The last few Nature School days have been full of precious memories, joyful laughter, sliding and discovery. I've been reminded of the work of early child educator Diane Kashin, who talks about a 'knowing in your bones:' "To know something in your bones is an idiom that refers to feeling something intuitively. For early childhood educators to support outdoor play they need to feel the power of nature for themselves...there is one childhood and one chance. When we know it in our bones we value outdoor and nature play, we see the benefits and will provide children with the necessary experiences."
I've been feeling a 'knowing in my bones' about the astounding effect of play in nature, and have just been relishing in it....
-sitting at the bottom of the 'otter sliding' hill and watching the play that emerges, sometimes raucous and giggly with piles and tumbling, sometimes orderly with lines and turn-taking.
-watching a child discover a special 'branchy' spot in a tree where he loves sit quietly and observe around him....
-hiding behind a stump and waiting for wolf cubs to come find me, overhearing their conversation as they followed my tracks through the snow.
-discovering woodpecker feathers near the school, on the ground, and engaging in a 'mystery-filled' conversation about what might have happened to the bird...
-discovering a hollow cedar stump in the bushes, and rolling it out to the trail for play. A treasure-holder, a hole for filling, a magical home for creatures...
-watching the spark in a 3 year olds eyes as she watched some older boys tree climbing, and her excitement to one-day climb in trees too...
-listening to emergent conversations between Melissa and some of the wolf cubs about animal tracks they discovered
-observing the stillness, seriousness and calm focus as the children drew pictures in silence during a sit spot time...
-running down the trail after a group of children, and shaking trees together to create 'snowstorms' on our heads. Pull your hood up tight, get ready for the snow to come!
-warming up together by the fire, sharing tea, stories, jokes and laughs.
We have been reading 'Over in the Forest--Come Take a Peek,' and 'The Animal's Winter Sleep,' both of which provided us with plenty to learn to about forest creatures and lots of counting opportunities.
The final opportunity of the day for teamwork and collaboration...it almost always emerges, and here the wolf pack is towing our gear back to the school. A lil' bit of uphill work, and little bit of downhill silliness when the sled overtakes their little legs!
Last week at Nature School we had kids who knew what they wanted to do, and got right down to business. The giant snowball has been a continual work in progress by a few of the wolf cubs, carving out holes, sliding in and out, attaching sticks and many more variations.
On Wednesday, we had a date with Mr. Mitchell's Gr.7 class, who joined us in the forest. It's always an interesting time when the big kids join the littles, and by the end the Nature School kids are talking about their 'special buddies.' The Gr. 7's spent some time dreaming up original stories to tell aloud to their buddies, and while I didn't catch entire stories, I heard whisps about forest animals, aliens, pirate ships and trips to the moon. There's something about storytelling in the forest that never gets old! After a silly song, the Gr.7's were finding ways to play with the wolf cubs--hide and seek, running and sliding on the trail--more than one Gr.7 expressed amazement at how some of the younger kids can climb!
It was a special moment that stopped a group of our kids in their tracks, when a squirrel appeared not 10 feet away, frozen to it's tree, and staring right at us. The kids stopped what they were doing and immediately wanted to sneak quietly and closely towards the squirrel. We talked afterwards about some of the reasons a squirrel might sit so still, not even twitching (maybe fear, protecting a food stash...)
Some of the newer wolf cubs learned about the common berries we see in our forest--rosehip, mountain ash and snowberries, and how some are ok to nibble and others definitely not! They got to see my exaggerated 'yucky' face while I sampled a mountain ash berry--edible by not enjoyable by any stretch!
On Friday, we tried an experiment to exercise our peripheral vision, imagining that we could see the way an animal could--with great awareness as to what is happening on the sides of our vision. The kids were invited to choose a tree to 'glue' their eyes to, while seeing how far they could see around them. Sit Spot is a great time to practice these kind of observation skills!
Last week our older group, the Nature Explorers, had the chance to see our new group 'Tipi Tent,' which we learned takes a few people to set up and requires some different pegs for the snow! We can't wait to cozy up inside with some books on a rainy day.
