Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

It’s Okay to Cry, But It’s Not the End!

Our last day began with sharing some of our favorite things about Woods and Wetlands. Using their journals to document and share was optional, but everyone got to take home their journals and colored pencils at the end of the day. Maybe they’ll use them for their own nature adventures! It was fun hearing all the different memories the kids had and to hear the others pipe up and say, “Oh yeah! I remember that. I loved that too!”

Since some of the kids wanted to go back to the two “new” spaces we explored on Wednesday, and others wanted to return to our “normal” spot, while a few were eager to walk upstream to the giant boulder and the tunnel they hadn’t seen yet, we compromised. Everyone agreed that we would spend 15 minutes in each area and then vote on where we wanted to spend the remainder of our time. I set the visual timer (they LOVE this thing and are so much more willing to move on, pack up, or give up a nature exploration tool to another explorer when they feel they have control over the timing,) and off we went.

In the woods up high above the Rogue River some of the kids returned to throwing various things into the water just to see if they could, and to watch the rings and ripples created as the sticks, rocks, and acorns hit and either sunk or floated. Others challenged themselves to climbing the slanted, fallen tree. New “nature Swiss army knives” were crafted from sticks and imagination.

After 15 minutes, we moved on down to the main channel of the river so that we could catch and observe more crayfish. I think this activity could have entertained most of the kids for the entire morning if we’d had more dip-nets available!

Traveling in order, next we moved to our “normal” spot with The Meeting Log, Logjam Bridge, and forts. It was a good place to stop for a snack mid-morning. A few explorers were still set on “fishing,” so I went to the creek with them. These photos capture some really peaceful, calm moments where no one was talking or yelling or moving around. Just feeling at-ease and quite content. These are the moments when kids have had enough active exploration in a location and they can now just sit down and breathe, mindful of how good it feels to be in a natural space they have bonded with.

The end of the route we took was where “our” creek flows through two, metal, tunnels beneath a dead-end, gravel road. Some of the kids chose to join me in wading upstream to it in the water, while others chose to walk along on the bank with Mrs. Webb. My intention was to merely show them the mossy boulder and yell into the echoing tunnels, but enough kids begged to wade through the tunnel that I gave in and agreed to this adventure. After all, one of my favorite repeated activities in my own childhood was walking through a similar tunnel with my older sister, yelling and echoing while brushing spiderwebs away from our faces. I warned our intrepid explorers that there would be cobwebs and spiderwebs so we brought short sticks to wave before our faces. A few kids were triumphant as we emerged into the sunlit creek on the upstream side of the road, while others seemed to feel a little less secure and were more than ready to go back. Together we sloshed back through the dark tunnel, each of us with one hand above our heads to follow the metal ribs of the tunnel so we didn’t bump our heads on the low ceiling.

Meanwhile, those explorers who chose to hang back with Mrs. Webb got busy mud painting some trees and roots, apparently to protect and bandage them. When the tunnel group met back up with them, some stayed there and others returned to The Meeting Log with me.

Those who remained with me went back to their teeter-totter experiments. This time, when they announced that they were perfectly balanced, I offered some questions to get them hypothesizing and testing.
What happens if the kids on one side scoot further forward? Backward?
What if both sides move forward at the same time? Backward?
What happens if one person stays toward the back and the others move forward? Now alternate?
What about when one side moves forward and the other moves backward?
They tried every scenario and invented some of their own. Levers, fulcrums, balance, weight, distribution… it’s SCIENCE, people!

It wasn’t easy to say good-bye to this group. They were a stellar class of kids! There were a few tears- one of our sweet boys was full-on sobbing when his mom picked him up- and we were surrounded by hugs. I assured them all that Woods and Wetlands is always available if their parents can gather a group of at least five explorers and we can choose any natural space available for future adventures!

T.

Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Much to Do. It’s STEM, It’s Literacy, It’s Nature Therapy.

I must admit, I can no longer keep up with daily writing about all of the wonder and joy we are experiencing during this summer’s Woods and Wetlands camp! I will just have to let photos and captions give you a fraction of what goes on out there. We discover new things every day. Kids create, invent, problem-solve, think, communicate, gain confidence, and ever so much more!

Empathy and Literacy: Learning that trees and humans have far more in common than we might have ever realized. Noticing and caring for tiny creatures reminds us we are not alone on this earth. Seeing, feeling, smelling, listening to, and tasting nature creates lasting thoughts and feelings. We held a toad, crayfish, spiders, grubs, slugs, minnows, mushrooms, and fairy shrimp. Everyone was gentle and kind. They were able to imagine what it might be like to be one of these small lives so different from ours. We read the book, A Snake In the House, and the kids were on the edge of their seats, so to speak, wondering how the little snake would get back home to the pond where it belonged. At the end there was a collective sigh of relief as the boy in the story “shared its joy at being home.” In addition to listening to both fiction and nonfiction read alouds, the kids are exploring the field guides and gaining interest in looking up our various “finds” using iNaturalist. They are writing and/or drawing in their nature journals almost daily, though not everyone was developmentally ready for that and we didn’t push it because we don’t want to create negative associations with writing or journaling.

