This week I noticed lots of kids laying on their backs on the forest floor (trying out new perspectives, maybe?). I love that the leafy layer is so inviting to the senses at this time of year, all of the rich smells, sticks closer at hand, crunchy sounds...It seems like the fir trees are extra-alive too, these days, as we can sure notice the wonderful fir smell of pitch seeping out of the bark.
As usual, there was lots of complicated rope play (and politics/ethics around how ropes should be strung up along/across a busy section of our pathway). There was a 'hunting' expedition deep in the forest, children were digging for sleeping worms and lots of creative and collaborative play around the climbing tree. We enjoyed two stories at snack time around the fire, just for the heck of it! Now that the tree branches are exposed, we can really watch our resident squirrels as they hop around in the trees!
The favourite 'look out' tree for this young wolf cub! He practically runs there each day when it's time to play...
On Friday Nature School moved indoors, to the kindergarten classroom for the morning. Never fear, Nature was still the focus, as we engaged with Danica from WildSafe BC. Our morning was chock full of giant animal track replicas, animal hides, antlers and even a few game camera-type videos of different local animals like bear and deers.
We learned about good practices for ‘keeping the wildlife wild,’ like keeping garbage tucked away at home and not intentionally feeding wildlife. We also did some role playing about what we could do if we actually encountered a bear or an aggressive deer or moose, like putting our hands up to make ourselves look big, talking loudly, and walking away backwards. Never run from a wild animal!
The Nature School kids conducted themselves extremely well over the somewhat long hour, listening, sitting respectfully and eagerly answering questions. Good job, wolf cubs! Thanks to the kindergarten class for welcoming us in, sharing your toys, and learning with us : )
This past week I've come across some great resources which I thought I'd share in this week's blog. The first is from the award-winning UK-based Little Forest Folk program. I'm feeling inspired to share their article on how 'Play IS Learning,' a great reminder that children have important work to do (especially in the early years) and that play is the vehicle for their learning:
"We’ve decided to address this question of ‘doing’ learning. In our opinion, learning isn’t something you ‘do’. It’s something that happens constantly for children, especially in the early years. A popular misconception is that children need to be sitting down, participating in an adult-directed focus activity to be learning. We believe this couldn’t be further from the truth."
The second resource is a book I'm highly enjoying by Scott Sampson (Dinosaur Train, anyone, anyone?). I'll admit I went into this read thinking that I've probably 'heard it all' before, but this is a really informative, interesting book full of research and great ideas. Ideas about how to be a nature mentor to your children, the importance of stories, play, unstructured time in the outdoors, as well as great information about how nature connection can shift as children get older. I'd highly recommend!
I'll leave you with a few pictures from our last week of Nature School--our first shared snow experience of the year! There was great excitement in the air as the first flakes fell, tongues out catch flakes and even snow angels on the field. As leaders we had to swing into gear (literally!) changing a few pairs of boots, digging out extra socks and firing up the fire. It always seems like the first snowy days (however exciting) require a kind of acclimatization to the colder temperatures, mentally as well as physically. Looking forward to many fun snowy days with this gang!
It seems there is always something exciting happening at Nature School, and this week it was the official opening of our nature collection! We started to bring items for our nature collection housed in brightly painted apple boxes in the gazebo. What a joy to see the children bring their bones, berries, feathers and other special items!!
Here are Kristina’s notes from Wednesday:
Here are Zav’s notes from Friday:
Thanks to all the parents for making sure that their little wolf cubs are well dressed for the weather! There’s no such thing as bad weather, as long as you’re dressed for it.
Thank you again, to the Rotary Club of Creston for helping us to purchase books--that can be used with all of our programs. More on this to come, as we grow a sweet collection of stories and resources (in the Tipi, under the trees, under a tarp in the rain--you can read and learn anywhere!)
Last week, after Nature School ended on Friday, I called my mom and left a message that (apparently rather cryptically) stated, 'I had the BEST day of Nature School EVER today.' I didn't elaborate, but my mom called back later dying to know what on earth could have made it the best day EVER...
