Today was the first day we had all 16 explorers present at once. First, we greeted each other with the Rhythm Greeting using my drum and they used their hands and feet. This is a fun way to learn each other’s first names. I also use my drum to call them all back to me when it’s time to gather up in the woods. Once they’re gathered, I often use my “Be a Tree!” move that I initially created for Valley View’s tree themed programs.
I love including activities that cause laughter, because the class that laughs together, bonds together. With that in mind, I taught them to play, “A What?!” which is a collaborative and silly activity straight out of my beloved Morning Meeting Book. Usually we use any random objects and we pretend they are something else, but I modified it to actually try to begin teaching kids the difference between maple and oak leaves. As one leaf traveled around the circle clockwise, the other moved counter clockwise, and the passer of the leaf said, “This is a (maple leaf)!” and the next person in the circle takes the leaf while saying, “A WHAT?!” with dramatized and exaggerated expression of body, voice, and facial expression. Then the person who passed the leaf says, “A (maple) leaf!” and the receiver of the leaf says, “OHHHH! A (MAPLE) leaf!” This is repeated with a great deal of loud and silly voices as the leaf travels from person to person around the circle. Meanwhile, the other leaf is going the opposite way and eventually, one kid is receiving BOTH leaves from either side, and the whole group is cracking up by then! This activity can be modified in many ways. Social skills are being practiced, as kids are making eye contact, using verbal, facial, and bodily expression, and they are working together but also using their individuality as they repeat the required lines, resulting in a bond of laughter and learning. One of the best things about Morning Meeting activities is that they are all collaborative; no one is ever “OUT.”
Next, I held up a book and showed it to them without saying a word. Gradually, the readers in the group began noticing and then laughing and reading the title aloud, “Whose Poop is That?” Even though we were still focusing on nature patterns today, there is nothing like a little talk about poop to get young children interested and laughing. As I read the book to them, I paused to share a few of my own personal experiences with different animal poop, as well as about owl pellets I’ve found in the wild, even though they are NOT poop. It definitely makes for engrossing discussion… (Sorry; couldn’t help myself.)
Exploration time was similar to yesterday, except that I could tell that most of the kids were getting much more comfortable with the space and more confident with themselves within that space. We found an animal den in the upper bank of the creek. A few of us saw a beautiful spider web shining in the sun. There were claims of having seen a water snake, but I wasn’t able to confirm that myself. We had one newbie and I was moved by how many of the kids wanted to be his helper and his teacher as he adjusted to his new experiences. At one point there was a row of boys sitting on a log in the middle of the stream, and one of the girls was trying to get past them. She politely asked if they could move, and they listened and moved out of her way, for which she thanked them. It seems like such a simple interaction, but at these ages kids are still working to build new social skills, and not everyone has learned them yet, so it’s a big deal when they do.
I noticed quite a few explorers found some snake grass to experiment with and they worked on pulling the segments apart and then putting them back together, as well as chewing on one end to get the couple drops of water out of them. One or two kids started using mud to paint on a log while others worked on leaf-rubbings in their journals. (I attempted to show them how to do this during Morning Meeting, but after checking out their journals, I can see that I need to give clearer visual instructions tomorrow.) We ended our day with some nature journaling. (Photos of their work can be viewed at the end of this entry.)
We didn’t find any animal scat today, even though we read the poop book. Maybe we will get lucky tomorrow. I plan to introduce Michigan field guides tomorrow and have a few kids at a time choose a Sit Spot where they can look through them, and maybe we will build some forts if anyone is interested in trying that out. Next week I will have created a set of nature study cards with visuals and text suitable for the range of ages we have in our group. I will use these as a sort of scavenger hunt and I’m looking forward to new learning about our local flora these cards may support.
It is entirely possible- even probable- that when asked what they learned each day, most kids in this age group might not be able to articulate or remember everything they may have learned. But even more importantly, they don’t even know that they are learning while they play, because that is the great thing about play; it’s a fun and completely natural and appropriate way for young children to learn. I’ve said it many times, though the words are not mine, “Play is the work of childhood.” But the adults can see it if they know what they’re looking for. These kids are learning properties of physics. They are building social and emotional skills. They experiment like the natural-born scientists that they are. They are building resilience and trust in self. They are pushing the boundaries of what they have known before and adding to that prior knowledge. They are building strong bones and muscles. They practice balance and perseverance. They are figuring out what their place in the natural world looks and feels like. They are learning to be gentle with other living creatures and respecting the power of a river current, though we stay in very shallow water and no one is allowed to be in it by themselves. My hope and intention is that they will also build their powers of observation and noticing, not just the natural world around them, but how they themselves feel while they are engaged with nature.
Tomorrow marks the end of our first week together, and I can’t wait to see what next week brings!