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.
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.
It turns out that kids of all ages listen more closely and follow directions better when the directives are delivered by Mr. Porcupine. Mr. Porcupine is not living in a tree in the woods; he lives only on my hand, and until today, I didn’t realize he carries more authority and fascination than I ever could! Puppets are always a hit with younger kiddos, so I wasn’t sure that this slightly older group would go for them, but WOW, did they EVER! Initially I intended that my Michigan wildlife puppets would be used only for our Morning Meeting greeting for a fun way to learn about some Michigan wildlife, but a few of the kids were eager to bring them down to our exploration space as well. After extracting a promise that the puppets wouldn’t leave our main area, I let them play as they chose. They loved creating silly voices for the different animals. Toward the end of our morning two of the girls asked if Mr. Porcupine could wake up and come out for a play date. From that moment on, all of the kids were engaged with Mr. Porcupine, asking him questions, tickling his belly, trying to find food he liked, and laughing at his responses.
Before we left Morning Meeting I assigned the kids a new “noticing” task for our last day: noticing with our first 5 senses. We were lucky to begin with the sense of taste! I have no pictures to show, but between Morning Meeting and going to the Meeting Log, some of the kids and I discovered a tasty batch of ripe, wild, red raspberries! We spent quite a bit of time carefully picking and eating, with one boy checking with me every single time he picked a berry, to make certain it was safe to eat. He couldn’t get enough! There is something about foraging for wild food that just feels right!
The Rescue Squad from Tuesday and Wednesday continued and evolved today with some of the boys getting in on the rescues. There is one fairly deep spot under the log-jam in the creek where I have asked the kids to avoid playing. At some point one of the Rescue Squad girls informed me that they didn’t need me to be there anymore because they had everything under control and could rescue each other as needed. (It just occurred to me that the rescues started after we read the book, An Extraordinary Egg, in which a frog needed rescuing!) I smiled at that but told them that seriously, they cannot play pretend near that deep spot. They informed me, just as seriously, that they weren’t “playing pretend,” that they were truly able to rescue each other. At that point I made sure they understood that if someone, even a small child, fell in that spot and the current pulled them toward the logs, it is NOT an easy thing to lift another human whose clothes and boots are filled with water, and that they absolutely were NOT to practice rescues there at all. Though I never leave the kids alone in or near the creek, I stayed put right next to that particular place after that, just in case.
Toward the end of our morning some of the kids took on a new project; they decided to speed up the decomposition of our Meeting Log! Meanwhile, others engaged with Mr. Porcupine who had decided to wake up and participate. Then we all lay down in the soft grass and leaves and looked up into the tree canopy while Mrs. Webb guided our attention to the patterns of light and dark where the sun shone through the leaves or where the leaves were in shadow. Some of the puppets joined us.
In the last 5-10 minutes, I asked everyone to try to create one, final, journal entry for the session. Write or draw something you noticed with your 5 senses today. Some of the results were: the sound of water flowing over rocks, birds singing, kids splashing, taste of wild raspberries, scents of water and logs, the feel of mud and bark, and the sight of mushrooms with pores and gills.
Children learn best through doing, through playing, and by following their own interests with guidance and enhancement from adults. During Woods and Wetlands children learn and grow in so many ways. They notice not just the natural world around them, but how they fit into that world and how they feel when engaged with it.
Woods and Wetlands programs are available all year long! Contact me for more information!
Our week thus far is sunny and dry, for which we are grateful after last week’s sodden conclusion! Mosquitoes continue to plague us but we keep spraying each other and continue moving around which helps some. My intention this week was to introduce a variety of tree-related facts and inquiries, but the kids had other ideas. We discovered a section of the creek that is much shallower and easier to get into than our usual spot. The kids dug in the mud and found worms which were then tied onto the fishing poles some of our explorers were making with sticks and some cotton string I had in my backpack. The mud was also useful for painting on trees and a few girls made what they called a “mosquito trap,” packing mud and moss onto a knot of a tree on the banks of the creek. On Wednesday the mud-packing on the tree turned into patching bark back onto the tree. The kids involved called themselves, “Tree Doctors.”
