Professional Development, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Play IS School Readiness!

Meet Bev Bos

If it hasn’t been in the hand and the body… it can’t be in the brain.” ~Bev Bos (1934-2016)

For many years one of my best friends and college classmates has raved about Bev Bos, an incredible early childhood expert whom my friend had the privilege to know personally. Despite earning two degrees in early childhood development, I recently realized I did not actually know much about Bev’s work and contributions. Mid-way through the master’s class I am currently taking on play and learning, I now find myself diving head-first into Bev’s beliefs and practices, all of which fully support and validate what Woods and Wetlands is all about, and which also offer enrichment to the preschool age program I teach at our local zoo.

Bev Bos was a passionate teacher, author, singer, and mentor to countless early childhood educators. All that Bev declared about how young children learn has been proven to be best practice all these decades later. She spent more than 40 years as an advocate for children learning through play, and she published multiple, wonderful books in which she offers her philosophy, examples, methods, and supporting evidence.

Bev began as a parent volunteer in 1965 and later served as director of Roseville Community Preschool in Roseville California. She attended and spoke at over 6,000 conferences and workshops both nationally and internationally. Her published books include the following: Don’t Move the Muffin Tins: A Hands-Off Guide to Art for the Young Child, Tumbling Over the Edge: A Rant for Children’s Play, Before the Basics, and Chants, Fingerplays & Stories. She was adored by all who met, read, or listened to her as she spoke clear truths about the critical role of PLAY in children’s learning.

It is incredible that this 1991 video, of Bev Bos, made the year I graduated from high school, contains her unapologetic philosophy which has been 100% confirmed by recent research into early childhood learning. Put aside the (now) hilarious hair, clothing, and accessory styles and you will find yourself nodding and thinking, “Yes! Yes; kids need to be allowed to be kids! THIS is RIGHT! We NEED this! Schools must change!” Bev Bos had a favorite quote: Our challenge is not to prepare children for school, but to prepare schools for children. ~Docia Zavitskovsky

“All Learning Involves Risk.”

In Bev’s preschool, (and my dream preschool!) children had access to real tools- hammers and nails- and they learned to use them safely. Rather than providing experiences that were, “as safe as possible,” she provided opportunities for age-appropriate risk-taking that were, “as safe as necessary.” Bev was committed to children having access to mess and repetition because children learn through their bodies and whatever interests them will naturally be repeated until the child has truly learned it. We will know when it is time to move on because the child will decide when they are ready!

Bev firmly and unflinchingly spoke out about her belief that young children should not be treated, nor thought of, as little adults. She promoted age-appropriate learning and her preschool featured the most joyous, child-centered FUN learning activities I have ever seen. I am humbled by her deep understanding of what children need. Preschoolers in her program were free to BE CHILDREN. Children were painting on the walls, floor, and even furniture. Messy play was allowed and encouraged. Outdoor learning and nature-play happened every day. There was some structure in that the preschool day offered free choice time, snack time, read aloud,

“We made a mistake calling it preschool.”

As for “early readers,” just because children CAN learn something doesn’t mean we should be teaching it. Bev knew they needed to move, be loud, interrupt read-alouds with questions and stories and connections, and that “learning doesn’t happen when they are sitting on their bottoms!” Letters and numbers were available in her preschool, but only used if the children initiated the learning. Rather than pushing early readers, Bev insisted on reading TO them frequently, and she bravely STOPPED reading and cast aside a book if the children weren’t all that into it. She said, “Today, this is not the book they need.” Bev Bos understood that we should be waiting to teach reading to children only when they are ready for it. When their brains, their eyes, and their experiences in life converged to create a child who WANTS to read. The country with the highest literacy rate (by far outranking the U.S.) doesn’t even begin teaching reading until children are around 7 or 8 years of age! Bev knew that adults reading TO children was the literacy and “school readiness” they needed most if they were to become readers who go on to become adults who read more than just a newspaper or magazine. Adults who read for joy, for knowledge, for life!

