Today was Day 1 of Woods and Wetlands for Rockford Community Services at Camp Rockford. Camp Rockford is located along a beautiful little stretch of the Rogue River, and our day camp has the amazing opportunity to use not only the river, but also a shallow tributary that enters the main river channel (best for the “Littles” we have,) and some gorgeous, wild woodland that borders it! Maples, oaks, hickories, beech trees, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, May apples, and a bit of poison ivy are just some of what we will get to learn about in the coming days.
Of course, the first day of anything is always a little bumpy as we get to know each other, work out the kinks of drop-off and pick-up, and manage our time out there. Time management is not one of my strengths, so I rely heavily on multiple alarms I set on my watch, as well as the use of a small, visual timer that helps the kids to feel they have some control over how they use their own time. Of course, the visual timer wasn’t visible from where we spent most of our morning, so I’ll have to figure out a way to remedy that tomorrow. I love that I get to spend 8 mornings with the same kids! We will have the chance to get to know and trust each other, starting each morning with my tried and true Morning Meeting before moving to our “wild” space along the tributary.
As always, I didn’t even try to plan many details of our day, knowing that it will take at least a couple of days for everyone to explore our space and get comfortable with our boundaries. I am SO fortunate to have one of the best aides EVER! We already knew each other from when I was a classroom teacher at Lakes Elementary and I was thrilled that she was willing to join me for this summer program! I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. She stays calm and cool, knows exactly how to support without me having to even ask, and she really knows how to connect with kids. I am incredibly grateful for her! We are lucky that we seem to have a wonderful group of kids to work with as well!
After our extra-long Morning Meeting (The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete has been my “go-to” for almost 20 years!) and a little bit of Brain Gym, we headed down to the woods and the river. (I will refer to our little tributary as either the river or a creek periodically.) We did have to stop first to begin recognizing what poison ivy looks like. Luckily, after a very short distance, it disappears and we have safe walking the rest of the way to our Meeting Log and the river just beyond. I hauled my wagon that now houses some of what used to be in my classroom, including a heavy crate of books, down to the log and we all dropped our backpacks and water bottles off there so our hands were free to help us get down the steep bank to the shallow (and COLD) water. The first couple feet from the bank to the center of the creek were very sticky and difficult even for me to pull my rubber-booted feet out of, so our first project began! With the help of most of our explorers, we spent the next hour hauling logs and dead branches to make a sort of bridge to get us past the sticky part and right to the center where the sand is solid and the water is clear.
I wish I could have just sat back and observed because when I paused to look around, to count kids, or to check in with Chara, everything I saw brought me joy and made me smile. One of our explorers was challenging herself against the current, which was pretty strong, despite how shallow the water was. A couple of other explorers were using nature exploration tools to scoop up water and look at what was in it. Two of the boys asked if they could go back to the Meeting Log to look around, and a small crew went up on land with Chara to use teamwork to bring logs and branches to those of us who were standing in the creek and placing the logs. One boy I noticed was very quiet and serious about everything. He seemed to be a bit of an “old soul,” and I could tell he was just taking things in and listening intently. At some point he started using his critter-catching tool to scoop up muck and mud and pack it in between the logs, just like beavers do when they build their dams. I commented on this and he merely nodded and gave a small smile and went back to his work.
Most of the kids were soaking wet, dirty, and happy by the time we had to head back. My boots were full of river-water and it was fun to sit down on the log and dump them out while some of the kids were doing the same. (One boy did say his dad told him he wasn’t to get wet! Oh dear… I will be emailing all of the parents tonight to make sure we are all on the same page, or in the same river, so to speak.) I had given each of the kids a blank nature journal and a little canister of colored pencils with a sharpener built into the lid. We used these at the beginning of our morning and again at the end to draw and/or write about our expectations and then our experiences. Sometimes I will give them something specific I want them to write or draw, but I want these journals to belong to them and they will get to keep them (and the pencils) after our 8 days together come to an end. We took just about 5 silent minutes to journal and then packed up and headed back to grab lunches and head home.
At some point in the middle of our morning, one of the kids yelled out, “Can we do this again tomorrow?”
It was with great joy and rare satisfaction that I got to reply, “YES!“