Session 2 ended with another stroll down the road, but this time all the way to the Maas Family Nature Preserve. Our Camp Rockford woods was still mobbed by mosquitoes and rain was expected, so our last day was not quite what we had in mind, but we made the best of it. There was a little bit of “my feet hurt,” and, “when will we be there?” because we were all dressed for wading, not walking long distances. We took it slowly on the way out, stopping often to learn about what we were noticing.
For our greeting I handed each explorer a leaf and their job was to find the person with the matching leaf shape and say, “Good morning!” Once that was complete, they traded leaves with someone with a different shape, and performed the same task and greeting. This encouraged them to really take notice of the different shapes of leaves and provided an opportunity to talk about different kinds of trees. Our leaves came from maples, oaks, beeches, basswoods, cottonwoods, and wild grapevines. We could have kept trading until everyone had used each leaf shape, but we needed plenty of time for our walk, so we wrapped it up after just a few switches.
Each explorer was also given a beech-nut for their treasure collections. We talked about what we noticed about the nut: green, spiky but soft, looks like a mouth. One explorer asked if the seeds would be able to grow if we planted them when they are green, so we talked about how seeds need to dry and these will harden and turn brown when they are ready to be planted. A few of the kids were curious to look inside, so we opened them up and were surprised to find two, green seeds inside! They expected four because of the sections on the outside. Of course once the nut was opened it wouldn’t be viable to plant, so we went to the beech tree and picked another one to bring home and let dry. (Note: there is a spreading, devastating, beech scale disease attacking and killing many of our Michigan beech trees.)
As we walked we noticed! We looked at differences in the overall shape of maples and oaks. We noticed a tree that was definitely dead and I asked the kids to share evidence of how they could tell. (It had no leaves and the bark was coming off.) We examined some cedar trees and looked at their tiny, new, cedar cones. We sniffed the piney smell of cedar and found a mud puddle to stomp in.
At the end of Rector we finally arrived at the Maas Family Nature Preserve. It was a longer walk than we realized it would be, so we only took a little bit of time to visit the preserve before it was time to head back. We had to stay on the trail but we got to see: deer tracks, earth stars (a kind of puffball), butterfly milkweed, mushrooms, and we did get to taste wild blackberries!
In order to give their legs a rest before walking back to Camp Rockford, we sat down just outside the entrance while I read a favorite book to them, An Extraordinary Egg (They voted between 3 book choices and it was unanimous!) This book is always a sure thing for getting kids laughing out loud!
We moved more quickly on the way back and arrived with a little bit of time to spare before pick-up time. Session 2 went by so quickly! I couldn’t believe it was already over. I’m hoping to see these explorers again sometime!
Yesterday there was too much water in the creek and today there were too many hungry mosquitoes in the woods! Nature has a way of reminding us that we cannot control everything. While frustrating, sometimes not getting what we want reminds us that we still have choices, even if they aren’t the ones we hoped to have, and sometimes these other choices offer opportunities and lessons we may not have seen coming.
I was so excited to get to explore the creek with this group, but on Monday night we had enough rain that on Tuesday the water ran high and cloudy again. We did try, but determined it just wasn’t safe enough for many of our smallest explorers, (or very fun.) We used the opportunity to explore other spaces. Even though my intentions for the morning washed away with the current, I know that children need chances to be bored, because where there is boredom, there is also inspiration, motivation, and creativity if we allow the necessary time for them to sprout and grow. Children, by nature, will come up with their own science experiments, creations, games, and activities if we let them. It can be hard for adults in our current culture to let this happen. I feel the familiar, old tug on my teacher-brain, telling me I should fill the silences, keep everyone focused and active, and prove to other adults that the kids are productive and learning. It is with intention and effort I tell myself to STOP and breathe, to let nature and children unfold in their own way. I have to mentally hold myself back from trying to take charge of everything for fear someone won’t be having fun for a single moment. I KNOW differently. I KNOW better. And so we explored. Fun was had. Discoveries were made. Children laughed, asked questions, looked closely, helped each other, and they learned.
Prior to heading to the woods yesterday, we took some time investigating the edge of the mowed field.
Tuesday we tried out the water. Most of the kids did go in and get wet, but the current felt too strong, the water too cloudy to see where we were stepping, and certain sections were too deep so we all got out again after all the work of trying to get in! The kids were so brave though, and they really wanted to at least try it!
