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!

Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

You Have Just Changed EVERYTHING for me!

Ah, the dramatic statements of fifth grade girls! I don’t often do programs with upper elementary students and, honestly, my comfort level is definitely with the younger learners. But this week I had a lot of fun and some useful learning experiences with three 5th-grade classrooms from Crestwood Elementary in Rockford. The title of this post is a direct quote delivered with delightful flair, though the girl in question was utterly serious.

With only five minutes left before we had to wrap it up, two girls who were working on their nature study page nearby asked me to show them how to do a leaf rubbing. I never know for sure which of the many elements of my programs are going to spark interest, but in this case it was immediately clear that being able to use a leaf, a crayon, and some paper to save some of the lovely sassafras leaves we had just learned about was an evident game-changer for at least these two girls. Who knew a leaf rubbing could change lives?

Sassafras and Salamanders

Prior to life-altering leaf-rubbing, both of Tuesday’s classes managed to find multiple, tiny salamanders all over the beautiful woodland we were exploring. Their presence as an important environmental indicator species largely confirmed a guess I had about a few lowland areas nearby that showed evidence of having held a good deal of water in the past season. I’m no expert on this, but I think those spaces hold vernal pools in the early spring! Vernal pools are absolutely critical to the survival of many amphibians, including salamanders. Unfortunately, too many of these areas are unprotected as they do not have water year-round and are not considered wetlands. (But they should be!) Scientists are finding that vernal pools are incredibly important to the ecosystem. (Click the link above to learn more about them!) Thank you to amphibians for eating so many bugs! And for being food for thousands of other animals.

I wish we could just do this all day instead. of learning!

Ha! To which I replied, “Too late! You are already learning!” Even when they don’t know it, I know it. Regular readers of my blog will already know the plethora of learning experiences children have during Woods and Wetlands adventures. For those new to it, here are just a handful: physical learning (balance, strength, coordination, aim, flexibility), mathematical learning (estimation, spatial awareness, patterns, number sense,) SCIENCE (literally everything,) art (noticing and recreating fractals/patterns in nature, building structures, nature-art and design,) emotional and social (independence, self confidence, collaboration, empathy, compassion,) … you get the idea. Want more? Please read my favorite nature book ever: The Nature Fix by Florence Williams.

And yesterday? Fractions!

Three boys discovered a long stick stuck through the vertex of a tree and when one of them pulled on one end it snapped the stick. Upon seeing this, they realized they could break other sticks that way. As a team, the boys began hauling bigger and bigger sticks, lifting them one by one into the split between the two trunks, and then planning how and where they would break it, waiting for each other to be in position, and coordinating their efforts as it got more difficult. I hung back just watching and listening. They were totally absorbed in this activity that may seem like meaningless play to most, but I saw completely meaningful, playful, learning happening. One of the boys said, “I bet we can break this one into like twelve pieces!” They shifted the stick and evaluated where to break it each time so that they could get twelve, roughly equal pieces. (Hands-on fraction action!)

Independent Nature Study

This time I deviated from the Observation and Conversation cards I’ve been using for the last year because they weren’t quite always working as I’d hoped. Trial and error is a great way to learn if you’ve got the time, patience, and self-forgiveness to do it! The master’s class I am taking on play and learning declares that, “the children ARE the curriculum.” That is to say, their interests should be guiding the teachers to offer support and enhancement. (Another incredible book: Lisa Murphy On Play: The Foundation of Children’s Learning.) While the class is focused on young children (birth through age 8) I know too many kids these days haven’t gotten the kind of critical play-based learning that they all needed when they were young, so I think it’s worth applying these principles to older elementary children as well. Playful learning really is the foundation for ALL future learning!

So this time around, rather than giving everyone a laminated card with specific activities to try or photographs of cool, natural, objects I wanted them to notice in their exploration space, I gave everyone a card that invited them to choose something they had discovered while they had free exploration time, and offered some options for how to do a mini-nature study page. On the other side of the card they would find a copy of some of my own nature study journal pages, just for reference. After engaging the whole class by sharing my box of found nature treasures (snake sheds, fossils, half a muskrat skull, dead butterflies, dead cicadas, a robin’s egg, feathers, galls, various cool tree seeds, etc.) I sent them off to find a peaceful space in the woods they just explored and invited them to sketch, draw, label, and/or write about something that interested them in that place. This was only a tiny part of our program because I only intend it to be a quick sample of what it might be like to engage with nature by recording our experiences independently. Frankly, I’d much rather save it for consecutive programs with the same group rather than pushing it during their initial program. Not everyone would love it, but they had a chance to try it out. Below are some samples of their efforts.