Hello and thanks for reading the first blog our of winter session! Both our programs-- Nature Explorers for K-4, and Nature School for 3-5's--have kicked off, thankfully with a fresh snowfall to start things off!
At Nature School this week, the children would have been content to stay on Canyon School's front field and roll giant snowballs the whole morning. Instead, we gobbled our snack and headed to the forest to explore the fresh snow there. The 200 metre walk across the field is sometimes a long haul for the new 3 year olds. They put in so much effort, wearing those special magic packs that help build strong muscles. We hold hands and sing and look at animal tracks along the way, and I know that by spring those same 3 year olds will be galloping and running to the gate with their longer legs newfound confidence!
The wolf cubs hauled our sleds to the Tipi, and after morning circle we were busy, busy, busy--building castles, digging tunnels, sliding, making snow popsicles, following Gruffalo tracks (and some real animal tracks too!). We re-discovered our sit spots, enjoying the quiet of the forest, and 'stretched' our owl ears to hear all of the sounds around us.
On Friday, we looked as a group at some pictures of traditional Ktuxana tipis, to appreciate how people from Creston once lived in them as shelters. The children were quite interested to see a picture of a whole village of tipis. Then, a short and sweet story/legend about 'how owl got his big eye,' even practicing making big silly owl eyes ourselves, and making owl hoots. A few kids helped create big star out of sticks, which we tied up with yarn, decorated with sprigs of cedar and hung on the fence. So, so happy to be back in the forest with the kids connecting with nature and each other.
At Nature Explorers this week, with our K-4's, we visited our much-talked about and anticipated winter site, an area of Community Forest land in Canyon. It was a winter wonderland of fresh snow, and kids were sliding and romping before we even started our hike to basecamp. What should we call this place, we wondered? The children are thinking of names for this place that will come to be special to us....Everyone in this group has a unique animal name (squirrel, elk, owl, raccoon....) that we call each other by, and the children really come to identify with their names, considering which traits of the animals are similar to their own personalities, and learning about them over the session. Some days you might find 'Hawk' building herself a nest, or 'Fox' sneaking up on someone. We challenged the kids this week to learn--'What is life like for your animal in the winter?' The kids will research at home and informally share with the group about their findings...
We played a game that involved being very quiet and sneaking up on a blindfolded 'fire tender' guarding a pile of sticks, and spent some time preparing our site: tromping down snow for a fire area, laying and lighting the fire, hauling logs for sitting on...The kids were so very eager to help!!
And then, play in the forest....running, climbing on upturned tree roots, making up games, creating a melty snowman...
We enjoyed hearing Byrd Baylor's book, 'The Other Way to Listen,' at snack time, having some wonderful conversation about special spots where you can sit and be still, tuning into all of the small and wonderful lessons nature can teach you..
This week I noticed lots of kids laying on their backs on the forest floor (trying out new perspectives, maybe?). I love that the leafy layer is so inviting to the senses at this time of year, all of the rich smells, sticks closer at hand, crunchy sounds...It seems like the fir trees are extra-alive too, these days, as we can sure notice the wonderful fir smell of pitch seeping out of the bark.
As usual, there was lots of complicated rope play (and politics/ethics around how ropes should be strung up along/across a busy section of our pathway). There was a 'hunting' expedition deep in the forest, children were digging for sleeping worms and lots of creative and collaborative play around the climbing tree. We enjoyed two stories at snack time around the fire, just for the heck of it! Now that the tree branches are exposed, we can really watch our resident squirrels as they hop around in the trees!
The favourite 'look out' tree for this young wolf cub! He practically runs there each day when it's time to play...
On Friday Nature School moved indoors, to the kindergarten classroom for the morning. Never fear, Nature was still the focus, as we engaged with Danica from WildSafe BC. Our morning was chock full of giant animal track replicas, animal hides, antlers and even a few game camera-type videos of different local animals like bear and deers.