Bev’s Impact

I love knowing there are thousands of teachers who have had the benefit of hearing one of Bev’s keynote speeches, attending one of her workshops, reading her books, watching her interviews, singing her songs, observing her ideal preschool, or having any contact at all with one of the most tremendously influential and important women ever to grace the world of early childhood education. I wish I had seen her in person when I had the chance.

As I typed Bev’s name into Google I was astonished by how many early childhood educators, even now, follow her practices and continue to be inspired and guided by Bev’s example and leadership. In fact, there are so many current blogs and articles featuring her methods and philosophy as well as accounting of her work and contributions, I find myself hard-pressed to write this post with originality! Countless teachers before me have already shared their adoration of and commitment to her early childhood learning philosophy. No wonder my friend spoke her name with hero-worship on her face and in her voice!

I could use this opportunity to kick myself for all of the times I didn’t do everything right as a teacher, but, instead, I am going to use Bev’s inspiration to validate all I have been doing right, and to inform and change how I go forward from this moment. I can’t do it all at once, and I can’t do it all just right. I am human. I don’t always have all of the control over every situation. There are the unfortunate realities of time limits, but I’m working on pushing those boundaries a little farther wherever I can.

There are so many Bev Bos quotes I would love to memorize, but this one really stands out as I think about my Woods and Wetlands programs: “If you go home from school without dirt under your nails, I haven’t done my job.” For two years now I have encouraged my explorers to intentionally get their hands as dirty or muddy as possible, ostensibly for handling small creatures such as frogs, toads, or salamanders. But I also did it because I want them to know it is okay to get dirty. Not only is it okay, it is actually healthy for them! Exposure to soil microbes is proving to positively impact our physical and mental health! Watching one of Bev’s videos just reinforced and validated what I have been promoting. Children should be focused on playful learning without worrying about dirty hands or wet clothing! Last week a fourth grade boy happily splashed into the little creek at Townsend Park where we were having a Woods and Wetlands adventure, and a few minutes later he stood before me with worried eyes and said, “My mom is gonna kill me. She told me not to get these boots wet.” This made me so very sad. Boots shouldn’t matter more than fun learning. (Not to mention I made certain the parents were told their children should wear clothes that can get muddy and wet!)

Just yesterday I read aloud from two different books to my ZOOLittles and when a few of my Littles inevitably interrupted when I hadn’t invited them to say something, I found myself shutting that down so I could finish the book. I see this was unnecessary and even damaging! Today Bev Bos has put an end to that for me. She trusted and respected children enough to know that they process out-loud, and if they are asking questions, sharing connections and stories, then they are engaged with the book and I must honor that by allowing those interruptions and using them as opportunities to engage in conversation. She said, “Life is a conversation.” Sometimes I doggedly keep reading aloud, even when it is clear the kids aren’t into it or they are ready to be done. Why do I do that? Bev validates the times I have wisely abandoned a book when I see the kids aren’t engaged. She said, “Today, this is not the book they need.” After all, I don’t force myself to keep reading a book I don’t like or I’m not into!

Going forward, I am committed to the following:

  • I will be more flexible.
  • I will refuse to worry about what other adults may think of my teaching choices, but will happily share my reasons when I can.
  • I will post Bev Bos quotes near my desk and around my ZooLittles classroom so as to remind myself and possibly educate other adults in the area.
  • I will abandon books when kids aren’t engaged. (Get my ego and need for control out of the picture!)
  • I will refer to the kind of learning I promote as, “age-appropriate learning.”
  • I will remember that life should be fun for children!
  • I will be firm and unapologetic with other adults when I am called to explain why free exploration and play is such a huge part of what I offer to my students.
  • I will try to remember that I am not doing what I do, neither at the zoo nor in Woods and Wetlands, for the benefit of adults. Yet the children I work with will one day become adults, and I know they will need all of the creative thinking, problem solving, confidence-building, real-life experiences they can get while they are still young, in order to become our future inventors, leaders, and thinkers.


A Few Bev Bos-related Sources

NAEYC Remembering Bev Bos

Progressive Early Learning


Pondering Preschool

Let the Playing Commence!

