Hello! Our second week of Nature School was comprised of only one 'school' day, and so we made the most of it. The children were feeling more adventuresome and so we ventured further afield, using our 'moose legs' to climb up and over logs and brush. With a slow pace a little patience, 3 year olds can hike too! We started out out morning with a 'mystery box' full of nature surprises (fluffy cattail, crinkly leaves, scratchy birchbark, soft catkins, spiky pinecones). The kids each reached in with their eyes closed and gave us a few words to describe the textures they felt.
The children must have been squirrel or woodpecker-watching, taking a break from play to check out the local creatures.
This Nature Schooler hunted and hunted for worms...we turned over logs, dug holes and just could not find one!
The forest was our playground as the children tried out bouncy boughs. Often when a 'good one' is discovered, a line up will form as everyone wants to try it out. Great opportunity for turn-taking and exercising patience.
Collecting nature treasures in baskets...
Trying out different places to climb! There are many sideways leaning trees in our forest, perfect for getting started in the world of tree climbing...
This week our older Nature Explorers were fortunate to have a visit from Heidi, a Huscroft silviculturist. The students had the opportunity to plant their very own fir trees, and learned a lot about different types of soil, ecosystem requirements and witnessed some interesting soil tests--that involved squishing, squeezing and even tasting the soil. Thanks for visiting, Heidi!
See you next week!
Hello! There has been great anticipation about the spring session of Nature School, with 11 keen children, new families and an excited team of mentors who have been getting ready! Some of the children know about Nature School from their older siblings, or friends, and for some it is their first regular program away from home. Amazingly, we only had a few tears on the first day and the kids have been keen to carry their own packs, dig out their lunches, and explore the forest.
We started out our week with a group trip to see the 'forest potty,' and quickly moved onto play, exploring, drawing pictures, and having exciting conversations about all manner of things: What are these fuzzy caterpillar-like things on the ground? (aspen catkins!) Let's collect some for our buckets! Why are these snail shells broken, and is anything alive inside? What happens to snails when their shells break? What does camouflage mean and what kind of animals use camouflage?
There was fun with magnifying glasses, hiking the trails, experiments with jumping off of logs and climbing low trees, and logs were turned over to find the first worms and spiders. We enjoyed two books about spring and seeds, learning about how animals often poop out seeds, which helps spread them around (to great giggles!)
On Friday, Melissa and I introduced a nest building activity, by talking as a group about what kind of things birds like to use for their nests (and listening to a particularly excited bird outside the Tipi, at the same time). We started out by mixing up some mud, and using grass, sticks and mud to form our nests. After the kids got the hang of it, they were off to the races, forming their eggs out of clay. A few children moved their nests to the ground, and were mother birds for the rest of the day protecting their precious eggs.
Mother birds protecting their eggs.
Story time! Also a time of learning to be independent and responsible, with opening lunch kits, eating snack and tea and packing away again at the end. Definitely a learning process!
Routine is an important part of the Nature School. When it's time to play, it's child-led, and our routine helps the group to bond and learn social skills together (sitting in a circle, taking turns to share about the day, respecting the candle, singing together).
Getting our bush legs comfortable with climbing over logs, on the much loved 'leaning tree.'
Expressing curiosity, asking questions and wondering about those funny fuzzy worm-like aspen catkins all over the ground!
Children LOVE drawing in the forest!
Waiting to head home, and a little eye spy! It's a really special time, introducing these very young nature-schoolers to the forest, to their community of friends and mentors and knowing that over the next few months their legs will sprout and they will grow and develop into confident explorers, inquirers and imaginative beings. Thank you to all of the families who have been so supportive and eager to pack their kids up for mornings of play in the forest!
Catching up from the past few weeks!
We have been counting everything. How many kids? Boys? Girls? Seat stumps? How many Tipis? Suns? Adults? Children? What's our magic number today?
These Nature Schoolers are examining our first bug of the season--lady bug larvae! We see these on the same log every spring, mainly in this one part of the forest. Quick, someone run and grab the magnifying glasses!