With actual goals in mind, the kids were motived to problem-solve in order to meet these goals. How to find more worms? How to attach a worm to a string without a hook? How to tie knots? Where might we find fish? The fishing activities continued on today at our usual spot in the creek.
Before leaving our Morning Meeting circle today I had kids pair up with a Michigan field guide in order to just page through looking at different plants and animals that could be out there in that woods at that moment. Looking at some familiar photos prompted a few memories about having seen or encountered the featured plant or animal in the past. One explorer told me a story about how his mom “freaked out” when a bat was in their house.
This morning the ticket to go explore and play was just one page of their nature journal showing with picture or words what they hoped to do or see today. At the end of our morning I asked anyone who wanted to share about what they did and whether it was what they had hoped to do in their journals. Yesterday we journaled about what we already did or saw that morning.
On Wednesday some of the girls created a “Rescue Squad.” They assigned themselves and each other to various positions on the squad. Playing at being rescuers, they had the opportunity to safely try out what it might feel like to be someone who helps and saves others. I asked them to consider who, in real adult life, are these people? They promptly rattled off: firefighters, medics, ambulance, police, doctors, nurses, and lifeguards. Pretend play is incredibly valuable, even for older children such as those going into 3rd grade this fall. The more practice children get at trying out different roles, the better they can make connections to the world around them and to themselves.
Below: While waiting for everyone to arrive, some of the kids love to make up games and routines on the benches before we begin Morning Meeting. Though they couldn’t tell you this, they are testing their own balance, speed, flexibility, coordination, and spatial awareness.
I brought a section of an old paper-wasp nest so that the kids could touch it and see it up close. They noticed right away that the pattern of the cells matches one of the nature patterns we learned about last week. It’s hard to believe that bugs can make such a beautiful home out of wood and saliva! We learned that the wasps only use the nest for one season and then build a new one the following spring. If you leave up the old one, it deters them from building there again because they are territorial and don’t want to build near another nest, even if it is not in use!
We used the leaf-matching greeting again, but this time did 3-4 rotations so they greeted more people. The next day, I asked them to try to find the tree the leaves came from.
We never cancel for rain, only for thunder/lightning, so we were out in the rain this morning with almost no let-up. At first it was a novelty for the kids to play in the rain. But after about an hour and a half they were starting to feel they’d had enough. Frankly, so did the teachers! I will admit to being puzzled as to why only a couple of our explorers wore raincoats, given the forecast. It’s not fun to play outside when we are wet and, after a while, cold. At the very end one of the boys who had been pretty miserable for the last 45 minutes suddenly announced, “I forgot! I have a raincoat in my backpack!” !!! Sigh. I wonder how many others had ponchos or raincoats in their backpacks the whole time?
We did manage to have a good time, regardless. We greeted each other just before it down-poured by finding the person with the matching tree leaf and saying good morning to them. I intended to have them trade leaves with someone else and greet each other again as I introduced some different kinds of trees and how we tell them apart by looking at their leaves or bark, but as the clouds above us opened we ran for the protection of the tree canopy instead.
Beneath the protection of a leafy beech tree I gave a mini lesson about trees, comparing them to humans. Trees have crowns and we have heads. Trees have branches and leaves while we have arms and fingers. Both trees and humans have trunks. Trees have roots while we have legs and feet. Trees have bark and we have skin. Trees of a family are stronger and healthier when they live nearby each other. Human friends and families are stronger and healthier when we remain connected than when we are isolated. Human skin bleeds when cut. Trees “bleed” sap when cut. Both blood and sap are released to protect us and trees from germs or diseases getting in. Trees and humans develop scabs to heal over a wound. Trees take in the air we breathe out and we take in the air trees breathe out. Trees (and other plants) store carbon dioxide in their roots, which is another reason their roots need to stay underground! We still have so much to learn about trees and humans, but we know that we need trees!