Woods and Wetlands 2022

Spring in Michigan: Classroom Programs with RPS

“I want to do EXACTLY what you do when I grow up! I want to teach OUTSIDE!”
-Lakes Elementary Kindergartener

“This is just SO much fun! I wish we could do this all the time!”
-Cannonsburg Elementary 3rd grader

“I know so much more about nature than I ever did before!”
-Roguewood 4th grader

“It’s EARTH DAY today! (Please can it be every day?)”

In the spring of 2021 I was thrilled to begin offering whole-class Woods and Wetlands programs for schools. It made sense to begin with the district where I taught (indoors, mostly) for 17 years. With each hour-and-a-half program I learn more and the format continues to evolve. It began with Valley View Elementary inviting me to wrap up their One School, One Book program by taking every single one of their (many) classrooms out to the woods behind the school where we explored, learned, played, and made connections to the book, Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins. Back in September and October I met Roguewood’s 4th graders at Camp Rockford and made connections to their science units while adventuring in the woods along the Rogue River and Stegman Creek. My “home base” of Lakes Elementary brought Woods and Wetlands programs to their 2nd graders as we learned about local plants and their seeds.

In March of this year I got to return to Lakes and work with the same 2nd graders I met in the fall. With ice still covering much of the swamp, we learned a little bit about the diversity of wildlife there, how the land has been changed by humans over time, and how to test the ice before stepping on it… (and so much more!)

This week I began a set of programs for Lakes kindergarten as well as Cannonsburg Elementary’s entire school! Each program is a little different and always tailored to the features of the specific space, season, and the age/grade level of the students. Beyond that, there are numerous other differences which I feel uniquely prepared to meet after years of being a classroom teacher myself. I know all too well that the energy and dynamics of each class and their teacher will vary, and I love the chance to connect with all of them in the way that works best for them. There is no exact template for Woods and Wetlands programs, though I spend many hours preparing in the weeks ahead of time. I get to be flexible and fluid each time. I do get incredibly nervous before the first of any set of programs in a new place with new students, but the moment the kids show up I find myself centered and deeply joyful to be doing this work. (It hardly feels like work!)

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week I brought kindergarten classes out to a wetland that at one time was connected to Bostwick Lake. As I pulled my classroom-on-wheels (a.k.a. wagon) out to the exploration space before meeting the kids, I caught in my peripheral vision something large, dark, airborne, and incredibly fast, swooping silently toward me from the ground to my right. Almost as quickly as I sensed it, it was past me, and my eyes and brain caught up with each other to realize it was a great-horned owl with prey of some kind in its talons! I have no idea why she was hunting at 1:30 in the afternoon, but she was breathtakingly beautiful. She landed on a low “island” of decomposing log about 100 feet away and proceeded to blend in almost perfectly despite the fact that I knew exactly where she was. We stared at each other for a while before I slowly began to move; after all, I had a class arriving soon and needed to get ready. But what a wonder it was to have that wild creature so near! I was only sorry that the kids wouldn’t get to see her. I love all of the owl encounters I seem to have these days!

The first group of any series of programs always seems to be the roughest. Both kindergarten programs were great fun and all’s well that ends well, but it is undeniable that I always learn at least a few things the hard way with group number one. In this case, my assessment of the space did not take into account the additional rain we have had recently in conjunction with how recently the ground thawed. In past years this space has never once been “mucky,” or sticky. Never once has a child lost their boot or gotten “stuck in the muck,” as we did so many times when my own classroom of first graders explored the area directly behind the school. In fact, that was precisely why I chose this other space; it was open enough to easily see all of the kids at once AND it didn’t have any deep, foot-immobilizing muck! How wrong I was! Regardless, the kids had a ton of fun and they definitely did some learning! (As did I.) Our second group fared better now that I knew what to prepare for.

