Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2022

Learning As I Go

Each adventure is different. One of the things I love about this work I am doing is the variation. Never ever am I bored! Each group of explorers is unique. Even the same space in the same woods is different from day to day, hour to hour. This week I got to take four, third-grade classes into the woods and creek at Camp Rockford.

I always tell the kids that I learn about and notice new things in nature every single day, and this continues to be true. An odd and armored bug blending in with near perfection to the oak bark, a woolly bear caterpillar on the very same path we just trooped down half an hour ago, a dead crayfish in the creek where three other classes went wading without seeing any sign of aquatic creatures.

I, too, am unintentionally different with each group. My energy and mood respond to the dark, rainy days or the blue-sky and breezy days. Interactions with each classroom teacher also contribute to the tone of each program. On Monday I felt nervous, awkward, uncomfortable. It was hard to find my groove for some reason. That night I lay in bed worrying that the kids didn’t have enough fun, that the teachers might have been disappointed. When Tuesday arrived, bright morning sun dappling our wooded space, my sense of joy for what I do and how I do it returned. I felt myself light up as I shared the magic and wonder of nature with the remaining two, third-grade classes.

Learning as I go is something I am gradually coming to accept and embrace. Identifying the exact elements of any program that didn’t go well or didn’t meet my expectations is part of the process. How can I better ensure that kids are dressed to stay warm and relatively dry? How can I best communicate to teachers and parents the value of these programs when they are accustomed to thinking of play as, “just play?” What if I realize I am trying to pack far too much into such a short time? Can I expand the programs to encompass half of an entire school day? Would anyone still want to do it? Could they afford it? Is there anything I should cut out of these programs?

The fact that I don’t know anyone else who does exactly what I do makes it a somewhat lonely process, and I find myself missing the opportunities to brainstorm with other educators. At the same time, I am thrilled to be able to craft and modify Woods and Wetlands programs to exactly what I want, based on what I know and feel is right! There are no state or federal boards of education telling me what to do or how to do it. No developmentally inappropriate curriculum to force down unready learners’ throats. Parents don’t get to be rude to me and get away with it. (Not that most of them ever are; it’s just the echoes of the very few over the years still rankling a bit in the back of my mind. The vast majority of parents have been kind, compassionate, supportive, and respectful.) I get to choose my days, times, and locations. I can dictate how many explorers I am willing to work with at a time.

All in all, I am tremendously fortunate. I am learning as I go.

Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

They Will Remember This.

A good portion of our morning was spent working on forts. Mrs. Webb supported most of the fort-building efforts, while I moved on to creek exploration with the adventurers who weren’t as interested in the forts. It was great fun to see the teamwork that went into these endeavors!

At some point in elementary science units these kids will be taught about levers and fulcrums, force, weight, mass, and a variety of other terms. If they have physically experienced these concepts, adding the vocabulary will be no biggie! And while some of these kids have talked about how they are going to go home and play Minecraft, there is simply no substitute for what the brain and body learn together in the real, physical, world.

At our mid-point, I demonstrated using one sense at a time to stop and notice my surroundings, followed by a brief sketch or a few words to document these “noticings.” I asked that each of the kids do the same from their Sit Spots. For a little while we all listened to wind in the leaves, birds calling to each other, and rustling of leaves. We looked up and around at the tall, straight tree trunks. We touched rough bark and soft leaves. We used our noses to sniff and smell the air or a nearby plant. (I used this teaching opportunity to tell the kids how great opossums are at sniffing!) The only sense most of us didn’t use was our sense of taste. In many outdoor settings there are a variety of edible plants, but I haven’t encountered any that are familiar to me yet in this space, though I did let the kids chew on the soft, watery end of a piece of snake-grass/horsetails.

Just upstream from the log-jam bridge I enjoyed watching as one of the older boys challenged himself to careful balancing as he walked along a very narrow log that reached across shallow water from a mid-stream log to the bank. His focus was absolute and I was silently cheering him on as he made it across, at least twice (as I recall). Meanwhile, I poked around, looking for crayfish (we didn’t find any today,) and chatted with one of our girls who has the sunniest disposition! She didn’t want to get wet at first, but then when she spotted a small sand-island, she decided she wanted to get there and was willing to let her boots fill with river water in order to do so. We both stood on the tiny “island” together and tried out different names for it. First we named it after her, but then she noticed the tiny, blue, forget-me-nots blooming nearby and decided to name it Forget-me-not Island. She squatted down and placed her hand flat on the cold surface of the water and talked about how she loved how it felt, sort of like “walking on water,” might feel. I smiled to myself because that is something I also enjoy doing, just letting my palm rest lightly on top of calm water. There are so many wonderful sensory experiences in nature and it makes perfect “sense” that our brains and bodies become calmer, happier, and more able to recover from stress. In one of my favorite books, The Nature Fix, by Florence Williams, she shares ample evidence that spending time in natural spaces makes us more resilient within the other contexts of our lives.

Tomorrow is our last day with this group, and a new session will begin on Monday. I feel a sense of sadness, a little grief, to be saying goodbye to our first kids of the summer. I know that every group will have its unique dynamics and we will adore them all for different reasons. I’ll send each of the kids home with their nature journals and colored pencils, as well as a follow-up flyer for anyone who wants to plan some small-group W&W excursions outside of these 2 week sessions, so I will be hoping to see these faces again someday!


Woods and Wetlands 2018

Any Sign of Spring?

On a snowy day we kept a lookout for green moss, buds on trees, melting ice, and the trill of the red winged blackbird.  Why?  Because it is March in Michigan and the surprise party of Spring is slowly beginning, despite the winter white that continues to visit us.









The swamp was a bit treacherous as it was covered in deceptively solid looking snow. But this was an experienced group of explorers and they knew what lay beneath and stayed out of it, instead, leaping from island to island.  The islands are actually ostrich fern hummocks where their rhizomes are waiting to create fiddleheads when spring actually decides to stay.  I always smile when I see the kids developing and practicing all the skills that go along with navigating the swamp.  Like most kids they want to move quickly, so they develop strategies for avoiding the muck below and the twiggy branches at face height.  They aim, leap, and land, often balancing quickly before making the next move.  They gracefully duck and turn, remembering to hold branches out of the way for the person behind.  All the while they are chattering and laughing, calling out and noticing.  They look for tracks already made by others and make quick decisions about which paths to follow when the path divides.  If they have a specific location in mind, they are also making automatic adjustments as they look up for certain landmarks and evaluate their own progress while developing a sense of direction.  For newer explorers they may move more slowly and sometimes inadvertently step in the muck, but they are all building self-awareness and confidence in what their bodies and minds can do.  The social aspect for those who enjoy staying in a group also continues to be relevant and necessary practice.


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We split off into several groups on Thursday and the girls with whom I traveled through the swamp were savvy enough to choose good sticks to test their footing before moving forward.  They experimented with measuring the depth of the swamp with different sticks and this activity held their attention for quite some time.  As usual, we used the Fairy Tree as our main landmark and I was remarking that I didn’t actually know for a fact that it was a white pine because I couldn’t get up in the tree to check the number of pine needles per cluster.  Just then we came across a broken pine branch in our path and decided it must have come from the Fairy Tree since there were no other pines nearby.  We counted the needles per cluster and, sure enough, it had 5 needles, which means it is a white pine!  Tree type confirmed!

Meanwhile the other groups were back on land working on building and playing pretend.  We joined them and we all went to the Secret Fort Tree where much self-challenging and determination were put into practice!


In any weather, outside is better!