“I notice the clouds are moving very fast!” announced one of our explorers during journaling time this morning. I noticed is one of my favorite phrases, and I encourage kids to use it often! We began with journaling, then Brain Gym, followed by sharing Good Things. The energy of the group felt more chaotic and off-balance today than last week for some reason. Transitioning from the weekend can be harder for some of us than others. I always try to keep in mind that we all live in multiple contexts and if we don’t know what is going on in some of those other contexts, we should still extend compassion and patience to each other. This is often easier said than done. Nevertheless, I held our group together long enough to teach them an old favorite Morning Meeting activity called, “Zoom!” It took longer than intended but we definitely did some laughing!
As we headed to the woods I asked the kids to predict what might have changed out there since Friday. The cooler temps, chilly wind, and cloudy sky kept us out of the water this morning, but we did check to see if the river water looked higher than last week due to the rain, which was one of the kids’ predictions. Others predicted more mud and different animals. We noticed right away that it was darker but also warmer in the woods than out in the open where we had been for Morning Meeting. I brought foam sit-pads for dry seating (not that we did too much sitting!) since no one was wearing rain pants, (including myself.)
Over the weekend I created nature discovery cards for our exploration space. These act as a kind of scavenger hunt to help kids with noticing and becoming familiar with some of the interesting features of the woods and river. I asked the kids to just do their best to find what they saw in the photograph on each double-sided card, and if they were able to read the text, they had additional suggestions and questions to consider. As our explorers used the cards to make discoveries, they were also led to their own discoveries! While looking for a tree that had mossy “feet” at its base, C. found some animal scat and came running excitedly to us to let us know. Each card also includes symbols for each of our first, five senses. I included these as encouragement to use senses other than our eyes to explore our world. At this point there is very little out there to taste, but I encourage sniffing just about everything!
During our snack break I read one of my favorite books to the kids who were interested in listening to it, called, A Snake in the House. I chose this book as a way to develop empathy for wildlife and to discourage kids from trying to keep wildlife at home as pets. In this story, a boy catches a little garter snake down by a pond and he brings it home in a glass jar to show his mother. In the house, the snake escapes the jar when the lid wasn’t on properly and it spent several desperate days looking for food and water while avoiding a cat and a vacuum cleaner. When it finally is accidentally returned to its own habitat near the pond, the boy discovers that the snake is not slimy, but is very much alive, strong, and has a strong urge to be free. He lets it go and “shares its joy at being home.”
We decided to go have a closer look at the main channel of “our” river, and inspected some holes along the bank, a poison ivy vine growing up a tree near the edge of the river, and we went for a short walk up the hill toward the old building and slightly beyond. Along the way we discovered beech-nuts forming on a low branch of a beech tree. The kids felt the now-soft bristles and broke one open to see the green nut forming on the inside. In the fall this will be bigger and the bristles will have hardened into sharper points. Just as we moved on and found a space the kids wanted to play, our time was up and we had to go back to our Meeting Log and get our backpacks and other things. I assured them we can check out that new space tomorrow.
One of the nature discovery cards I made included a photograph of an old beech tree into which someone carved letters and symbols on its silver-gray bark. I had the whole group come and look at it, explaining that when bark is cut like that, the tree is hurt and it is a way that disease and beetles can get inside and eventually kill the tree. Beetles that find their way in will leave interesting looking tracks and markings that resemble some kind of hieroglyphics where they have gouged their way under the bark. These beetles will send out messages to other beetles to come and join them and they lay their eggs under the bark. The cycle continues. If a healthy stand of trees is nearby and the injured tree is too full of beetles, sometimes new beetles will attack those healthy trees as well. Unfortunately, many of our beech trees in Michigan are being attacked and killed by a beech-scale disease, so in a few years, we may not have old beech trees around anymore.
Just as kids were about to be picked up, Mrs. Webb and some of the kids discovered a living nature treasure, a monarch butterfly! She was too cold to fly, so after we all got a close look at her, safely cupped in Mrs. Webb’s hand, she was relocated to a spot where she was safer and could fly away when she was ready to. This was the perfect opportunity to let the kids know that we should not touch a butterfly’s wings because we can accidentally cause it to be unable to fly.
One of the best parts about exploring nature with children is that they almost always find and discover the unexpected! Kids help to remind me to slow down and take as long as is needed to notice and be curious about our world.