Day 4 felt like the bonds between us are growing into mutual trust, comfort, and a kind of ease I can’t quite describe. As the kids are dropped off underneath the big chokecherry tree, Mrs. Webb helps them get their safety vests and nature journals as I check them in. It has been a bit chilly and shady under the tree in the morning, so the kids have taken to running across the mowed area to a patch of morning sun to do their journaling and just hang out together. When I looked over at them, before drum-calling everyone to Morning Meeting, I smiled to see them interacting happily with each other, independent of adult intervention.
Remembering to do Brain Gym, (I forgot yesterday,) I noticed immediately that some of the kids who had struggled on day 1 with crossing one hand to the opposite knee, were now able to smoothly do this without hesitancy or such intense focus! This indicates that their left and right brain hemispheres are working together. Seeing this startling change has fascinated me ever since doing Brain Gym training 23 years ago when I taught in GRPS. Our mini Brain Gym routine begins with a drink of water, followed by Brain Buttons, then Cross-Crawl, and ending with Criss-Cross (also called a Hook-Up.)
Our greeting today was to use Michigan wildlife finger-puppets to say hello, pairing the kids’ own names with the name of the animal they had. (Ex: “Good Morning Miss Tahlia-porcupine!) But first, I brought out one puppet at a time, asking who knew what the animal was, and whoever I called on first was able to use that puppet for our greeting. I had just enough puppets for 12 kids, and we had 4 absent today, so it worked out perfectly. (I need to get more of these because the kids LOVE them!) I intentionally waited until day 4 to introduce this kind of emotional risk-taking and silliness for our greeting because I sensed that until the kids knew each other and me/Mrs. Webb a little better, they may not have been comfortable being goofy with puppets. With each wildlife puppet intro, I offered up mini fun-facts or brief personal sighting story about the real animal, before tossing its representative to its respective puppeteer. I used a bigger puppet, Mr. Porcupine, and his voice inspired the kids to use funny voices for their puppet greetings.
Next, I very briefly introduced our little Michigan field guides for birds, fish, mammals, amphibians/reptiles, “Critters,” wildflowers, weeds, mushrooms, and trees. (Still need invertebrate field guides!) These books were available to the kids during exploration time, and quite a few kids made use of them. I lay down on my belly, asking the kids to do the same, so we could get a close-up of how I look at a nature treasure, such as wild strawberry leaves, while I carefully draw it in my nature journal. Any individual method of nature journaling is fine by me and totally valid, but something I wish I had known when I was younger was how much more realistic my drawings appear when I actually look at the item at the same time I attempt to draw it. This was one of those rare times that I itched for my former classroom with its document camera, projector, screen, and microphone!
In the sun-dappled woods, we set our visual timer near the Meeting Log and went exploring. It was interesting that fewer kids chose to get quite so wet in the creek today than they have in the past 3 days. M (who was regularly dunking her entire head in the cold creek,) calmly and seriously informed me that she had decided she would not get wet today. Little by little our entire group ended up on and near the log-jam bridge. A boy whose first day was just yesterday, demonstrated to me how he could now get across the log, confidently asking me to watch how he did it. Just one day prior he had slipped and fallen in that same area and had shakily made his way back to the bank of the creek, but today he was ready to try again! (Fun, new, water shoes with grippy toes made a difference as well!) His body and brain had done some work on this issue overnight and it was really cool to see his determination to try again. I couldn’t help thinking how often well-meaning adults will tell a child, “Remember when you did that thing and you fell and got hurt? Well, don’t do that thing again!” I understand this thinking; I really do. And there are definitely scenarios where that might be the best option. Yet, far too often we over-caution rather than encouraging kids to try things again, to try something differently, to let them know we support their attempts, and that it’s okay to fall sometimes. After all, it’s how we learn best.
When Mrs. Webb and the kids she had been exploring with came down the bank to join the rest of us, she demonstrated how she had been using a magnifier to focus sunlight on a green leaf, causing the first signs of potential combustion and leaving a tiny almost-burnt spot on the leaf. I was fascinated and realized that even though I have read about starting a fire this way, I’ve never actually tried to do it! (Don’t worry, none of us will be starting forest fires out there!) The kids who had been with her also got to watch a spider carrying its egg sac!