After leaving the creek we ventured up to higher (and dryer) ground east of the old building. There we discovered some wildflowers that most people haven’t seen before! The first time I encountered them I assumed they were a type of fungi because they seem to pop up after a rain and they have no chlorophyll to make them green. They are white and when they get older they turn black on the edges. I looked them up and found they are called “Indian pipes,” since their shape resembles pipes that some native people used. This was difficult to explain to young children, most of whom haven’t seen an old fashioned style pipe, not to mention the problematic name they were given long ago. Nevertheless, the plant is pretty interesting looking!
Wednesdaywas Mosquito Day!
The water was clear and much safer today, but unfortunately the air was quite literally swarming with blood-thirsty little mosquitoes! Despite multiple applications of bug repellent, we didn’t last long down in nor near the creek. It was too buggy to stand or sit still for even a moment, so we missed our Morning Meeting and our read-aloud time. The mosquitoes were slightly better for those of us wading in the creek, but not by much. We had a few interesting sink and float experiments, predicting whether a fern or a leaf would float better, and noticing how some sticks floated and others sank. But it was hard to have much fun when we were being attacked, so we gave in after about a half hour and packed up all of our things in order to escape!
We decided to go exploring on a walk down the road instead. I’m so glad we did! The road is a short, dead-end, nearly country road so the only vehicle we saw was a USPS mail truck. There was plenty to see and do on our walk, and enough time to go at our own pace. The kids were thrilled to get to eat some wild black raspberries that grew alongside, though I picked them and handed them out since reaching into the thorny brambles amidst poison ivy was more than I wanted to subject the kids to after all of their mosquito bites! We also saw where “our” creek flows beneath the road and comes out the other side. As sad as it made me, I pointed out a small turtle that had been flattened some time ago on the road and taught the kids a little bit about turtles and what to do and what not to do if we see one crossing the road.
Tomorrow everyone should come wearing a full suit of mosquito armor! But even if we can’t be in the woods, we are still explorers and we know how to entertain ourselves no matter what!
Today was the day the water was finally low enough to go in. Unfortunately, nine of our explorers were absent due to the federal holiday. I, too, missed today’s outing, as I wasn’t feeling well, but luckily Mrs. Webb saved the day by taking charge, and Principal Hoogerland took my place on a moment’s notice to make sure there were two adults available. They had a grand time and Mrs. Webb sent pictures and descriptions for me to enjoy and share. (HUGE thank you to Mrs. Webb for taking the lead today!!!)
Upon finding raccoon tracks in the mud by the creek, they guessed that it was possibly the same animal who who has been leaving scat on the big log of the logjam bridge. They also looked closely at the patterns of sand ripples on the bottom of the creek and talked about how the moving water created these beautiful patterns, as well as comparing these ripples to snow drifts and the way wind can do much the same thing to snow as water does to sand. The kids also used their nature eyes to practice recognizing poison ivy and showing it to Mr. H.
During snack break Mrs. Webb read to the kids from the book, Around One Log. It is fascinating to look for and discover all of the tiniest visible “critters” that are hard at work under rocks and logs. One of these days I hope to get some of the kids interested in counting and sketching how many different types of creepy-crawlers they can discover and to notice ways in which they are different from each other, such as the number of legs or segments they may have.
Even the main channel of the Rogue River was accessible today! I am so excited for tomorrow with our entire crew of adventurers!
During Morning Meeting everyone was given either an oak or a maple leaf. We traced or did leaf-rubbings in our journals, or at least tried, and I reinforced that it takes multiple practices to get them looking the way we might want them to look. Message: don’t give up if it’s not what you want right away.
One explorer brought his own shovel for the purpose of digging for treasure chests. So far no luck, but the kids who joined him in this new space discovered a cool log with new fungi growing on it, as well as an old, metal canister of some kind that made for a good drum! We tossed around the idea of making instruments from natural objects next week. The metal item doesn’t count, but it had great percussion qualities!
These sisters were very into my tree and mushroom field guides and we wanted to find out what the new little mushrooms on the log were called. We also paged through the tree book and enjoyed learning names of different trees. One that made us laugh was the “Eastern Wahoo!” I continue to point out places where decomposers do the critical work of turning dead organic matter into healthy, new soil for new trees and plants to grow.