Luckily my current favorite topic to talk about is the connection between all life and soil! The fifth graders have recently been taught about decomposers in school. I find myself imagining how much more deeply they could understand these concepts if we could spend many more hours playfully learning in that lovely woods.


Camp Rockford 2022, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Actually, This is Really Fun!

Actually, this is really fun!

But my socks are wet! I can’t wear them now!

Are there crocodiles in here?

How do I get over there?
How did you get where you are in the first place?
I don’t know!

I’m so scaredthis is so much fun!

“Moving and learning play is all about doing,” “As long as the child chooses it and is physically involved in it, fun and learning are bound to follow!”
A Moving Child is a Learning Child: How the Body Teaches the Brain to Think
by Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy

Session 2 started last Monday with a whole new set of young explorers. What completely different energy this group has! We have many more girls than boys this time, and far less prior experience among them compared to our Session 1 group. On Day 1 some weren’t sure at first, but within the first hour, “Actually, this is really fun!”

I won’t lie; it takes more energy, focus, and presence on the teachers’ part, but there is so much room for growth with these little adventurers! We already are excited and curious to watch them grow, learn, and change in their relationship with themselves, the natural world and each other.

For one thing there’s a lot more screaming, but it is with excitement and delight more than fear. We also notice that even physically strong and agile kiddos are less sure of their bodies when crossing a log or climbing out of the creek. They are working on their proprioceptive and vestibular systems! (Balance, sense of where their bodies are in space, etc.) A couple seem to have rarely, if ever, used their muscles in certain ways, and I will be interested to see how that may change by the end of our camp session, though, unfortunately, our 2-week camp will be split with a week off in-between for 4th of July week this session.

In any case, they are a lovable bunch and we are thoroughly enjoying supporting them as they explore and learn!

Below: Using puppets to role play is a wonderful way for young children to learn. They get to safely try out different roles and imagine what it might be like to be someone or something else, which helps build empathy! Not to mention the joy of whole-group belly-laughter that bonds us!


Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Wading, Wandering, and Wondering.

“Children move to learn as they learn to move.”

I want every, single, Woods and Wetlands program to just feel like fun for the students. Learning is happening the entire time, but I see no reason to point that out in the moment, at least not until a sense of ownership of, love for, and responsibility to that space has grown in each child. I am now realizing that what would be far better than a one-and-done program would, instead, be a series, each building upon the last. A series that begins in early fall/late summer, followed by (in the same space), a program in late fall, mid-winter, early spring, and late spring. Imagine the width and depth of learning that could occur in such a format!

Last Friday, with my second group of first-graders behind Parkside Elementary, we were prepared for definitively predicted rain. The teacher and I discussed rescheduling, though we both knew not to trust the forecast… ever. Nevertheless, as the kids were so excited to get out there, we decided to go for it! We were rewarded by only a little sprinkle of rain in the first few minutes, followed by some sun and no further precipitation. Of course, quite a few kids DID get wet feet and legs, even those wearing rain boots, because we went wading. But no one cared about that!

Much fun WAS had, but it was preceded by the following quote and exchange as we walked the short distance to our space:

Are there crocodiles out here?
-First grader

No crocodiles, I promise. I introduced the kids to our exploration space, a beautiful little creek and woodland just behind their playground. Most had never set foot there and they did just GREAT! They stayed within our boundaries and actively participated in both the open and planned explorations. It brought me so much joy to see all these excited and eager explorers wading, wandering, and wondering.

Getting muddy hands, on purpose, is always a shock for some, but once they understood it mean they could carefully handle small wildlife with their mud gloves on, most were all too happy to get to it! We did see a toad, as well as water striders, roly-polies, and a tiny snail who was poking it’s itty-bitty eyes-on-stalks out at us, then pulling them back in, probably hoping we would be gone when it looked again. I loved seeing the kids getting down close to the earth, peering at tiny bits of life, using all of their senses to explore. They climbed wherever they could find something climbable. They felt the softness of moss and the rough, flaky, bark of wild grapevine. They sniffed rich, wet, soil (some pronounced disgusting and others enjoyed it.)They listened to red-winged blackbirds warning everyone to stay away from their nesting cattails and we all sniffed and then tasted: wild chives, adder’s tongue (trout lily), and watercress. (I forgot to have them taste wild violets, darn-it!)

