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 2018

New Group, New Location

Before we even reached the woods we spotted a slug in the sunny, sandy path. This is not a normal place for a slug so we wondered why it was there.

We used magnifiers to inspect the slug’s cool little eyes on the ends of tiny stalks. With the lightest touch the slug pulls its eyeballs back inside its head and then pops them back out moments later. It’s cool to watch. I told the kids about how the slug’s slime protects it from sharp objects and how there are doctors and scientists who are experimenting with recreating slug slime that can be used to seal up human organs when surgery has been performed. The slime is protective and can work better than stitches or staples.

What is on this leaf?

Logs are meant to be walked on.

I never get tired of watching kids practice log-walking. Sometimes they develop routines they will perform over and over for fun, but I know that they are also building strength, balance, coordination, and self confidence. They also use this process for creative problem solving and self-testing.

So many cool fungi after a rain!

M. said this one reminded him of a funnel.

L. spotted this lovely butterfly with her camouflaged spots.

We reached the stream and found it to be COLD!


They walked this log over and over, eventually “falling” in on purpose repeatedly.

We are so fortunate to have such a pretty place to explore.

Weird growths on tree leaves. From bugs? From disease? We wondered.

The creek varied in depth.

Iridescent damselflies flitted all around in the sunny patches above the creek.

B. was laughing here and announcing, “This is SO FUN!”

In order to continue on down the creek we had to bend down and creep underneath a fallen tree. We had to clear some spider webs as we went. The spiders were probably displeased. We wondered how they get their webs from one side of the water to the other?


A gorgeous web that must have taken a lot of work!

Friends and neighbors happily sitting on the log noticing water striders on the surface.

Two damselflies.


L. noticed a green frog.

This is a portion of dead tree roots that has been worn away by the moving water.

After a while we wandered to another place along the stream and the kids started taking turns jumping off the muddy bank into the water, happily laughing and yelling as their feet splashed into the cold water. I love the cooperation this simple activity requires.




and sometimes we slip and fall!


Happy and balanced, each waiting their turn, giving space, being self aware at the same time that they maintain respectful awareness of each other.

L. plugs her nose as she wades through the skunk cabbage. It’s pretty stinky when you walk on it!

I tried over and over again to capture E’s amazing smile and laughing eyes but she is elusive!

Of course, eventually someone notices how cool the rocks look under the water!

L begins a rock collection.


I found a feather from a barred owl!

Whose scat is this? It is full of berry seeds.

Another spider web with a looong spider in the center!


At the beginning and end of our session we played, “Pooh Sticks,” a game originated in the original Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne. We each dropped in a distinctive stick on one side of the bridge and then ran to the other side to watch and see which one came out first, second, third, etc. We experimented with different sizes and shapes of sticks and then, later, pine cones.

Pooh Sticks is a game of physics!

They called out excitedly, “There’s MY stick!”


I loved watching them collectively dash from one side of the bridge to the other and climb up to look over for their stick. I joined them each time with the exception of these photos.

Woods and Wetlands 2018

Slush and Engineering

On this mid-winter melt day I had just two Woods and Wetlands explorers, but nevertheless, we had a blast!  The melting snow that was flooding the playground was slowly draining downhill toward the woods and swamp.  The boys first noticed tiny waterfalls trickling across the path we intended to take to Grandfather Oak.  We were quickly derailed by this fascinating new development and set about following the path of the moving water uphill until we located its source.

D. and J. noticed that there were two tubes coming out of the ground from the playground but only one had water trickling out.  The other seemed blocked and D. began finding ways to clear it.

Getting soaking wet was totally worthwhile as J. and I worked to remove some rocks from the tiny drainage stream, later making the effort to haul them down the hill to create a dam in the woods.

D. and I talked about and observed what kinds of things stopped water from flowing.  Discussion followed with both boys about gravity, the power of moving water, and how engineers study these factors in order to build things.

D. looks closely to find out where he could clear out more leaves and slush.

J. experimented with a plastic lid we found to see how far it would float on the moving water before getting stuck.

We would have loved to have a few, small, foldable shovels to clear the slush, but using our feet and sticks worked too.