As I babbled on about the day, there wasn't anything overly thrilling to report (like, We discovered a whole deer skeleton in the forest!). It was the best day EVER (ok, I have lots of these days) because I'm in my happy place being outdoors with kids, playing, wondering, roaming, discovering...because of some sense of seeing growth in the kids, of feeling connected as a group and with the forest we call our classroom...
...the children amazed me over and over. Some with their spontaneous ecological insights ('Teacher, did you know rain has molecules?' and a story from a 4 year old about a tree that doesn't get enough water, and so it falls over, and hopefully more rain will come so the trees can keep growing....)
...they amazed me with their capability (proper use of the word?), taking care of their things, putting on their own packs, mitts and managing lunch kits with so little help...
...they amazed me with their growing confidence in the jumbly, thick forest and while climbing over logs (have we only been together a month, is that possible?), bold statements like "I can figure out how to get over this log all by myself!" While hiking and feeling 'lost,' they trusted each other (and me), showed bravery, to find the trail and return to a familiar spot.
...they amazed me with their care of each other (someone wants to go 'sploring on a hike, but wait, a friend first needs help untying a knot and someone comes to the rescue.
Not every day will be so easy or magical. Kids will cry, have pee accidents, squabble and get cold feet. But as mentors, we will keep on keeping' on, through the less magical-feeling times, knowing this is important work!
This Fall's goofy bunch raising their antlers!
Another mud kitchen bonanza. Wait, did it rain on Friday? I don't think anyone noticed. The kids got right down to work when the supplies came out, racing to start filling pots, pans, watering cans...It's bliss to watch this kind of cooperative play.
Chalkboard signs support literacy--kids love having things written down for them: recipes/restaurant names/prices, you name it. Sometimes we write, sometimes they write.
Back to basics--kids in apple trees. What more need we say, Creston? This is what we're all about in our beautiful valley!
I'll leave you with a video about the Ottawa Forest and Nature School. It's good to remember that we're connected with a world-wide community of similar programs!
This was a a short week for us, as two of us (Kristina and Melissa) were headed to an environmental education conference near Cranbrook at the St.Eugene Mission, Aq'am community. As we don't have many pictures from Wednesday, I thought I'd share a bit about my experience at the conference. I feel so fortunate that I stumbled into this event, which brought 300+ teachers and community educators together for 3 days to talk (and talk and talk!), attend workshops, hear keynotes and generally feel inspired about the work we're doing in outdoor, place-based learning programs. It's rare to have a national event of this magnitude located right here in the Kootenays! Melissa presented a workshop on her 'Beyond Recycling Program' at CLES.
I learned more about Ktuxana culture, language and the residential school system, which has affected so many generations of indigenous people. Chief Joe Pierre participated the whole conference and I was honoured to speak with him and witness his storytelling and warm, open leadership.
We listened to the Minister of Education speak about the surge of interest in outdoor learning around the province, and what the government is doing to support it. I connected with a teacher from a nature kindergarten program in Williams Lake, as well as teachers from the Maple Ridge Environmental School near Vancouver (if you know me, you know I was in my glory with all these networking opportunities!). I attended a workshop about bioregions and 'mapping your place,' considering your values and special places in nature. Other workshops were about place-based learning, how to teach science through inquiry and curiosity, engaging children activities about water, and on and on! Phew. Grateful for so much new learning and inspiration, and now for a few days of rest before Nature School swings back into action!
Back to Nature School--In this picture (one of my favourite from the year so far), there is great excitement in the air as the kids gathered horse chestnuts to roll down the hill. You can just see the excitement in their expressions! It all happened very fast (I was standing at the bottom of the onslaught of chestnuts) and they just loved watching the clatter. Some attempts were made to create tracks for the nuts, but mostly it was a moment of pure, blissful fun!
