Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Learning As I Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp Rockford 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.


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.