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Professional Development, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Play IS School Readiness!

Meet Bev Bos

If it hasn’t been in the hand and the body… it can’t be in the brain.” ~Bev Bos (1934-2016)

For many years one of my best friends and college classmates has raved about Bev Bos, an incredible early childhood expert whom my friend had the privilege to know personally. Despite earning two degrees in early childhood development, I recently realized I did not actually know much about Bev’s work and contributions. Mid-way through the master’s class I am currently taking on play and learning, I now find myself diving head-first into Bev’s beliefs and practices, all of which fully support and validate what Woods and Wetlands is all about, and which also offer enrichment to the preschool age program I teach at our local zoo.

Bev Bos was a passionate teacher, author, singer, and mentor to countless early childhood educators. All that Bev declared about how young children learn has been proven to be best practice all these decades later. She spent more than 40 years as an advocate for children learning through play, and she published multiple, wonderful books in which she offers her philosophy, examples, methods, and supporting evidence.

Bev began as a parent volunteer in 1965 and later served as director of Roseville Community Preschool in Roseville California. She attended and spoke at over 6,000 conferences and workshops both nationally and internationally. Her published books include the following: Don’t Move the Muffin Tins: A Hands-Off Guide to Art for the Young Child, Tumbling Over the Edge: A Rant for Children’s Play, Before the Basics, and Chants, Fingerplays & Stories. She was adored by all who met, read, or listened to her as she spoke clear truths about the critical role of PLAY in children’s learning.

It is incredible that this 1991 video, of Bev Bos, made the year I graduated from high school, contains her unapologetic philosophy which has been 100% confirmed by recent research into early childhood learning. Put aside the (now) hilarious hair, clothing, and accessory styles and you will find yourself nodding and thinking, “Yes! Yes; kids need to be allowed to be kids! THIS is RIGHT! We NEED this! Schools must change!” Bev Bos had a favorite quote: Our challenge is not to prepare children for school, but to prepare schools for children. ~Docia Zavitskovsky

“All Learning Involves Risk.”

In Bev’s preschool, (and my dream preschool!) children had access to real tools- hammers and nails- and they learned to use them safely. Rather than providing experiences that were, “as safe as possible,” she provided opportunities for age-appropriate risk-taking that were, “as safe as necessary.” Bev was committed to children having access to mess and repetition because children learn through their bodies and whatever interests them will naturally be repeated until the child has truly learned it. We will know when it is time to move on because the child will decide when they are ready!

Bev firmly and unflinchingly spoke out about her belief that young children should not be treated, nor thought of, as little adults. She promoted age-appropriate learning and her preschool featured the most joyous, child-centered FUN learning activities I have ever seen. I am humbled by her deep understanding of what children need. Preschoolers in her program were free to BE CHILDREN. Children were painting on the walls, floor, and even furniture. Messy play was allowed and encouraged. Outdoor learning and nature-play happened every day. There was some structure in that the preschool day offered free choice time, snack time, read aloud,

“We made a mistake calling it preschool.”

As for “early readers,” just because children CAN learn something doesn’t mean we should be teaching it. Bev knew they needed to move, be loud, interrupt read-alouds with questions and stories and connections, and that “learning doesn’t happen when they are sitting on their bottoms!” Letters and numbers were available in her preschool, but only used if the children initiated the learning. Rather than pushing early readers, Bev insisted on reading TO them frequently, and she bravely STOPPED reading and cast aside a book if the children weren’t all that into it. She said, “Today, this is not the book they need.” Bev Bos understood that we should be waiting to teach reading to children only when they are ready for it. When their brains, their eyes, and their experiences in life converged to create a child who WANTS to read. The country with the highest literacy rate (by far outranking the U.S.) doesn’t even begin teaching reading until children are around 7 or 8 years of age! Bev knew that adults reading TO children was the literacy and “school readiness” they needed most if they were to become readers who go on to become adults who read more than just a newspaper or magazine. Adults who read for joy, for knowledge, for life!

Bev’s Impact

I love knowing there are thousands of teachers who have had the benefit of hearing one of Bev’s keynote speeches, attending one of her workshops, reading her books, watching her interviews, singing her songs, observing her ideal preschool, or having any contact at all with one of the most tremendously influential and important women ever to grace the world of early childhood education. I wish I had seen her in person when I had the chance.

