"Come forth into the light of things. Let Nature be your teacher." ~ William Wordsworth
I wrote recently about emergent curriculum, and how we follow the interests that emerge from the group. We also follow the prompts that arrive to us, unsummoned, from the natural world that we observe weekly. Exploration, questioning, and learning emerge from observing seasonal changes and having daily discoveries.
Sometimes our half-day adventures at forest school mean encountering one Teacher after another. One day last week, we started by observing the tree swallows as they swooped and dove around the meadow, tweeting sweet sounds, hunting for food. Sarah talked about "aerial foragers" and we discussed aerodynamics. How do things fly? Bird, planes, bees, butterflies, seeds?
Cleaning out a tree swallow nesting box, we found a nest and a dead baby bird from last year. We think it was a baby house wren based on the look of the nest - it was a double decker, with tree swallow nesting materials on the bottom and house wren materials on top. But maybe it was a tree swallow baby. What kind of bird was it? Why did the baby bird die? Where do baby birds go when they die? Could it come back to life? Why are some nests used by house wrens? What happens to the tree swallows when the wrens move in?
We encountered a mystery at the pond: 5 dead painted turtles, freshly killed, only their heads eaten. What happened there? Did they get caught by a predator? Maybe they came out of the pond and couldn't find their way back! When did this happen - when they were sleepy and coming out of hibernation? Why were just their heads nibbled? Who would just want to nibble turtle heads?
Back at the wood duck pond, a new area for many, we listened to wood frogs and spring peepers calling. We found and dissected an owl pellet, found a big deer toilet, and lots of woodpecker cavities. Who will nest there this spring? Why do the deer like to dump in that particular spot? Is there a screech owl nesting nearby? What did that owl eat?
Many group members grew their interest in primitive technologies by gathering materials and making their own brooms, which they used to sweep the forest.
We saw our first garter snake and first painted turtles (live) of this spring season.
How much can you fit into one morning in the forest? How many things can you wonder about? There so much to discover with Nature as our Teacher!
"You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you."
~ St. Bernard of Clairvaux
by Rebecca Seiling
Part of the philosophy of forest school is connecting children to specific natural places. As children make memories and love the space, they will in time advocate for it or similar spaces. This week as I've been amazed by children who are concerned about the earth, this quote by David Sobel seems fitting:
“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”
The Naturehood group went on a scavenger hunt this past week. In talking about safety, I briefly mentioned that they were welcome to pick up garbage, but to always ask a leader to pick up glass. The children ended up filling two grocery bags full of garbage! Picking up garbage and leaving the area looking cleaner seemed to be a natural part of what these children wanted to do as they interacted with nature.
After our scavenger hunt, we talked about what the City of Kitchener was doing to let nature be nature. Responses included: leaving trees standing instead of building houses, and leaving natural spaces so animals have homes. We discussed what the community was doing that wasn't taking care of nature. That was an easy answer: “so much garbage” - which the children had been keen to clean up.
In our Foxes group, a few children noticed garbage in the swamp, including chicken wire and electrical wires. They were very concerned about the animals that live there. We talked about what we could do about it and decided to write a letter to “the guy in charge of the park.” A couple of times on our walk, children reminded me, “We can't forget to write that letter.”
In composing a letter to “the guy in charge of the park” the children dictated while I wrote. There was some discussion about whether he will need a net to reach the garbage since it wasn't close to the edge of the swamp. However, as it looks deep, we decided fisherman's pants may be a better choice.
Children seek out empowering experiences to impact the earth in positive ways. Concern and love for a place and creatures can lead to action.
Small people, playing in nature, concerned about the earth, and trying to make a difference.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
by Giselle Carter
The Polliwogs group started with the usual excitement as we played a game about birds eating bugs. We headed out on a walk, stopping for snack and a story. The children had lots to add to the conversation, and I’m always amazed at their knowledge!
After our usual beginning to the morning, the exploration and play took off! Our little explorers found secret rooms under the pine trees, as well as secret doors and secret pathways. The excitement was contagious! Where does this secret trail lead to?
They found trees to climb, monkey bar branches to swing on, and lots of dead branches. The children played school, survival and house, their imaginations in full swing.
Discoveries abounded! A dead frog, piles of snail shells, and hills to run down.
The most fabulous thing about the Polliwogs today was that they didn’t need any toys: they were completely engaged in playing in and with nature - the branches, trees, pine needles, snail shells, leaves, rocks and hills were their toys.
Their joyous, spontaneous play reminded me of the characteristics that distinguish play from other activities (taken from Peter Gray and from Kenneth Rubin).
4. Play allows children to leave reality, with its time and space constraints and soar with their imaginations. Some children played school - complete with cubbies for the backpacks! Coming up with explanations also involves imagination and creative thinking. What happened to the frog? Why were there so many empty snail shells? Children had to think about different realities of creatures in order to come up with theories.
5. Play is fun! The joy seen on faces and heard in children’s voices was contagious. There was joy in running down a hill or being “up high” in a tree. There is excitement in collecting rocks or shells. There is peace in resting on the forest floor.
It is a pleasure to join these children in their playful approach to life and to nature.
by Giselle Carter
Our Tuesday afternoon Foxes group reminded me of one of the key aspects of both forest school and childhood with their adventurous spirit. It was a refreshing start to our weeks together and a great reminder to me of the importance of what we do. We had barely started on our walk when some of the children climbed up a small hill and started rolling down! This quickly caught on with the whole group, and brought joy to all of us!
This simple event reminded me of the joy of childhood - the ability to seize the moment, to have the time to notice your surroundings and engage with them. These children have the freedom to get dirty. It reminded me to live in the moment, and of the simple joys and pleasures there are all around us.
Their spontaneous play embodied many principles of the forest school experience. Along with modern preschool pedagogy, forest schools believe in the importance of child led play and allowing children to follow their interests and express themselves. We freely allowed the children to modify our plan and lead us to what they are interested in - climbing hills and rolling down. The joy they found in simple physical activity reminds us of the importance of giving children freedom to explore and take risks. There is a risk in rolling down the hill with your 10 forest school friends - and two children experienced this as they bumped into each other on the way down. However, this was only a small pause in the excitement in the air.
Lastly, we strive to facilitate learning how to play in and with nature (without toys!). Materials required for this joyous event? A small hill is needed - even if there are sumac bushes to climb around and small plants in the way - some friends, and an sense of adventure!
What a great start to our spring Foxes program! We have a group of explorers who seize opportunities with joy. They know how to play in and with nature. They have the freedom to influence our plans and activities. I'm looking forward to all the other adventures we will have together!
written by Giselle Carter
Hammers, Huge Swings, and the Freedom to Play