If you are a regular reader of my Woods and Wetlands blog posts, you already know I’m not big on a lot of structure, products, themes, or plans carved in stone, though I completely respect (and sometimes envy) teachers who work best that way. I finally figured out (not very long ago) that I am me, and that I have my own ways of doing things which are perfectly valid and supported by my education as well as my own experiences. I was taught to focus on the process, rather than a product with young children, and that has always worked for me when I remember to trust myself. I figured out that I can learn from and admire other people, but I don’t have to try to be anyone except myself. This may seem obvious to most, but I guess it’s taken me a long time to get here.
With that being said, this morning’s adventure turned into a semi-planned treasure hunt, inspired by some of my own nature treasures and by one of my favorite books for kids, Nothing to Do, by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. The illustrations include some commonly found patterns in nature. These patterns are sometimes called, “fractals,” which is higher math than I ever learned, but they fascinate me, regardless. I brought my own box of nature treasures today and showed them to the kids after our Morning Meeting greeting (pass the acorn and say, “Good morning, Scientist!”). I also read them the aforementioned book. Before heading into the woods I encouraged them to look for nature treasures of their own, particularly treasures that include any of the patterns from the book. I took the liberty of making small, laminated cards, each with a different pattern as-seen in Nothing to Do, so that kids could take the cards out to do a little scavenger hunt in our learning space. The instruction was to draw or write in their nature journals about treasures they found that could or should not be taken home, and to check with me or Mrs. Webb if they found something they wanted to keep. (Which could also be drawn or written about in their journals.)
I also incorporated part of the same little lesson I used at Valley View on oaks and their importance on our continent as the supporters of the most life forms of any deciduous tree in North America. We learned that oaks take 20 years to be old enough to make acorns, and that acorns need the soft, decomposed leaf soil in order to grow into new oak trees. When I stopped on the way out to offer a hug to one of my favorite, old oaks, the kids opted to name her, “Oaky.” Of course they did, right? Kids really do remind us to keep things simple, don’t they?
As some explorers searched for treasures, others explored in the creek (also finding treasures there.) I joined a group of kids who used a log-jam as a bridge and we each crossed it in the way that felt safest for us. This meant some of us, me included, scooted across, straddling a slippery log like a horse; others walked, balancing, with one foot on one log and the other at a slightly different height on the log adjacent. I find, time and again, that most kids, especially those taught to trust themselves, will do what feels comfortable and only push their risk-taking as far as they are developmentally ready to go. (For more and fascinating info on how young children NEED to move and take reasonable risks in order to learn and grow, I highly recommend the book, A Moving Child is a Learning Child.)
On the far side of the creek we discovered some stinging nettles and one boy accidentally brushed his arm against them before I had a moment to notice them myself. Having encountered nettles on my own in the past, I know just how painful and itchy the results can be! He was surprisingly calm in response, and he willingly let me apply nature’s antidote to nettles which, as often happens, was growing right next to the nettles themselves: jewelweed! The liquid found inside jewelweed stems is supposed to treat nettle rash, and it worked! He said it stopped hurting and all was well after that!
Some of the treasures our scientists discovered that featured versions of nature patterns were: ferns, snake grass (horsetails), fossils, spruce cones, tree bark, a quick fish-sighting, some flowers, and leaves. A few of us also were excited to witness the somewhat harrowing capture and brief detainment of a bumpy, wet, toad. Early on in our morning a few kids still exploring near the Meeting Log were talking about how “creepy” one of the boys felt daddy longlegs were, so we carefully put one into our multi-viewer magnifier so that we could see the details of its body, including its eyes! I firmly believe that when we fear something, it usually helps if we learn more about it. We returned both the daddy longlegs and the toad (living treasures) to their respective homes.
We took a little break for a snack and to use the bathrooms, (a.k.a. portapotties, such as they are…) and during that time I asked the kids who were waiting with me at the Meeting Log to see if they could find a tree they wanted to befriend, and to give it a name. One of the biggest, oldest oaks in our space became one of our boundary trees and C. named it “Cocoa.” Don’t ask me why, but that is the tree’s name now, or at least, for today. Later, as a few campers were still waiting to be picked up, someone said they might forget the name they chose today for their tree. Cocoa’s enthusiastic, red-haired friend helped us to decide that it’s okay to give a tree (or stuffed animal) a different name every day if we forget, or… even if we don’t.
We wrapped up our morning by sitting on either our Meeting Log or at the base of our Tree Friends and journaling about our experience today. Some kids chose to draw or write about what they found beneath their tree in the moment. Anything goes; it’s YOUR journal!, I told them. Anyone who wanted to share about what they found, how they felt, what they drew, or what they wrote was welcome and encouraged to do so.
Both yesterday and today I concluded my own experience by telling the whole group of explorers some of what I noticed about them. “I noticed kids who were being careful with sticks. I noticed kids looking out for each other and being kind and gentle. I noticed kids respecting nature, taking turns, sharing materials, following teacher-directions, and having fun learning.”
One particular explorer demonstrated a technique I have honestly never encountered before, and I really liked it, so I told her so. This is what it looked like: Now and then, she would notice another explorer from our group who was doing something that concerned her, but rather than “telling” on them or even trying to get them to stop, she quietly asked me, “Is it okay that (so-and-so) is (doing this thing)?” I was astounded by this kind, noncritical way of letting me know that someone might have been doing something that they shouldn’t. She accepted whatever my answer was, and carried on with her own activities. I forgot how much I love working with kids over this past year.
Just two days in and I can already feel how much I’m going to miss this little group of 15 when our time together comes to a close next week. They are a delightful bunch, and they fill my heart and make me laugh.