As I typed Bev’s name into Google I was astonished by how many early childhood educators, even now, follow her practices and continue to be inspired and guided by Bev’s example and leadership. In fact, there are so many current blogs and articles featuring her methods and philosophy as well as accounting of her work and contributions, I find myself hard-pressed to write this post with originality! Countless teachers before me have already shared their adoration of and commitment to her early childhood learning philosophy. No wonder my friend spoke her name with hero-worship on her face and in her voice!

I could use this opportunity to kick myself for all of the times I didn’t do everything right as a teacher, but, instead, I am going to use Bev’s inspiration to validate all I have been doing right, and to inform and change how I go forward from this moment. I can’t do it all at once, and I can’t do it all just right. I am human. I don’t always have all of the control over every situation. There are the unfortunate realities of time limits, but I’m working on pushing those boundaries a little farther wherever I can.

There are so many Bev Bos quotes I would love to memorize, but this one really stands out as I think about my Woods and Wetlands programs: “If you go home from school without dirt under your nails, I haven’t done my job.” For two years now I have encouraged my explorers to intentionally get their hands as dirty or muddy as possible, ostensibly for handling small creatures such as frogs, toads, or salamanders. But I also did it because I want them to know it is okay to get dirty. Not only is it okay, it is actually healthy for them! Exposure to soil microbes is proving to positively impact our physical and mental health! Watching one of Bev’s videos just reinforced and validated what I have been promoting. Children should be focused on playful learning without worrying about dirty hands or wet clothing! Last week a fourth grade boy happily splashed into the little creek at Townsend Park where we were having a Woods and Wetlands adventure, and a few minutes later he stood before me with worried eyes and said, “My mom is gonna kill me. She told me not to get these boots wet.” This made me so very sad. Boots shouldn’t matter more than fun learning. (Not to mention I made certain the parents were told their children should wear clothes that can get muddy and wet!)

Just yesterday I read aloud from two different books to my ZOOLittles and when a few of my Littles inevitably interrupted when I hadn’t invited them to say something, I found myself shutting that down so I could finish the book. I see this was unnecessary and even damaging! Today Bev Bos has put an end to that for me. She trusted and respected children enough to know that they process out-loud, and if they are asking questions, sharing connections and stories, then they are engaged with the book and I must honor that by allowing those interruptions and using them as opportunities to engage in conversation. She said, “Life is a conversation.” Sometimes I doggedly keep reading aloud, even when it is clear the kids aren’t into it or they are ready to be done. Why do I do that? Bev validates the times I have wisely abandoned a book when I see the kids aren’t engaged. She said, “Today, this is not the book they need.” After all, I don’t force myself to keep reading a book I don’t like or I’m not into!

Going forward, I am committed to the following:

  • I will be more flexible.
  • I will refuse to worry about what other adults may think of my teaching choices, but will happily share my reasons when I can.
  • I will post Bev Bos quotes near my desk and around my ZooLittles classroom so as to remind myself and possibly educate other adults in the area.
  • I will abandon books when kids aren’t engaged. (Get my ego and need for control out of the picture!)
  • I will refer to the kind of learning I promote as, “age-appropriate learning.”
  • I will remember that life should be fun for children!
  • I will be firm and unapologetic with other adults when I am called to explain why free exploration and play is such a huge part of what I offer to my students.
  • I will try to remember that I am not doing what I do, neither at the zoo nor in Woods and Wetlands, for the benefit of adults. Yet the children I work with will one day become adults, and I know they will need all of the creative thinking, problem solving, confidence-building, real-life experiences they can get while they are still young, in order to become our future inventors, leaders, and thinkers.

T.

A Few Bev Bos-related Sources

NAEYC Remembering Bev Bos

Progressive Early Learning

PlayVolution

Pondering Preschool

Let the Playing Commence!

Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

You Have Just Changed EVERYTHING for me!

Ah, the dramatic statements of fifth grade girls! I don’t often do programs with upper elementary students and, honestly, my comfort level is definitely with the younger learners. But this week I had a lot of fun and some useful learning experiences with three 5th-grade classrooms from Crestwood Elementary in Rockford. The title of this post is a direct quote delivered with delightful flair, though the girl in question was utterly serious.

With only five minutes left before we had to wrap it up, two girls who were working on their nature study page nearby asked me to show them how to do a leaf rubbing. I never know for sure which of the many elements of my programs are going to spark interest, but in this case it was immediately clear that being able to use a leaf, a crayon, and some paper to save some of the lovely sassafras leaves we had just learned about was an evident game-changer for at least these two girls. Who knew a leaf rubbing could change lives?