The stream is lower and calmer every day, but still too deep for most of our explorers. Mrs. Webb and I began hauling some logs and branches over to where we want to build a little bridge once the water level is back down to pre-rain status. Kids also had fun helping to drag and carry building materials to the bank of the stream. I waded in to see how deep the water was on me and found it to be knee high at the shallowest place. At that point one of the boys must have decided that vicarious river-wading was better than none at all because he asked if I would walk down to the logjam bridge from where I was. I decided I might as well, since I already had half the river in my boots. The kids hurried along the bank to meet me at the bridge, at which point I was submerged almost to my hips.
Some animal keeps pooping on our log jam bridge and I keep cleaning it off in hopes of using the log to cross the stream. Clearly a teachable moment, the kids who were there with me ended up getting a mini-lesson on animal scat. We talked about how different animals eat different things and that plant-eating animals seem to have less stinky scat whereas those that eat meat tend to have smellier scat! I talked about how scientists who study animals learn a lot from looking at their poop. It’s also a way to track where certain animals go. I have a set of scat and paw print identification cards but the images aren’t very clear so I intend to make my own.
Lots going on here! During snack break I read aloud a few pages of a really cool tree book. Some of the kids were interested in my initial prompt about different leaf shapes. Others were still learning from their play with the teeter-totter log. At some point they will have played that experience out and will be ready to move on to something else. I love letting that happen!
Looking at the tree canopy and comparing/contrasting the oaks with the maples. We talked about why some trees grew so straight but had no branches until far up at the top, while others branched out earlier and had a rounder shape, over all.
We are so hopeful that by Monday we will all be able to explore our section of the river, actually more of a creek, but a handful of the kids won’t be there on Monday due to the federal holiday. One of the girls was upset that she would be missing our potential first day in the water, so I jokingly promised her we would have absolutely no fun without her. She giggled and told her cousin to make sure of it since her cousin will be in attendance that day.
Today’s explorations extended from yesterday’s with the added focus of noticing patterns in nature. We read Flow, Spin, Grow and Nothing To Do. Each of our campers found a small, laminated, card on their sit pads this morning and I asked them to choose at least 1 of the patterns on the card to try to draw in their nature journals. We talked about which of these patterns reminded us of different natural objects. For example, one girl said that one of the patterns reminded her of tree branches. Another noticed that the close-packed pattern was like beehives. After drawing everyone’s attention to these patterns, we went out and looked for similar shapes in our exploration space.
We checked the river again, and though it seems lower and slower, it’s still too deep to be safe. Next week should be better unless we get a lot of rain before then.
There is so much to do out there! We love seeing kids playing, running around, exploring, noticing, laughing, and learning. Unlike in school, I allow children to play with sticks because we teach them how to use them safely. Additionally, kids who play with each other and use physical contact are allowed to do so as long as everyone involved is comfortable with the game or activity. We adults tend to get too worried and anxious that someone might get hurt if they roughhouse, but some level of this is normal and healthy. We always make sure our explorers are playing safely, but that doesn’t have to mean never touching anyone else. I try to encourage kids in ways to play respectfully but also to know they can say “no,” or, “stop,” as needed, and that everyone must listen to each other’s words and respect each other’s boundaries.
Toward the end of our morning I was checking in with a camper who was sitting against this tree when suddenly another camper noticed this TOAD who had attached itself to the bark just above the other camper’s head! The toad held very still and we could just barely see it’s little throat moving up and down as it breathed. We didn’t touch or hold this one, but instead observed and noticed how beautifully camouflaged it was on the tree bark. I used this opportunity to teach the kids around me about how both frogs and toads hatch from eggs in the water, first as tadpoles and then as frogs or toads, but noted that toads generally leave the water and frogs tend to stay near or in the water. I also use these chances to model and teach empathy. I pointed out how very big we are compared to the toad and how it probably felt that we were predators who wanted to eat it!
A note from yesterday: I have begun talking to the kids about how trees and humans have similarities. Today one of the girls recalled that the top tree branches that spread out are called the “crown,” which is kind of like our heads. I explained how trees protect themselves with bark and humans with skin, but if bark or skin are cut, germs or bugs can get inside and so the bark and our skin can form scabs for repair. In the book, Flow, Spin, Grow, the author and illustrator showed how inside of our human bodies we have branches too! Branching of our bronchial tubes, arteries, and veins are very similar to tree branch patterns! Making these personal connections between people and trees is important if we are going to find ways to live in balance with nature.