Ropes! Sure sign of spring. We put them away for the winter because the handwork involves taking off mitts, leading to cold fingers. Today there were pulley systems rigged up, a swing, a mini zipline and all kinds of creative rope inventions.
Our gang thrived over the winter, and sure deserve the sunny days that are coming!
Each time the children discover a 'new' tree they'd like to climb, it's like entering a whole different world...Many of the trees we 'climb' are actually sideways, branches that have bent or grown outwards instead of upwards. The thrill is big and the risk is minimal. Where to put my feet? Which branches to hold? Oops, my foot got stuck there, I'm tree tangled! Will this be strong enough to hold me? Look, I can jump off here, I can hang on and swing down to the ground. As leaders we are cautious when children are exploring a new tree or jumble of branches. We often break off branches that look weak, but that a child might not notice are week. We elicit many conversations with the kids, ensuring they test branches out before placing their full weight on them. The ongoing dialogue pays off.
There have been many stories, featuring all manner of kids having adventures, silly animals, discoveries, dinosaurs, birds, frogs...The cries for 'more stories!' ring out in the Tipi each time we meet. We enjoy searching for well-written nature-themed stories that can spark questions, elicit awe and wonder, that children can relate to, and that just plain old encourage adventure and exploration.
Forest tea! This was an exciting change from our usual routine (we bring tea in a thermos each day). Today we went on a group walk to collect edible bits (douglas and grand fir and rosehips) for our very own tea, and sampled needles along the way. The kids were ecstatic to be given permission to taste the needles, and shared along the way (funny faces, yum, yuck, that's lemony etc). We steeped the tea together with some honey over the fire while we were reading books. It was touching to see how proud the kids were of the tea, how enthused and how they drank each and every drop up!
For our final day of the Winter Session we welcomed the parents to the Tipi, which is always a highlight for the kids--they love to show their parents and grandparents around the forest, share muffins and welcome in the new Nature Schoolers. See you in April, wolf pack!
I'll leave you with an interesting article from 1000 Hours Outside, about how puddle play helps to develop a child's sense of balance. By experimenting with the amount of force they need to create a splash (or not), children are developing an an important sense (proprioception) that can help them become aware of where their body is in space (leading to the ability to regulate the amount of force needed for physical games, like tag, later in life!)
February has been a busy month, with grant writing and administrative tasks taking over some of our time for blog writing. So now we can catch up about the past few weeks.
This cold snap has barely phased the young Nature Schoolers, who've pulled up their neck warmers and doubled up on socks. It has meant that we generally stay closer to the Tipi. Here, some of the kids have managed to wedge this interesting piece of tree root inside a stump (I have no idea how they did it--heavy!). It became a dinosaur (which I thought was creative because well, I could imagine it). The kids love these gnarly piece of root that can be manouevered/manhandled around for play purposes.
We had an excellent hot dog roast the CLES's Gr. 7 class, who were great helpers for the young ones around the fire. Everyone was patient while I brought out a flint and steel and a bundle of tinder, and we managed to light the fire from a spark. It was fun spending some time with the Gr.7's after wieners practicing with them. Mr. Mitchell flew his drone camera overhead, which really excited the preschoolers!
This Nature Schooler had a great plant question, which Melissa was happy to discuss. He asked, 'Why and how do trees grow hard bark?' With Melissa's plant/botany background, they had a great discussion about how trees grow and how tree rings can show growth changes. I love spontaneous nature questions that stem directly from the children's interests and curiosities.
Right afterwards, we were sliding near a fence, and noticed animal hair scattered around the snow. It appeared that a deer had jumped the fence, had hair snagged and left a little bundle for us to feel and explore. Nature surprise!
Melissa brought a great book last week, all about feathers--how they can have different purposes on different birds, which was really interesting for the kids (and me!) I truly love reading times with the kids, hearing all of their questions, thoughts, ideas and connections.
