Our first 10 week session has finished and we feel an overwhelming amount of gratitude: to the people who've supported this project in spirit, through volunteering, financially or other resources. To the Canyon Lister Elementary School for being incredibly welcoming, warm and enthusiastic. To the parents for signing up--knowing you'd be stuffing backpacks with spare clothes and fiddling with mitts and boots, and then what to do with muddy wet kids in your car at the end of the session?!
20 days in the forest with the children and we have beautiful memories for life. This week we 'discovered' some new benches (thank you CLES Gr.7's!!) and enjoyed sitting and taking in the scenery from a new perspective.
This week we also asked the question, 'What if we were playing and encountered a big animal? Our forest is small, fenced and surrounded by farm/fields, and we send an adult down to 'sweep' the forest before we go in. So an encounter would be highly unlikely. Still, the children might be out camping or hiking with their families one day and knowledge/practice is useful. Our game went like this: someone pretended to be a bear just ambling around, and the kids were busy 'playing.' When the bear was noticed, everyone moved together in a big clump to 'make ourselves look big,' with arms up in the air. We talked loudly but calmly to the 'bear,' and started walking slowly backwards away from the 'animal.' We'll keep practicing and role playing!
Mary-Jean (our volunteer pictured here) looked like a fall leaf in her beautiful sweater! The children were picking berries and making snowberry soup. A few of us noticed piles of half-eaten snowberries on stumps, and we wondered who was eating just the seeds, and leaving the white parts?
Creating birchbark bookmarks (say that 10 times fast!)
The children arrived on Thursday ready to run, run, run. We've mentioned it before, but children and adults regulate their body temperatures differently. A hand on the head of any of these children, and you could feel the heat emanating out. Jackets when on and off, on and off, on and off today according to activity level and whether it was raining. We are finding our way with this, as facilitators. When we're standing around in our down coats, and the kids have stripped off their layers, it can be nerve wracking to wonder if it's too much freedom. We trust they are learning independence and decision making as we discuss what to wear. No one wants to freeze.
A favourite digging spot.
They might be hatching a plan. It might have to do with how one child can hear her 'super hero tree friends calling for help!'
On Thursday parents came down to the Tipi for a farewell send-off, and we shared tea and muffins. The children were stoked to share their 'sit spots' with their parents, and to take them around the forest. As everyone hugged and waved goodbye, we felt a bit teary--and happy to realize that a great community is growing!
“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots,
you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Zavellennahh can tell you that I arrive to Nature School each week with a minor worry niggling at me--one so strange that I feel silly almost bringing it up. My worry is: The children won't know what to do today! They'll tell me they're bored! They won't have any ideas on how to play! As absurd as this worry is, it persists week to week. Maybe it's been implanted there by our culture, which tries to tell us that children need help/entertainment/screens to keep them busy. And this despite the fact that I see the complete opposite all of the time in my outdoor work, and my work with creative, imaginative homeschoolers.
So when we arrived on Thursday and decided to play in front of the school, which was covered in a fresh layer of (wet) snow, I had my hesitations. What will the children do on a flat field for 2.5 hours? Will they last? Will they run out of the ideas? I knew I had to counter my 'jump in and give them ideas instinct' early on, so I purposefully stood back for a bit to see what would happen.
The field took on a stonehenge effect, with bare paths where the giant snowballs travelled, and various arrangements of snow walls and forts.
We conversed about the ethics of snowball ownership--if someone creates something, they might want to admire it for a while before someone jumps on it. If you make it, you can break it! If you didn't make it, ask or err on the side of leaving the creation be. That said, over the fall we've noticed that the children rarely get overly attached to their forts/arrangements/creations, and move on very quickly after any 'destructive' incidents.
After oh, maybe 2 hours of non-stop play, the kids were definitely ready for tea and a quiet moment. Zavallennahh read them 'Just a Walk,' where 'a young boy named Chuck goes for a simple walk that turns into a day of crazy adventure. Chuck encounters animals, fish and birds that lead him on a wild journey through their various habitats.' Maybe they were just tired, but these active 'wolf cubs' were sure still and attentive to the story.
Rolling a snowball out, one child was enthused to discover she'd uncovered a pile of deer poop, which lead to a conversation about when the deer might have been there (when did the snow arrive? the poop looks fresh!) and what the deer had been doing walking across the school field.
A 'beauty parlour.'
I'm sure I'll treasure this snowy, laughter-filled day in my heart for a long time. Next week is our last week for the fall session, and we're excited to welcome parents down to the Tipi on Thursday for a snack and a tour of our forest classroom.