The morning slid by with the current, and I recall at one point just sitting happily on a log with a group of the kids, noticing how nice the air smelled and how pleasant was the sound of the river flowing over and around and through. I guess nowadays we’d call that a mindful moment. I find myself wondering how many of these types of moments do we allow kids or ourselves to enjoy in this over-scheduled culture of constant stimulation? How often do kids (or adults) get to just notice how they feel and connect with the natural world where our brains and bodies evolved? I can say for myself that I am trying to intentionally build these moments into my life more often lately. Staying busy has become a badge of cultural pride that I do not want to wear anymore. (I also recognize that I have the privileges and resources to be able to make this choice, and I am grateful for that every day!!!)
One of the boys was making use of our 2-way magnifier, but it’s getting old and so the top fell off of it and into the river a couple of times. Kids nearby were happy to help look for it and I caught myself just in time before trying to get it myself, as adults so often do. As I started to reach into the water where it had settled almost hidden under a log, one of the boys near me said eagerly, “I’LL get it!” I backed off and let him try for it. There is pride and confidence happening there when we trust kids to do the things that we adults tend to want to do for them. Later, we tried catching water striders (or water boatmen?) to look at in the magnifier. N managed to catch one for us but I accidentally let it escape.
A little further downstream someone spotted a damselfly apparently dangling from a small, broken, branch on the wet sandy bank. At first I thought it was dead. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was right next to its nymph exoskeleton which it had evidently just crawled out of! The damselfly had none of the iridescent blues or greens that we usually see; it was pale and colorless. I recalled a time on the marsh where I grew up, seeing dragonflies hatching by the hundreds or thousands, and they, too, were colorless for a while. Most of the kids came to view the damselfly and then we decided to check back later to see if she had any color yet. One of the girls wondered aloud whether the sunlight would bring out the colors. I told her I had no idea, but that it seemed like a reasonable possibility! Yay for asking questions and for not always knowing the answers! There is always more to learn and discover, and curiosity is key!
After we ate snack at the Meeting Log, I asked the kids to take a field guide and their journals and head to their personal “Sit Spots,” which are beneath the Friend Trees most of the kids chose a couple of days ago. I helped to sort out a few kids who disagreed on whose tree was whose, or who didn’t have a spot yet, but we managed to have 5, whole, silent, minutes during which we journaled with words and/or pictures, looked at Field guides, and some of us just looked around. I felt the urge to just lie back in that long, soft grass, and I wondered if any of the kids would do the same if I did it. After a few moments of listening to various bird calls and trying to ignore the sounds of the nearby highway, I sat up and invited all the kids over to join me in lying back and looking up to where birds flew between tree branches and blue sky peeked between the leaves of the canopy. Mrs. Webb then pointed out to the kids a beautiful way to notice how the sunshine made some leaves look lighter green, while those in shadow appeared darker green. I loved listening to her guide and expand their observations with her peaceful and descriptive way of speaking. I felt that she has an artist’s way of seeing the natural world and sharing it with kids.
As we started packing up, the boy who had been most engaged with the just-hatched damselfly reminded me that we were going to go check on it, so we all hurried down to see if she had become colorful yet. He reached her first and in that moment, she flew a short distance away and settled awkwardly on the wet sand. I guessed that maybe she was only just ready to fly but wasn’t fully up for flying long-distance yet. After all, what must it be like to live beneath the mud for months or years and then crawl out of one’s own skin and find that you have a set of WINGS to carry you into the air!? I gently cupped my hands under her and lifted her up so the other kids could see her. Only a moment later she flew out of my hands and the sun struck her wings so that they glittered like fairy-wings before she flew out of sight. She still was without her blue-green iridescence, but those shining wings were something magical.
Despite my intention to avoid hurrying and rushing kids from one thing to the next, I was obliged to do so in order to get back to pick up their lunches and be ready for check-out time. Nevertheless, with Mrs. Webb to help me stay organized and timely, we made it with time left over!
We get to have 4 more mornings together next week and then a new group will begin. I keep thinking about how valuable it would be for the same kids to visit the same place for an entire year, to see not just the changes in nature that the seasons bring, but to change and evolve with that space and stay connected as humans were meant to be in our natural world.