Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021


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!


Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Woods & Wetlands for Valley View Begins

Days 1-3 out of 9! (There are only a few photos until I am able to identify which students have photo permissions.)

Valley View Elementary is participating in a program called, One School, One Book. The book, in this case, is, Nuts to You! by Lynne Rae Perkins. They have booked one-hour Woods and Wetlands programs with me for every classroom in their school! Though I used to take my entire class outside for similar activities, a significant difference is that I had an established trust relationship with my own students. And like any new experience, there is a lot to learn! I am very fortunate to have VV’s PTO president joining us for each session, where he has been a tremendous help! Any adults who accompany us are asked to read over some tips as well as some of my W&W principles.

Each class is getting a unique experience. We are learning together. Most of my plans and intentions have changed or fallen by the wayside as I adapt to having just one hour with an entire class. My biggest take away so far is that every class ideally needs a full hour of free exploration followed by an hour of planned learning activities. Though I have a fun set of scavenger hunt cards made with photos of specific items of interest in our chosen exploration space, there is more benefit in letting nature guide us for at least one hour before trying to engage students with more guidance or structure. If students had these kinds of experiences on a regular basis, such as a special like art, music, or P.E., the one-hour format would be perfect.

Three days in…


Day 1 was a bit choppy, which is to be expected. Beginning on day 2, I had the classes gather in a circle at Camp Valley View for about 15 minutes of prep for our exploration time. I have been asking students to deliberately rub their hands in the dirt for a few good reasons. 

  • We have been finding small salamanders. It is much safer for the amphibian if we only handle it briefly with dirty or muddy hands. Amphibians breathe and drink through their skins, which makes them VERY sensitive and they are considered an Indicator Species. If amphibians are doing okay, the habitat is likely not too polluted, particularly the water. When we have products like hand sanitizer on our hands and we hold a salamander, frog, or toad, they can get very sick or die from it.
  • Our culture has become obsessed with cleanliness. There are definitely times and places for that. Playing and learning in nature is not one of them. Young children, especially, should not be afraid to get dirty when they play. Dirt carries microbes that can benefit our health and even increase serotonin production.


  • I have been exchanging a “Nuts to you,” greeting with the kids. It makes us laugh, and laughter bonds people. 
  • Each student receives an acorn and an evergreen cone. (We are mostly referring to them as the commonly named, “pinecone,” though technically they are spruce and hemlock.) Using the acorn, we learn a little bit about how important oak trees are. They support the most wildlife of any tree genus in North America! I’m having the kids act out growing from an acorn into a big oak which can only make acorns after 20 years! I connect this topic to Nuts to You. Kids are encouraged to take the acorn and cone to plant someplace where leaves have been allowed to do as nature intends, which is to stay on the ground, getting broken down by decomposers and turned into healthy, new, soil where new trees can grow.
  • When I want the kids to stop and listen, I call out, “BE A TREE!” We all jump our feet out and our arms up and out. (Like an X) This not only grabs their attention, the holding of our arms up and out sends a body-signal to our brains that we are safe.


  • Just as the squirrels in the book, we follow the “buzz path” and talk about how the squirrels in the story got lost when they got distracted by playing a game and having fun. I connect this to identifying landmarks any time you are in a new space, whether forest or city.
  • To capture a sense of the beautiful magic of nature, I refer playfully to “magic portals” underneath vines and between trees. While some children like to focus more on facts, others learn to love nature through imagining fantasies such as fairies, elves, and magic portals. Then there are those, like myself, who love both!
  • I talk to the kids about playing with sticks. Rather than ban them, which is understandably necessary on playgrounds and with large groups, I take time to demonstrate (and usually I prefer to have a student demo it,) how to move away from other people when playing with sticks. Giving kids the go-ahead to play with them in safe ways has worked really well.
  • For safety in climbing, I teach how to tell a living branch or tree from a dead one because the dead ones can’t be trusted with our weight. A student was warned yesterday that one of the the branches in the tree he was climbing was dead. While he did not put his weight on it in a way that would harm himself, he did accidentally cause it to fall off of the tree and it hit one of our most important adult helpers quite hard in the arm. (The student experienced the natural consequence of feeling pretty badly about the accident, which is all we felt was necessary, as it certainly wasn’t deliberate.) We are very glad it didn’t hit a kid, of course, but this important lesson can be shared with other classes. Accidents can and do happen. We do everything we can to minimize these risks, but playing outside in nature is, of course, something that carries risk. However, the more important thing to remember is that the more frequently children have opportunities to practice and learn about how to be careful, the less risk there will be! 
  • There are a lot of wild grapevines growing out there. After showing the kids the difference between poison ivy vine and wild grapevine, I demonstrate how to go about testing the strength of a grapevine for the purpose of swinging or climbing on it. From kindergarten on up, this skill can be easily taught and learned!


  • Some plants we have been tasting: leek (or ramp) leaves, wild chives, violets, adders tongue (trout lily). With each class I remind them that they should NEVER eat anything out of nature without checking first with an adult who knows for certain that it is safe. And like many “rules,” it should be reinforced by other important adults who the child knows and trusts. It’s one of those, “it takes a village,” things!
  • No one was pushed to taste anything they didn’t want to. I encouraged everyone to at least sniff one leaf. Typically children don’t care for onions, but I was surprised to find that more than a few quite enjoyed them! 
Sniffing and tasting wild leek leaves


  • Small salamanders (get hands nice and dirty or muddy before handling!)
  • A box turtle!!! (Turtle tip: never move a box turtle out of its habitat. Moving it just across a road to the other side is one thing, but taking it entirely away from that area can be a death sentence for it. These (and some other) turtles know where their food supply and hibernation locations are and they live in the same small territory their entire lives. If you remove the turtle, it will spend its remaining life trying to find its home and often it will not eat, which then causes its death. Also, box turtles are not aquatic! Please don’t put them in the water!
  • May Apples (umbrella plants): I ask everyone to enjoy looking at and gently touching these plants, but to mind where we step so we don’t crush them. Most of the kids have been really good about this!
  • Moss (microscopic animals called “tardigrades” or “moss piglets” or “water bears” live in all moss and lichens! They look like gummy bears with 8 legs. They are fascinating creatures!)
  • When someone spots a bee, we stop to learn that, first of all, we are in nature which is the bees’ home, and if one of these important little pollinators do happen to land on us, perhaps thinking we are a flower, it will soon discover that we are not flowers, say, “YUCK! You are not a flower!” and fly away.


  • Nature shows us that when something dies, it eventually becomes part of new life.
  • Some fallen trees keep enough of their roots in the ground that they begin to grow new trunks out of the old one. I like to think of this as when we fall down, we can choose to grow rather than give up.
  • Trees, like people, have ways to heal themselves to some degree.