I loved seeing and hearing the kids out there, balancing on mossy logs, using sticks to help test and balance, shrieking with laughter, and searching earnestly for the things I had photographed and put on a laminated card for them each to wear on a lanyard. One boy came up and triumphantly informed me that he found the duckweed! A few girls showed me the tiny, spiral-patterned snails they discovered, while other explorers turned over decomposing logs and discovered roly-poly bugs/pillbugs/sowbugs underneath. (Why do they have so many names?) I wanted to be everywhere at once! I am always so curious about what the kids find because I almost always learn something new from them. Some years ago my students discovered fairy shrimp out there. I had never seen nor heard of them before, but they are an important early food source for spring creatures just waking up from their winter hibernation.

Today I was especially nervous to be conducting 2 programs at Cannonsburg. Though I know the principal and some of the teachers, I have little familiarity with the school and only introduced myself to its woods just over a week ago when I went to take photos of interesting features for the kids to find. (There is little point in taking photos until right before the program week since nature changes so drastically here in Michigan from month to month!) The Conversation and Exploration cards I made from those photos turned out beautifully! And just as with every new program, my nerves were instantly calmed by the arrival of excited children. Both programs were with 3rd graders and both classrooms were led by teachers I knew already. Yet the two classes were so very different from each other, as most are. I was so lucky that both were fantastic in their own ways. I loved that the first group already had some experience in this space and so their familiarity with the area allowed them a deeper encounter with it this time, yet their comfort level also meant they didn’t need my guidance as much as most do. I could have probably done less talking, less cautioning. They have a teacher who is comfortable doing quite a bit of what I was brought in to do. The second class had no experience yet in this space, but they were eager to learn and were consistently respectful listeners. Their teacher seemed completely comfortable out there and was just as open to learning and exploring as the kids were! She helpfully managed the few who needed a little extra support and circulated widely, checking in and guiding as needed. It flowed just beautifully! The kids with more nature-adventure experience were still happy to take in new information and add it to their growing repertoire of nature knowledge. It rained during the last half hour or so, but the kids were troopers and many were even more delighted to be out in the rain.

Next week I head back to Lakes for the other two kindergarten classrooms and also to Parkside for one of two first-grade programs! Cannonsburg programs pick up again in May.


Below: The laminated Exploration and Conversation cards I created for Cannonsburg kids featured 6 general categories which were color-coded by their lanyard: Trees and tree seeds, plants, fungi and lichen, signs of animals, logs and soil, and patterns in nature. Each card is double-sided with a photo on each side, accompanied by a few facts and usually a thinking question. These are just a few of the photos I took for the cards.

Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

It’s Okay to Cry, But It’s Not the End!

Our last day began with sharing some of our favorite things about Woods and Wetlands. Using their journals to document and share was optional, but everyone got to take home their journals and colored pencils at the end of the day. Maybe they’ll use them for their own nature adventures! It was fun hearing all the different memories the kids had and to hear the others pipe up and say, “Oh yeah! I remember that. I loved that too!”

Since some of the kids wanted to go back to the two “new” spaces we explored on Wednesday, and others wanted to return to our “normal” spot, while a few were eager to walk upstream to the giant boulder and the tunnel they hadn’t seen yet, we compromised. Everyone agreed that we would spend 15 minutes in each area and then vote on where we wanted to spend the remainder of our time. I set the visual timer (they LOVE this thing and are so much more willing to move on, pack up, or give up a nature exploration tool to another explorer when they feel they have control over the timing,) and off we went.

In the woods up high above the Rogue River some of the kids returned to throwing various things into the water just to see if they could, and to watch the rings and ripples created as the sticks, rocks, and acorns hit and either sunk or floated. Others challenged themselves to climbing the slanted, fallen tree. New “nature Swiss army knives” were crafted from sticks and imagination.

After 15 minutes, we moved on down to the main channel of the river so that we could catch and observe more crayfish. I think this activity could have entertained most of the kids for the entire morning if we’d had more dip-nets available!

Traveling in order, next we moved to our “normal” spot with The Meeting Log, Logjam Bridge, and forts. It was a good place to stop for a snack mid-morning. A few explorers were still set on “fishing,” so I went to the creek with them. These photos capture some really peaceful, calm moments where no one was talking or yelling or moving around. Just feeling at-ease and quite content. These are the moments when kids have had enough active exploration in a location and they can now just sit down and breathe, mindful of how good it feels to be in a natural space they have bonded with.