These Nature Schoolers are having fun in the 'snow kitchen,' which we bring out once a month for creative play. Today there were cherry muffins, snow soup, pancakes...Our icy sliding hill even became an 'oven,' where sliding the pots down meant that the food was cooked!
Friends helping friends along the trail (ahem...not that they really needed help. The middle child was pretending to be hurt, heading to a 'hospital.')
A close up snow mystery...My own son is a fan of ice crystals, and is always noticing spots amongst the trees where interesting crystals have formed. I love laying on my belly on the snow, kid level, wondering and being amazed along with them!
Just hanging around. I'm noticing a trend that several of the kids enjoy lounging in trees, not doing anything in particular except hanging out and enjoying the downtime.
During our sit spot time today, I encouraged the kids to be extra quiet to invite birds to come around, hoping that our silence would ease their worries about us being a threat. Melissa had shared earlier about the chickadees beginning their mating calls (Phee-bee..), which we tried out. And wonder of wonders, with just a few short minutes of silence we noticed a lot of bird activity--a woodpecker knocking, crows crowing, a small brown bird hopping right near us, and other tweet and trills nearby. I sometimes think the forest critters can tell a teachable moment and play along : )
The older Nature Explorers have been busy as well, exploring the snowy Canyon forest. We were grateful to Yaqan Nukiy school for lending us snowshoes this past week, which helped us venture further from our camp, and just get a sense of this winter activity which was new for many.
We had a real 'school' moment last week when we hauled in a chalkboard on our sled, creating the beginnings of a map of our forest. The kids identified different features, like their woodpecker tree, the log piles, shelter and campfire area.
We also collected cedar bark for tinder, learned how to make char cloth in the fire and did plenty of exploring and playing. The heavier snow these past few weeks has been a challenge at times, tiring out young legs quicker than normal. We see spring on the horizon!
This is a cannon. Battery powered. The kids took a piece of newspaper from our fire box and it became map. Love the creativity!
Nature School last week was a true adventure--thank goodness for our one big huge snowfall of the season that gifted us with such an exciting week.
It seems like the kids taught us adults so much this past week, sharing their wisdom and knowledge of the world and of nature... We learned (from a child!) about the 'subnivean layer' under the snow, where small animals can live and tunnel during the winter. We all partook in an interesting discussion about the insulating nature of snow, realizing that our Tipi all covered in snow was keeping us warm--and that this was similar to how animals can also be insulated by snow in their dens and burrows. Some of the kids remembered that this fellow here, in the picture, below, was feeling toasty when he was buried on the field. Snow is a really interesting mystery, we decided!
Our fun began on the field, and we had to work hard to convince the kids that it would be even way more fun (if such a thing was possible) to play in the forest than on the field. It was a long trek to the back of the school, to the forest and thankfully we had a fresh (heavy!) propane tank to haul that weighed down one of our sleds, and helped make a path. Those little legs had a lot of work to do tromping through the snow!
On Wednesday we didn't stray far from the Tipi. There was snow to shovel off of the walls, paths to tromp out, and with our morning walk taking longer than usual, our time just flew. It wasn't until Friday that any children ventured down the path away from the Tipi, and by then the snow had compressed a bit to make for easier walking.
The first adventurers post snow-mageddon.
Shovelling out our long-time ice-slide to find that the ice was still there, just buried under a whole whack of snow.
Hungry, hungry hippos. Many conversation with the kids about how your body needs lots of food in the winter, which it uses up like fuel to help keep you warm. Well-fed, warmly dressed kids makes Nature School fun!
Our ice art survived the snow storm, and it was exciting to pop them out and hang on a tree.
We were proud of the wolf cubs and all the work they did this week, pulling sleds, bonding over the shared experience of being together about the big snowstorm. Nothing like a little forest adventure in the elements to help you feel brave, proud and strong!