Sassafras and Salamanders

Prior to life-altering leaf-rubbing, both of Tuesday’s classes managed to find multiple, tiny salamanders all over the beautiful woodland we were exploring. Their presence as an important environmental indicator species largely confirmed a guess I had about a few lowland areas nearby that showed evidence of having held a good deal of water in the past season. I’m no expert on this, but I think those spaces hold vernal pools in the early spring! Vernal pools are absolutely critical to the survival of many amphibians, including salamanders. Unfortunately, too many of these areas are unprotected as they do not have water year-round and are not considered wetlands. (But they should be!) Scientists are finding that vernal pools are incredibly important to the ecosystem. (Click the link above to learn more about them!) Thank you to amphibians for eating so many bugs! And for being food for thousands of other animals.

I wish we could just do this all day instead. of learning!

Ha! To which I replied, “Too late! You are already learning!” Even when they don’t know it, I know it. Regular readers of my blog will already know the plethora of learning experiences children have during Woods and Wetlands adventures. For those new to it, here are just a handful: physical learning (balance, strength, coordination, aim, flexibility), mathematical learning (estimation, spatial awareness, patterns, number sense,) SCIENCE (literally everything,) art (noticing and recreating fractals/patterns in nature, building structures, nature-art and design,) emotional and social (independence, self confidence, collaboration, empathy, compassion,) … you get the idea. Want more? Please read my favorite nature book ever: The Nature Fix by Florence Williams.

And yesterday? Fractions!

Three boys discovered a long stick stuck through the vertex of a tree and when one of them pulled on one end it snapped the stick. Upon seeing this, they realized they could break other sticks that way. As a team, the boys began hauling bigger and bigger sticks, lifting them one by one into the split between the two trunks, and then planning how and where they would break it, waiting for each other to be in position, and coordinating their efforts as it got more difficult. I hung back just watching and listening. They were totally absorbed in this activity that may seem like meaningless play to most, but I saw completely meaningful, playful, learning happening. One of the boys said, “I bet we can break this one into like twelve pieces!” They shifted the stick and evaluated where to break it each time so that they could get twelve, roughly equal pieces. (Hands-on fraction action!)

Independent Nature Study

This time I deviated from the Observation and Conversation cards I’ve been using for the last year because they weren’t quite always working as I’d hoped. Trial and error is a great way to learn if you’ve got the time, patience, and self-forgiveness to do it! The master’s class I am taking on play and learning declares that, “the children ARE the curriculum.” That is to say, their interests should be guiding the teachers to offer support and enhancement. (Another incredible book: Lisa Murphy On Play: The Foundation of Children’s Learning.) While the class is focused on young children (birth through age 8) I know too many kids these days haven’t gotten the kind of critical play-based learning that they all needed when they were young, so I think it’s worth applying these principles to older elementary children as well. Playful learning really is the foundation for ALL future learning!

So this time around, rather than giving everyone a laminated card with specific activities to try or photographs of cool, natural, objects I wanted them to notice in their exploration space, I gave everyone a card that invited them to choose something they had discovered while they had free exploration time, and offered some options for how to do a mini-nature study page. On the other side of the card they would find a copy of some of my own nature study journal pages, just for reference. After engaging the whole class by sharing my box of found nature treasures (snake sheds, fossils, half a muskrat skull, dead butterflies, dead cicadas, a robin’s egg, feathers, galls, various cool tree seeds, etc.) I sent them off to find a peaceful space in the woods they just explored and invited them to sketch, draw, label, and/or write about something that interested them in that place. This was only a tiny part of our program because I only intend it to be a quick sample of what it might be like to engage with nature by recording our experiences independently. Frankly, I’d much rather save it for consecutive programs with the same group rather than pushing it during their initial program. Not everyone would love it, but they had a chance to try it out. Below are some samples of their efforts.

Luckily my current favorite topic to talk about is the connection between all life and soil! The fifth graders have recently been taught about decomposers in school. I find myself imagining how much more deeply they could understand these concepts if we could spend many more hours playfully learning in that lovely woods.

T.

Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Let Those Girls Howl!

A few weeks ago I got to take twelve girls, grades 1-3, into a local woods to celebrate one of the girls’ birthday. She and her sister were both former Woods and Wetlands explorers from my summer sessions and they were so excited to share their love of nature-play and exploration with their friends. It’s always a bit of a gamble to do this. It is one thing when my group is comprised of explorers who have chosen to sign up for an adventure in the woods and we have spent 8 mornings together developing relationship bonds. It is quite another when the group is made up of 2 of those former explorers and 10 who are totally new to the situation. Not to mention, we chose Luton Park rather than Camp Rockford, so even the location was new to Birthday Girl and her sister.