Say your first name, when you do, we’ll say your first name back to you!
This is one version of the Rhythm Greeting which is delivered in tandem with slow or fast beats. I use my hand-held, frame drum while kids use their feet, hands, or any combination that satisfies them! I typically start slow to make the wording clear and after a few repetitions I speed up as more of the kids join in with their voices. We go around the Morning Meeting circle, focusing on one person at a time. After the whole group chorus (above), the person says their own first name (can also be done with last names or alternating combination,) and then the rest of the class does a drum roll while repeating that person’s name. This greeting offers a fun way to learn each other’s names and, as always, a social bonding activity. It gets everyone moving and we know that adding movement and putting information to a good beat and rhyme really fixes the content in our brains. (No photos happened because we were all so happily engaged in the process!)
Two of our explorers (sisters) brought in a small, green, caterpillar to show everyone. We also talked about different kinds of nature treasures that we enjoy collecting or even just noticing. Once I started showing some of the treasures that I brought, it prompted kids to tell about their own collections. As always, collecting cool rocks was a popular theme.
While we waited for a few kids to use the bathroom before heading to the woods, I read the book, Whose Poop is THAT? which is always a hit with this age group.
We stopped on the edge of the woods to refresh our memories on identifying poison ivy. I placed a bright orange circle of flag tape around one poison ivy plant so everyone could be sure of looking at the same thing. Later I noticed some right next to the fort that some of the kids are building with Mrs. Webb, but luckily no one seemed to have come in contact with it or, if they did, no one reacted.
If you look carefully with your “nature eyes,” you will see the bright stripes of a garter snake we happened upon just before entering the woods! The kids were so excited and Mrs. Webb quickly snapped this picture just before the snake, no doubt fearing that a giant group of predators was chasing it, slid smoothly beneath some chunks of broken concrete where it coiled up and held still. We tried to get a better look at it but it chose its hiding spot well! If we see any smaller garters I will pick one up in order to teach the kids all about these amazing and often misunderstood creatures!
Mrs. Webb worked hard with many of our explorers today to create a fort. Since we don’t have the creek/river to explore yet, our boundaries are smaller. I saw a lot of teamwork and problem-solving going on there! She is such a great teacher and the kids clearly adore her. I am grateful for her calm, level-headed, and warm demeanor.
A few of the kids really wanted to at least go look at the creek and they know they may only go near it with one of the teachers, so I happily accompanied them to the bank overlooking the log-jam “bridge.” I was thrilled to see that the water had already begun to go down and the current was lessening. Yesterday the water was cloudy and we couldn’t see the bottom, but today it was clear and so I decided to check it out on my own to get a feel for how deep it actually is. I somewhat sternly reminded the kids to stay put on land while I scooted across the log-jam. It was still too deep to safely play, but I assured them we would keep checking back and if we don’t get more rain it may be available in a couple of days!
More toads were discovered today as well as some slugs, more daddy longlegs, and some beautiful, green moss. A few of the kids were really into using magnifiers to look at everything they could find and so I got to have some cool discussions about what they were discovering. It’s so great that these young scientists are getting the opportunity to look at local wildlife (plant and animal) up close in real life!
Our group this time is a little too young to learn how to really use a compass, but that didn’t stop a couple of girls from inventing an imaginative way to use them! I noticed the girls carrying a compass out in front of themselves, consulting it, and then saying excitedly, “It says to go THIS way now!” and hurrying off in that direction. I smiled to myself and thought about how I would have done the same thing at their age! Using imagination is just as important as learning facts and the “real” way to use any given tool. Imagination connects to curiosity, problem-solving, creative ideas, and even just becoming familiar with a space or a tool. At some point in the future these girls may learn the technical use of a compass, and when (or if) that happens, they will already be familiar with what a compass looks like and how to hold it so that the little arrow can freely spin and point, so they will be a step ahead of anyone who has never freely played with one! “Play is the work of childhood.” This is an example of why we should let children explore and examine any new materials before instructing them in their technical use.