The kids know that if they can walk across the field in good time, they'll have a few minutes before pick-up to play on the giant snow pile by the parking lot! I hope you enjoyed reading about our snowy week at Nature School
Nature Explorers (K-4)
The big kids enjoyed a day of sledding at the Rec Centre. While we usually stick to our forested spots, this weather was too good to pass up for tobogganing. Our gang of 13 handled themselves so well, trekking up and whizzing down, dealing with snow in their faces and down their necks and everything that comes with a good old day of sledding
We had a short and sweet group time for snack and tea, where we talked a bit about what to do if you find yourself lost in the woods. Despite lots of interesting and creative ideas from the kids, the most important one we came up with is--stop where you are! Try not to panic, a feeling which will pass. Find a tree to stick close and call out for help. I rounded up a few volunteers to try an 'experiment,' where a blindfolded child was asked to try and walk in a straight line towards a shovel propped up a little ways away. It was clear that after a few meters the tendency was to veer off course (and over a longer distance people's tendency is to walk in big circles). Lesson learned--try not to get lost!
Thanks for reading!
We hope you'll join us for the March 9 Campfire Event at Morris Garden Centre. Come spend a fun evening with friends around a warm fire. Songs, campfire games and storytelling start at 5:00. Food will be available for sale courtesy of the Peppered Pig (barbecue). All ages are welcome and admission is by donation per family. A collaboration of Morris Flowers and the Creston Kids Outside Society!
A magical week all around. We say that a lot, but this little crew of Nature Schoolers is melding, meshing, finding their favourite spots and bringing out more enthusiasm each week....my heart wants to burst just thinking about it.
On Wednesday, sliding and more sliding, and enjoying a book called 'The Listening Walk,' a sweet story that promotes just the kind of attitude we like to encourage...curiosity, awareness of the sounds around you, long meandering walks, and finding joy in the small things around you!
There is a wiggly jiggly tree bough that is fast becoming the 'next best play-thing,' in the forest. The kids hang on while the branch bends down to the ground, enjoying their 'thrilling' little ride! Small thrills are oh-so important for small bodies with big energy!
I think the snow chair gets more comfy each week, and no one is getting stuck in it anymore! It's certainly a high demand piece of furniture at our base camp. I missed Wednesday, but I hear there was a great excavation of a snow pile to create a three-way tunnel!
More small thrills, combined with some serious imagination! Once I joined the branch, we were 'three little witches, sitting in a tree...one fell off, and had to pee! Mama called the doctor and the doctor said, 'no more witches sitting in a tree!' I love how the song evolved and how we were sitting on a 'broom' together in the middle of the forest--those two little ones had done some serious bushwhacking, challenging themselves to use their 'moose legs' to step high over the brush.
Thankfully, a little snowfall mid-week turned our slide back to winter colours....!
The kids created some ice art on Friday, adding berries and bits of green forest-y things to make something beautiful. Soon we'll be back to pop them out of their pans and hang up for decorations. Not all of the kids opted for crafts, though. Some kept sliding and playing, which is fine by us. Crafts are always invitational, and often provide a child with a few minutes of quiet hand-work time if they need a break from high-energy play.
On Thursday last week, the Nature Explorers (K-4) enjoyed a change of pace by meeting at Canyon Park. A playground, of all things (if you read our blogs you know we usually stay in the forest!) provided endless entertainment, silliness, falling and teamwork.
I was so proud of this gang. It was our coldest day yet, and the kids managed to start our fire from a flint and steel spark, creating a toasty fire that yielded popcorn for our snack. Thanks for sticking with it, guys--your practice is paying off. Here they are examining some different types of dry tinder, and choosing only the best for their fire nests, in which to tuck their pieces of char cloth...
Until next week!
Hello! Some of the Winter Nature School children have become so comfortable just lounging in trees, finding special spots to return to over and over. This was a tree near the Tipi that I'd never seen anyone climb, and it looked very comfortable up there!
That stick--one end has 'fire' and one end has 'water.'