We learned about good practices for ‘keeping the wildlife wild,’ like keeping garbage tucked away at home and not intentionally feeding wildlife. We also did some role playing about what we could do if we actually encountered a bear or an aggressive deer or moose, like putting our hands up to make ourselves look big, talking loudly, and walking away backwards. Never run from a wild animal!
The Nature School kids conducted themselves extremely well over the somewhat long hour, listening, sitting respectfully and eagerly answering questions. Good job, wolf cubs! Thanks to the kindergarten class for welcoming us in, sharing your toys, and learning with us : )
This past week I've come across some great resources which I thought I'd share in this week's blog. The first is from the award-winning UK-based Little Forest Folk program. I'm feeling inspired to share their article on how 'Play IS Learning,' a great reminder that children have important work to do (especially in the early years) and that play is the vehicle for their learning:
"We’ve decided to address this question of ‘doing’ learning. In our opinion, learning isn’t something you ‘do’. It’s something that happens constantly for children, especially in the early years. A popular misconception is that children need to be sitting down, participating in an adult-directed focus activity to be learning. We believe this couldn’t be further from the truth."
The second resource is a book I'm highly enjoying by Scott Sampson (Dinosaur Train, anyone, anyone?). I'll admit I went into this read thinking that I've probably 'heard it all' before, but this is a really informative, interesting book full of research and great ideas. Ideas about how to be a nature mentor to your children, the importance of stories, play, unstructured time in the outdoors, as well as great information about how nature connection can shift as children get older. I'd highly recommend!
I'll leave you with a few pictures from our last week of Nature School--our first shared snow experience of the year! There was great excitement in the air as the first flakes fell, tongues out catch flakes and even snow angels on the field. As leaders we had to swing into gear (literally!) changing a few pairs of boots, digging out extra socks and firing up the fire. It always seems like the first snowy days (however exciting) require a kind of acclimatization to the colder temperatures, mentally as well as physically. Looking forward to many fun snowy days with this gang!
It seems there is always something exciting happening at Nature School, and this week it was the official opening of our nature collection! We started to bring items for our nature collection housed in brightly painted apple boxes in the gazebo. What a joy to see the children bring their bones, berries, feathers and other special items!!
Here are Kristina’s notes from Wednesday:
Here are Zav’s notes from Friday:
Thanks to all the parents for making sure that their little wolf cubs are well dressed for the weather! There’s no such thing as bad weather, as long as you’re dressed for it.
Thank you again, to the Rotary Club of Creston for helping us to purchase books--that can be used with all of our programs. More on this to come, as we grow a sweet collection of stories and resources (in the Tipi, under the trees, under a tarp in the rain--you can read and learn anywhere!)
Last week, after Nature School ended on Friday, I called my mom and left a message that (apparently rather cryptically) stated, 'I had the BEST day of Nature School EVER today.' I didn't elaborate, but my mom called back later dying to know what on earth could have made it the best day EVER...
As I babbled on about the day, there wasn't anything overly thrilling to report (like, We discovered a whole deer skeleton in the forest!). It was the best day EVER (ok, I have lots of these days) because I'm in my happy place being outdoors with kids, playing, wondering, roaming, discovering...because of some sense of seeing growth in the kids, of feeling connected as a group and with the forest we call our classroom...
...the children amazed me over and over. Some with their spontaneous ecological insights ('Teacher, did you know rain has molecules?' and a story from a 4 year old about a tree that doesn't get enough water, and so it falls over, and hopefully more rain will come so the trees can keep growing....)
...they amazed me with their capability (proper use of the word?), taking care of their things, putting on their own packs, mitts and managing lunch kits with so little help...
...they amazed me with their growing confidence in the jumbly, thick forest and while climbing over logs (have we only been together a month, is that possible?), bold statements like "I can figure out how to get over this log all by myself!" While hiking and feeling 'lost,' they trusted each other (and me), showed bravery, to find the trail and return to a familiar spot.