The end of the route we took was where “our” creek flows through two, metal, tunnels beneath a dead-end, gravel road. Some of the kids chose to join me in wading upstream to it in the water, while others chose to walk along on the bank with Mrs. Webb. My intention was to merely show them the mossy boulder and yell into the echoing tunnels, but enough kids begged to wade through the tunnel that I gave in and agreed to this adventure. After all, one of my favorite repeated activities in my own childhood was walking through a similar tunnel with my older sister, yelling and echoing while brushing spiderwebs away from our faces. I warned our intrepid explorers that there would be cobwebs and spiderwebs so we brought short sticks to wave before our faces. A few kids were triumphant as we emerged into the sunlit creek on the upstream side of the road, while others seemed to feel a little less secure and were more than ready to go back. Together we sloshed back through the dark tunnel, each of us with one hand above our heads to follow the metal ribs of the tunnel so we didn’t bump our heads on the low ceiling.

Meanwhile, those explorers who chose to hang back with Mrs. Webb got busy mud painting some trees and roots, apparently to protect and bandage them. When the tunnel group met back up with them, some stayed there and others returned to The Meeting Log with me.

Those who remained with me went back to their teeter-totter experiments. This time, when they announced that they were perfectly balanced, I offered some questions to get them hypothesizing and testing.
What happens if the kids on one side scoot further forward? Backward?
What if both sides move forward at the same time? Backward?
What happens if one person stays toward the back and the others move forward? Now alternate?
What about when one side moves forward and the other moves backward?
They tried every scenario and invented some of their own. Levers, fulcrums, balance, weight, distribution… it’s SCIENCE, people!

It wasn’t easy to say good-bye to this group. They were a stellar class of kids! There were a few tears- one of our sweet boys was full-on sobbing when his mom picked him up- and we were surrounded by hugs. I assured them all that Woods and Wetlands is always available if their parents can gather a group of at least five explorers and we can choose any natural space available for future adventures!


Camp Rockford 2021, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Day 2: Finding Treasure

If you are a regular reader of my Woods and Wetlands blog posts, you already know I’m not big on a lot of structure, products, themes, or plans carved in stone, though I completely respect (and sometimes envy) teachers who work best that way. I finally figured out (not very long ago) that I am me, and that I have my own ways of doing things which are perfectly valid and supported by my education as well as my own experiences. I was taught to focus on the process, rather than a product with young children, and that has always worked for me when I remember to trust myself. I figured out that I can learn from and admire other people, but I don’t have to try to be anyone except myself. This may seem obvious to most, but I guess it’s taken me a long time to get here.

With that being said, this morning’s adventure turned into a semi-planned treasure hunt, inspired by some of my own nature treasures and by one of my favorite books for kids, Nothing to Do, by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. The illustrations include some commonly found patterns in nature. These patterns are sometimes called, “fractals,” which is higher math than I ever learned, but they fascinate me, regardless. I brought my own box of nature treasures today and showed them to the kids after our Morning Meeting greeting (pass the acorn and say, “Good morning, Scientist!”). I also read them the aforementioned book. Before heading into the woods I encouraged them to look for nature treasures of their own, particularly treasures that include any of the patterns from the book. I took the liberty of making small, laminated cards, each with a different pattern as-seen in Nothing to Do, so that kids could take the cards out to do a little scavenger hunt in our learning space. The instruction was to draw or write in their nature journals about treasures they found that could or should not be taken home, and to check with me or Mrs. Webb if they found something they wanted to keep. (Which could also be drawn or written about in their journals.)

I also incorporated part of the same little lesson I used at Valley View on oaks and their importance on our continent as the supporters of the most life forms of any deciduous tree in North America. We learned that oaks take 20 years to be old enough to make acorns, and that acorns need the soft, decomposed leaf soil in order to grow into new oak trees. When I stopped on the way out to offer a hug to one of my favorite, old oaks, the kids opted to name her, “Oaky.” Of course they did, right? Kids really do remind us to keep things simple, don’t they?

