No, not everyone got nettle rashes, but three kids did brush against nettles and I applied fresh jewelweed juice. Mrs. Webb remembered that I keep jewelweed salve in my W&W backpack and she had the kids apply it for good measure since there wasn’t really much juice to be found in the fresh plants. Anyway, a bit later one of the kids announced that it was a “nettle day,” today.
After we all put the date and some basic weather words or drawings in our nature journals, we began our last morning with Brain Gym. It’s been so interesting to me to see kids get better and better at these seemingly simple movements that cross the body’s midline. I continue to be fascinated by how quickly we are able to change how our own brains function! Our greeting was one I haven’t attempted before and it went alright, though not as easily as I had hoped. We split our group into two, concentric circles (like the rings of a tree trunk!). The inside circle turned to face the kids on the outside circle. We greeted each other with elbow bumps and then the inner circle rotated clockwise one person at a time until we had greeted everyone that way. I’ll admit I felt a bit like I was trying to herd cats! We only were off by one shift, however, and it was a fun little way to say good morning and use our brains differently.
On the spur-of-the-moment I decided the kids still had enough patience left for me to read them this book before heading to the woods. I was so glad I did because it turned into a theme for many of our explorers, later on, wading in the creek with me! We scooped up sifting rocks and picked out the ones that caught our eye. This book has beautiful photographs of children finding a wide variety of rocks for different purposes: wishing rocks, climbing rocks, fossils, skipping rocks, worry rocks, memory rocks, and more! So many kids can identify with the joy of rock-collecting. I love collecting rocks from nature in part because they are free and found in so many places, even parking lots or driveways! One of the most avid rock-hunters proposed that these little safety vests should have multiple pockets and ways to close the pockets. I completely agree. She found that when she leaned over to pick up more rocks, the treasures in her pocket fell out again. She quickly learned to hold it closed with one hand while searching for new rocks with the other.
I was one of the rock hunters today, so I have very few photos of this activity. Both of my hands were in the water instead of on my phone. I really prefer to be without a phone during W&W, but for safety and documentation, it is unfortunately necessary. I try not to ask the kids to direct their attention toward my camera, however, since they probably already have more than enough screen time in their lives after a year of on and off virtual school!
Part and parcel of working with kids is helping them handle social conflicts. I was taught to give children words, (when possible) rather than speak on their behalf. Yesterday one of our kids came to me and sadly told me that one of the other explorers kept yelling at her. (Mrs. Webb and I later determined that he just generally yells, and not necessarily at anyone.) I could have marched over to said “yeller” and told him not to yell at people. Had I done that, I would have been giving more attention to the offender than to the child whose feelings were hurt. It also reinforces “telling” on each other rather than teaching kids to ask for help. So after finding out how she felt when he yelled at her, I offered to go with her to talk to him about it so she could tell him how she felt and ask him to use a kinder voice. I gave her the words she could say, “I don’t like it when you yell at me. It hurts my feelings. Please don’t do that again.” She decided she didn’t want to do that, but she wanted me to go and tell him myself. I repeated that I would be happy to go with her and help her tell him herself. She opted to just let it go rather than try to talk about it together. This, too, is always an option. What I often find is that many kids just want an adult to acknowledge their experience and feelings, and then they are good to go. I sensed this was one of these situations.
Today we had a different social problem. Three different kids wanted to pull our heavily loaded wagon of supplies to and from the woods. I was at a loss because I couldn’t remember who I told yesterday that they could pull it today. The kids weren’t sure either. As much as I wanted to get us to the woods as soon as possible, I decided to hang back with these 3 and ask them to do the work of solving this problem. There was a lot of calm negotiating. At first they each just said what they, personally, wanted. After a minute or so of that going nowhere, they realized I wasn’t going to solve this for them and I wasn’t going to decide who got to pull the wagon. I just smiled and told them they could work something out. They did! They listened to each other’s ideas and agreed on a plan. When it was time to leave the woods, they reconvened and remembered the plan that THEY came up with, and modified it to their satisfaction! Because they had buy-in, they felt ownership and responsibility. They learned they could be trusted to solve hard problems. There was no further disagreement, which was well worth the time it took for them to work this out. Maybe kids should be running the country…
Sharing is also hard for young children. I only have 2 dip nets and this morning someone wanted to use one but both were already in use. After one of the boys asked another boy with a net if he could have it, and was told no, he turned to me for help. Reaching into my mental bag of strategies (courtesy of MSU’s child development department 28 years ago!) I asked the boy who had the net how much longer he wanted to use it. He said 10 minutes. I asked the other boy if that was agreeable to him. He said no. The boy with the net was then willing to agree to 5 minutes, so I set my watch, knowing that he would likely lose interest in using the net before the 5 minutes were up. Sure enough, in just another minute or two he called out to the other boy that he was done with the net and that he could have it. He also made sure I knew I could turn off my timer.
These are the kinds of the moments I really miss having with my own classroom of students. If I’d only had this group for one morning, they probably wouldn’t have had the bond with each other and with me that makes this kind of problem-solving possible.
I don’t know why the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” because this is true of all things, whether good, bad, or somewhere in between! Time insists on moving forward, unless crossing time zones or coping with Daylight Saving Time, and that’s just confusing. In any case, these past two weeks have been absolutely delightful, and I so hope to see these faces again someday! I gave each of the kids a little Woods and Wetlands sticker and handed their parents/caregivers a flyer with the info needed if they ever want to book a Woods and Wetlands program for their kids’ birthdays, scout troops, or just for fun!
Our final journal entry (at my request) was to write or draw something to Mrs. Webb or to me, telling us what they liked best about Woods and Wetlands, or anything else they wanted to share. It seemed to make a difference that we gave them an audience this time. I noticed a little more motivation to actually make the effort. Our youngest camper wasn’t at all interested in using a nature journal, but that just tells me he’s not developmentally ready for it yet, which is perfectly okay. One of the reasons I left classroom teaching was the pushing of developmentally inappropriate curriculum on kids, treating them not as individuals within the myriad contexts of their lives and experiences, but as if they all think, learn, and perform in exactly the same ways. Kids need to move to learn.
On Monday we will have a whole new group of explorers! Our little vests have already been laundered and are ready to go back out into the wild. The lessons we have learned from our first group will help us be better teachers for the next group. But the first group is no doubt going to hold a special place in our hearts. There were many hugs and high-fives today when it was time to go. A few kids ran back for double hugs. One can never have too many!