Even though not everyone is as into nature journaling as I am, I still try to incorporate at least a little bit of modeling different ways people can use a nature journal, even if the resulting “product” is minimal at best. One of the boys became very interested in how to do leaf rubbings, once he saw me make one in my journal, so I was happy to show him how. Once other kids noticed, a few of them wanted to try it too. This is one of the reasons I really love getting to be a nontraditional teacher these days; I get to introduce different things and kids get to choose what seems interesting to them, after which I can alternately guide, lead, fall back, suggest, or step away and let them learn independently.
I was surprised to see that the teeter totter had not, in fact, fully cracked in the middle yesterday, so the kids returned to trying to “win,” with a boys against girls division. I’m not sure how they came to split themselves in this way, since I wasn’t nearby at the time. *Note: I generally discourage this kind of divide because there are already more than enough “boys against girls” elements of our culture and I prefer to focus on collaboration and cohesiveness. I believe it is important to let kids know that girls can be friends with boys and vice versa, that boys can like the same colors or activities that girls do, and the same goes for girls enjoying what have long been traditionally “boy” behaviors or preferences. Just because something has “always” been done a certain way, does not, I believe, mean it has to continue being that way. I, for example, have always loved climbing trees, holding frogs and snakes, and playing in the mud. I have also always loved wearing “fancy” or sparkly things, sometimes while climbing a tree! But I digress… So, I asked the kids what would happen if they “win?” One of the girls explained that the girls were trying to get the boys off the ground and the boys were trying to get the girls off the ground. This was all the clarity I was able to gather on the matter. I acted as if this made perfect sense to me and moved on with a smile.
It’s looking like the weather this week is going to clear up, and though I always say, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing, I am nonetheless quite pleased that this group will more than likely NOT have to change locations in order to be indoors! What would we do??? Our best classroom, by far, is the woods.
Our new group of explorers started today and we lucked out because there were no storms and not even any rain! (We do not cancel for rain.) Unfortunately the river and its little tributary were both far too deep and fast to be safe for any of us to go wading. Even our little DIY “bridge” we made with our first group was underwater and the logjam bridge was inaccessible. We are hoping that before our two weeks with this group are over that the water will recede and we can safely play and explore there.
Day 1 with any group always contains far too much talking on my part and though I try to incorporate movement into our introductions, going over basic rules and safety expectations inevitably takes too long. This group is, overall, younger than our first group, so our activities and the kids’ interests will be different. It was fun to begin getting to know all 15 different personalities today! Learning all those names is my first priority, so Mrs. Webb and I practiced throughout the morning and I think we’ve almost got them all matched up with faces!
We met and greeted each other by having each of us act out something we love to do and then we all said good morning while acting out the same thing. For example, I said, “Miss Tahlia likes to climb trees,” while pretending to climb a tree. Then they all said, “Good morning, Miss Tahlia!” while pretending to climb a tree. We went around the circle like this. I also had them act like human protractors (an idea from my beloved Morning Meeting Book) to show how much experience they have had exploring in nature. A “10” meant they have already done A LOT of nature exploration, so they stood up straight with their arms straight up over their heads. A “0” meant they had no experience at all, and they stood with their body folded forward, touching their toes. A “5” was in the middle, bent in half, to show they had some, but not a lot, of experience.
On our way to the woods we stopped to have our first, (but not last!) visual introduction to some different poison ivy plants. It is VERY hard to identify until you have practiced a lot. Some of it was big, some small. Some plants were dark green and others were light green. A few leaves had large, deep, “teeth” on the edges, while others had almost no jagged edges at all. One of the kids asked, quite exasperated, how are we supposed to know what it looks like if it always looks different? All I could do was laugh and agree with her that it is VERY HARD to know! We just have to keep practicing.
We met at least 3 toads today, each apparently living in a small burrow formed at the base of a tree! There was some talk of uniting them, as a few kids felt certain the toads were sisters. Whiel this may be so, I did have the toads returned to their original “home” once we were done admiring them. I was glad I gave the pre-amphibian-handling pep talk about making sure to get our hands VERY dirty/muddy before handling these sensitive animals! They drink and breathe through their skin, so when we touch them with left over hand sanitizer, lotion, soap, bug repellent, sunscreen, or even just our own natural skin oils, we are causing them harm. We also had a talk about not killing spiders or daddy longlegs either, since they will not hurt us and are actually quite helpful.