And…. they loved it! At least, most of them appeared to be enjoying themselves. They walked on logs, sniffed skunk cabbage, examined daddy longlegs, climbed a tree, and waded down the creek. At first, a couple of the girls were nervous, unsure about stepping into a creek, getting wet, getting muddy. I held a some hands for a while, and assured them they didn’t have to do anything they didn’t feel comfortable doing. But of course they wanted to do what the majority were doing, so they summoned some bravery and went for it!

On our way back through the woods in the last 15 minutes or so, our group drifted a bit, some hanging back to play along the path, others talking animatedly to me in the middle of the pack, and a few ranging ahead of us, still in sight but out of range for conversation. I can no longer remember what prompted them, but a few of the girls up ahead began to yip and howl like coyotes. Soon the girls in my “pod” caught on and tipped back their heads and joined in the choral howling. In a few moments the stragglers around the curve of the trail behind us added their voices. With all the girls howling, I found myself grinning, listening to them mingling strong, full, confident voices.

After a few long moments, it occurred to me that all of their parents would be waiting in the parking lot, preparing cupcakes and assembling gift bags. My lifelong what will other people think?! voice kicked on in my head. What if they thought the girls were in trouble or needed help? What if someone reported their unnervingly authentic coyote howls? Before I could process these thoughts as ridiculous anxiety, I hushed the girls, stealing their voices while they were still mid-howl.

I spent much of the next few days kicking myself, wishing I had let them howl to their hearts’ content. My regret continues, even now. I can’t take it back. I can’t give back that chance for them to feel powerful, connected, safe, and joyous out there in the wild. I knew better. I knew that young children should be allowed to play out to a finish what engages their interest, no matter how meaningless it may seem to adults. I knew that they would stop on their own when they were ready. I guess I felt there was a kind of feminine power being expressed that day; girls were showing that they could be loud, be strong, be wild. It may seem like a small thing to most who read this. But to me it was a mistake I couldn’t make right. I could, however, learn from it. I promised myself that the next time my Woods and Wetlands explorers were engaged in an activity that was harming no one, even if others might disapprove, I would step back and let them Be.

T.

Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Learning As I Go

Each adventure is different. One of the things I love about this work I am doing is the variation. Never ever am I bored! Each group of explorers is unique. Even the same space in the same woods is different from day to day, hour to hour. This week I got to take four, third-grade classes into the woods and creek at Camp Rockford.

I always tell the kids that I learn about and notice new things in nature every single day, and this continues to be true. An odd and armored bug blending in with near perfection to the oak bark, a woolly bear caterpillar on the very same path we just trooped down half an hour ago, a dead crayfish in the creek where three other classes went wading without seeing any sign of aquatic creatures.

I, too, am unintentionally different with each group. My energy and mood respond to the dark, rainy days or the blue-sky and breezy days. Interactions with each classroom teacher also contribute to the tone of each program. On Monday I felt nervous, awkward, uncomfortable. It was hard to find my groove for some reason. That night I lay in bed worrying that the kids didn’t have enough fun, that the teachers might have been disappointed. When Tuesday arrived, bright morning sun dappling our wooded space, my sense of joy for what I do and how I do it returned. I felt myself light up as I shared the magic and wonder of nature with the remaining two, third-grade classes.

Learning as I go is something I am gradually coming to accept and embrace. Identifying the exact elements of any program that didn’t go well or didn’t meet my expectations is part of the process. How can I better ensure that kids are dressed to stay warm and relatively dry? How can I best communicate to teachers and parents the value of these programs when they are accustomed to thinking of play as, “just play?” What if I realize I am trying to pack far too much into such a short time? Can I expand the programs to encompass half of an entire school day? Would anyone still want to do it? Could they afford it? Is there anything I should cut out of these programs?

The fact that I don’t know anyone else who does exactly what I do makes it a somewhat lonely process, and I find myself missing the opportunities to brainstorm with other educators. At the same time, I am thrilled to be able to craft and modify Woods and Wetlands programs to exactly what I want, based on what I know and feel is right! There are no state or federal boards of education telling me what to do or how to do it. No developmentally inappropriate curriculum to force down unready learners’ throats. Parents don’t get to be rude to me and get away with it. (Not that most of them ever are; it’s just the echoes of the very few over the years still rankling a bit in the back of my mind. The vast majority of parents have been kind, compassionate, supportive, and respectful.) I get to choose my days, times, and locations. I can dictate how many explorers I am willing to work with at a time.