J. worked in almost complete contented silence to build his dam.

J. checked frequently to see if the water was getting deeper and also looked for places where the water might escape.

D. really enjoyed building a dam and, like most kids, he loved talking about it.  The one context in which kids are allowed to say, “dam!”

We used packed snow and some sticks to build D’s dam.

He decided to build two separate dams to capture two tributaries.

Together we worked the entire time to clear slush, sticks, and leaves which created tiny rivers that curved and turned.  This turned into a major cause and effect lesson for all of us.

I asked D. where he thinks all the water will eventually go.  He thought hard and looked around before concluding, “Probably the swamp.”  Yup!  

We stayed warm and mostly dry despite our outer layers being soaked.  D. and I changed mittens once when our hands got wet and cold.  Luckily, I keep extras with me at all times!


Woods and Wetlands 2017

If a Tree Falls in a Forest…

It was so good to see everyone dressed just perfectly for the chilly, fall afternoon yesterday.  Nevertheless, getting a boot full of swamp water on a 40 degree day is quite different from an 80 degree, June day.  I notice the kids nearly always have a hard time with this the first time it happens but they tend to toughen up and take it well if it happens again.  In fact, I heard one of the first grade boys echo my own words when he slipped and ended up with a wet foot, “Well… it happens.”  Yes, it does.  Very philosophical!

I was smiling because I had just had a short conversation with some girls as we were wondering if anyone had fallen in yet.  G. had smiled and said, dryly, “Someone always falls in!”  I pondered aloud what we would do if one of these days no one did.  I jokingly concluded that we would simply have to push someone in!  The girls laughed and we went on our way, balancing on mossy logs through the cold water.

C. was wondering what the tube under the path was for and I showed her how it allows water to flow under instead of over when the water rises.  We found 3 places where the water had gone over and through, eroding the soil and collapsing the path.  S. used a stick to pole vault herself over these narrow waterways.  It was a perfect situation for observing the power of water and how it can affect soil where tree roots do not hold it in place.

As I reflect on our conversations and observations I am always pleased to notice ways that the kids just naturally engage in mathematical and scientific thinking.  For another example, on our way to Grandfather Oak someone noticed a portion of a dead tree that was held up off the ground by another tree in which it was trapped toward the top.  I encouraged everyone to stop and try to use clues nearby to piece together what might have happened to cause what they were seeing.  I wish I could relay the entire complex of conversation that went on for the next 10 minutes or so.  They grasped onto my question and I began hearing them take turns telling each other and me what they noticed such as, “Look!  I think this chunk of tree trunk on the ground matches up right here with the part of the tree that’s still hanging up.”  and, “This end of that chunk is smooth!  Someone must have chopped it down somewhere!”  and, “Here’s a stump.  Maybe it came from this.”  (Guiding question from me: “But is the size of that stump right?  Is it the same size as the base of that tree?”)  “No!  It’s not.  It’s too small… Here’s one!  This one matches!” and, “I agree with C.” and, “I think that tree fell onto the other one first and then someone chopped it out of the way and then it fell apart over here…”  etc.  These are the kinds of conversations and investigations we have been trying to facilitate in our classrooms and here they are happening with almost no effort on my part after school in the woods.  This one could have been extended in so many ways.

If kids conduct a scientific or mathematical inquiry about a tree that fell in the woods and no administrators are there to hear it and no tests are there to evaluate it, did it still, “make a sound??”  Yes, and it was a beautiful sound.  The valuable, memorable,  happy sound of kids learning naturally.


“Eew!  Poop!”  Nope.  Not poop.  Fungus!  We don’t know what it’s called, but it didn’t feel as gross as it looked.

H. balanced her way across the log.

We wondered what might make a home in this cool tree.

There was some debate about whether these were mushrooms or not.  C. used his background knowledge of the mushrooms he has seen in the grocery store to declare that they did not look like mushrooms.  This illustrates the point that the more experiences kids have, the more they use those experiences to learn new things.  

The kids really lend bright colors to these dark, November days!