We explored a couple of new sections of the woods this morning. Everyone got to pick a beech nut or two. We examined their spiny-looking shells and broke open a few to see the two, green seeds inside. Interesting mushrooms were popping up all over the place. The weirdest fungi we saw today were a kind of coral fungi that I think are called, “white worm coral” or (my favorite) fairy fingers! But they could also have been crown tipped coral. My pictures of it are blurred from the rain on my lens.
Yesterday a large, dead, branch fell from a tree not too far from where we were playing, so today I talked a lot about dead branches and dead trees. We practiced looking up before remaining in one place very long, checking to see whether there were any dead limbs above us. I always warn our explorers to never trust a dead branch with your full weight and to stay out of the woods in strong winds.
It was while we were checking out a new area that I noticed the most amazing interaction between 3 of the girls. One girl had walked away from her little group and was sitting on a log looking unhappy. Another girl (their evident leader) went to her and they talked for a few moments. The leader then went back to the group and spoke with one of her friends and they both went over to the girl sitting on the log. Using a kind and gentle voice, their leader encouraged the girls to talk out their conflict, and she gave them wording and support. And then? “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I didn’t mean to make you sad. Will you forgive me?” “Yes, I forgive you.” And all 3 girls hugged each other. I was stunned. Their leader glanced at me and I smiled at her and told all three that I was so proud of them for their problem-solving and kindness toward each other.
With the older kids’ camp gone this session we went farther afield, so to speak, and discovered a much shallower and more easily accessed bend of our creek! I was grateful for this new space because it kept the kids interested for just a little bit longer when they were all sick of being wet. We splashed around in it for a little while and then headed back to our Meeting Log. The sky brightened even as the rain continued to fall and we returned to the field a bit early in case any parents guessed that we might need to end camp prematurely.
I invited anyone who felt like it to come with me for a walk down the road to look for black raspberries since we saw so many last week, but unfortunately a truck had come through this morning and mowed them all down. Nevertheless, to my great amusement, half of the group moved on to excitedly jumping up and down in the puddles along the edges of the road. How they could still be delighted by water when we were so deluged already was beyond me, but at that point I was happy for anything that took their minds off of being drenched to the skin. Even our fingers were all pruned up!
Thinking back on our session today I believe this group was uniquely suited to the situation we found ourselves in. They are an upbeat, happy, active, and connected little group of kids and it takes more than a couple hours of rain to dampen their spirits for long!
Just the same, I won’t lie; I do hope we have some dry, sunny, mosquito-less days next week!
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!)
Day 2 and already we adore this group! Brain Gym improvements literally overnight surprised both of us and nature is working its magic on everyone. I introduced nature treasures and read, If You Find a Rock during snack time. Without fail there are multiple kids who can identify with some of the rocks in this book and it prompts telling of memories and personal stories. Which reminds me to ask you this question, readers: Think back to your own childhood. What are some of your best memories? … Were you outside? With family? With friends? Picture it for a moment. I’m willing to bet that most of you didn’t think of times you were playing video games or watching TV. That’s because when you are watching a screen you aren’t making memories or real connections. All of the action is happening outside of you. Don’t you want your children to grow up with fond nostalgia for real life, just like you did? If we want children to create memories, to remember their own stories, to collect interesting stories about themselves, they need many opportunities to actively participate in and to experience real life, not just screen life. They need to make real connections with other humans and the planet we depend on. For young children, especially, if it’s in the body, it’s in the brain. When they are out there in the woods and creek, building forts, splashing small and large rocks into the water, mastering how to balance on a log, noticing intricate spiderwebs glistening with raindrops, smelling the warm scent of damp earth, and laughing with friends, their bodies and brains are fully engaged.