All in all, I am tremendously fortunate. I am learning as I go.

Camp Rockford 2022, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

May I please borrow your slug?

Oh, the gems I overhear between children! The overlap of absolutely lovely manners with the texture and images of a slug, not to mention how bizarre this request would be in nearly any other context, just cracked me up!

More than meets the eye.

Leaf Learning

Each explorer received a different kind of tree leaf (or needles). We noticed the shapes, textures, colors, and patterns of each leaf. Then we used them for our greeting; the kids had to find the person with the matching leaf and then go look for a tree nearby that has the same kind of leaves. We used oak, maple, wild cherry, white pine, red pine, and beech tree leaves/needles and I explained that one reason leafy trees drop their leaves before winter is so the snow doesn’t weigh them down and break their branches.

Wildlife, Teamwork, and STEAM work

Never Bored

Notice the huge variety of activities they choose. Nature play and play-based learning are naturally differentiated. As long as they understand that we expect them to listen to themselves and only do what they feel comfortable (enough) doing, they will take risks and seek out learning that is developmentally just-right for them as individuals!

Physical Education is not the same thing as Sports.

These days (in the privileged world) most kids who want to learn a sport will do so with or without P.E. class, but most kids do not have regular access to unstructured, independent, child-led but teacher-guided, nature play or nature study. If we bring children to a wild space we have only to teach them a few safety practices and then get out of the way because they will seek out activities that build strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, turn-taking, collaboration, spatial awareness, aim, body awareness, and body confidence. They learn to listen to and trust their bodies. Just look.

We Never Want it to End. Classroom Programs this Year?

Woods and Wetlands All Year Round

Woods and Wetlands programs for classrooms are wonderful class gifts from parents and caregivers to your child’s teacher. If the school has a wild space nearby we will use it. If not, they only have to come up with funding for busing to a local place such as Luton Park or a West Michigan Land Conservancy location. I also offer private programs for small groups of children such as those who are home schooled or students who are attending virtual school during the ongoing pandemic.

T.

Camp Rockford 2022, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Session 3, Week 1: Hard at Work

Our new group includes 9 explorers from last year’s Woods and Wetlands summer adventures. Add to that a wide developmental range and we have a hodge-podge of personalities, abilities, and experience! Compared to our last two groups this one got off to what felt like an awkward start, at least for the teachers. But after four mornings together, we have settled in nicely. It’s fun to watch the kids with prior experience because they are more independent, confident, and they are able to deepen and broaden their explorations. Nature-play and Play-Based Learning naturally lend themselves to scaffolding as children instinctively challenge themselves at that “just right” level at which they take appropriate risks and set themselves to learning and growing by pursuing their own interests. We offer support in the form of thinking questions and encouragement, stepping back when possible and stepping in when needed.

Social Skills

Do-Overs

Childhood is the best time to learn from mistakes. One of our new explorers had a rough start, socially speaking. Some poor choices were made. But we don’t use loss of participating as a consequence. Instead we try to always offer chances for “do-overs,” in conjunction with giving children specific words and strategies they need for round 2. How else can we learn unless we get to try again?

Patterns and Treasures

I usually introduce a theme of sorts during Morning Meeting. Sometimes I plan it but often the kids’ energy and/or interests prompt me to modify it on the spot. Teaching and earning without blocking the natural flow always works better for me and for the kids. During our first week we introduced Nature Treasures and Patterns in Nature. These two “lessons” are intertwined and next week we will blend them in with learning about different trees based on leaf recognition.

Sensory Experiences

Exploring in nature during Woods and Wetlands is a full, sensory experience. Children learn best by using their bodies. “Move to learn and learn to move.”

T.

P.S. Mini-rant:
I so wish that nature play and play based learning were woven into school curriculums at every level. Teachers need to be trained so that they can feel safe and comfortable taking their kids out into the wild. Time to do so ought to be guaranteed and protected as a necessary part of the school day or week. Funding programs like Woods and Wetlands throughout the school year would make such a positive impact on the mental, physical, social, emotional, and academic health of every student AND their teachers! Yet schools are, instead, adding MORE testing and MORE curriculum, while cutting back on recess and continuing outdated models of schooling that clearly are not working for the majority of children. The scientific evidence demonstrating what works is being largely ignored by those who control the curriculums, testing regimes, and school day structure in this country.

