Some Nature School days end up as memories that stay with you for a long time because they are so special. Thursday was one of those days for me (Zav).
It started with a few kids, mostly boys, wanting to go on a shovel hunting adventure (we mentioned that a few of our orange little trowels had gone missing and must be out there in the forest!). So I followed at a distance, and there was the usual adventure play that got them totally off track from their original mission, including "bad guys" to hide from, bow and arrows to be made, and some gold to dig for under a mound of snow. One little girl was following this pack of boys too, and as a few of the boys were discussing how to ditch her I overheard a wonderful moment when one of them said "Hey guys, remember what we talked about in the tipi this morning? How to be a good wolf pack? We need to include her!" And all of them immediately agreed. (Which meant she could play with them, as long as she didn't mind being the "bad guy" they were running from!).
Shortly after, one of the children tripped over a short snow-covered log, and the game immediately changed to lumberjacks trying to move this log.
First they tried to roll it, but it was pretty frustrating when that log just rolled right back down the hill. Next, let's try chopping it into smaller pieces! It seemed like such a great idea but their "axes" and "saws" (sticks, shovels and branches) just weren't performing. So then they tried to lift it; the biggest kid got one end up, instructions being given to lift the other end-- "and someone come help in the middle too!" This went on for some time, but every time they got the log up it seemed they were not able to coordinate moving forward without the log slipping out of their grasp and crashing back to the snowy ground. These efforts went on for quite some time, with little progress. Suddenly, one boy threw his finger into the air and yelled "I've got a great idea!" and ran off at lightning speed, returning minutes later with a length of rope.
Team work; tying one loop around the log while making another loop for the people. Everyone got inside the bigger loop and started to pull, and to their great delight, it moved! Whoops and yells broke out, and more ideas spontaneously erupted "you push the log from behind, on the count of three we'll all pull!"
And slowly but surely, tug by tug, push by push, this ever growing group of kids worked together to pull this log from the back of the forest, around a grove of trees, along the path and up the hill to the front of the tipi. It was a special moment to behold, and so many beautiful life lessons packed into the experience for everyone involved.
A momentous occasion--our first Valentine's Day at Nature School! Thank you to Coen's family for making everyone a birdseed ornament, which fit perfectly in with the theme of birds that seems to be emerging. These kids love listening for birds, talking about them, making bird sounds, reading books about birds, watching the sky, and making bird feeders at home! This is how emergent learning happens--the children notice what's happening around them, get excited, curious and start asking questions and more questions. As spring nears, we'll have so many more opportunities to witness bird-life in our forest!
We had a special treat this week, when CLES's Kindergarten-Gr.1 class came down to the forest. These 'youngest' elementary kids sured looked a lot bigger than our Pre-K kids! Our gang was tasked with hiding 100 small animal shapes along the trail, each with a number. So we spread out and had a great time getting things ready for the big kids. There sure was a flurry of activity as both groups fanned out to find the numbers. Back at the Tipi, the task was to match up the animals to a number chart. Thanks for letting us participate!
More emergent learning opportunities. Some of our bigger Nature School kids have been mapping, lately, and here the theme continues... one map included waterfalls and a complicated route to follow through the forest. Zav and I have done some professional development around the concept of map-making with children, and as the weather warms up we'll explore further how to expand on the concept in a 'developmentally congruent' way. Young children start close to home with their map-making, as they explore their sense of place and perspective...As they get older, children can begin to understand concepts about country and world. For now, at Nature School, map-making is imaginative and silly, just the way we like it!
The children are starting to notice letters in the forest, more often. Sometimes during their sit-spot time, sometimes as we are playing and walking around. Zoe found an 'H'!
Campfire politics: ever walked through a spot on a forest floor with 4 imaginary campfires burning at the same time? Try not to step on one or build yours outside the 'boundary.' Warm your hands up at one, roast a marshmallow at another...find a stick to become a giant torch to light them up. Phew, I'm warm just thinking about it!
I didn't catch the whole episode here, but I believe the log was first a bus and then a horse, with Mary Jean being the 'tail.' It started off small, with more and more kids joining. This log is definitely a favourite play spot!
Here are a few great family nature connection ideas (from the TenderTracks blog). It's amazing how talking about/feeling/noticing the weather can inspire children to spend more time outside, and how they can really, really become good observers at an early age!
Watching Squirrels play tree tag
Cooking Up Famous Moose Stew
Running like the wind
And discovering porcupine poo!
These are a few of our favourite things
We love about Nature School
Can you remember the endless excitement of a childhood game of forest hide and seek? In this case, the joy of being found more thrilling than hiding. And now, the game is diverted momentarily by the discovery of a giant ant hill and the ensuing cascade of questions — where are the ants? Are they sleeping? When will they wake up?