Math: Estimating how long a stick or string needed for “fishing.” Gauging the distance one can leap or jump from a log into the water or the ground. Today one explorer created a monetary system using beech nuts (1 is worth $5 because, due to the beech scale disease, there aren’t going to be so many of these in the future,) and acorn caps (worth only $1 because they were all over the place.) Two other explorers stood on the steep, high bank over the river and had a “rocks vs sticks vs acorns” contest to see which created the biggest and most circles rippling outward in the water. They energetically proceeded to throw the aforementioned items as hard as they could into the river. (Hello, physical strength and spatial senses!) They noticed the rings started small and grew larger as they expanded.

Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Happy Campers

This week began our fourth and final session of Woods and Wetlands at Camp Rockford. (There will always be more Woods and Wetlands available throughout the entire year to anyone who wants it!) Two days in and both Mrs. Webb and I feel that this is an easy, happy, bright little group of explorers. They collaborate and follow directions. They listen attentively and are eager to explore and learn together. In short, we know we are going to have such a fun final session! We talked to each other about how much we enjoy seeing this space through the eyes of new campers every two weeks. It never gets boring for us because we see the joy, wonder, and curiosity of the kids and we can’t help but be excited again, right along with them!

We learned Brain Gym and used the Rhythm Greeting during Morning Meeting on day 1, followed by some quick safety tips and hands-off lessons about poison ivy. After dropping off our supplies at the Meeting Log, everyone wanted to check out the creek. The whole group used the Log-jam bridge to make their way down to the water. At first most of the kids were wary about getting wet or letting the water go over the tops of their boots, but by the end of the morning they were happily wading around getting wet and muddy. It was a successful exploration day! One boy declared that he would be in that creek every single day of camp!

One of my favorite things about teaching and learning through play and exploration outdoors is that nature always shows us something new, even in a space that Mrs. Webb and I have explored for six weeks straight! For the first time all summer we found fairy shrimp, which are tiny shrimp-like creatures, found in the mud and sand of the creek, that are very important as food for many other animals in the food chain. The kids with nets were scooping up nets full of what looked like just leaf litter, mud, and sand and dumping them out just on the edge of the creek. I showed them how to pick and paw their way through it looking for small creatures. In just a few scoops we discovered multiple fairy shrimp! (We put it all back in the creek pretty quickly.)

Later we gave the kids their nature journals to decorate as they please with their colored pencils. I asked them to draw or write about something they saw or did on the first day. There were a few drawings of fairy shrimp in there!

On day 2 we learned about some common patterns found in nature. First everyone was given a card with 8 patterns on it and we asked them to try to draw at least one of these in their nature journals. They did a great job and some even added to the patterns to turn them into something else, such as a snake or a tree. We greeted each other while passing around part of an old paper-wasp nest and marveled at the patterns these insects were able to make by chewing wood and mixing it with their saliva. As the nest was passed to each child, they made eye contact and said good morning. We read the book, Nothing to Do, and looked for the patterns on each page. Our purpose today was to keep an eye out for patterns like these in real-life nature.

We discovered a spiral patterned shell, wavy lines on and under the water, meandering patterns beetles left on a log, and a triangular rock.

Throughout the morning our group flowed and regrouped in multiple ways and places. Some explorers chose to play and build a fort in the woods with Mrs. Webb. We had a snack break and a few who finished their snacks early went to check out where one of the trails led. We had more creek explorations and briefly captured some tadpoles to look at. The kids who were catching and releasing these little creatures were careful to make sure they got water poured over them repeatedly so that they could live through the observations.

I loved watching a few of the kids find new and creative ways to move across the Log-jam bridge as they continue to master living in their own bodies, developing their proprioceptive systems. Balance, coordination, strength, flexibility, spatial sense, and self confidence are just some of the many benefits of unstructured play in nature. One boy worked out routines and methods that suited him and then taught those around him how to do the same. For a few minutes a small group of explorers took turns sitting and sliding down the side of the log to try to land on their feet in the creek. This was followed by jumping into the creek from a standing position on the log. Not everyone tried it that way, but those who were ready to dare themselves were taking just enough risk to feel both safe and thrilled at the same time. This was my opportunity to explain to them why we don’t try to dare or challenge other kids to do what we are doing. In Woods and Wetlands everyone does what feels safe and comfortable for them as individuals.

We are incredibly fortunate to have this beautiful piece of property where kids can freely and safely play and learn. As water becomes more and more scarce and precious in the west, we are even more grateful than ever for all of Michigan’s lovely wetlands and waterways. I hope these kiddos grow up to be adults who love and protect our natural resources so that everyone from microscopic moss piglets (tardigrades or water bears) to fairy shrimp, to frogs, beetles, and bats and more, to HUMANS, will always have safe, clean, healthy water.