Camp Rockford 2022, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Crayfish, Nymphs, and Fairy Shrimp! Last Day of Session 2.

The last day is always hard. None of us want to say goodbye! I am hoping that I can continue bringing Woods and Wetlands to local schools this fall, so I plan to reach out to as many educators as possible to get these programs scheduled. One of my dreams would be to offer repeat programs for the same classes in the same, wild, space throughout a school year, whether once a month or even 4 times a (school) year. Imagine the kids getting to bond with a natural area that they can access whenever their adults can get them there, where they would benefit from seeing nature change throughout the seasons! School curriculum would be supported as we learn naturally about local plants, animals, fungi, geology, history, and geography. Woods and Wetlands programs support physical education related to strength, balance, coordination, teamwork, spatial awareness, and self-confidence. The arts can be woven into repeat programs as well. Nature-play and play-based learning offers health and wellness to all of us, even those who don’t enjoy the outdoors. We become more resilient to the stresses of life and better able to heal and grow our spirits when the world gets to be too much.

Imagine you have spent your childhood living down deep in the warm mud of a wetland, swimming around and breathing with gills. One day when you are anywhere from 3 months to 5 years old, you crawl out of the muck, up onto a cattail or blade of grass, your back splits open, and you crawl right out of your “skin” (exoskeleton), but you are no longer a creepy crawler; you are an iridescent, shimmery, winged creature who can now FLY! You have lovely fairy-like wings and amazing eyesight. No more dark, muddy days. You are a DRAGONFLY!

Camp Rockford 2022, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Change is hard. Life and Death. Adventures to New Lands.

This week we learned to adapt to an unwelcome change, observed the cycle of life and death in nature, discovered a new land, and learned from our mistakes. (And the kids renamed me, “Ms. Tree.” I kinda like it!)

Unwelcome Change

After a week away from “our” woods and creek the kids were so excited to get back to their adventures. Can we go to the creek???!!! is the question pelting me from all directions the moment we reach our Meeting Log and begin to set up our mobile classroom each morning. But on this morning I heard cries of shock and distress when they reached the bank where our beloved Log Jam Bridge should have been waiting for us. What happened?! Someone cut it down! Where is our bridge? Why is it gone? A chorus of dismay rose from our little group of explorers as they found that the neighbor to the west of Camp Rockford had clearly taken a chainsaw to all but one of the logs that formed “our” bridge. Without the other logs and a living tree that was growing out of one, there was now nothing to hold on to when crossing the only remaining log. Not only that, but the water now flowed much faster and deeper, making it an unsafe place for us to explore, at least until drought conditions reduce the level of the creek at some point. Mrs. Webb and I looked at each other and a great deal of thoughts and feelings passed silently between us. It was impossible to completely conceal our own dismay. The kids wanted answers and we are the people who usually have them. But this time we could only make assumptions.

Unfortunately, our first assumption was that the neighbor had intentionally tried to ruin something for our campers because we had heard in the past that he was not a fan of children using the RPS property separated from his only by the creek. Not only that, but the week prior I had sent him a letter with the intention of reassuring him about any concerns he might have about us damaging his property or causing problems for nature, because he mentioned to the other camp’s teacher that some rocks from his side of the creek bank had been moved. Could it have been my letter that somehow prompted this removal of our favorite place of all? As we processed what had happened and moved upstream to find other places to explore, I heard some of the kids talking about how mean that man was to do what he did, and I realized we were in a teachable moment. After getting the attention of the little group closest to me, I told them this: We don’t actually know why he cut those logs, and so we need to be careful not to start telling people he did it to be mean. The kids asked me why. Because when we don’t know the truth of a situation, we shouldn’t assume. We should get more information. Otherwise, we are starting and spreading a rumor, and rumors can be very hurtful.

In Which We Go On An Adventure to New Lands.

Unexpected changes are usually hard for most of us. But as I’m sure many can attest since the changes of 2020, if we allow ourselves to adapt, there is usually something good that comes from change, and at the very least, we learn from it. So, despite how bummed we were to lose our Log Jam Bridge, we decided on Tuesday to strike out in a new direction for lands unknown. One group headed upstream and into the woods with Mrs. Webb, and the other intrepid explorers chose to come with me on an Adventure Expedition to New Lands. (Adding lots of fun language and dramatic voices makes it so much more fun and the kids catch the tone and pick up new vocabulary this way.) We blazed a new trail where none of us (including last year’s groups) had ever gone before! We stomped down some nettles, walked along logs, jumped to the ground, and stopped frequently to reassure and support those who were being extra brave when they were just a little bit scared. When the vegetation opened up we found ourselves at the corner of where “our” creek flowed into the Rogue River. By the time we left, the kids were calling it “Mud Island,” and its new, part-time inhabitants were, “Mudlanders.”

