While this fall has been quiet on the blog front, we've definitely been busy with our forest-based nature programs--beginning year three! Each Thursday the Nature Explorers (5-10) meet behind the Wynndel Hall (a big group of 17 enthusiastic mostly homeschooled children). On Wednesday and Fridays, the younger Nature Kids (3-5) meet at Canyon-Lister Elementary. Both groups show no limit to their excitement, energy, silliness, and keen interest in the natural world.
I have loved blogging about our experiences during the first two years of programming and have also made a personal commitment this past fall to spend a bit less time on the computer (hence the quieter blog & social media updates). Mid-way through this fall session feels like a good time to update the community, families and anyone else interested. I'll start with a post about Nature Kids, and create another one soon about Nature Explorers for Homeschoolers (so much exciting learning has happened that it deserves it's own post!)
It is a privilege to be able to observe the endless occasions of play and learning, which are so deeply interconnected. Here are a few of my favourite pictures from the past few months.
Here Melissa is sharing some interesting nature knowledge with the children, pointing out a berry or leaf... Magnifying glasses for extra exploration and baskets for collecting. With many of these children being new to Nature Kids, and young, our trail exploration has included lots of learning about safety and boundaries, the importance of staying with the group, and sometimes compromising if children want to go in various directions.
The sun was streaming into through the trees, and children were rolling, climbing, clambering up and down the hill. 'Dirt castles' were made, collaboratively, and this teacher was chased around and around by silly animal children! There is a popular 'honey factory' at this spot.
The 'white forest mystery' was a compelling inquiry for a few days. When the forest became damp, and mushrooms were popping up, the children were turning over logs to hunt for bugs. They were surprised to find the soft white stuff under many of the logs. We felt it, smelled it, wondered, asked many questions. What is it? Where did it come from? Is it fairy fluff? Look, it dissolved in my fingers! The children were so curious, and Melissa and I made a point of letting the inquiry ride out...
A few days after the initial discovery, a child was down low on the ground and noticed a log with a mushroom, and the 'white mystery' very close by. His eyes lit up as he exclaimed, 'I know! The white fluff comes from mushrooms!' Which was a pretty close theory. Decomposition, fungus, wet wood were all things ripe for discussing! Some of the children enjoyed looking at a mushroom field guide to try and identify the fungus/mould, and we went down a rabbit trail of reading all the funny mushroom names (turkey tail mushroom! fairy cups!)
We have enjoyed many books this fall. Thank you to the Creston Library for a wonderful recent new selection of books with nature themes. This is a sweet story with beautiful pictures, and a nice lesson about how everyone has their own strengths and uniqueness!
Our meeting/snack/tea/song circles are special times. We discuss all kinds of things, and the kids grow in their coordination skills as they manage lunch boxes, mugs of tea, mitts, water bottles etc. When it's cool enough to bring out the fire bowl, everyone is reminded to slow down and move very carefully.
In the forest school philosophy, there is a leaning towards helping children become independent...Adult help and intervention is offered as needed, and we also practice being thoughtful when children ask for help; sometimes pausing and watching before jumping in; trying not to solve problems for children when there is an opportunity for learning, trial and error, or children helping other children.
Lifting buckets on ropes (improvised pulley) has been a favourite activity for the past year or so, to the point where sometimes 3, 4, 5 kids would be asking us to help tie ropes to buckets, throw sticks over the branch, and all wanting to raise and lower their own into the trees. Fun, but also very reliant on adult help. After a few weeks in September of bucket and rope madness, we reflected on how our 'overhelping' wasn't really serving anyone (adults or kids!) very well. One morning we went cold turkey on making the pulleys for the kids, letting them know that from now on, we were confident that they could find a way to make their own pulleys. The world didn't come crashing down--the kids surprised us (as usual) with their ingenuity, discovering this low branch that was perfect kid-height. They also used nimble fingers to tie more of their own ropes on (of course, we still helped a bit...). The activity became much more kid-driven, and Melissa and I were freed up to help & observe in other ways. And they were so proud!
Making treasure maps and drawings to take home....
Kid conference on the dirt pile! These moments when children are playing together could be times for adults to gab and tune out...For us, they are precious times for observation and reflection on the play and learning. Sometimes they'll be creating imaginary worlds, sometimes theorizing about a bug or aspect of nature they're noticing...sometimes engaged in elaborate negotiation and rule-making about a pile of sticks or a pretend campfire. By considering ourselves observers of the children at play, there is so much to be learned about their interests, strengths, group dynamics and learning that can be extended...
The climbing tree provides endless opportunities for gross motor play and strength building, and awareness of 'where your body is in space,' your feet in relation to your friends face, or someone's fingers, or whether it's safe to walk under someone who's climbing, or the 'traffic jams' that happen where turn taking becomes important...
Binoculars, a simple craft that helped the kids feel like feel explorers for a morning.
Collecting snowberries (or, 'NOberries,' due to the inedible nature of them)
These guys wanted to feel strong. They were lifting together and moving long, heavy branches, huffing and puffing. I love watching kids test out their muscles and where the limitations of their strength lies...
See-saws appear in various parts of the forest, whenever the right logs line up.
Cooking in the mud kitchen. A once a month special event that everyone loves. Endless creativity, imagination, sharing and collaboration.
Thanks for stopping by to read! Stay tuned for a few more blog posts before the end of the Fall Session!