Meanwhile, at Nature School some children are mining for gold and snow diamonds in the crispy crunchy snow while another is engaged in an imaginary world where he is riding the mine elevator. Eyes sparkle with excitement as a child recognizes the familiar song of a chickadee in a nearby branch, or catches a glimpse of the flitting fluffy tail of a squirrel in a tree just steps away. Other children lie sprawled about with clipboards in hand, thoughtfully drawing maps of the forest and calling out for help on how to spell words like tipi, snowbank, and sliding hill.
Don’t be misled, there are trying moments too. For instance, when the only stick someone wants is the stick that the other kid has, and no amount of yelling or whining or crying is helping and none of the other 134,766,000 sticks in the forest will do. (Wait 20 minutes; “Hey, you can have my stick now!” Big smile.). Or the sad realization that someone has just destroyed the thing you spent the last hour building, and the opportunity to use our words to express emotions and communicate boundaries on de-constructing other people’s projects. Then there’s the child who is completely enveloped in a grand imaginary play scheme involving ropes and sticks and the other child who doesn’t want to do anything else but dismantle it, resulting in a hysteria of heightened emotions and pre-school irrationality. Yet somehow these moments resolve themselves, and there are enough sticks and pieces of rope and creativity to lead us back to a happy, engaged place…
Like lying on the snow with heads resting on a log, watching the squirrels run from branch to branch overhead, stopping for only a moment to chit, chatter and scold before taking up the chase once more. Or noticing the beautiful ice-stars sparkling on the bench we are sitting on, and wonder if a snow fairy had left them there the night before.
My favourite memory of the week was watching the kids running as fast as their crazy moose legs could take them down a snowy hillside, sometimes crashing down in a forgiving blanket of snow, other times making it all the way to the bend in the path just beyond the grove of trees. Cheeks red like apples and breathing hard through ear to ear smiles, a pack of wolf-cubs clambering to the top of the hill to do it all over again. Yes, this is the good life.
"Play is the highest form of research.' (Albert Einstein)
This week we celebrated 3 February birthdays (in style), compete with face-painting, popcorn, muffins and singing. The children wore their chosen designs with great pride, showing off their bats, butterflies and polar bears whenever they had the chance.
On Tuesday we were graced by the presence of a large pileated woodpecker, which the kids enjoyed seeing, as well as the ever present squirrels. Given that we play in a small, fenced forest, seeing any kind of wildlife is exciting. During our sit-spot time, the children really notice the different bird sounds, and often end up talking about whether we've heard crows, jays, chickadees, or squirrels!
On Tuesday my heart sang to see the children showing great cooperation and problem solving. When presented with something new--a pulley with which they could raise and lower things (ie: chestnuts, snow)-- we initially had a 'me first' panic breaking loose. Everyone wanted the pulley, to be in charge of raising and lowering. I left for a walk with a few other kids, leaving the children with Zav, and when I returned I was so proud to hear they had worked out a system for sharing and alternating turns (thanks to Zav's kind support and encouragement and some trust that they could work it out). I must admit it took some deep breathing to hear them squabble in the beginning, and wonder about how/if to intervene.
More sliding on the slippery path near the Tipi. If you're going on a walk, just slide down to continue on the trail. If you want to slide, you're in for some great exercise--get a head start, zip down, and scramble back up the ice to the top. Repeat for one hour. Here again was a great example of the children's autonomy. The beginning of such adventures often start with more adult intervention, helping with turn-taking, with our goal being to help the children manage the 'risk' more on their own as time goes on. And they did--calling out their turn, moving to the side as someone started sliding, and sometimes gleefully engaging in pile-ups at the bottom.
Dem bones, dem bones... Now shake dem skeleton bones! Exploring in a hands-on way...
I don't have enough pictures to describe the wonders of this particular forest walk. I had the luxury of sitting in the snow as they moved down the trail, just watching quietly, for the most part. Stopping in one place, the children named it the 'secret hideout meeting place.' They used sticks for drums, and I witnessed a few of those blessed moments where a child asks for something that could be possessed, like a stick, and after barely a moment's hesitation, the sticks are shared. I listened to a round of spontaneous animal noises that nearly brought me to tears of laughter--dinosaur roars, owl hoots, chickadees, tigers, elephants, rabbits...The group formed a self-professed 'family,' finding houses in the trees. In picture they played a sleeping game. 'We are going to sleep for 100 years.'
More problem solving. Over or under? When a child asks for help, if you give them a minute, or just a small bit of advice, they usually run with it...
We enjoyed a silly book this week called 'The Thirsty Moose,' written by David Orme (and based on a Native American folktale). A moose drinks up all of the river water, affecting the home and habitat of all his friends and neighbours. His belly grows in a hilarious way, until a smart little fly comes along...
I hope you enjoy a wee video of the kids sliding!