How do I get over there? How did you get where you are in the first place? I don’t know!
I’m so scared–this 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!
This week began our fourth and final session of Woods and Wetlands at Camp Rockford. (There will always be more Woods and Wetlands available throughout the entire year to anyone who wants it!) Two days in and both Mrs. Webb and I feel that this is an easy, happy, bright little group of explorers. They collaborate and follow directions. They listen attentively and are eager to explore and learn together. In short, we know we are going to have such a fun final session! We talked to each other about how much we enjoy seeing this space through the eyes of new campers every two weeks. It never gets boring for us because we see the joy, wonder, and curiosity of the kids and we can’t help but be excited again, right along with them!
We learned Brain Gym and used the Rhythm Greeting during Morning Meeting on day 1, followed by some quick safety tips and hands-off lessons about poison ivy. After dropping off our supplies at the Meeting Log, everyone wanted to check out the creek. The whole group used the Log-jam bridge to make their way down to the water. At first most of the kids were wary about getting wet or letting the water go over the tops of their boots, but by the end of the morning they were happily wading around getting wet and muddy. It was a successful exploration day! One boy declared that he would be in that creek every single day of camp!
One of my favorite things about teaching and learning through play and exploration outdoors is that nature always shows us something new, even in a space that Mrs. Webb and I have explored for six weeks straight! For the first time all summer we found fairy shrimp, which are tiny shrimp-like creatures, found in the mud and sand of the creek, that are very important as food for many other animals in the food chain. The kids with nets were scooping up nets full of what looked like just leaf litter, mud, and sand and dumping them out just on the edge of the creek. I showed them how to pick and paw their way through it looking for small creatures. In just a few scoops we discovered multiple fairy shrimp! (We put it all back in the creek pretty quickly.)
Later we gave the kids their nature journals to decorate as they please with their colored pencils. I asked them to draw or write about something they saw or did on the first day. There were a few drawings of fairy shrimp in there!
On day 2 we learned about some common patterns found in nature. First everyone was given a card with 8 patterns on it and we asked them to try to draw at least one of these in their nature journals. They did a great job and some even added to the patterns to turn them into something else, such as a snake or a tree. We greeted each other while passing around part of an old paper-wasp nest and marveled at the patterns these insects were able to make by chewing wood and mixing it with their saliva. As the nest was passed to each child, they made eye contact and said good morning. We read the book, Nothing to Do, and looked for the patterns on each page. Our purpose today was to keep an eye out for patterns like these in real-life nature.
We discovered a spiral patterned shell, wavy lines on and under the water, meandering patterns beetles left on a log, and a triangular rock.
Throughout the morning our group flowed and regrouped in multiple ways and places. Some explorers chose to play and build a fort in the woods with Mrs. Webb. We had a snack break and a few who finished their snacks early went to check out where one of the trails led. We had more creek explorations and briefly captured some tadpoles to look at. The kids who were catching and releasing these little creatures were careful to make sure they got water poured over them repeatedly so that they could live through the observations.
I loved watching a few of the kids find new and creative ways to move across the Log-jam bridge as they continue to master living in their own bodies, developing their proprioceptive systems. Balance, coordination, strength, flexibility, spatial sense, and self confidence are just some of the many benefits of unstructured play in nature. One boy worked out routines and methods that suited him and then taught those around him how to do the same. For a few minutes a small group of explorers took turns sitting and sliding down the side of the log to try to land on their feet in the creek. This was followed by jumping into the creek from a standing position on the log. Not everyone tried it that way, but those who were ready to dare themselves were taking just enough risk to feel both safe and thrilled at the same time. This was my opportunity to explain to them why we don’t try to dare or challenge other kids to do what we are doing. In Woods and Wetlands everyone does what feels safe and comfortable for them as individuals.
We are incredibly fortunate to have this beautiful piece of property where kids can freely and safely play and learn. As water becomes more and more scarce and precious in the west, we are even more grateful than ever for all of Michigan’s lovely wetlands and waterways. I hope these kiddos grow up to be adults who love and protect our natural resources so that everyone from microscopic moss piglets (tardigrades or water bears) to fairy shrimp, to frogs, beetles, and bats and more, to HUMANS, will always have safe, clean, healthy water.
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!)