"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within
me an invincible summer.' (Camus)
We had a wintery week of snow-filled-fun at Nature School. Even before heading to the forest, kids were catching snowflakes on their tongues and making snowballs at the gazebo. We have been lent a small propane fire pit, which together with a spread of fresh cedar boughs on the ground (pause, breathe deeply) has transformed our tipi into the cosiest home base ever.
The kids are so familiar with our routine by now, they gather in the tipi for our opening circle when we arrive followed by sit spot, which they have come to understand as a solo quiet time of observation and contemplation. It was special to hear Leeza talking about her Salamander on the way to her sit spot, and when we gathered together afterwards we all wondered if it had found a new home for the winter, beneath the ground under a blanket of snow in our forest. This is one of the beautiful things about taking children back to the same place repeatedly--they are beginning to develop a relationship with their special places and forest creatures!
A new part of our routine has come to include our new friends, the horses next door! This week it hardly took a whistle before the horses trotted over, they have already learned that we have apples for them.
But before long the kids were ready to head to the climbing tree-- but somehow ended up beyond our climbing tree grove where they discovered a snow laden hill tucked into the farthest corner of the forest... It would seem our wolf cubs have turned into baby otters, sliding down a slippery snow bank! Sometimes feet first, other times head first, or perhaps a little bit of both for a sliding summersault effect. I was laughing and smiling, remembering for myself the pure delight of playing in the snow as a youngster. We noticed that although the kids started out bowling each other over, they slowly worked out how to ask each other to move out of the way (or walk up a different path) so a new person could slide down. At one point the snow was worn right down to the dirt, and the kids took a break from sliding and worked together to fill buckets with fresh snow and pass them down the hill to the "packers" who emptied and patted the new snow onto the worn track... and soon everyone was sliding again.
With the change in the weather, everyone is figuring out the right combinations of jackets/hats/boots mitts and after a few cold days the kids have been noticeably warmer; lots of learning for everyone as mitts and hats go on and off (kids get warm as they play), and everyone starts to take ownership and keep track of their clothing. We know to keep our hair dry with a hood or hat when snow is falling from the sky, and to zip up zippers and keep mitts on our hands or in our pockets/hoods. Warm tea accompanied by familiar songs are a welcome close to our days, before we loaded our sleds, put on our packs, and head home from our nature school adventures.
"I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery--air, mountains, trees, people.
I thought, this is what it is to be happy."
So many wonderful and exciting discoveries were tucked into our 7th week at Nature School. There was a theme of "new friends".
At our Tuesday morning circle in the Tipi we chatted with the kids about a new student who will be joining us at Nature School from far, far away (Namibia, Africa) and looked at some pictures of the desert she plays in. Thoughtful questions and creative answers went back and forth, ranging from camels, sea monsters and sand tag to musings about living with a sea in your front yard and a desert in the back. Hard to imagine that a little kid who is otherwise just like our Nature school "wolf cubs" has never been in a green forest like ours, or experienced winter, or listened to chattering squirrels. We made a video welcome message to send to her.
Staying on the topic of new friends, we got permission to feed apples to the horses that live next door to our forest... so armed with a bag of apples, we headed to the south fence line and began to whistle and whinny to attract the horses. At first cautious, and then with friendly abandon (speaking of both horses and kids!), we fed apples to the horses who were nuzzling our toques and enjoying some nice chin scratches by the end of our time together.
Thursday was bursting with the excitement of snow! This white weather was a first for one of our students (so special!), and the heralding of a new season of outdoor adventure for others. We had new things to learn about staying warm, including keeping our gear high & dry so we could all enjoy maximum fun. Our sit spot was so different (and magical) on this day, everything looked different from our otherwise familiar watch points-- the view is much broader now that the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, and with a blanket of white on the ground, our focus was drawn upwards. Next was the fun of Mr. Mitchell's Grade 6 class arriving for a combined group game of "survival" which we concluded by all singing a silly song together.
I had a special moment this week, as Kristina reminded me that we should model "sit spot" to the kids by doing it too... in taking those 2 minutes to sit down and just be in nature, I was filled with such a profound sense of connection. We are a part of nature! I'm not sure if anything could be more important for kids then experiencing nature connection, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this for your children. I also invite you, as busy adults, to take 2 minutes to open your owl eyes, turn on your coyote nose, and listen like a deer as you sit with nature this week. Share your experience with your kids!