In the creek we looked closely at a beautiful spiderweb with its creator hanging upside down right in the center of it. How long did it take her to make it? How many does she make in a week? Can you imagine making something like that just to catch your food? Moving downstream to the next log we looked at tiny maple trees beginning to grow where their seeds had landed right in the cracks of the wet log. Some of our explorers challenged themselves to jumping off the log over and over, gaining balance, strength, coordination, spacial awareness, and confidence. When they were tired of it, they moved on. Other explorers reached into the water to pick up rocks in hopes of finding a treasure. Even that simple activity teaches something! As they look down through the clear, flowing water and reach for what they see, they find that trick of light and water places the object not quite where they thought it was. The vocabulary might not be there yet: refraction, reflection, etc, but the experience is something to build on. So they try again, reaching and feeling, using the sense of touch in coordination with what can be seen. They learn that light and water can trick our eyes and our brains! And then? The treasure! One explorer found a dense rock with a heart-shaped face shot-through with quartz and colorful veins. She kept it with her and took it home to put in her bedroom. Some activities don’t need teacher guidance.
In the woods Mrs. Webb invited kids who were done with being in the creek to build a fort with her. A small group of explorers built a fort wall and invited others into their “club.” They were proud to show it to me when snack and read aloud were over.
Just before we left, one of the smaller explorers noticed the most beautiful treasure of all, but it wasn’t one we could take with us. Imitating a patch of moss, a tree frog held very still as we gathered around her. The kids really wanted to touch her and while I normally let kids get hands muddy to touch amphibians, today we had so much bug spray all over the place and this was the only tree frog we have seen, I just couldn’t bring myself to let them touch her. We looked VERY closely though! The first name that was proposed was, “Green-Leaf.” Later I suggested adding the name, “Mossy,” as her middle name. We loved looking at her and hope that she will still be there tomorrow!
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!
Session 2 ended with another stroll down the road, but this time all the way to the Maas Family Nature Preserve. Our Camp Rockford woods was still mobbed by mosquitoes and rain was expected, so our last day was not quite what we had in mind, but we made the best of it. There was a little bit of “my feet hurt,” and, “when will we be there?” because we were all dressed for wading, not walking long distances. We took it slowly on the way out, stopping often to learn about what we were noticing.
For our greeting I handed each explorer a leaf and their job was to find the person with the matching leaf shape and say, “Good morning!” Once that was complete, they traded leaves with someone with a different shape, and performed the same task and greeting. This encouraged them to really take notice of the different shapes of leaves and provided an opportunity to talk about different kinds of trees. Our leaves came from maples, oaks, beeches, basswoods, cottonwoods, and wild grapevines. We could have kept trading until everyone had used each leaf shape, but we needed plenty of time for our walk, so we wrapped it up after just a few switches.
Each explorer was also given a beech-nut for their treasure collections. We talked about what we noticed about the nut: green, spiky but soft, looks like a mouth. One explorer asked if the seeds would be able to grow if we planted them when they are green, so we talked about how seeds need to dry and these will harden and turn brown when they are ready to be planted. A few of the kids were curious to look inside, so we opened them up and were surprised to find two, green seeds inside! They expected four because of the sections on the outside. Of course once the nut was opened it wouldn’t be viable to plant, so we went to the beech tree and picked another one to bring home and let dry. (Note: there is a spreading, devastating, beech scale disease attacking and killing many of our Michigan beech trees.)
As we walked we noticed! We looked at differences in the overall shape of maples and oaks. We noticed a tree that was definitely dead and I asked the kids to share evidence of how they could tell. (It had no leaves and the bark was coming off.) We examined some cedar trees and looked at their tiny, new, cedar cones. We sniffed the piney smell of cedar and found a mud puddle to stomp in.
At the end of Rector we finally arrived at the Maas Family Nature Preserve. It was a longer walk than we realized it would be, so we only took a little bit of time to visit the preserve before it was time to head back. We had to stay on the trail but we got to see: deer tracks, earth stars (a kind of puffball), butterfly milkweed, mushrooms, and we did get to taste wild blackberries!
In order to give their legs a rest before walking back to Camp Rockford, we sat down just outside the entrance while I read a favorite book to them, An Extraordinary Egg (They voted between 3 book choices and it was unanimous!) This book is always a sure thing for getting kids laughing out loud!