Melissa was telling the kids about coconuts, and how she visited a place where she could pick them, and drink the coconut water. The kids were astounded! This was a super relaxed few minutes of hanging around these logs, chatting and checking out some spots we hadn't played in recently. It's amazing how even small changes in the forest from day to day, weather to weather, can 'reinvent' an area for play/exploration. Some new animal tracks, ice on a log that wasn't there, a puddle that appears, branches broken along the trail...
Many 'camp out' spots were discovered this week, underneath tree boughs.
At Nature Explorers last week, our older children (K-4) have totally taken ownership of this shelter they have built, going nuts with rope and a tarp to add covering to their sticks. This picture actually shows a meeting of the tipi-makers with the 'pirates,' who had been busy taking ownership of a giant upturned tree root, complete with a plank and roasting spit.
We engaged in an inquiry-based activity about animal tracks, practicing making our own tracks and noticing how they changed based on our movements. Then we were off following tracks around the forest, and making notes and pictures. The goal for these eager-active explorers was to generate questions about the tracks, express curiosity and get excited about the mystery that animal tracks present!
Until next week....!
The last few Nature School days have been full of precious memories, joyful laughter, sliding and discovery. I've been reminded of the work of early child educator Diane Kashin, who talks about a 'knowing in your bones:' "To know something in your bones is an idiom that refers to feeling something intuitively. For early childhood educators to support outdoor play they need to feel the power of nature for themselves...there is one childhood and one chance. When we know it in our bones we value outdoor and nature play, we see the benefits and will provide children with the necessary experiences."
I've been feeling a 'knowing in my bones' about the astounding effect of play in nature, and have just been relishing in it....
-sitting at the bottom of the 'otter sliding' hill and watching the play that emerges, sometimes raucous and giggly with piles and tumbling, sometimes orderly with lines and turn-taking.
-watching a child discover a special 'branchy' spot in a tree where he loves sit quietly and observe around him....
-hiding behind a stump and waiting for wolf cubs to come find me, overhearing their conversation as they followed my tracks through the snow.
-discovering woodpecker feathers near the school, on the ground, and engaging in a 'mystery-filled' conversation about what might have happened to the bird...
-discovering a hollow cedar stump in the bushes, and rolling it out to the trail for play. A treasure-holder, a hole for filling, a magical home for creatures...
-watching the spark in a 3 year olds eyes as she watched some older boys tree climbing, and her excitement to one-day climb in trees too...
-listening to emergent conversations between Melissa and some of the wolf cubs about animal tracks they discovered
-observing the stillness, seriousness and calm focus as the children drew pictures in silence during a sit spot time...
-running down the trail after a group of children, and shaking trees together to create 'snowstorms' on our heads. Pull your hood up tight, get ready for the snow to come!
-warming up together by the fire, sharing tea, stories, jokes and laughs.
We have been reading 'Over in the Forest--Come Take a Peek,' and 'The Animal's Winter Sleep,' both of which provided us with plenty to learn to about forest creatures and lots of counting opportunities.
The final opportunity of the day for teamwork and collaboration...it almost always emerges, and here the wolf pack is towing our gear back to the school. A lil' bit of uphill work, and little bit of downhill silliness when the sled overtakes their little legs!
Last week at Nature School we had kids who knew what they wanted to do, and got right down to business. The giant snowball has been a continual work in progress by a few of the wolf cubs, carving out holes, sliding in and out, attaching sticks and many more variations.
On Wednesday, we had a date with Mr. Mitchell's Gr.7 class, who joined us in the forest. It's always an interesting time when the big kids join the littles, and by the end the Nature School kids are talking about their 'special buddies.' The Gr. 7's spent some time dreaming up original stories to tell aloud to their buddies, and while I didn't catch entire stories, I heard whisps about forest animals, aliens, pirate ships and trips to the moon. There's something about storytelling in the forest that never gets old! After a silly song, the Gr.7's were finding ways to play with the wolf cubs--hide and seek, running and sliding on the trail--more than one Gr.7 expressed amazement at how some of the younger kids can climb!