I was besieged by so many wonderful questions and requests to, “Come see what we found!!!” And as always, we could have happily stayed and played (learned) out there all day. I knew, once again, that this work is not only what I am meant to be doing, but what kids are meant to be doing. Nature play addresses and heals so much of what is broken and hurting for all of us. Nature play IS learning, and learning through play is the work of childhood. It is supposed to be fun. As for me? My work is also fun. More, please.


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

Nature Patterns and The Best Day

This one is like a snake!
That one reminds me of lightning!
It’s a vine!
This one is kind of like a spiderweb!
I see a tree branch!
If you turn this pattern it’s like a tornado!
A beehive!
This is like the pine needles!
It’s a daddy longlegs!
That one reminds me of a pumpkin!
Or an onion!
This could be a snail shell!
Like the river!

Such a creative, verbal, kind, and visual group we have this time! During Morning Meeting we introduced some common nature patterns and read and moved with the book, Flow, Spin, Grow. We used our fingers in the air to draw spirals and coils, spinning from small to large and then large back to small. This is art, math, and language all spinning together! We asked our explorers to try to draw at least one of the patterns in their nature journals, encouraging them to add to the drawing to make the pattern into something specific in nature.

Our greeting was the Silent Greeting which relies on eye contact and movement as we go around the circle. Each student chooses which silent greeting they want to use. We saw waving, sign language, smiles, and finger-waves.

The mosquitoes are still pretty thick out there, but more manageable and everyone is sprayed and sprayed again with repellent. We pat non-Deet repellent on our faces and necks. Skimming Amazon’s site I discovered a plethora of hats with mosquito nets and also nets to put over one’s own hat. Click here for a link to the ones that Mrs. Webb and I are going to try.

Our group has more girls than either of our first two sessions did. During Morning Meeting one of the girls mentioned their “Girl Club,” and when I began to say that any clubs needed to be for everyone, she smiled and patiently explained to me that she called it a “Girl Club,” because girls built the fort, but that anyone could join. Later, as I looked through our photos from today, I noticed that the boys and the girls have chosen to divide themselves, which is interesting to me. I try to avoid divisions by gender, but if the kids choose it themselves, as long as there is kindness between them, I have no issue with it.

It’s been fun to notice how many new friendships are springing up among our explorers. They are, overall, a much more independent bunch and are happy to explore, play, and experiment without need for much teacher intervention or guidance. We are glad to give them their space to do their thing, though we are available for help and support if they need it. A new member joined us today and at Morning Meeting I introduced her and asked the others to imagine they are the “newbie” on day 3 of our session; what might that feel like? The kids responded so empathically! Words about feelings poured forth and afterwards there was never a moment when our new explorer was alone or without buddies to show her the ropes. In fact, while the girls were relocating their fort due to a ground nest of yellow jackets, (or hornets?) our newest friend called out to the other girls, “I have an idea!” and they stopped and listened to her idea. The self-designated leader of the group responded, “You know what? I REALLY like that idea!” (To move the fort near the creek so the fort has a pretty background.) And so it was.

Creek-time was a little different today as the “Girl Club,” which was later renamed, “Friendship Club,” decided to ferry rocks from the creek to their fort. They used our red buckets but quickly figured out that it was one thing to fill the bucket with river rocks, and quite another thing to try to carry said bucket o’ rocks while balancing on the log-bridge! One of the older boys helped and so did Mrs. Webb and I. The other group of younger girls used their creek time to practice climbing and navigating over and along the other logs across the creek. I love watching them figure out where to hold on, where to step, and how to push or pull themselves up as they develop their senses of where their bodies are in space. And all the while their young bones and muscles are growing stronger through physical play and exploration!

During snack break I read aloud the book, Nothing To Do, and the kids noticed all of the same nature patterns embedded in each illustration. I like to punctuate my read-alouds with tiny personal stories from my own childhood experiences. I notice that when adults share their own stories, kids’ ears perk up and they really respond! I paused the book to relate to them how, as a kid, I used to go out with a shovel and dig deep, deep holes near my family’s vegetable garden, and I’d collect the worms I found and put them in a jar of dirt, name them all, and then let them go again. After which my dad would go out to the garden and nearly fall into my holes, so I was told to go fill them in again, which I did, but often dug another one. The kids laughed at my version of the story and laughter bonds and connects us!