Life to Death to Life Again

Another less-than-pleasant, but also fascinating, discovery this week were the remains of a very tiny, probably premature, fawn. We faced it with not only acknowledgement of sad feelings, but also with the interest and curiosity of scientists. The finding was a perfect time to notice how decomposers were already doing their work of recycling what used to be alive, turning it into rich soil from which new life will grow. The next morning we followed up with a conversation about how every single food we eat is part of that cycle of life and death. All of our food depends on plants, and plants depend on soil and pollinators. Dead things and bodily waste (poop/scat/dung) do not recycle on their own. They depend on soil microbes and other decomposers to do that work. And one day, new plants will grow where that tiny fawn died, and a living fawn might eat those plants. The parts of the fawn we could not find became food for larger animals that need meat to survive. More recycling! Even if our “Littles,” don’t fully grasp all of that, it was a hands-on, meaningful and memorable experience upon which future learning can build!

There are more magical moments with our explorers than I could ever recall or write about, but this week the experiences of one, particular camper filled me with pure joy. To appreciate it, you need to know that when she began Woods and Wetlands two weeks ago, she was so clearly inexperienced in every way. She was terrified of everything. Her body didn’t yet seem to belong to her, in that she hadn’t developed her vestibular and proprioceptive systems as I would have expected by her age. (Her sense of her body in space and her balance, strength, coordination, etc.) She fell a LOT. She cried a lot and easily. But I am proud to say we met her where she was, and some of the other kids began developing a sense of protectiveness of her. We did a lot of coaxing, hand-holding, reassuring, and one-on-one explicit teaching of small, critical skills and information.

Two days ago when a group of us went on our Adventure to New Lands, she chose to come with us. (Bravery indeed!!) She stayed close to me and we moved inch by inch along a slippery log. I’m scared! Can I touch that? Is it a nettle tree? We slowly created a path as I showed her nettle after nettle so she could begin to recognize them on her own. I trampled them down ahead and beside us as we crept along. With the other explorers coming patiently behind us, I identified each tree branch and showed them how to move them out of their way without letting them swing back on the person behind them. Are those nettles? Those are just wet tree leaves. We kept going. Only once she let her fear overwhelm her and she wanted to go back. We stopped and did some calming breathing. She chose to keep going. Every moment of that short hike (a 1-minute hike for an experienced adult, just to give you context,) was packed with new, frightening, interesting, experiences for her. Her mind and body were fully engaged. After navigating 2 more slippery logs, we made it to the Mudlands. On our way back she was still scared, but slightly more confident. Then, today, she chose to go again, but this time she could point out the nettles all by herself. This time she knew how to bend her knees when she jumped off a log and landed. This time she taught OTHER kids about their surroundings. There’s no such thing as nettle trees, so you can hold on to trees to help you! She couldn’t wait to get back and tell Mrs. Webb, “I wasn’t scared today!”

She did fall once. And she did cry a little.

But don’t we all?

T.

We had a little tree lesson, after which one of the kids accidentally called me, “Ms. Tree,” rather than, “Ms. T.” It caught on quickly!

Camp Rockford 2022, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Actually, This is Really Fun!

Actually, this is really fun!

But my socks are wet! I can’t wear them now!

Are there crocodiles in here?

How do I get over there?
How did you get where you are in the first place?
I don’t know!

I’m so scaredthis is so much fun!

“Moving and learning play is all about doing,” “As long as the child chooses it and is physically involved in it, fun and learning are bound to follow!”
A Moving Child is a Learning Child: How the Body Teaches the Brain to Think
by Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy

Session 2 started last Monday with a whole new set of young explorers. What completely different energy this group has! We have many more girls than boys this time, and far less prior experience among them compared to our Session 1 group. On Day 1 some weren’t sure at first, but within the first hour, “Actually, this is really fun!”

I won’t lie; it takes more energy, focus, and presence on the teachers’ part, but there is so much room for growth with these little adventurers! We already are excited and curious to watch them grow, learn, and change in their relationship with themselves, the natural world and each other.