It was a special moment that stopped a group of our kids in their tracks, when a squirrel appeared not 10 feet away, frozen to it's tree, and staring right at us. The kids stopped what they were doing and immediately wanted to sneak quietly and closely towards the squirrel. We talked afterwards about some of the reasons a squirrel might sit so still, not even twitching (maybe fear, protecting a food stash...)
Some of the newer wolf cubs learned about the common berries we see in our forest--rosehip, mountain ash and snowberries, and how some are ok to nibble and others definitely not! They got to see my exaggerated 'yucky' face while I sampled a mountain ash berry--edible by not enjoyable by any stretch!
On Friday, we tried an experiment to exercise our peripheral vision, imagining that we could see the way an animal could--with great awareness as to what is happening on the sides of our vision. The kids were invited to choose a tree to 'glue' their eyes to, while seeing how far they could see around them. Sit Spot is a great time to practice these kind of observation skills!
Last week our older group, the Nature Explorers, had the chance to see our new group 'Tipi Tent,' which we learned takes a few people to set up and requires some different pegs for the snow! We can't wait to cozy up inside with some books on a rainy day.
Hello and thanks for reading the first blog our of winter session! Both our programs-- Nature Explorers for K-4, and Nature School for 3-5's--have kicked off, thankfully with a fresh snowfall to start things off!
At Nature School this week, the children would have been content to stay on Canyon School's front field and roll giant snowballs the whole morning. Instead, we gobbled our snack and headed to the forest to explore the fresh snow there. The 200 metre walk across the field is sometimes a long haul for the new 3 year olds. They put in so much effort, wearing those special magic packs that help build strong muscles. We hold hands and sing and look at animal tracks along the way, and I know that by spring those same 3 year olds will be galloping and running to the gate with their longer legs newfound confidence!
The wolf cubs hauled our sleds to the Tipi, and after morning circle we were busy, busy, busy--building castles, digging tunnels, sliding, making snow popsicles, following Gruffalo tracks (and some real animal tracks too!). We re-discovered our sit spots, enjoying the quiet of the forest, and 'stretched' our owl ears to hear all of the sounds around us.
On Friday, we looked as a group at some pictures of traditional Ktuxana tipis, to appreciate how people from Creston once lived in them as shelters. The children were quite interested to see a picture of a whole village of tipis. Then, a short and sweet story/legend about 'how owl got his big eye,' even practicing making big silly owl eyes ourselves, and making owl hoots. A few kids helped create big star out of sticks, which we tied up with yarn, decorated with sprigs of cedar and hung on the fence. So, so happy to be back in the forest with the kids connecting with nature and each other.
At Nature Explorers this week, with our K-4's, we visited our much-talked about and anticipated winter site, an area of Community Forest land in Canyon. It was a winter wonderland of fresh snow, and kids were sliding and romping before we even started our hike to basecamp. What should we call this place, we wondered? The children are thinking of names for this place that will come to be special to us....Everyone in this group has a unique animal name (squirrel, elk, owl, raccoon....) that we call each other by, and the children really come to identify with their names, considering which traits of the animals are similar to their own personalities, and learning about them over the session. Some days you might find 'Hawk' building herself a nest, or 'Fox' sneaking up on someone. We challenged the kids this week to learn--'What is life like for your animal in the winter?' The kids will research at home and informally share with the group about their findings...
We played a game that involved being very quiet and sneaking up on a blindfolded 'fire tender' guarding a pile of sticks, and spent some time preparing our site: tromping down snow for a fire area, laying and lighting the fire, hauling logs for sitting on...The kids were so very eager to help!!
And then, play in the forest....running, climbing on upturned tree roots, making up games, creating a melty snowman...
We enjoyed hearing Byrd Baylor's book, 'The Other Way to Listen,' at snack time, having some wonderful conversation about special spots where you can sit and be still, tuning into all of the small and wonderful lessons nature can teach you..