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!)
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?
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!