We moved more quickly on the way back and arrived with a little bit of time to spare before pick-up time. Session 2 went by so quickly! I couldn’t believe it was already over. I’m hoping to see these explorers again sometime!
Yesterday there was too much water in the creek and today there were too many hungry mosquitoes in the woods! Nature has a way of reminding us that we cannot control everything. While frustrating, sometimes not getting what we want reminds us that we still have choices, even if they aren’t the ones we hoped to have, and sometimes these other choices offer opportunities and lessons we may not have seen coming.
I was so excited to get to explore the creek with this group, but on Monday night we had enough rain that on Tuesday the water ran high and cloudy again. We did try, but determined it just wasn’t safe enough for many of our smallest explorers, (or very fun.) We used the opportunity to explore other spaces. Even though my intentions for the morning washed away with the current, I know that children need chances to be bored, because where there is boredom, there is also inspiration, motivation, and creativity if we allow the necessary time for them to sprout and grow. Children, by nature, will come up with their own science experiments, creations, games, and activities if we let them. It can be hard for adults in our current culture to let this happen. I feel the familiar, old tug on my teacher-brain, telling me I should fill the silences, keep everyone focused and active, and prove to other adults that the kids are productive and learning. It is with intention and effort I tell myself to STOP and breathe, to let nature and children unfold in their own way. I have to mentally hold myself back from trying to take charge of everything for fear someone won’t be having fun for a single moment. I KNOW differently. I KNOW better. And so we explored. Fun was had. Discoveries were made. Children laughed, asked questions, looked closely, helped each other, and they learned.
Prior to heading to the woods yesterday, we took some time investigating the edge of the mowed field.
Tuesday we tried out the water. Most of the kids did go in and get wet, but the current felt too strong, the water too cloudy to see where we were stepping, and certain sections were too deep so we all got out again after all the work of trying to get in! The kids were so brave though, and they really wanted to at least try it!
After leaving the creek we ventured up to higher (and dryer) ground east of the old building. There we discovered some wildflowers that most people haven’t seen before! The first time I encountered them I assumed they were a type of fungi because they seem to pop up after a rain and they have no chlorophyll to make them green. They are white and when they get older they turn black on the edges. I looked them up and found they are called “Indian pipes,” since their shape resembles pipes that some native people used. This was difficult to explain to young children, most of whom haven’t seen an old fashioned style pipe, not to mention the problematic name they were given long ago. Nevertheless, the plant is pretty interesting looking!
Wednesdaywas Mosquito Day!
The water was clear and much safer today, but unfortunately the air was quite literally swarming with blood-thirsty little mosquitoes! Despite multiple applications of bug repellent, we didn’t last long down in nor near the creek. It was too buggy to stand or sit still for even a moment, so we missed our Morning Meeting and our read-aloud time. The mosquitoes were slightly better for those of us wading in the creek, but not by much. We had a few interesting sink and float experiments, predicting whether a fern or a leaf would float better, and noticing how some sticks floated and others sank. But it was hard to have much fun when we were being attacked, so we gave in after about a half hour and packed up all of our things in order to escape!
We decided to go exploring on a walk down the road instead. I’m so glad we did! The road is a short, dead-end, nearly country road so the only vehicle we saw was a USPS mail truck. There was plenty to see and do on our walk, and enough time to go at our own pace. The kids were thrilled to get to eat some wild black raspberries that grew alongside, though I picked them and handed them out since reaching into the thorny brambles amidst poison ivy was more than I wanted to subject the kids to after all of their mosquito bites! We also saw where “our” creek flows beneath the road and comes out the other side. As sad as it made me, I pointed out a small turtle that had been flattened some time ago on the road and taught the kids a little bit about turtles and what to do and what not to do if we see one crossing the road.
Tomorrow everyone should come wearing a full suit of mosquito armor! But even if we can’t be in the woods, we are still explorers and we know how to entertain ourselves no matter what!