We also engaged in a bit of an experiment this week, and learned about elderberry trees in the process. One of our parents shared a video of an interesting craft (you can try this at home!) using a white candle, paper and leaves. By putting the leaf between two sheets of paper, and rubbing the candle flat over the ridges of the leaf, and then painting over top, you come out with a neat affect. We decided to try it with some natural dyes, and so my son and I gathered up elderberries the day before to boil, creating a deep purple juice. At Nature School, we all went over to the tree to look up at the berries (way high up!!). Armed with elderberry juice, beet juice and some paintbrushes, the kids had fun trying out the leaf craft. The experiment part came in here--I'd read that elderberry is very pH sensitive, and that by adding either baking soda, lemon, vinegar or salt, you can change the colour of the elderberry juice. When I'd tried this at home it was a bit more successful--the kids did create a green shade with the dish that we'd added baking soda to. If anyone has experience using natural dyes, we'd love to connect with you for a future activity!
Take care for now : )
Another week in autumn bliss at Nature School. The kids have some favourite activities, such as “pulley” contraptions in the trees. Simple machines—an enduring theme. Someone had the good idea to tie a stick to one end of a rope, and bucket to the other end; stick then gets thrown over a high branch. Sometimes things get loaded into the buckets (mores sticks, leaves, dirt, worms), sometimes they are lowered and raised empty. What is it about this activity that makes the kids keep returning to it over and over? Making something happen, controlling an ‘invention,’ raising and lowering… it seems they could happily do this for hours.
This week, some loose parts appeared in a milk crate (brown, shiny, round horse chestnuts! ) which became a favourite to raise and lower in the pulley buckets. But some of the kids had other ideas and were off, shovels in hand, to plant a new chestnut forest. Yet other kids were “feeding” the chestnuts to the baby bear in the den.
We also created a ‘swing’ this week; a stick-bar to hold onto, and rope attached on each end strung over a branch above. Just hold on, lift your feet and away you go (try not to hit the nearby tree!). The kids decided that everyone gets exactly one swing, and then—switch! The group participation, cooperative play and uproarious laughter were all magical.
Kids were climbing the ‘leaning’ tree, practicing those challenging spots again and again and again. Deeper in the forest a group of explorers re-discovered the ‘bouncing tree,’ a big leaning bough that would magically lower (ahem—adults involved here!) to let a wolf cub on the ‘elevator,’ and then the kids would bounce away. A great forest playground feature!
On Friday some of the big CLES kids and our Nature School kids worked together to paint apple crates—destined to become beautiful nature collection boxes for the gazebo. If you want to talk with your wolf cub about contributing some special items for our collection, it could be an opportunity for learning to share something precious with others, or just a wonderful excuse for some time in nature with your child searching out nature treasures.
On Friday we 'discovered' an apple tree near the Tipi that we'd never noticed before. And miracle of miracles, we could reach the apples! (if you've followed previous sagas you'd remember that we have another perplexing apple tree nearby, with VERY high up apples). This was a beautiful site, witnessing the kids climbing an 'easy' tree, ecstatic to pick their own apples!
Everyone is finding their happy place (pace?) at Nature School. The newer kids are definitely getting their ‘bush legs’ under them, learning to navigate stepping up and over tangly brush and logs. This can be frustrating when you are only three years old and vertically challenged, and yet with a little patience and very slow going, kids slowly gain their confidence. As an adult I have the benefit of foresight—fast forward to the spring, and I know without a doubt that these same kids will be bounding like deer around the forest. We are sure enjoying our time and already hear the kids talking excitedly about “when the snow arrives!” But for now, this crispy sunny weather is just perfect.
Until next week...!
Stories from the week of Sept 28:
Glorious sunshine streaming through leaves in every shade of golden welcomed us to the forest this week. The wolf pack is already finding a nice rhythm; a snack on arrival at the Gazebo, then a little play time or exploring a nature collection before getting packs on (no help needed!) and lining up for our trek to the forest. We have decided to walk hand in hand across the parking lot to the edge of the school before taking off towards the forest gate, where we line up and slowly enter the magical forest one by one.
