As our first Nature School year is nearly over, I (Kristina) have found myself already reflecting on how the year has gone. For some of the kids and adults, one activity has been dominating recent weeks: tree climbing! (And dandelion picking, but tree climbing is a bit more interesting to talk about).
I have a confession to make: when we started Nature School in September, my ‘risk tolerance’ for tree climbing was actually quite low. I was excited about kids stretching their imaginations in the forest, connecting with nature, and all of the other wonderful things we’d do mostly on the ground. I was a tad anxious about kids in trees. A funny thing happened this year, though--the kids didn’t even really start climb trees until late March, after most of them had been with us for 7 months already.
I’m not sure why tree climbing didn’t happen during the first part of the year. Maybe they weren’t interested, maybe games, bugs and forts on the ground were so occupying it didn’t enter as a thought.
Fast forward to May, and some (not all) of our current gang are geared up to climb. They love finding new trees with tangly branches that go this way and that way, and they become pirate ships, flying ships, you name it. Branches become control sticks and levers.
Whatever the reason that the kids didn’t climb for the first part of the year, it feels like things have unfolded in a ‘just right’ kind of way, although not always along a steady, linear path. During the times they weren’t climbing, we were were unknowingly learning things that would help with tree climbing, when we got around to it: We were getting to know each other. We were refining our routines and rules, kids were crying on our shoulders, warming their toes, rubbing scraped fingers, sorting out scuffles and upsets. Kids were falling and picking themselves back up, over and over, learning to brush it off or ask for help. We were working on listening to each other in opening/closing circles. We were learning to be still and quiet and reflective during sit spot time. We were welcoming new friends and saying goodbye to other friends.
And when they were balancing on low logs, or shuffling up leaning trees, experimenting with hanging from low branches, we were talking to each other about what felt good, scary, slippery, where to put feet and how to climb down safely. We were growing awareness, watching to make sure we weren’t playing under a climber, testing branches for strength/weakness. How do we navigate a traffic jam when 8 kids want to climb around in the same spot? I’m using ‘we’ here because as adults we were learning and refining and evolving how to manage these very dynamic situations. When to spot underneath, when to help down or verbally support, when to redirect frustrated kids to another activity or allow the frustration to see what was on the other side of it. For myself, I was learning to trust the kids, to talk to them ongoingly about their small decisions when climbing, and most importantly, to relax! No kid wants an anxious adult breathing down their neck, freaking out, undermining their confidence.
Back to the present, to nearly the end of the year, to kids who really want to climb! At this point, after all we’ve been through together, it’s as good a situation as it could be to support young tree climbers. We know when to be firm--‘I need you to come down and find somewhere else to play, because I can’t watch these kids over here while you are climbing.’ No big deal. This week I watched a boy navigating a tree, while I spotted, and listened to his process: ‘Ooh, I really want to put my foot over there; no, it’s too far to reach; that feels really wobbly, I won’t do that.’ From below I pointed out a branch that I wanted him to test out before he stood on it, and we determined that it was strong. We agreed together on a spot that was ‘high enough,’ beyond which I would have a tough time helping if I needed to. It’s possible I still look like an anxious basket-case standing at the bottom of the tree, but I’m working on that one ; ) I see a wonderful confidence emerging, because the kids know we want to support climbing, and also help them be safe. This is about relationships, rather than lists of rules to follow!
On Tuesday Conch read a beautiful story to the kids. who seem hungry for stories these days:
We passed around an animal skull, encouraging the kids to ask lots of questions, to be curious and wonder about it. Was it a big animal or small one? Think these teeth were for meat or plants? I wonder what happened to it? When they learned that the bone was discovered near water, one of the kids was insistent that it must have been a flamingo!
We embarked on a treasure hunt, following maps with ‘x marks the spots’ to bring back puzzle pieces. I had wondered if a simple map with a trail, the Tipi, and a few landmarks like the big log and benches might be easy enough to follow, and they surprised me! Later in the week, I enjoyed sitting around with a few kids who wanted to draw their own maps. It was a good challenge to imagine how to draw the Tipi (triangle? cone?) and draw some features of the forest. We imagined taking trips on the squiggly line paths they drew! I love, love, love watching the wheels in their brains turn, as map concepts emerge!!
When a child takes your hand and says 'Will you go exploring with me?' there's no better place to be in the world!
Until next week...