Water. Is. life.

T.

Camp Rockford 2021, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Nature Patterns

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.

T.

Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Let’s Go Exploring!

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.

T.

Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Nettle Day (Last 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.

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I highly recommend this book!

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!

Social Skills

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!

T.

Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

They Will Remember This.

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!

T.

Camp Rockford 2021, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Go With the Flow

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.

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.

T.

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.

Camp Rockford 2021, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Nature Study

“I notice the clouds are moving very fast!” announced one of our explorers during journaling time this morning. I noticed is one of my favorite phrases, and I encourage kids to use it often! We began with journaling, then Brain Gym, followed by sharing Good Things. The energy of the group felt more chaotic and off-balance today than last week for some reason. Transitioning from the weekend can be harder for some of us than others. I always try to keep in mind that we all live in multiple contexts and if we don’t know what is going on in some of those other contexts, we should still extend compassion and patience to each other. This is often easier said than done. Nevertheless, I held our group together long enough to teach them an old favorite Morning Meeting activity called, “Zoom!” It took longer than intended but we definitely did some laughing!

As we headed to the woods I asked the kids to predict what might have changed out there since Friday. The cooler temps, chilly wind, and cloudy sky kept us out of the water this morning, but we did check to see if the river water looked higher than last week due to the rain, which was one of the kids’ predictions. Others predicted more mud and different animals. We noticed right away that it was darker but also warmer in the woods than out in the open where we had been for Morning Meeting. I brought foam sit-pads for dry seating (not that we did too much sitting!) since no one was wearing rain pants, (including myself.)

Over the weekend I created nature discovery cards for our exploration space. These act as a kind of scavenger hunt to help kids with noticing and becoming familiar with some of the interesting features of the woods and river. I asked the kids to just do their best to find what they saw in the photograph on each double-sided card, and if they were able to read the text, they had additional suggestions and questions to consider. As our explorers used the cards to make discoveries, they were also led to their own discoveries! While looking for a tree that had mossy “feet” at its base, C. found some animal scat and came running excitedly to us to let us know. Each card also includes symbols for each of our first, five senses. I included these as encouragement to use senses other than our eyes to explore our world. At this point there is very little out there to taste, but I encourage sniffing just about everything!

During our snack break I read one of my favorite books to the kids who were interested in listening to it, called, A Snake in the House. I chose this book as a way to develop empathy for wildlife and to discourage kids from trying to keep wildlife at home as pets. In this story, a boy catches a little garter snake down by a pond and he brings it home in a glass jar to show his mother. In the house, the snake escapes the jar when the lid wasn’t on properly and it spent several desperate days looking for food and water while avoiding a cat and a vacuum cleaner. When it finally is accidentally returned to its own habitat near the pond, the boy discovers that the snake is not slimy, but is very much alive, strong, and has a strong urge to be free. He lets it go and “shares its joy at being home.”

We decided to go have a closer look at the main channel of “our” river, and inspected some holes along the bank, a poison ivy vine growing up a tree near the edge of the river, and we went for a short walk up the hill toward the old building and slightly beyond. Along the way we discovered beech-nuts forming on a low branch of a beech tree. The kids felt the now-soft bristles and broke one open to see the green nut forming on the inside. In the fall this will be bigger and the bristles will have hardened into sharper points. Just as we moved on and found a space the kids wanted to play, our time was up and we had to go back to our Meeting Log and get our backpacks and other things. I assured them we can check out that new space tomorrow.

One of the nature discovery cards I made included a photograph of an old beech tree into which someone carved letters and symbols on its silver-gray bark. I had the whole group come and look at it, explaining that when bark is cut like that, the tree is hurt and it is a way that disease and beetles can get inside and eventually kill the tree. Beetles that find their way in will leave interesting looking tracks and markings that resemble some kind of hieroglyphics where they have gouged their way under the bark. These beetles will send out messages to other beetles to come and join them and they lay their eggs under the bark. The cycle continues. If a healthy stand of trees is nearby and the injured tree is too full of beetles, sometimes new beetles will attack those healthy trees as well. Unfortunately, many of our beech trees in Michigan are being attacked and killed by a beech-scale disease, so in a few years, we may not have old beech trees around anymore.

Just as kids were about to be picked up, Mrs. Webb and some of the kids discovered a living nature treasure, a monarch butterfly! She was too cold to fly, so after we all got a close look at her, safely cupped in Mrs. Webb’s hand, she was relocated to a spot where she was safer and could fly away when she was ready to. This was the perfect opportunity to let the kids know that we should not touch a butterfly’s wings because we can accidentally cause it to be unable to fly.

One of the best parts about exploring nature with children is that they almost always find and discover the unexpected! Kids help to remind me to slow down and take as long as is needed to notice and be curious about our world.

T.