Kids--'I want to be a scientist! 'No, *I* want to be a scientist.' 'Me too, I'm going to be a scientist!'
Me--'It's ok guys, you can all be scientists if you like.'
As Grandma Lois donned her scientist coat last week to help us inspect owl pellets, the wolf cubs were inspired and apparently pondering their future careers. I was touched! The kids, braving swarms of mosquitos, enthusiastically and patiently took part in a rare 'lesson,' complete with diagrams of rodent bones, owl insides and animal parts, dissection tools and gloves.
We learned about owl digestion and how their food, after some processing, ahem, comes out both ends. From the mouth end comes.a compact little mystery pellet, a perfect inquiry project for inquiring young minds! Owls eat all kinds of interesting critters, like birds and rodents, and the pellets were packed full of shrew bones, mouse parts, fur and feathers! There were many exclamations of amazement and surprise as we passed around the tweezers and tools, helping the kids to pull the pellets apart. The kids were curious as can be, asking great questions, and lots of 'oohing and aaahing.'
It's hard to climb trees and swat mosquitos, but they stuck with it!
We love big burdock leaves! Plates, hats, masks, dancing props...
Stay curious, kids!
Spring is literally unfolding before our very eyes, and our forest is now dense with lush green foliage and the fresh scents of new plant life. There are more birds singing more songs than we can even keep track of, and where just a few short weeks ago a bug or worm was a rare find, they are now under every rock, log, and stick. But wait, what is that buzzzzzzing in my ear?! Ah yes, the mosquitos think out forest is quite wonderful too.
There was a lot of forest play adventure focussed around the various “temples” on Tuesday. I spent a long time “spotting” kids at the leaning tree near the monkey temple (which we re-named mosquito hollow) with an ever changing cast of climbers going up and down throughout the morning. As I watched these very able bodied little feet and hands maneuver up and down the partially fallen tree, I thought back to the fall session when this same activity was rare, and seemed almost impossible or too scary for some of the kids who were now sitting on the log above my head chanting monkey sounds. The confidence, strength, and comfort levels of all the students at Nature School have evolved so much, its awesome to behold it in action.
“Grandma Lois” came out to volunteer on Tuesday, and she was a wealth of knowledge when it came to identifying the birds that we were seeing and hearing in the forest. And the kids were a wealth of creativity when it came to identifying the various pieces of bark, sticks etc that they came across on their nature walk. “This is a special curved TV screen” about a large piece of bark from a rotting fir tree, or “This is my laser gun that makes people freeze if I shoot them” about a stick, and “This is my special map” about a rolled up piece of birch bark.
Thursday morning the sky was filled with ominous clouds, and predictions of thunderstorms. We assessed the situation and decided to head for the forest, as the clouds overhead were all billowy white and even seemed to be teasing us with some glimpses of blue sky. We had a good discussion about thunder and lightning with the wolf cubs before heading out to play, and everyone agreed that we would stay close to the tipi and keep our stuff packed into our back packs so we could leave quickly if we heard thunder or saw lightning. The kids were impressive, they knew a lot about thunder and lightning— from how to count to figure out how far away it is, to the science of electricity. Sure enough, less than an hour passed before we heard the deep rolling clap of thunder— everyone quickly gathered and we headed to the school. Our first time indoors the whole school year!
On our way to the music room, we passed by Laurel Ewashen in the Aboriginal Education room and she invited everyone to come and pick out a lovely wild animal stuffy to enjoy for our time inside. Once we gathered in the music room, we tried to make a collaborative story using all our stuffed animals as characters but some kids were just too excited about being inside the school to stay sitting in a circle. So I played the piano and sang the sleeping bunnies song while the kids curled up or bounced around like rabbits and then we followed that one up with a Russian song and dance called “Sasha” and a game of musical chairs. We also read a wonderful story about strawberries, reminding us to be sweet to each other. Then we got to go to the gym and play with the big kids! Thanks CLES for inviting us in and to all the kids at the gym who played so nicely and showed such care and kindness to our wolf cubs.
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...
All Aboard! Chuga chuga chuga (bouncy bounce bounce). I didn’t know until this week that there is a train and a train station in our forest. Just West on the path beyond the tipi, there is a huge cedar with outstretched boughs that make a natural shelter, and tucked in behind it is a young tree with a climbable trunk and one strong limb that leans outward— the main car of the passenger train! The children involved everyone who came around with their imaginative play; there were ticket takers, train drivers, passengers, and even people to take your luggage (ie. sticks, bark chunks and pinecones). This kind of collaborative play between new mixes of kids who don’t usually choose to play together is happening more often these days, and the new chemistry creates new games and fresh ways of playing in the forest.
One such new game is “temple”; the kids have drawn maps or pretend that their rolls of birch bark are maps to secret locations in the forest. There are two special locations that are temples; the “monkey temple” is under a coniferous tree near the gate, and the “lion temple” is a place that deer have been sleeping in a clearing among thick brush near the leaning tree on the way to the sliding hill. The children played this game for a long time on both days, including hiding and collecting treasure (wood & bark) that represented diamonds and gemstones. Emmett has actually been pretending to be a monkey all week, guardian of the monkey temple, and stays in character pretty much the whole time. Hilarious!
Trees seem to be the funnest frontier in the forest these days, and we’ve noticed that pretty much all the kids, even those who haven’t climbed much before, are trying out their monkey skills… feeling their strength, swinging from branch to branch, practicing dropping down and climbing up to do it all over again!
Another observation has been the detailed creativity and possibility that kids are seeing in objects or events, such as the “baby goose” that Sylas had— a funny shaped piece of wood, and he carefully pointed out all the parts of it’s anatomy to Kristina and I and carefully carried it around that day. Another example is the spear and sharpening stone that hunter Marcus had, or the tiger lurking in the bushes and the elaborate trap and ensuing story of its capture that Pippa told. Another wonderful discovery was Evan beating the dead branches of a tree above him with two sticks, and saying “Listen! It’s a drum!” as he made music in his marimba tree.
We have often been sharing a book with the kids too. This week they enjoyed a silly bird book with lots of chances to hop, stretch, run, fall over and fly, and a science themed kids book exploring the question “Does the Sun Go To Sleep?” The kids love to be silly and just as equally love to soak up new ideas about the natural world (ie, sun, moon, stars).
Our wolf cubs have been feeling such deep connection to many of their forest treasures that they have been wanting to take them home. This has led to much group discussion about the subject of what stays and what can leave, and settling on an agreement that they could take a stick if it would fit into their backpack, rather than armfuls of long sticks and pieces of bark! And hopefully all snails, worms and bugs have remained in their natural habitat… but it couldn’t hurt to check your kids backpack.