A Conversation with Steve Arnold, Kindergarten Teacher
Mr. Arnold has spearheaded creative use of the Renbrook campus for 30 years. He recalls the origins of our trail system.
“You can see the remnants of Frederick Rentschler’s estate on the Yellow Trail and the part of the Blue Trail that leads from the bridge down to the Brook. Rentschler built stone steps in steep places, and they’ll still take you down to Canal Road and from the highest point on campus to below the ELC.”
“The rest of the trails were built in 1991. Doug Cramphin came back from a trip to Maine with the inspiration.” Mr. Arnold planned the red, pink, blue, and yellow trails using a topographical map, and Mr. Cramphin, Mr. Arnold, Bill Nixon, and Bill Kindl marked and mapped them. Since then, Steve Arnold has “maintained them on my hands and knees. Steve Kendall helps remove fallen trees. Since the soil on the ridge is shallow, this happens pretty frequently."
Mr. Arnold promotes use of the trails and enlists other members of the community to help tend them. “Student aides have pitched in over the years. This year parent Ellen Voth adopted the pink trail with her daughter Heather, and Jessica Wawzyniecki (Lower School STEAM teacher) plans to take over” when Mr. Arnold eventually retires—which we hope will be never!
Below the Yellow Trail, in a little gully, is the outdoor classroom planned and built by Mr. Arnold’s kindergarten students. Tarps, donated by parents, are strung among the trees for shelter from sun and rain—and snow. How much time do his students spend here? “From 45 minutes to three hours every day,” he reports. “The kids were good at inventing solutions. We had to move a lot of sticks and debris out of the gully to clear space. Suddenly one child exclaimed, ‘We need a pulley!’ So we made one! And they came up with rules to keep us all safe.”
Mr. Arnold’s students learn the essential skill of scrounging, or one might say, crowd sourcing. Odd objects like bicycle tires, pieces of PVC drainpipe, multi-colored balls, and other odds and ends he calls “loose parts” are fodder for invented games and gizmos. “Remy Trager Schwartz ’88 lives just beyond campus and can hear the kids playing in the woods. She’s always looking for loose parts to contribute.”
Curiosity and creativity, not to mention serendipity, infuse outdoor classes. “Robbie Saal’s kindergarten class came across a snake shedding its skin one day. Someone trips over a turtle shell. At the pond we can observe the muskrat and snapping turtle—who knows what else we’ll find?” Who knows, indeed? This fall there were so many bear sightings that teachers were issued air horns—or “bear horns”—to prevent too-close encounters.
Mr. Arnold sees the future for outdoor learning at Renbrook as strong. Ms. Bird and Head of School Matt Sigrist, lovers of the outdoors themselves, are advocates, and the ELC faculty is excited. Even with the arrival of winter, warmly bundled small children are still roaming the Renbrook woods.