Mrs. Webb and the group who were nearest her discovered a stunning, metallic, green, beetle on a log. I had seen these before but never knew what they were, so tonight I looked them up using iNaturalist and discovered they are “common tiger beetles.” Well! There was nothing common about this little creature! Apparently they come in different metallic colors and patterns. I can’t wait to tell the kids about them tomorrow!
When our timer went off I used our new chime (courtesy of a parent from our first group!) to call the kids over to the Meeting Log where I introduced nature journaling and gave them all their own journals and colored pencils. Most of the kids did at least a little bit of drawing and/or writing in their first page. We will hold onto these for them until our last day when they will be able to take them home. A few of the kids were interested in using the scavenger hunt cards and they went in search of the places and things that I photographed to make the cards.
It was a busy morning and we are all so excited to find out what tomorrow will bring! We are also crossing our fingers that it won’t bring any thunder and lightning because we have no indoor shelter available at Camp Rockford. As of the writing of this entry, the forecast calls for rain but the storms look like they won’t happen until the afternoon when we are all done for the day.
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!
A good portion of our morning was spent working on forts. Mrs. Webb supported most of the fort-building efforts, while I moved on to creek exploration with the adventurers who weren’t as interested in the forts. It was great fun to see the teamwork that went into these endeavors!
At some point in elementary science units these kids will be taught about levers and fulcrums, force, weight, mass, and a variety of other terms. If they have physically experienced these concepts, adding the vocabulary will be no biggie! And while some of these kids have talked about how they are going to go home and play Minecraft, there is simply no substitute for what the brain and body learn together in the real, physical, world.
At our mid-point, I demonstrated using one sense at a time to stop and notice my surroundings, followed by a brief sketch or a few words to document these “noticings.” I asked that each of the kids do the same from their Sit Spots. For a little while we all listened to wind in the leaves, birds calling to each other, and rustling of leaves. We looked up and around at the tall, straight tree trunks. We touched rough bark and soft leaves. We used our noses to sniff and smell the air or a nearby plant. (I used this teaching opportunity to tell the kids how great opossums are at sniffing!) The only sense most of us didn’t use was our sense of taste. In many outdoor settings there are a variety of edible plants, but I haven’t encountered any that are familiar to me yet in this space, though I did let the kids chew on the soft, watery end of a piece of snake-grass/horsetails.
Just upstream from the log-jam bridge I enjoyed watching as one of the older boys challenged himself to careful balancing as he walked along a very narrow log that reached across shallow water from a mid-stream log to the bank. His focus was absolute and I was silently cheering him on as he made it across, at least twice (as I recall). Meanwhile, I poked around, looking for crayfish (we didn’t find any today,) and chatted with one of our girls who has the sunniest disposition! She didn’t want to get wet at first, but then when she spotted a small sand-island, she decided she wanted to get there and was willing to let her boots fill with river water in order to do so. We both stood on the tiny “island” together and tried out different names for it. First we named it after her, but then she noticed the tiny, blue, forget-me-nots blooming nearby and decided to name it Forget-me-not Island. She squatted down and placed her hand flat on the cold surface of the water and talked about how she loved how it felt, sort of like “walking on water,” might feel. I smiled to myself because that is something I also enjoy doing, just letting my palm rest lightly on top of calm water. There are so many wonderful sensory experiences in nature and it makes perfect “sense” that our brains and bodies become calmer, happier, and more able to recover from stress. In one of my favorite books, The Nature Fix, by Florence Williams, she shares ample evidence that spending time in natural spaces makes us more resilient within the other contexts of our lives.
Tomorrow is our last day with this group, and a new session will begin on Monday. I feel a sense of sadness, a little grief, to be saying goodbye to our first kids of the summer. I know that every group will have its unique dynamics and we will adore them all for different reasons. I’ll send each of the kids home with their nature journals and colored pencils, as well as a follow-up flyer for anyone who wants to plan some small-group W&W excursions outside of these 2 week sessions, so I will be hoping to see these faces again someday!
Our exploration today felt smooth and easy, much like the river current even as it detours around obstacles large and small. In fact, for a little while, a few of the kids and I held a stick race from our upstream position, tossing our sticks into the center of the stream and watching intently to see which ones first arrived at the log jam bridge where the rest of our group was stationed. I was surprised that so many of the kids opted to get wet on such a chilly morning! Mrs. Webb and I chose to remain dry.