...they amazed me with their care of each other (someone wants to go 'sploring on a hike, but wait, a friend first needs help untying a knot and someone comes to the rescue.
Not every day will be so easy or magical. Kids will cry, have pee accidents, squabble and get cold feet. But as mentors, we will keep on keeping' on, through the less magical-feeling times, knowing this is important work!
This Fall's goofy bunch raising their antlers!
Another mud kitchen bonanza. Wait, did it rain on Friday? I don't think anyone noticed. The kids got right down to work when the supplies came out, racing to start filling pots, pans, watering cans...It's bliss to watch this kind of cooperative play.
Chalkboard signs support literacy--kids love having things written down for them: recipes/restaurant names/prices, you name it. Sometimes we write, sometimes they write.
Back to basics--kids in apple trees. What more need we say, Creston? This is what we're all about in our beautiful valley!
I'll leave you with a video about the Ottawa Forest and Nature School. It's good to remember that we're connected with a world-wide community of similar programs!
This was a a short week for us, as two of us (Kristina and Melissa) were headed to an environmental education conference near Cranbrook at the St.Eugene Mission, Aq'am community. As we don't have many pictures from Wednesday, I thought I'd share a bit about my experience at the conference. I feel so fortunate that I stumbled into this event, which brought 300+ teachers and community educators together for 3 days to talk (and talk and talk!), attend workshops, hear keynotes and generally feel inspired about the work we're doing in outdoor, place-based learning programs. It's rare to have a national event of this magnitude located right here in the Kootenays! Melissa presented a workshop on her 'Beyond Recycling Program' at CLES.
I learned more about Ktuxana culture, language and the residential school system, which has affected so many generations of indigenous people. Chief Joe Pierre participated the whole conference and I was honoured to speak with him and witness his storytelling and warm, open leadership.
We listened to the Minister of Education speak about the surge of interest in outdoor learning around the province, and what the government is doing to support it. I connected with a teacher from a nature kindergarten program in Williams Lake, as well as teachers from the Maple Ridge Environmental School near Vancouver (if you know me, you know I was in my glory with all these networking opportunities!). I attended a workshop about bioregions and 'mapping your place,' considering your values and special places in nature. Other workshops were about place-based learning, how to teach science through inquiry and curiosity, engaging children activities about water, and on and on! Phew. Grateful for so much new learning and inspiration, and now for a few days of rest before Nature School swings back into action!
Back to Nature School--In this picture (one of my favourite from the year so far), there is great excitement in the air as the kids gathered horse chestnuts to roll down the hill. You can just see the excitement in their expressions! It all happened very fast (I was standing at the bottom of the onslaught of chestnuts) and they just loved watching the clatter. Some attempts were made to create tracks for the nuts, but mostly it was a moment of pure, blissful fun!
We also engaged in a bit of an experiment this week, and learned about elderberry trees in the process. One of our parents shared a video of an interesting craft (you can try this at home!) using a white candle, paper and leaves. By putting the leaf between two sheets of paper, and rubbing the candle flat over the ridges of the leaf, and then painting over top, you come out with a neat affect. We decided to try it with some natural dyes, and so my son and I gathered up elderberries the day before to boil, creating a deep purple juice. At Nature School, we all went over to the tree to look up at the berries (way high up!!). Armed with elderberry juice, beet juice and some paintbrushes, the kids had fun trying out the leaf craft. The experiment part came in here--I'd read that elderberry is very pH sensitive, and that by adding either baking soda, lemon, vinegar or salt, you can change the colour of the elderberry juice. When I'd tried this at home it was a bit more successful--the kids did create a green shade with the dish that we'd added baking soda to. If anyone has experience using natural dyes, we'd love to connect with you for a future activity!
Take care for now : )
Another week in autumn bliss at Nature School. The kids have some favourite activities, such as “pulley” contraptions in the trees. Simple machines—an enduring theme. Someone had the good idea to tie a stick to one end of a rope, and bucket to the other end; stick then gets thrown over a high branch. Sometimes things get loaded into the buckets (mores sticks, leaves, dirt, worms), sometimes they are lowered and raised empty. What is it about this activity that makes the kids keep returning to it over and over? Making something happen, controlling an ‘invention,’ raising and lowering… it seems they could happily do this for hours.