I’ll close with a quote I heard today from our newest explorer; within her first 5 minutes in the woods I overheard her say to her new friends, “I can’t believe we get to do this! This is the best day of my whole life!” My heart was full.


P.S. Should anyone be kayaking or other recreation on the Rogue River downstream from Camp Rockford and you come upon either of our two lost magnifier tops or a silver compass, please tell them we would like them to swim back upstream to us! Only one day after replacing my first 2-way magnifier, the second one lost its top to the creek. Lesson learned: find a way to attach the two pieces or don’t use it in the creek! Click here to see what it’s supposed to look like when both parts are in the same location! (We also would be thrilled if anyone would like to donate a couple of these because the kids love them!)

Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Day 1, Session 3: What Is That Thing??

Our new group got off to a fun start! The creek was shallow and clear and the mosquitoes were tolerable, better for some than others. Morning Meeting began with our Rhythm Greeting, this time using our hands, feet, legs, and bellies in various combinations as our drums while chanting, Say your first name, when you do, we’ll say your first name back to you! We quickly went over safety issues and then split into two groups for our first introduction to the poison ivy and how to play safely with sticks.

Day 1 is always open exploration time to get comfortable and bonded with our space. Once we reached The Meeting Log we went over safety rules about the creek, then introduced some different nature exploration tools, and finally headed over to the creek together to check it out. The water was cold but the kids were undeterred! Approaching via the log-jam bridge I repeated, “Only do what you feel safe doing. Take your time. If you aren’t comfortable walking, then sit down and scoot.” Everyone listened to themselves and those who wanted to come across on the big log were able to do it in a way that felt safe (enough) for them. Most kids will only take minimal risks based on their own comfort level. I try to never lift or even support kids on or off of something that is up high because I may not be available when it’s time to get back down or up. If they can get somewhere by themselves, then (with encouragement sometimes) they can get back safely by themselves too.

One of the girls remembered my suggestion to use all of our senses to explore. She sniffed the moss on a log and invited me to do it as well. We both enjoyed the scent of the earthy, damp, green-ness! Everywhere I looked I saw explorers delighted with their experiences. Some sat and scooted across the log. Others balanced carefully, arms out, one foot before the other. One boy jumped off the log from up pretty high and stuck the landing in the cold water! He looked a little surprised but steadied himself and was soon wading happily, dropping rocks in the water to make splashes, some big and some small. Wading in the creek is the time for not only following the kids’ interests, but pointing out things to notice and introducing new vocabulary: Turn this way and look upstream and you can feel the current pushing against the front of your legs. Now turn and look downstream and you can feel the current pushing against the backs of your legs. Over the next 7 days they will hear the words, “upstream, downstream, current,” in context and will become more comfortable with these terms.

Using one of our two dip-nets one boy discovered what looks very much like a tiny eel! What IS this thing? This was a first sighting for me, so we took pictures and tried looking it up in our reptile and amphibian book when we returned to our Meeting Log. We think it may be a “lesser siren” which is a kind of aquatic salamander, but we didn’t observe any legs on it, nor external gills, so we aren’t sure yet. We read that the siren has only one pair of front legs, so perhaps we just didn’t notice them if they were small or still developing. Everyone nearby wanted to hold it, so we got our hands muddy and wet to protect this sensitive creature and continued to pour water on it as it was carefully passed around before being let go into the creek again. Unfortunately, these secretive and sensitive amphibians are declining in numbers due to poor water quality caused by runoff of pesticides and fertilizers that people use on farms and lawns. For safer products, I suggest checking out Gardens Alive so that we can protect and conserve more of our native plants and animals for generations to come!

I noticed a great deal of generosity and kindness between so many of our new campers! It was great to see kids waiting patiently for their turn to cross the log, and also to hear some of the older kids offer help to the younger explorers. They took turns with our only 2-way magnifier and they waited as the little mystery-amphibian was passed around. When the last person to hold it accidentally let it slip back into the creek, the original “finder” of it accepted her apology with grace and understanding. He knew it was an accident as she was going to hand it back to him for release. All of this kindness and also great listening bodes well for our future adventures together! It is a joy to spend time in nature with kids who already know how to be good to each other.

At break time some of the children brought a snack and while they ate we introduced nature journaling. Each explorer was given a nature journal and colored pencils which they may keep at the end of our 2 weeks of camp. Mrs. Webb brought a group over to check out a cool log covered with mushrooms and we had a little more time for creek exploration before it was time to go. Kids were mostly soaked but in good spirits!