Stick races can organically become pathways to learn about scientific concepts such as floating and sinking, weight and mass, density, and speed. When an explorer selects a stick that is already waterlogged, they quickly find out that it sinks and they have to use trial and error to figure out what works. Or they might choose a lightweight stick that is too easily swept into an obstruction. This is a try and try-again activity (best done in slightly warmer weather, if you ask me!) Choosing a stick that is very big vs small, and figuring out how those attributes affect speed, or the selection of a stick that is crooked vs straight… a combination of any or all of these attributes connects to multiple science standards! I can’t say I’m sorry not to be obligated to teach only certain units or standards. Letting kids learn by letting them loose in the “wild” outdoors and following their interests and discoveries is by far more meaningful and memorable.
But that was a fast-forward! Let’s back up. For our Morning Meeting greeting we made animal noises, which turned out to be quite the laughter-fest! Some made wild animal noises, others made farm animal or pet noises, followed by “Good morning, (camper’s name)!” I try to make sure the kids make eye contact with each other and use each other’s names. We recorded the date and weather in our journals, though we are now missing one journal and another got left out in the woods all weekend so it needs to dry out a bit. Ideally we would have Rite in the Rain journals, but they are expensive and also don’t come with unlined paper for drawing purposes.
While we waited for a few campers to use the bathroom, I asked the remaining kids to call out the name of a Michigan animal (wildlife only) that we could learn about in our field guides. I then looked up the animal and read certain facts to the kids who were very interested to learn what kinds of noises each animal made. As I read the description, we all tried to make these noises ourselves, which was quite hilarious. We did our best to imitate a: black bear, screech owl (um, Miss T? The owl won’t be in that mammal book…) an opossum, raccoon, weasel, and probably a few more that I have now forgotten. Since none of the aforementioned animals made an appearance, I’ll assume that we weren’t really nailing our imitations very well.
I promised the kids yesterday that we could have longer today to explore in a small area just east of the old building on site, so we dropped off all of our “stuff” at our usual Meeting Log and went to check out the new space. There was too much poison ivy to do much exploring there, but we did try out some log-walking before deciding to head back to our usual area. I touched on the idea of landmarks again, but the area really has quite obvious boundaries which keep us from getting lost.
We got to see a live crayfish tumbling in the creek and I scooped it up in one of our dip nets so everyone could take a look at it. We noticed its shell, claws, bulging eyes, and long whisker-like antennae that I don’t know the name of! Later, C. sat beneath “her” tree and drew a picture of the crayfish.
Toward the end of our morning some of our group began building a fort, which we have noticed the older group of kids doing, but we are more than likely going about it in a more haphazard way. I am sure we will learn as we go! A few boys chose to work on their own fort, so we had two going at once, as well as a few explorers still choosing to journal or use the nature study cards we introduced yesterday.
I find myself hoping that when this “camp” is over for this group, these kids will continue to have opportunities to freely explore, play, and learn out in wild spaces of their own neighborhood, town, and state. Most of all, I hope that their schools will take notice of what experts know is best for kids of all ages and find ways to keep kids connected to nature for the sake of their education and for the well-being of every single human on this planet.
A few notes about behavior issues: when a child either makes a mistake or chooses poorly, I try my best to offer them a “do-over.” Today one of the other kids asked me, “What’s a do-over?” I explained that, in this case, one of our campers knocked another off the log and I was having the two get back on the log (after a private conversation) to try again, this time without knocking anyone off the log. When there is a question as to whether an event like this was done deliberately or accidentally, I try to drop the prove-the-blame-game and just address both possibilities. If it was an accident, here is what you should do and say: “I’m sorry; are you okay? Are you hurt? I didn’t mean to do that. What can I do to help you?” And if it was purposeful, I try to figure out what the perpetrator’s goal was and ask that person how they would feel if someone did that to them, or point out that other kids may not want to play with them if this is how they behave. If warnings seem necessary, I let that person know what they will be choosing if it happens again. Consequences might be sitting out of the fun for a time period, or having to stay next to an adult for the remainder of the morning. I don’t force apologies, though I suggest asking forgiveness and telling the other person they won’t do that thing again. Each situation, just like each individual child, is different, and one size doesn’t fit all. Every mistake and every poor choice is a chance to learn something.