As some explorers searched for treasures, others explored in the creek (also finding treasures there.) I joined a group of kids who used a log-jam as a bridge and we each crossed it in the way that felt safest for us. This meant some of us, me included, scooted across, straddling a slippery log like a horse; others walked, balancing, with one foot on one log and the other at a slightly different height on the log adjacent. I find, time and again, that most kids, especially those taught to trust themselves, will do what feels comfortable and only push their risk-taking as far as they are developmentally ready to go. (For more and fascinating info on how young children NEED to move and take reasonable risks in order to learn and grow, I highly recommend the book, A Moving Child is a Learning Child.)

On the far side of the creek we discovered some stinging nettles and one boy accidentally brushed his arm against them before I had a moment to notice them myself. Having encountered nettles on my own in the past, I know just how painful and itchy the results can be! He was surprisingly calm in response, and he willingly let me apply nature’s antidote to nettles which, as often happens, was growing right next to the nettles themselves: jewelweed! The liquid found inside jewelweed stems is supposed to treat nettle rash, and it worked! He said it stopped hurting and all was well after that!

Some of the treasures our scientists discovered that featured versions of nature patterns were: ferns, snake grass (horsetails), fossils, spruce cones, tree bark, a quick fish-sighting, some flowers, and leaves. A few of us also were excited to witness the somewhat harrowing capture and brief detainment of a bumpy, wet, toad. Early on in our morning a few kids still exploring near the Meeting Log were talking about how “creepy” one of the boys felt daddy longlegs were, so we carefully put one into our multi-viewer magnifier so that we could see the details of its body, including its eyes! I firmly believe that when we fear something, it usually helps if we learn more about it. We returned both the daddy longlegs and the toad (living treasures) to their respective homes.

We took a little break for a snack and to use the bathrooms, (a.k.a. portapotties, such as they are…) and during that time I asked the kids who were waiting with me at the Meeting Log to see if they could find a tree they wanted to befriend, and to give it a name. One of the biggest, oldest oaks in our space became one of our boundary trees and C. named it “Cocoa.” Don’t ask me why, but that is the tree’s name now, or at least, for today. Later, as a few campers were still waiting to be picked up, someone said they might forget the name they chose today for their tree. Cocoa’s enthusiastic, red-haired friend helped us to decide that it’s okay to give a tree (or stuffed animal) a different name every day if we forget, or… even if we don’t.

We wrapped up our morning by sitting on either our Meeting Log or at the base of our Tree Friends and journaling about our experience today. Some kids chose to draw or write about what they found beneath their tree in the moment. Anything goes; it’s YOUR journal!, I told them. Anyone who wanted to share about what they found, how they felt, what they drew, or what they wrote was welcome and encouraged to do so.

Both yesterday and today I concluded my own experience by telling the whole group of explorers some of what I noticed about them. “I noticed kids who were being careful with sticks. I noticed kids looking out for each other and being kind and gentle. I noticed kids respecting nature, taking turns, sharing materials, following teacher-directions, and having fun learning.”

One particular explorer demonstrated a technique I have honestly never encountered before, and I really liked it, so I told her so. This is what it looked like: Now and then, she would notice another explorer from our group who was doing something that concerned her, but rather than “telling” on them or even trying to get them to stop, she quietly asked me, “Is it okay that (so-and-so) is (doing this thing)?” I was astounded by this kind, noncritical way of letting me know that someone might have been doing something that they shouldn’t. She accepted whatever my answer was, and carried on with her own activities. I forgot how much I love working with kids over this past year.

Just two days in and I can already feel how much I’m going to miss this little group of 15 when our time together comes to a close next week. They are a delightful bunch, and they fill my heart and make me laugh.


Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Can We Do This Again Tomorrow?

