Woods and Wetlands 2018

Nature Journals, Sit Spots, & Nest Building

Our last day of this particular group was a double session, morning as usual and then picnic lunch with families, followed by a chance for the kids to show off the woods to their parents and siblings.

On the way to the wetland I asked the kids to stop occasionally for some nature journaling.  While this isn’t something everyone will want to do, I wanted them to have the introduction to it as an option for future use.  We briefly focused on using only our sense of hearing and then writing and/or sketching what we noticed with it.  We also did some leaf rubbings, weather notations, and what we noticed when we looked UP occasionally.  G. made a rule for himself, which he shared with the rest of us, which was, “Stop walking to look!”  I will now rephrase that for the purposes of your comprehension… “In order to look at something properly, stop walking first.  Otherwise you will likely trip and fall.”  But in the context, everyone understood perfectly what he meant!

When we reached the Log Walking Area, I asked everyone to locate a Sit Spot of their very own, with enough space between everyone to allow for 10 minutes of silent observation with or without journaling.  They did a great job!  B. was able to watch a spider spinning her web.  L. captured a bug to observe in a container with a magnifier.  E. sat quietly looking up and all around seeming very content.  Everyone sat and everyone had something to share after we were done.

Z. and L. have some of the very coolest tools for nature observations.  During the picnic their mom helpfully shared that she has discovered no difference between more expensive versions and dollar store quality nature tools.  This is VERY good to know!



I love that Woods and Wetlands experiences provide opportunities for both individuality and collaboration.



Having mastered the hand grip for writing, I found myself now attempting to teach how to hold a pencil sideways for rubbing over the veins of a leaf.  It took some practice.

I appreciate how some kids keep at things, not giving up when it doesn’t look the way they want it to right away.  G. is one of those kids.  On this day he also attempted and succeeded in climbing a tree that he fell out of last week.  (Only from a low branch; no harm done!) This time he made it all the way up to the high point he was originally aiming for!  He was so proud of himself and his mom was there to witness it!  Here I must give some mom credit where it is clearly due.  Though her young child was risking injury as he worked and climbed with determination along that branch and then up high against the big tree trunk, she watched with every appearance of calm and relaxation.  If she felt any apprehension or fear for him, she didn’t let him see it.  My heart was full as I watched him climb and watched her demonstrate that she trusted him to do it, that she supported him in this process.  I know that parenting isn’t easy and letting go can be terrifying for parents.  Kids who feel trusted and who are allowed to try and take some risks, allowed to fail and learn, are well equipped to take on whatever life hands them.



I’m still learning about fungi, but I think it’s Violet Toothed Polypore!




Somehow or other this knobby tree has escaped my attention in past years.  On this day it was recognized as potentially climbable.  We discovered that only the tallest of us could get very far, but it was like a rock-climbing wall, so I.B. named it, “The Rock Wall Tree.”  Some of the smaller kids wanted to be lifted up, but one of my safety rules is no lifting of anyone else.  That includes me.  I do not lift kids up into or onto anything. When they have grown tall enough and/or strong enough to do it themselves, then I know they are safe enough to try.  I also know they can get down if they got up.  I have, on very rare occasions, helped lift someone down if they were truly in a situation where they were slipping and would have fallen too far.



Do you see the toad?  L. noticed it first.  (She notices everything!)  B. asked to be the one to catch it, so the rest of us stood back and let him.  He was so gentle and patient about it.  I appreciated his approach.  Often, kids tend to lunge quickly and grab somewhat aggressively.  B. took his time and quietly followed the toad’s escape hops . He didn’t get frustrated or pounce on it.  When he finally had the toad cupped softly in his hands, the toad seemed okay with it and didn’t try immediately to escape.  We had a chance to enjoy looking at its beautiful, gold and black eyes and camouflaged bumps.  I reiterated that it is a myth that toads give us warts!  Just not true!


A birdfoot violet?



A fresh looking deer track in the driveway that bisects the nature preserve.



The Vine Playground never gets old!



L. is very interested in this deer skull that has been near the Watching Log for several years now.  We looked at its loose teeth, the place where its brain used to be, and estimated where its nose was.



It is hard to believe this tall kiddo was once one of my first graders!


Brand new fungi on the Watching Log.  They were so white they glowed!


I offered the challenge of trying to make bird nests.  It was neat to see what kids came up with, using the materials the woods and wetland had to offer.  They also used whatever background knowledge they already had of nests.  We shared ideas, of course, and soon everyone was using similar things but our nests and methods were unique, just as different species of birds’ nests are also unique to that species!

The nest below was wedged nicely in between tree trunks that grew close together.  E. used moss, ferns, and bark for hers.


Below is my nest, pre-muck layer.  I have the advantage of having learned how to braid.  I have noticed that on several occasions the boys have wished they knew how to braid so they, too, could make ropes out of grapevine bark or nests out of grass.  They are realizing that braiding is not just for girls’ hair!  I may add braiding to the skills I offer in Woods and Wetlands.