Wednesday the kids enjoyed making their own “pulley buckets”, tying a rope around a stick and the other end attached to the handle of a bucket. We would then tell everyone to stand clear as we threw the stick up and over a branch in the tree above, and voila! Pull the stick and the bucket goes up… let go and the bucket comes down. Many treasures were transported and traded; leaves of every shape and shade, small sticks, rocks, moss, and even mittens.
Apples have been falling off our wild apple tree, so we went for a walk to the far fence to see if any horses friends could be found to share a treat with. We whistled and whinnied, but no horses came. So instead the kids took turns showing me their best horse moves, complete with gallops and leaping!
Friday was our first mud kitchen, way too much fun!! We were blown away by how engaged the kids were with mixing, digging, pouring and stirring. The collaborative efforts were above expectations— some helped get water for others, dig dirt for a friend, or pick snow berries for sharing. And the culinary creations were fabulous; chocolate cake, leaf soup, hot cocoa, snow berry muffins, and moist dark chocolate brownies!
There was lots of excitement about the tipi going up on Friday as well. Big kids from CLES worked with teachers in trying to get the ropes all strung to receive the canvas cover... we will find out this week how it turned out!!
We had a big surprise this past week to arrive and find a...Tipi! It's back, thanks to the hard work of Laurel and a gaggle of enthusiastic CLES students. We are so very grateful, and it feels wonderful to have 'walls' around us for shelter now that the weather is wetter and more fall-ish. It's time to start collecting cedar boughs, and to practice calm and slow movements while we're inside.
Last week the Tipi sheltered us during snack and story time, and provided a cozy spot to make some nature crafts, practicing sewing and threading with leaves. Some of the wolf cubs hung their 'leaf strings' by their sit spots, to make them extra-beautiful spots to sit and contemplate at the end of the day.
Sometimes serendipitous things happen, with our gang in the forest. Melissa had selected a story book about seeds growing, and we arrived on Friday to find soggy old plums scattered around the forest. Huh? What's the connection? Well, Mr. Mitchell and his class are exploring the idea of a 'food forest,' with the hope that by scattering plum pits, there will eventually be plum trees growing in the forest (to accompany the wild apples, rosehips, saskatoons and elderberry that already exist there!) It was perfect, to read a book about plums and talk about what happening outside--we buried plums to encourage them to grow, and talked about the different ways seeds can spread and scatter (poop! kids love talking about poop).
On Friday, I (Kristina) thought that I had forgotten our candle, and so the children had the splendid idea to create a pretend campfire for our closing circle. When I realized that I did in fact have one, we popped it in the middle of the 'campfire' and lit it as usual. This was quite special and the kids enjoyed what might be a new tradition : )
There were many, many giggles this week. Also, a scavenger hunt, squirrel watching, pretend 'fishing' and tree climbing. Kids became birds on their nests, hunkered up in the crook of a tree and hoping their eggs wouldn't be stolen by marauding wolves down below....
This week, I noticed kids coming out of their shell, relaxing and jumping up and down with eagerness to 'go 'sploring down the trail.' See you next week, Wolf Cubs!
Sometimes, on a beautiful day (or a wet/cold/rainy one) we're just too busy with the wolf cubs to take pictures. This one captured a hunt for the elusive apples--way, way up the tree and practically impossible to get! I don't like to say many things are impossible, but we have tried to shake, shimmy, sing, whack and beg these apples down, to no avail.
There are a great many burdock plants in the forest, and it's one local plant the kids can easily learn to identify. I think I saw Zavallennahh picking burrs out of someone's hair, this week, and somehow a game started of 'making the biggest burr ball.' I love talking with the kids about the cleverness of plants, and how these seeds like to hitch rides to new places on unsuspecting shoulders and pant legs.
