Take a peek at what we were up to this week at Breithaupt Park and Huron Natural Area.
We put on blindfolds and used our sense of touch to get to the know the trees near the meadow:
Our Breithaupt preschool group set up a small tent, then found some mourning cloak butterflies to chase:
Can you find the mourning cloak butterfly hidden in the photo below? Here's a clue: it's not in the middle of the picture. Here's another clue: it's not the whole butterfly.
Our Girls in Nature group did some initiative tasks - first in partners, then as a group. Then we headed out into the woods to collect ingredients for our potions and tea mixes.
Some photos from our Caregiver/Kid hike at Huron Natural Area:
The adventures continued with our Huron preschool group that afternoon:
Our Nature Explorer group worked more on decorating our fort and crafts. We worked on tying knots with our glow in the dark rope. The fort is now equipped with several styles of doorbells, a front and back entrance, and welcoming signs.
Week 2 of our programs brought some interesting weather: hail, snow, rain, and a bit of sun. But we still enjoyed ourselves! Here's a photo recap:
I love getting to know the flora and fauna of these 2 parks. At both Breithaupt Park and Huron Natural Area, the beautiful bloodroot flower is poking up and blossoming out right now. I love how the leaves are so delicately wrapped around the stem - like a spring jacket.
On our Caregiver/Kid hike at Huron this week, we got up-close and personal with some soft, green moss.
In all of our programs, we try to "stop and smell the roses." We pay attention to small details, ask questions, wonder together, and see lots! With our Huron preschool group, here's what we found in the first 10 minutes of our time together:
Some more moments together:
We're into our 3rd week of forest school programs through the city of Kitchener parks - at Breithaupt Park and Huron Natural Area. The two weeks couldn't have been more different. First, week one through a slideshow of photos that I snatched.
... featured lots of sun and warmth. What a great week to begin!
We spotted several mourning cloak butterflies at Breithaupt Park, sunning themselves and lapping up tree sap. We learned that they hibernate as butterflies over the winter! They crawl into a crevice in the trees, or tree bark, or a wood pile to sleep for the winter months. They are one of the first butterflies to appear in the spring, and they drink tree sap (no flowers yet for them). It is a truly beautiful butterfly - not one that makes you think of mourning!
At Huron Natural Area, the turtles and frogs put on quite a show in the various ponds.
There are several things that I observed in my short time in Germany that gave me pause, and made me wish for the same freedom to play in Canada.
So many articles have been written about our risk-adverse culture, or bubble-wrapping our children, or allowing our kids time in nature or time to create, or learning the value of risky, wild play. So many people write: remember the day? Remember when we were young and we could just wander the woods? Spend time in the back 40? Wander from backyard to backyard? Only come in when the streetlights went on? Or when Mom rang the big dinner bell for supper? Remember those days?
Or I often hear: kids these days. Don't know their native species. Only know corporate logos. Don't know how to use tools, even ones in the kitchen needed to make a meal. What is happening to our kids these days?
Or this: too much screen time. Not enough green time.
I'm sure we've all heard it. But I experienced some things in Hamburg that gave me hope for how things could evolve in Canada.
I spent some time biking around parts of Hamburg with my brother and his family. The first place we visited was this swing. It was not your average playground swing. Here is my brother, swooping back and forth on this amazing swing (you don't even need to wear a helmet or sign a waiver to try it!):
And here I am! So much fun.
Then we were off to a bauspielplatz (literally, a "construction playground" that my nephew affectionately calls a "junkplace") where kids age 7-15 can be dropped off after school or on weekends to play. And it's free! And there are staff - playworkers - who help the kids learn how to use the tools. Kids play in an incredibly fun way - they build. And not with blocks or Lego or anything so small or sanitary. They load up wheelbarrows full of lumber, pallets, used clementine orange crates and lug them to one of the areas of the building maze, and start working. They sign out tool boxes filled with nails and tools.
Take a peek!