For one thing there’s a lot more screaming, but it is with excitement and delight more than fear. We also notice that even physically strong and agile kiddos are less sure of their bodies when crossing a log or climbing out of the creek. They are working on their proprioceptive and vestibular systems! (Balance, sense of where their bodies are in space, etc.) A couple seem to have rarely, if ever, used their muscles in certain ways, and I will be interested to see how that may change by the end of our camp session, though, unfortunately, our 2-week camp will be split with a week off in-between for 4th of July week this session.

In any case, they are a lovable bunch and we are thoroughly enjoying supporting them as they explore and learn!

Below: Using puppets to role play is a wonderful way for young children to learn. They get to safely try out different roles and imagine what it might be like to be someone or something else, which helps build empathy! Not to mention the joy of whole-group belly-laughter that bonds us!

T.

Camp Rockford 2022, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

So My Brain Will Be Climbing Trees All Night?!

On our next-to-last day of Session 1 for Woods and Wetlands, we took the kids down to the main river channel. By this time the water level had gone down and the current wasn’t as strong along the sides of the river. Just as importantly, we now knew these kids pretty well and were ready to trust them to do their part to help keep themselves and others safe. We expected to find crayfish as we did last year, but we should have remembered that nature always offers us the unexpected! (No crayfish.)

Above: Enjoying the cool river water on a hot day, the kids discovered a “mess” of tadpoles, some tiny trout, and how sunlight refracts in water, changing our depth and spatial perceptions. When the current increased in strength for those who went a little deeper, they noticed it and processed it verbally. Mrs. Webb and I kept our eyes on the kids at all times, offering thinking questions and modeling how to wonder, to guess, and to think about everything around us. Every moment could be a teachable moment in the wild, but we still choose to allow many moments to flow past with the current, just staying in the present. The natural world is where humankind evolved and where we are still adapted to be, though we don’t always know it. The more exposure to the natural world, the more resilient we become to life’s stressors.

With about half the group and Mrs. Webb engaged with using their nets along the river’s edge, the other half opted to go on a mini adventure with me to find the place where “our” creek flows into the river. But before we’d gone very far upstream, we encountered a large maple tree that had recently fallen across the river. We didn’t let it stop us though! The first few explorers clambered easily through the leafy branches about 4 feet above the river. These were experienced tree climbers. One of them returned to offer support to the others.

I perched myself in the middle of the tree and gave what encouragement I could to those less experienced. Despite saying they were afraid sometimes, they didn’t give up and go back. “It is okay to be scared. Take your time. Only do what you feel safe doing.” Slowly, hand by hand and foot by foot, from branch to branch, they made their way through the horizontal tree. This was the ultimate chance to teach the differences between living and dead branches. They could feel the flexible strength of the still-living fallen tree, while older, dead logs beneath our feet filled in some of the gaps, but had to be carefully tested before putting any weight on them. They learned to lightly press these, noticing how some rolled, tipped, or even cracked. With lots of coaxing, reassuring, and suggestions from me, I was elated when the last explorer arrived on the far side of the tree… just in time for us to realize it was time to go back and pack up for the day!

Back they went, but reversing the process that brought them through wasn’t an easy thing to do. Once again the more experienced climbers scrambled through, stepping confidently from branch to branch despite the river and the unknown below. I stayed with the new learners as they worked their way back. Such concentration on their faces! Once through, they offered different responses. One of the twins was elated, proud of his success, happily boasting that he wasn’t scared. The other, who typically is the more confident of the two, breathed a gust of relief and said, “Well, I’m never doing THAT again!
I paused for a moment to consider her feelings as well as my own. Then I offered the following:
That would be too bad because it will be so much easier the next time you try! Your brain is going to process what you did today while you are asleep tonight. Your muscles will remember some of what they learned. And you were so brave to go through that tree like that! I hope you’ll try again, but you don’t have to.
Now it was her turn to pause. With a huge grin, she exclaimed, “So, you mean my brain will be climbing trees all night?!” She was delighted with this prospect!

The next day, our last, the whole group went through or around (on the shore side) the fallen tree. I had a feeling I would not have to ask whether the twins were going to try it again. Their brains definitely climbed trees while they were sleeping! They went through before I even realized they’d started!

We were sad to say good-bye to this group, but we know we will love all of the groups still to come! I hope to see everyone this next school year when I bring Woods and Wetlands programs to local elementary schools again!

T.