On Friday morning, Creston woke up to a heavy downpour, and I wondered what kind of adventures our Nature School morning would bring. Thankfully, the rain was pretty much finished by the time we go there, but we decided to throw up a tarp just in case we needed some shelter. The kids were really keen to help tie knots and hang out underneath, and it was a fun challenge as a teacher trying to figure out how a slew of 4 year olds could help. When they come to you with a rope in hand and say 'what's my job?' you find them a loop to tie to, pretty quickly!
It's a bit hard to tell in this second picture, taken at the end of the same day, but there are three different bucket-pulley systems hanging around the tarp that the kids rigged up. It was a busy dance, avoiding ropes and buckets going up and down. They were proud of their work and buckets and pulleys is always a very collaborative, problem-solving filled activity.
Take care till next week!
The Nature School Team
We've had two days back in the forest, dodged torrential downpours and hailstorms, and I'm already feeling a buzz of excitement. These kids are keen nature nuts. So many questions and observations, readiness to 'go exploring' down the trail. New friends being made, and old ones reconnecting. We've played 'eagle's nest' hide-and-seek, read stories, looked at our field guides, shared tea and listened to a story about the 'legend of the mice and the Douglas Fir tree.' Several kids spent their free time the first week collecting snowberries, teaching the new kids not to eat them, and showing them how to pop them (satisfying under your boots!)
Some of the boys started a game of running down the hill in funny ways, taking turns going sideways, or backwards, or as fast as they could. I love watching kids make up their own rules and games and collaborating.
We started a weather journal, noticing what was happening with the sky (literally looking up into the tree canopy to watch the clouds), discussing the rain we've had, how the earth felt under us (wet, slippery) and how the air felt on our cheeks. I'm so excited to pursue this further, as it's a wonderful chance for inquiry, observation, group sharing, questions and so much more! Someone volunteered to draw a picture of. the weather.
Several kids played in what they call 'the pit' near the Tipi, just a hollow depression that's a bit tricky to walk down into. I observed that they were 'very brave' to walk in there, and one new fellow looked up at me thoughtfully: 'Hey, I guess I am a pretty brave guy, aren't I!" I love when kids display such confidence.
A small group of kids helped create these nature patterns. It was a fun chance to use the real names of some plants not in 'lesson format' (Oregon grape leaf, now aster, now fir cone...' I made one quietly without saying anything and some of the kids joined in. The one on the right was their idea.
Much wondering about the tracks on these trees, under the bark, and no conclusive answers reached yet. Worm? Beetle? Once the first one was noticed, kids were pointing out the patterns on trees all over the place.
Early literacy in action--it's alive and well in our forest! (Kids love clipboards). This girl (twice) wanted to write down some of our Nature School rules so no one would forget. She traced over my letters for the first rule and asked me to write out the rest. 1: Don't get lost 2: No hurting people 3. Walk with sticks 4: Climb with adults. During this drawing/writing episode, a lady bug larvae flew in to land on someone's clipboard. Some of the kids were afraid at first, until I explained what it was, and then they enjoyed watching it crawl around on the paper. Gotta love open air classrooms!!
Towards the end of the week, the kids were milling a bit aimlessly around in one one those moments that sometimes makes me feel squirrely (like, do something, teacher!). We watched the kids for a bit, me wondering if it was time to pack up and change course. Just in that moment, someone came up with the idea to build a bird's nest out of sticks, and that led to a whole interesting play episode about birds, with a nest being made, 'forest string' being brought over to tie branches together, a pile of snowberries for bird food, and 'forest cheese,' for bird snack! The kids had all kinds of ideas about what kind of materials birds might need for a nest, and how they might weave things together or add mud to make it hard and tight. Beautiful emergent learning moment.
Much joy in watching the two old friends in the back reconnect. The wolf cubs love helping to pull the wagon.
We are so happy to be back in action, sharing pictures and stories from our week. There are a few spaces available, if you have a 3-5 year old who might like to join in. Don't forget that Canyon-Lister School is having a Corn Roast potluck event on Wednesday, Sept 19, 6:00 pm, and we'll be there with a fun forest scavenger hunt (and a chance to win some neat things by participating!)
Bye for now,
The Nature School Team