Woods and Wetlands 2017

Those Kids Are Climbing That Tree!

Last week with my Tuesday group was relaxing and fun.  I have realized recently that there is no reason daily life can’t be this way more often.  Stressful and busy do not have to define a day in order for it to be worthwhile.  Spending time with children who are delighting in the dispersal of cattail fluff, climbing high into a tilted tree, and tying bits of nature treasures to a stick is a perfect way to pass part of a day.

We remained in our usual area rather than hike over to the new wetland.  The kids voted last week for the new and this week for the old.  S. and H. and I spent most of our time making nature mobiles.  G. helped us collect acorn tops to add to our  mobiles.  We also used dried ferns, berry clusters, tiny sprays of twigs, and leaves for our creations.



While I was busy tying knots I heard B. repeating urgently, “Those kids are climbing that tree!” until I finally realized he was either worried about them or thought they shouldn’t be doing it. (or both)

I glanced at the kids in question and nodded, “Yes, they sure are!” and went back to what I was doing.

“OH!” he said then.  He seemed to be thinking that over.  I looked around at him and asked if he was worried about them.  He nodded, “It might fall down!”

So I brought him over to it and, with the support of other kids, I showed him how to tell the difference between a living and a dead tree or branch.  The next time I looked around, he had climbed halfway up the trunk and was blissfully reclined on a spreading branch.


Meanwhile several of the kids had discovered various methods of exploding cattails into their fluffy seed carriers.  I.B. was gleefully shaking one cattail, making it, “snow,” and watching the white puffs sail off in the wind.  T. showed me how he could press his finger into the cattail and it suddenly looked like a lump of fur had emerged.  Before long a bunch of the kids were having cattail fluff fights and yelling with joy and laughter.  I encouraged them to find a place where the thousands of tiny, clingy seeds would not blow into the hair and clothing of those of us who preferred to be fluff-free.  This makes for a natural lesson in wind direction and how to use the wind to affect one’s activities.

We briefly tried estimating the number of seeds in a cattail…



C. asked me how high they were allowed to climb in the Tilted Tree.  I explained that she could climb as high as she felt safe and comfortable climbing and pointed out where the branches began to thin as a place the tree might weaken.  Later, after she had climbed high and come back down she and I stood beneath the tree and looked up together as she wondered how high she had been.  We then used my 5 foot (-ish) height to estimate how many feet up she had been.  We do quite a bit of estimating out there in the wild.


Another blissful session of Woods and Wetlands came to a close as the sun began to set. We returned our orange safety vests to our storage unit and returned to the world of cars and screens.  I always leave hoping that the kids will carry their love and stories of outdoor adventures back home to share with someone else.



Woods and Wetlands 2017

If a Tree Falls in a Forest…

It was so good to see everyone dressed just perfectly for the chilly, fall afternoon yesterday.  Nevertheless, getting a boot full of swamp water on a 40 degree day is quite different from an 80 degree, June day.  I notice the kids nearly always have a hard time with this the first time it happens but they tend to toughen up and take it well if it happens again.  In fact, I heard one of the first grade boys echo my own words when he slipped and ended up with a wet foot, “Well… it happens.”  Yes, it does.  Very philosophical!

I was smiling because I had just had a short conversation with some girls as we were wondering if anyone had fallen in yet.  G. had smiled and said, dryly, “Someone always falls in!”  I pondered aloud what we would do if one of these days no one did.  I jokingly concluded that we would simply have to push someone in!  The girls laughed and we went on our way, balancing on mossy logs through the cold water.

C. was wondering what the tube under the path was for and I showed her how it allows water to flow under instead of over when the water rises.  We found 3 places where the water had gone over and through, eroding the soil and collapsing the path.  S. used a stick to pole vault herself over these narrow waterways.  It was a perfect situation for observing the power of water and how it can affect soil where tree roots do not hold it in place.

As I reflect on our conversations and observations I am always pleased to notice ways that the kids just naturally engage in mathematical and scientific thinking.  For another example, on our way to Grandfather Oak someone noticed a portion of a dead tree that was held up off the ground by another tree in which it was trapped toward the top.  I encouraged everyone to stop and try to use clues nearby to piece together what might have happened to cause what they were seeing.  I wish I could relay the entire complex of conversation that went on for the next 10 minutes or so.  They grasped onto my question and I began hearing them take turns telling each other and me what they noticed such as, “Look!  I think this chunk of tree trunk on the ground matches up right here with the part of the tree that’s still hanging up.”  and, “This end of that chunk is smooth!  Someone must have chopped it down somewhere!”  and, “Here’s a stump.  Maybe it came from this.”  (Guiding question from me: “But is the size of that stump right?  Is it the same size as the base of that tree?”)  “No!  It’s not.  It’s too small… Here’s one!  This one matches!” and, “I agree with C.” and, “I think that tree fell onto the other one first and then someone chopped it out of the way and then it fell apart over here…”  etc.  These are the kinds of conversations and investigations we have been trying to facilitate in our classrooms and here they are happening with almost no effort on my part after school in the woods.  This one could have been extended in so many ways.

If kids conduct a scientific or mathematical inquiry about a tree that fell in the woods and no administrators are there to hear it and no tests are there to evaluate it, did it still, “make a sound??”  Yes, and it was a beautiful sound.  The valuable, memorable,  happy sound of kids learning naturally.


“Eew!  Poop!”  Nope.  Not poop.  Fungus!  We don’t know what it’s called, but it didn’t feel as gross as it looked.
H. balanced her way across the log.
We wondered what might make a home in this cool tree.
There was some debate about whether these were mushrooms or not.  C. used his background knowledge of the mushrooms he has seen in the grocery store to declare that they did not look like mushrooms.  This illustrates the point that the more experiences kids have, the more they use those experiences to learn new things.  
The kids really lend bright colors to these dark, November days!