Camp Rockford 2021, Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2021

Much to Do. It’s STEM, It’s Literacy, It’s Nature Therapy.

I must admit, I can no longer keep up with daily writing about all of the wonder and joy we are experiencing during this summer’s Woods and Wetlands camp! I will just have to let photos and captions give you a fraction of what goes on out there. We discover new things every day. Kids create, invent, problem-solve, think, communicate, gain confidence, and ever so much more!

Empathy and Literacy: Learning that trees and humans have far more in common than we might have ever realized. Noticing and caring for tiny creatures reminds us we are not alone on this earth. Seeing, feeling, smelling, listening to, and tasting nature creates lasting thoughts and feelings. We held a toad, crayfish, spiders, grubs, slugs, minnows, mushrooms, and fairy shrimp. Everyone was gentle and kind. They were able to imagine what it might be like to be one of these small lives so different from ours. We read the book, A Snake In the House, and the kids were on the edge of their seats, so to speak, wondering how the little snake would get back home to the pond where it belonged. At the end there was a collective sigh of relief as the boy in the story “shared its joy at being home.” In addition to listening to both fiction and nonfiction read alouds, the kids are exploring the field guides and gaining interest in looking up our various “finds” using iNaturalist. They are writing and/or drawing in their nature journals almost daily, though not everyone was developmentally ready for that and we didn’t push it because we don’t want to create negative associations with writing or journaling.

Math: Estimating how long a stick or string needed for “fishing.” Gauging the distance one can leap or jump from a log into the water or the ground. Today one explorer created a monetary system using beech nuts (1 is worth $5 because, due to the beech scale disease, there aren’t going to be so many of these in the future,) and acorn caps (worth only $1 because they were all over the place.) Two other explorers stood on the steep, high bank over the river and had a “rocks vs sticks vs acorns” contest to see which created the biggest and most circles rippling outward in the water. They energetically proceeded to throw the aforementioned items as hard as they could into the river. (Hello, physical strength and spatial senses!) They noticed the rings started small and grew larger as they expanded.

Woods and Wetlands 2017

A Secret Fort, Magical Markings, Seeds of Fall and Wild Apples

Snake, seeds, stink-bug, spiders, …. and more.  Those are just the ones that begin with, “s!”  Another beautiful afternoon in the woods yesterday yielded so many discoveries.  We not only continued to explore the woods and swamp but we also checked out the, “Secret Fort,” (what IS it about adding the word, “secret,” to make a place seem more extraordinary?) and the old boardwalk, which some referred to as a bridge.  Despite the relative small land area available to us, I think there will be no end to new explorations of one kind or another.  Each day is new and different.

Even though I prefer the Woods and Wetlands experience to be mostly child-led, I do lend my observations, questions, and sometimes suggestions for a focus to see where the kids will go with it.  Yesterday I suggested that as they explore they also notice how many different types of seeds they could find and collect on our collection log.  At some point one explorer suggested we have a place for, “cool stuff,” regardless of whether it is a seed.  I agreed that this was a fabulous idea and that we could have a museum of sorts. Nevertheless, most of the kids did collect some interesting seeds and we noticed how some are large and hard, such as an acorn, and others are tiny, soft, and fuzzy.  Some have spiny ends for the purpose of being carried by way of attaching to a moving creature, such as ourselves, and other seeds have wispy tufts designed to be carried by the wind. I expect this experience will open itself up to later discussions, observations, and learning about how plants make new plants when the old ones die or go dormant.  I love nature-study!

Almost immediately C. found a ribbon snake, which is simply a slender garter snake.  Many people call them, “garden,” or, “gardner,” snakes.  In fact, the word, “garter,” came from the striped ribbons people used to use to hold up their stockings back before elastic did the trick for us.  These pretty, striped snakes resembled a striped garter.  The garter in question yesterday was not very aggressive and though it showed some signs of fear of the collection of assumed predators surrounding it, it still allowed us to touch and hold it without much protest.  After everyone had seen it who wanted to, it was gently released where it had been found.  I enjoyed watching a few of the kids follow behind to see where it went and watch it go free.  I love the feeling of imagining being a wild creature that has been safely returned to its habitat.  I imagine that some of the kids were developing that kind of empathy as they observed it disappear into the underbrush.

J and B discovered some very cool markings on a dead tree trunk and we discussed what could have (and did) make them.  I love that even when something can be explained scientifically we can also imagine magical explanations for it.  The markings came from where the bark used to be attached to the tree as well as some markings were etched by tiny bugs beneath the loosened bark as the tree died.  (But they looked like mysterious symbols made by imaginary creatures!)

Our storage container out there is padlocked but is nevertheless far from secure from either tiny 6 or 8 legged creatures as well as larger, 2-legged varieties who just go ahead and pull the plastic doors right apart.  Either way, over the summer there have been some intruders.  Yesterday we observed a couple of 8-legged visitors who remain there as guardians of our materials.  I refer to them as, “tiny,” only relative to us.  In fact, they are probably larger than most humans would want to have nearby, though they are harmless to us.  Rather than scream and squash them on sight, I opted for modeling gratitude that they are busy eating other bugs that actually do hurt us or damage our belongings.  In short, we have two (at least) good-sized guardian spiders who have worked hard to make their amazing webs inside our container. Naturally, we named one of them, “Charlotte.”  They both mind their own business and so we mind ours.


