With the start of our new program only a month away, the countdown is on...One month until mud-pies, fort-building, bug-catching, story-telling, and getting to know each other under the forest canopy. One my favourite childhood memories is laying on my back under a tree and looking up high through the leaves to blue sky above. The movement of trees swaying, leaves moving and clouds passing was relaxing and day-dream inducing. I'm excited to see what kind of memories and small rituals our group will grow together!! If you can think back to your favourite childhood memory of being outdoors, jot it down, and we'll share at the info/orientation night (Sept 7, 6:30 at Canyon-Lister School)!
I thought I would start the blog early so families who are already enrolled can start feeling ready and connected to the program. So far, we have 7 children signed up (half-full!). I've been thinking about what to write for this first post, and have settled on describing how I envision the first days with the children unfolding (and of course it's just that, a vision). How do you plan a child's time in nature? It's a good thing that a child's M.O. in life is to play!!
We'll meet as a group in the parking lot and wave goodbye to parents and caregivers, checking that everyone has the right clothes for the weather, food and water bottle. After a short trek around the school to the back gate, the forest awaits, with all its mysteries, treasures, loose parts and living creatures. At first, everything will be new, but it won't be long before the children know exactly which secret spot they'd like to visit first, or which fallen log to play on and turn into a tractor..
We'll arrive at our meeting spot first thing and chat for a short time about how everyone is doing. For a few minutes we'll practice observing our surroundings, noticing the sky (any clouds? what shape? what colour? what are they telling us?), the wind (can we see the wind? what does it feel like?), the forest floor (what does it feel like? cold? hard? slippery? wet?), are there puddles? (new ones? can we guess how deep? are old puddles smaller or gone? where did they go?) Which direction is north, south etc...? Do we notice any creatures around us? birds? bugs? How can we be safe/warm today? As you can surely see, the forest provides ample opportunity for rich discussion, conversation, emergent curriculum, inquiry-based learning and nature awareness. And we haven't even started playing yet!!
After our morning check-in, it will be time to move, explore and play.. In the first days, the children may (or or may not!) feel tentative about what to do...following the children's lead, we may explore a trail together, stopping to check out bugs, plants, sticks, holes, talk about the name of a plant...there will be no rush, no list of outcomes or items to accomplish. If it suits us, we'll stop at a cluster of trees and pretend to fish in a puddle, or make a bug house out of sticks.. At a lull in playtime, we might ask the children if they'd like to learn a silly song or hear a story about how rabbit and frog became friends. We might hang a tarp between trees to create the beginnings of a fort or play the 'what's missing' game by hiding objects under the tarp and removing one at a time.
Play-time inevitably leads to snack-time, at which point we might pull out our group scrapbook to record the highlights of our morning, writing down the children's observations and evolving theories, press a leaf or a mud handprint. At times, we'll ask the wonderful Lois Huscroft to share a collection of bones/rocks/plants for the children to explore and learn about. If we can squeeze in some more playtime we will, and then it will be time to head home!
As I hope you can see by now, the forest is a wonderfully rich, developmentally appropriate environment for children (I will write more about this in upcoming posts). Our first priority will be to help the kids stay warm, healthy and safe. Next priorities will be to help foster ecological learning, fun, and group bonding!
Before signing off here, I'd like to acknowledge all of the people who have been helping along the way to see this program into existence. While it's often my name that is popping up, there are some wonderful people in the background helping out! Our board is comprised of Kelly Ryckman, Zavallennahh Young, Lisa Benschop, Lois Huscroft (and myself). They have been instrumental in providing feedback, logistical support and a million emails back and forth. Zavallennahh helped to plan and run the March 2017 Forest Camp and we will be co-leading Nature School together. Patsy-Anne Tackas, Vice Principal of Canyon-Lister Elementary School, has lent much encouragement and of course parternship, graciously allowing us to use the school grounds and an indoor warm-up room. CBEEN (the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network) has been an incredibly supportive organization, helping to network and provide advice and ideas. Tanya Wall of the RDCK is providing a grant for our outdoor classroom--thank you!! The Columbia Basin Trust has provided a non-profit advisor to help us get started. Whew! I know that's not an exhaustive list...
If you would like to volunteer occasionally (or regularly) please let me know!