Today was Day 1 of Woods and Wetlands for Rockford Community Services at Camp Rockford. Camp Rockford is located along a beautiful little stretch of the Rogue River, and our day camp has the amazing opportunity to use not only the river, but also a shallow tributary that enters the main river channel (best for the “Littles” we have,) and some gorgeous, wild woodland that borders it! Maples, oaks, hickories, beech trees, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, May apples, and a bit of poison ivy are just some of what we will get to learn about in the coming days.

Of course, the first day of anything is always a little bumpy as we get to know each other, work out the kinks of drop-off and pick-up, and manage our time out there. Time management is not one of my strengths, so I rely heavily on multiple alarms I set on my watch, as well as the use of a small, visual timer that helps the kids to feel they have some control over how they use their own time. Of course, the visual timer wasn’t visible from where we spent most of our morning, so I’ll have to figure out a way to remedy that tomorrow. I love that I get to spend 8 mornings with the same kids! We will have the chance to get to know and trust each other, starting each morning with my tried and true Morning Meeting before moving to our “wild” space along the tributary.

As always, I didn’t even try to plan many details of our day, knowing that it will take at least a couple of days for everyone to explore our space and get comfortable with our boundaries. I am SO fortunate to have one of the best aides EVER! We already knew each other from when I was a classroom teacher at Lakes Elementary and I was thrilled that she was willing to join me for this summer program! I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. She stays calm and cool, knows exactly how to support without me having to even ask, and she really knows how to connect with kids. I am incredibly grateful for her! We are lucky that we seem to have a wonderful group of kids to work with as well!

After our extra-long Morning Meeting (The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete has been my “go-to” for almost 20 years!) and a little bit of Brain Gym, we headed down to the woods and the river. (I will refer to our little tributary as either the river or a creek periodically.) We did have to stop first to begin recognizing what poison ivy looks like. Luckily, after a very short distance, it disappears and we have safe walking the rest of the way to our Meeting Log and the river just beyond. I hauled my wagon that now houses some of what used to be in my classroom, including a heavy crate of books, down to the log and we all dropped our backpacks and water bottles off there so our hands were free to help us get down the steep bank to the shallow (and COLD) water. The first couple feet from the bank to the center of the creek were very sticky and difficult even for me to pull my rubber-booted feet out of, so our first project began! With the help of most of our explorers, we spent the next hour hauling logs and dead branches to make a sort of bridge to get us past the sticky part and right to the center where the sand is solid and the water is clear.

I wish I could have just sat back and observed because when I paused to look around, to count kids, or to check in with Chara, everything I saw brought me joy and made me smile. One of our explorers was challenging herself against the current, which was pretty strong, despite how shallow the water was. A couple of other explorers were using nature exploration tools to scoop up water and look at what was in it. Two of the boys asked if they could go back to the Meeting Log to look around, and a small crew went up on land with Chara to use teamwork to bring logs and branches to those of us who were standing in the creek and placing the logs. One boy I noticed was very quiet and serious about everything. He seemed to be a bit of an “old soul,” and I could tell he was just taking things in and listening intently. At some point he started using his critter-catching tool to scoop up muck and mud and pack it in between the logs, just like beavers do when they build their dams. I commented on this and he merely nodded and gave a small smile and went back to his work.

Most of the kids were soaking wet, dirty, and happy by the time we had to head back. My boots were full of river-water and it was fun to sit down on the log and dump them out while some of the kids were doing the same. (One boy did say his dad told him he wasn’t to get wet! Oh dear… I will be emailing all of the parents tonight to make sure we are all on the same page, or in the same river, so to speak.) I had given each of the kids a blank nature journal and a little canister of colored pencils with a sharpener built into the lid. We used these at the beginning of our morning and again at the end to draw and/or write about our expectations and then our experiences. Sometimes I will give them something specific I want them to write or draw, but I want these journals to belong to them and they will get to keep them (and the pencils) after our 8 days together come to an end. We took just about 5 silent minutes to journal and then packed up and headed back to grab lunches and head home.

At some point in the middle of our morning, one of the kids yelled out, “Can we do this again tomorrow?”
It was with great joy and rare satisfaction that I got to reply, “YES!


Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

A Rockford Brownie Outing

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of taking a local Brownie troop out for a Woods and Wetlands adventure, this time in an entirely new (to me) location! The family that hosted our experience is fortunate enough to share a gorgeous piece of property with some other area residents, and we were able to explore through their woods to a small pond and a beautiful little creek.

As we set out on a mowed path there was immediately so much to notice! Using “nature eyes and ears,” the girls quickly noticed a small, reddish toad and then a tiny spring peeper, which led to educating the group about getting our hands nice and dirty before handling amphibians. (Some already knew how and why!)

Unfortunately, as in many local woodlands, I recognized and pointed out a variety of invasive plant species such as garlic mustard, autumn olive, oriental bittersweet, and barberry. Though we could spend part of our precious hour removing some of these, my goal with most Woods and Wetlands groups, particularly on our first outing, is to focus instead on learning through unstructured play in nature, which I believe contributes to a lifelong love of and connection with our planet. Once that connection is firmly established, whether with children or adults, it is more likely that these nature lovers will want to take action to restore and protect our only earth. But before humans willingly choose to take care of something, we must first develop a sense of love, connection, and ownership. We don’t need to travel far or rely on places like national parks when we can meet our own local flora and fauna in our own backyards.

We paused frequently, looking for landmarks and noticing not just what we could see, but what we could hear, smell, feel and also imagine. At one point I asked everyone to stop and look down toward their feet while trying to visualize what the sky looked like the last time they looked up. After a moment or two, we all looked up to see whether it looked as we remembered or whether it had changed. Small, intentional practices like this can build powers of observation and awareness.

The first water we came to was a small, shallow pond filled with abundant, bright, green frogs! The frogs seemed oddly unafraid of us and we spent some time wading in the murky water with them. We noticed a variety of animal tracks in the mud around the pond, but we moved on after noting that many of the prints were from deer. (*Identifying the other tracks could be a project for a different day and another session.)

As the terrain changed and the trail dipped steeply downhill, we arrived at a tiny stream where a cold current of water burbled happily around bends adorned with skunk cabbage, through a pipe, and beneath a small, plank bridge. Why do you think this water is so much colder than the pond water? One explorer guessed that it was because the water is moving. I asked the girls if they’d ever played a version of “Pooh Sticks,” (borrowed from the original Winnie the Pooh stories,) wherein each person chooses a distinctive stick and then drops their stick at the same time on the upstream side of a bridge or pipe, followed by looking to see whose stick comes out the downstream side first. This activity could, with more time, organically evolve into any number of science experiments and observations!

The girl whose family was hosting our outing was eager to show us her preferred spot along the stream, so we moved on. I love that she already had a special place there and that she wanted to share it with us. It was, indeed, a perfect location to spend more time, but by then our hour was almost up! My lesson learned? It is easier to manage our time when I already have some familiarity with the space and can intentionally allow sufficient time in the most conducive locations.

I looked around and quickly spotted a fallen tree next to the water and I remembered the strategy of inviting by doing, rather than by telling. Shedding my backpack, I climbed onto the log and walked along it, then jumped down and stepped into the stream. Sure enough, the girls soon followed and we dipped our hands into the cold water, examining some of the rocks, showing each other when we found something interesting, and eventually we began a dam project to see whether we could slow or change the water’s path. This led to discussion about beavers and materials they use to create their dams. Can you imagine using your TEETH to chew down a tree?

At one point a younger brother who had accompanied us lost his balance in the stream and landed on his bottom with a small splash. He looked up at me, his eyes wide with surprise, and I wondered if he might cry, but instead, when I grinned at him, he grinned back, getting to his feet and we went back to our “work,” undaunted by his unexpected, cold, immersion.

As is usual, we could have spent many happy hours out there, investigating and interacting with nature. On my drive home my mind was overflowing with ideas for follow-up activities, which could be introduced with any group, once the open-exploration period has reached a satisfactory point.

These sessions fill me with gratitude for being able to continue teaching, freed from the restrictions of the classroom setting. My classroom is nature. The curriculum is fluid and adaptable. The learners are free to move and play. And, “Play is the work of childhood.”