There's a stage area, in case anyone is led to perform, with a fire burning nearby to provide some warmth when your hands get too chilly. The forts are amazingly stable - and colourful too! Kids can get buckets of paint and brushes to decorate the fort areas.
This construction playground reminded me of the maker movement - and MakerClub KW that my friends started here in Kitchener.
It also reminded me of literature that I've read about the playwork movement which started in Denmark in the 1930s. In the UK, "playworkers" were recognized as an official vocation in 1992. Play is defined as something that is freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated. Playworkers:
Many of these principles relate to our forest school work. What would Canada look like if we were a bit more risky in our public play areas? How could we encourage this type of play in safe ways, teaching kids valuable skills along the way?
A couple of weeks ago, I had the great fortune of being able to visit my young nephew (and brother and belle soeur) and spend time at the forest kindergarten that he attends in Hamburg, Germany. A business and pleasure trip all rolled into one!
I know that I learn WAY more from observing for one day than spending 4 months reading about how forest schools are run. It was SO GOOD to be hosted at these forest schools in Germany, and to see how they operate.
The first forest school I visited was called Natur Gruppe Elb Kinder. This program has been running for 7 years. They meet in a park in Altona - a section of the city of Hamburg. The program is for children ages 3-5, and it is part of the regular, public school system. Parents can opt to have their children attend an outdoor waldkinder program, or an indoor kindergarten one. The government provides every family with 5 hours of kindergarten programming for "free", and families can choose to pay for more before or after care.
My nephew was thrilled to show me around the base camp, translating for me when necessary (which was quite often).
Children meet at this spot in the morning, play from about 8:30 til 9:30 until everyone has gathered, then meet for morning circle. They sang several songs together, practiced counting the total number of people in the circle. Then they decided together where the group would play for the remainder of the morning.
We came back to the base camp for a hot lunch at about 12:30. A HOT LUNCH!! Genius. Below is a photo of the handwashing routine and the indoor space with a big picnic table where they eat their snack and lunch. The building is covered with heavy plastic, and can be heated with a huge space heater in the winter months if children need to warm up for a bit (winters in Hamburg aren't like ones in Canada - they only get down to -5 C or so).
Then it was time for more playing! Some tools came out and flutes appeared.
A general store was up and running, complete with a dog that sometimes scared potential customers away. Here are some of the things that were for sale:
Spring has sprung in Hamburg! Way ahead of snowy Ontario.
Depending on the day, this group visits various sites within or near the city park: a playground area by the pond, a place in the woods where there are great trees for climbing, another place in the woods where there are great trees for rigging up rope swings, and playing in the sand along the Elbe River.
After lunch, the children play at the base camp until their parents come to get them (between 1:30 and 2:30). This is often when they work with tools, or play with the structures made from woodland materials and wooden pallets.
For almost the entire time, the leaders definitely employ a "hands off" approach. Play emerges from the children. The leader led the morning circle time (about 5 minutes long), and led a song before they ate their lunch. They told the group when it was time to move back to base camp from their playspace. But other than that, they were present to help when needed, but not initiate or direct the play. The children seemed very content - I didn't notice any fighting or tattling that whole day. There was a grumpy dog at one point, but that was the only glimpse of conflict that I could spy.
When talking with the leaders, it seems like each one brings their own strength that they share with the children. One of them studies fine art, so she often brings out paper and other art materials for them to use at picnic table at base camp. Another enjoys helping children build their strength, so he makes structures out of wood that the children can climb and balance on. He also rigs up swings in the woods using large ropes. Another leader enjoys drama and storytelling, so she brings these skills to her teaching.
In all, it seems like a wonderful way to experience kindergarten - play-based, social, and outdoors. Children are healthy and happy. There doesn't seem to be a push to make sure certain curriculum expectations are "covered" in the kindergarten years; play is the most important skill to learn, it seems.
I'm very thankful for the experience to spend time with my nephew at his forest kindergarten. Danke, S! :)
Hammers, Huge Swings, and the Freedom to Play