from our treasure hunt. But after we found the treasure and were walking back to the van several kids  insisted on walking way ahead  of the group.

So, I decided to try something new.

I stopped the kids and reinforced the expectation that everyone had to walk behind me. I added that we’d be walking back using “zero voice” so that we could hear the Sandhill Cranes. I enforced this by using hand  signals only. I held up my hand and made a “zero” with my index finger and thumb.  I kept this up  for the rest of the hike. As we walked, John and Paul thought this was all very funny and reacted by laughing excessively. Zero voice was not happening. I turned around and silently directed them to each hold another adult’s hand.

This seemed to jog them back into the present.  The rest of the hike was quiet enough to hear the birds.

I can’t say that Zero voice was an entire success, but I do think it’s important to have a”quiet” policy on future hikes.  I want boisterous kids on these outings, but I also don’t want them to miss the wonder of listening. Most of the kids heard the sandhill cranes bugling, but I’m not sure that John and Paul did. This saddens me. Perhaps it’s enough today to get them outside, but I do want more for them.

On the way home in the van, all the kids were pooped.  Quiet came easy. For future trips, I will have a plan to better teach silence in the outdoors.  I’ll keep you posted.

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