E took most of her time out there to enjoy the tactile feel of the swamp muck/mud in and on her hands.  At one point she held out her hands to me and it appeared she was wearing elegant, black gloves.  I love seeing kids gradually lose their culturally taught need to stay clean and gain their birthright as children by getting dirty and having fun doing it!  A parent once said to me, “Muddy kids are happy kids!”  I realize that doesn’t always translate to happy parents though.  Luckily, mud washes off, albeit with a scrub brush sometimes.IMG_0734

The “Secret Fort,” is, in fact, an ancient wild apple tree that is being slowly choked by wild grape-vine.  The vines and branches have an other-worldly, gnarled look about them and with all the leaves still in place, we are sheltered from view by cars that pass by on the nearby road.  There is enough space for most of the kids to climb at the same time, and they used words and took turns so that everyone who wanted a turn was able to have one.  A couple of kids did get band-aids for small scratches which are bound to happen when we crawl through brambles, climb up scratchy branches, and jump down to a stick-laden forest floor.  I could see that J was torn between worry over the tiny drops of blood on his leg and wanting to appear brave in front of me and the other kids.  Since we were at a distance from the first-aid kit, I opted for distraction in the form of pointing out the wonder of how his skin will make that blood into a scab and then make all new skin to close it up and make it new again without any directions from him.  How cool is that?!  I did get a smile from him at that point.

After the secret fort we walked down to an old boardwalk that has been there since at least 1978, based on an old trail map that Mrs. Wells found tucked away in some files last spring.  Along and at the end of the boardwalk we saw more towering cattail plants, some purple asters, the deep red berries of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant, swamp milkweed, and many other plants we have yet to identify!  J found a beautiful bug that we both thought was probably a stink bug or shield bug.  As we headed back, I noticed a wild apple tree still holding a few scabbed, misshapen, multi-colored, and enticing apples.  I announced that I could see it but did not tell where.  All at once everyone was exclaiming, “Can I try one?  I want one!  Where is it?”  I smiled and told them they could certainly try a wild apple if they could locate the tree.  My purpose?  Encouraging observational skills, problem-solving, self-reliance, motivation… etc.  And they found it!  Then came the challenge of reaching the higher hanging fruit.  I helped out some, but others got sticks to knock down the apples, or jumped to grab the branches.  I remember doing both of those when I was a kid.  Once everyone who wanted one had an apple, there came the expected concerns about how to eat something that looked so very different than what we are used to in the store.  I explained that this is what natural apples will look like if no one sprays them with anything to protect from bugs or diseases.  I showed them areas that were good to bite into and pointed out that I ate them my entire life and never had any problems, so it is likely they won’t either.  Even if they bite into a “yucky” spot, they can just spit it out and try another.  No harm done.  The apples were a combination of sweet and tart and I was proud to see how many kids were willing to try them.  There is something to be said for foraging for your own food, however odd it may look!

Then it was time to leave and we hadn’t even gotten to go have a look at all of the different seeds we collected.  But it didn’t matter; we had a great experience and there will be more seeds next week.  It is a wonderfully free feeling to go into the woods with only the expectation that we WILL make discoveries, but no specific expectations of certain outcomes.  Learning and fun happen best when we just remain open to and present for whatever comes our way as well as what we, ourselves, bring to an experience.



Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2017

Woods and Wetlands: August 17, 2017

Yesterday we had only 7 of our group members and we definitely missed those who couldn’t make it. But we still had a great time making discoveries and building things with nature. We stopped so many times along the path to the wetland that we used over half of our class time just on the walk. I love that this is a time when I don’t have to hurry and rush kids from one place to another. That is something I will not miss from the classroom setting! We stopped every time one of the kids noticed some little treasure or curiosity along the path.

Since we all had our new, little journals in hand, we were able to jot down notes about what we saw, questions we had, and sketches of various plants or animals. One of the first discoveries was a nearly-dead cicada! These are such interesting looking insects and everyone inspected it closely with magnifiers and we brought it along in a critter container. I heard comments like, “It’s head reminds me of the shape of a hammer-head shark!” and, “Look! It’s got tiny little antennae!” and, “You can see through its wings!” We noticed that it has two sets of clear wings, like fairy wings, and it had a hole in the end of its abdomen, making us wonder what happened to it. We wondered about the life cycle of this creature and I made a note to look it up later. We measured it and noted that it was 5 cm long.        cidada

We also were thrilled to find Ms. Toad living in the same hollow in the tree she was in back in June when 3 of our class members were with me for spring Woods and Wetlands! She got a little nervous with all of us looking at her and she backed downward into her hole. P. thoughtfully wanted to make a roof for her to protect her from the rain, which led to a discussion about how nice that is to want to help her, but that she and Nature have got things the way they need them and she probably needs it open above her to help bugs come in for her to eat.

Ms Toad

The main “noticing,” we did was of all the many types of seeds that various plants and trees were presenting. Some seeds were fuzzy like velcro and found ways to hitch a ride with us as we passed by. Other seeds were large, like acorns and what I think were hickory nuts. We noted how the mullein, the fuzzy, “band-aid,” plant, had flowered and each flower left behind a tiny envelope jam-packed with seeds smaller than a poppy seed! So many different sizes and shapes of seeds, and each one containing all the information it needs to make a new plant! Nature is amazing!

We briefly visited a maple tree that is good for climbing up a short distance, and then moved to the swamp with the Vine Playground where a few kids worked together to begin a fort made with rocks, grape-vine, and sticks. I was amused to note that along the way some of the kids were gathering large rocks and carrying them in their backpacks to use for their intended fort. No wonder they were so tired on the walk back!

Today the predicted storms have postponed class, but we will get out there tomorrow and see what new mushrooms have popped up in the rain!