This week, some loose parts appeared in a milk crate (brown, shiny, round horse chestnuts! ) which became a favourite to raise and lower in the pulley buckets. But some of the kids had other ideas and were off, shovels in hand, to plant a new chestnut forest. Yet other kids were “feeding” the chestnuts to the baby bear in the den.
We also created a ‘swing’ this week; a stick-bar to hold onto, and rope attached on each end strung over a branch above. Just hold on, lift your feet and away you go (try not to hit the nearby tree!). The kids decided that everyone gets exactly one swing, and then—switch! The group participation, cooperative play and uproarious laughter were all magical.
Kids were climbing the ‘leaning’ tree, practicing those challenging spots again and again and again. Deeper in the forest a group of explorers re-discovered the ‘bouncing tree,’ a big leaning bough that would magically lower (ahem—adults involved here!) to let a wolf cub on the ‘elevator,’ and then the kids would bounce away. A great forest playground feature!
On Friday some of the big CLES kids and our Nature School kids worked together to paint apple crates—destined to become beautiful nature collection boxes for the gazebo. If you want to talk with your wolf cub about contributing some special items for our collection, it could be an opportunity for learning to share something precious with others, or just a wonderful excuse for some time in nature with your child searching out nature treasures.
On Friday we 'discovered' an apple tree near the Tipi that we'd never noticed before. And miracle of miracles, we could reach the apples! (if you've followed previous sagas you'd remember that we have another perplexing apple tree nearby, with VERY high up apples). This was a beautiful site, witnessing the kids climbing an 'easy' tree, ecstatic to pick their own apples!
Everyone is finding their happy place (pace?) at Nature School. The newer kids are definitely getting their ‘bush legs’ under them, learning to navigate stepping up and over tangly brush and logs. This can be frustrating when you are only three years old and vertically challenged, and yet with a little patience and very slow going, kids slowly gain their confidence. As an adult I have the benefit of foresight—fast forward to the spring, and I know without a doubt that these same kids will be bounding like deer around the forest. We are sure enjoying our time and already hear the kids talking excitedly about “when the snow arrives!” But for now, this crispy sunny weather is just perfect.
Until next week...!
Stories from the week of Sept 28:
Glorious sunshine streaming through leaves in every shade of golden welcomed us to the forest this week. The wolf pack is already finding a nice rhythm; a snack on arrival at the Gazebo, then a little play time or exploring a nature collection before getting packs on (no help needed!) and lining up for our trek to the forest. We have decided to walk hand in hand across the parking lot to the edge of the school before taking off towards the forest gate, where we line up and slowly enter the magical forest one by one.
Wednesday the kids enjoyed making their own “pulley buckets”, tying a rope around a stick and the other end attached to the handle of a bucket. We would then tell everyone to stand clear as we threw the stick up and over a branch in the tree above, and voila! Pull the stick and the bucket goes up… let go and the bucket comes down. Many treasures were transported and traded; leaves of every shape and shade, small sticks, rocks, moss, and even mittens.
Apples have been falling off our wild apple tree, so we went for a walk to the far fence to see if any horses friends could be found to share a treat with. We whistled and whinnied, but no horses came. So instead the kids took turns showing me their best horse moves, complete with gallops and leaping!
Friday was our first mud kitchen, way too much fun!! We were blown away by how engaged the kids were with mixing, digging, pouring and stirring. The collaborative efforts were above expectations— some helped get water for others, dig dirt for a friend, or pick snow berries for sharing. And the culinary creations were fabulous; chocolate cake, leaf soup, hot cocoa, snow berry muffins, and moist dark chocolate brownies!
There was lots of excitement about the tipi going up on Friday as well. Big kids from CLES worked with teachers in trying to get the ropes all strung to receive the canvas cover... we will find out this week how it turned out!!