15 children ranging in grade level from first to fifth joined me for our first after-school Woods and Wetlands experience yesterday. It was a perfect late-summer day with colors ranging toward early fall down in the swampland. We spent a little bit of time on introductions, (with the help of some of my favorite Michigan animal puppets,) and basic safety skills. 8 of the 15 have had some prior Woods and Wetlands experience with me before, and 4 of the 8 know that particular piece of land pretty well. I love when the students become teachers for each other and that is just what they did.
I showed our newbies where most of the poison ivy grows and pointed out ways to recognize both the leaves and the vine. Hopefully everyone can avoid it as we continue our explorations in the coming weeks. Our first aid kit contains both a preventative lotion as well as a soothing jewelweed salve, so we should be all set in case of an outbreak.
The tilted tree remains a favorite for climbers and I reminded them to only climb as high as each feels comfortable. It was a good sign that right away this group cooperated and took turns waiting to get up and also to get back down.
Of course, the swamp is usually the main attraction. This time of year it is quite dry and even an accidental step into the black muck results in only a mucky foot rather than a lost boot or full bodily submersion. The ferns that some of us watched unfurl last spring from tight little fiddle-heads are now great, towering fronds that wave overhead in shades of green, copper, and gold. L noticed that one fern was the exact shade of her beloved dog, Miles. (Such a grin about that!)
Even as the kids disappeared from view quickly hidden by the thick foliage of leafed out shrubs, trees, and all kinds of interesting undergrowth, I smiled to hear their happy, excited voices calling out to each other and to me. As instructed, everyone stayed with at least one other partner as we slowly made our way over, under, and around fallen logs and poking branches.
I love the delicious smells of drying plants and even the scent of the swamp muck itself underneath everything. The kids did a lot of noticing and discovering, from feathers to woodpecker holes. C noticed a tiny snail clinging to a cattail plant while back on “land” some furry, white caterpillars were captured and gently transferred to our critter container for observation.
An opportunity for practicing the use of meaningful words to communicate and the skill of mindful listening to others came up when one student wanted to release the various creatures and another student became upset about it. I guided each through the process of saying exactly what it was they wanted and finding empathic understanding, if not full agreement. Peace restored, they observed a while longer and then returned all of the creatures in question to where they had been found.
All too soon our time was up and everyone helped clean up our space for next time! There is so much to explore and to learn out there; I can’t wait to see what has changed by next week!