B. carefully forms his nest walls with muck from the swamp.  I love that he got his hands dirty and took his time, enjoying the process of creating.  This was definitely one of those, “process over product,” experiences that I love best because the kids don’t have to fulfill any particular task other than just working with their hands and having fun.  It doesn’t matter how it looks in the end and it won’t even go home with them.  I hope the memories last because they made it themselves with no right or wrong and they looked at it through their own eyes rather than a camera/phone lens.  (Meanwhile, I use the camera phone lens in order to share it with you…)



I. put rocks in as pretend penguin eggs.  Hoping to trick a penguin who might happen by…


This was a wonderful group of naturalists!  They cooperated, looked out for each other, demonstrated empathy, supported each other’s creativity, and took risks to learn new things.  I hope they all continue to spend time outdoors every day all year round!


Woods and Wetlands 2017

Climbing, Falling, and Tracking


On Tuesday we had another small group, this time of nine explorers.  Seven of them were experienced either through Woods and Wetlands or past years’ Firsts in the Forest.  We began by visiting the Secret Fort Tree via the tunnel we have created which requires most of us to crawl at some point.  Mind you, there is a much easier way to arrive at the Secret Fort Tree but it takes the, “Secret,” out of the title, so the tunnel is much more challenging and fun.  The kids took turns climbing up and O. found a new way to get up into the tree since her usual way was being used by other kids.  I love seeing the problem-solving creativity that kids will use when they are allowed to take the time to think about it.  Different kids approach problems in different ways based on their individual personalities and experiences.  For example, some explorers didn’t immediately find a way up and asked for help right away.  Others, like O, don’t give up and ask for help at first; they try different options and accept failure as a learning experience that ultimately ends in success after effort.  My goal and hope is to teach that approach to kids who haven’t yet learned it.

A. was new to Woods and Wetlands and I was delighted to see that she already possessed a valuable skill; she knows how to fall!  It is wonderful to see kids climbing and balancing, but of course, they do fall from time to time.  We all do.  But what I didn’t learn as a child myself was how to fall!  I remember being so afraid to fall, both literally and figuratively, that I didn’t always try new experiences.  But A. went fearlessly up and forward and she did fall a few times.  She landed, looked surprised, laughed, and got up to try again.  She didn’t fight the fall, but she did learn from it.  I admire that quality and wonder if it, also, is teachable?

Later we went to the swamp which is most definitely not frozen solid.  Beneath the snow and ice there are still treacherous muck holes and most of us discovered that very quickly!  I pulled my own boot out with a tremendous sucking sound as the muck reluctantly released me.  One explorer wondered how deeply the hibernating frogs were buried and whether we might accidentally step on them.


J. and B. teamed up as usual and then came hurrying with great excitement to find me, wanting to show me something they discovered.  They had such an air of mystery, wonder, and delight in their faces!  They found tracks in the snow that were unlike the deer or rabbit tracks we have previously discovered and they wanted to know what sort of animal made them.  We followed a line of the tracks to a tree where they appeared to end at first.  We looked up into the tree but it was a small one and its branches were empty.  Then the boys called out urgently that they found where the tracks picked up again just a short distance from the tree.  Using questioning and discussion worthy of well-trained classroom collaborators, they concluded that whatever it was must have climbed up the tree and then jumped some distance from it to the new trail of paw prints.  We followed these for a while too and then, after guessing at what could make those tracks, climb a tree, and jump from it we remembered that we have a ring of laminated cards with pictures of animal tracks and animal scat back in our storage container.  B. flipped slowly through the cards as J. and I looked on.  We discussed each possibility and compared them to the photos I had taken of the paw prints.  We noted the triangular, pointy shape of the heel and the number of toes.  The boys had noticed right away that they showed actual claw marks too.  We took into account the size of each track printed on our identification cards.  Finally, we concluded that it must have been a squirrel.  Satisfied with their work, they went to roll snowballs.

Meanwhile, K., who was our only 5th grader this time, had climbed up the Tilted Tree all the way to the tree that both holds and intersects the Tilted Tree.  She perched comfortably way up in its branches and grinned down at the rest of us.  I recalled the powerful, cozy, magical feeling I used to have, (and still do!) when I climbed a tree and found a spot to just sit and be by myself.  It was never a lonely feeling, even when I was alone.  K. looked like she had that feeling.

Some of the smaller kids marveled at how she got up there.  The Tilted Tree is still steady, alive, and strong enough despite part of its roots having been pulled out of the ground, but parts of it have died so it is missing bark on a crucial section toward the bottom where any smaller climbers might need to grip.  I remembered that I had some narrow rope in our storage box and began wrapping and tying it to the tree so that climbers could grab it for support as they began their ascent.  It wasn’t ideal as it is slippery and narrow, but it is strong enough for the purpose and is better than nothing.  Several kids looked on and advised me on where they thought the rope should go.  Upon reflection, I should have let them try doing it first.  But it helped A. get up into the tree, though she slipped off and had another skillful falling experience.  Once again, she shook it off and tried a second time.


S. works to untangle the rope for me.









We ended earlier than usual since darkness falls sooner now.  The kids couldn’t believe our time was already up.  O. walked back beside me and recounted her memory of last week when we were wading through deep snow to get back.  We smiled our way to the front of the building and said good-bye until next time.