Since it is the start of the new school year, we have spent alot of time reviewing our basic rules of kindness and safety. Our rules of kindness are: No hitting, no grabbing, no pushing and no mean words. Our most important safety rule is that each child must always be able to see a teacher and the teacher must always be able to see each child. It has been a process however each of your children has begun to internalize these rules quickly. One of the noticeable outcomes of any nature immersion program is that the participants exhibit greater teamwork and cooperation. We encourage individual empowerment and group bonding and the children are beginning to feel a sense of community: with each other, with their teachers, and towards the land.
We have been foraging for evergreen huckleberries and the new children have been learning how to enjoy eating the fresh leaves as well. We have been eating doug fir sap, which is a great expectorant, by scooping a tiny bit onto an evergreen huckleberry leaf and then licking it off. We have also been eating fresh salal leaves, as well as making them into little cups in which to collect berries. The new students have been learning their way around the land and have enjoyed spending time at fairy house land, squirrel camp, monkey tree and the balancing logs.
Due to the unseasonably warm weather, we have had alot of barefoot days this past month. We have noticed that many of the insects have not gone into hibernation yet and the kids are learning about all the different animals that go to sleep in the winter and how the plants go dormant. We have observed many different spider webs strung throughout the forest and marvel at the plethora of forest items that have fallen into them. We have spent time lying on our backs, in various relaxation stations throughout the forest, looking up at the trees and noticing the different types of leaves and their different colors. We have watched the breeze in the trees and talked about how wind is one of those things you cannot see yet you know it’s there by various clues. We delight in trying to catch leaves as they fall and we tell the children that if they catch one, they can make a wish.
We have seen many animals this month and it has given us the opportunity to talk about each one’s behaviors and habitats. We have seen ravens, native squirrels, pileated woodpeckers, frogs, garter snakes and lots of slugs. Some of the children have created an elaborate slug world, with various slug houses, so the slugs will feel at home. At the start of the month, we were finding little wings everywhere and through our observations, we were able to determine that they came from termites. We have been teaching the children the preferred way to pick up small insects so we do not crush them: by sliding a leaf under them.
The forest floor was so dry this month that for a couple of weeks we were able to peel back distinct layers of leaf litter (detritus) from the ground. The children could clearly see the layer that was in the process of decomposing and the layer that had already become dirt. This lead to discussions about how soil is formed. We also noticed that this very dry dirt had no smell and talked about why. The kids delighted in putting some of this super dry dirt into buckets then adding water and seeing if the dirt floated or sank or if the water became absorbed by the soil like a sponge. Later in the month, once the soil became damp again we could clearly smell a slight moldy smell and a combination of the various organic materials. We also noticed that when the air became moist, we could smell the decaying cottonwood leaves quite strongly. The children have engaged in alot of digging this month, marveling over how many different colors of dirt there are and how the dampness is only on the very top thin layer.
We have been exploring the different kinds of tree bark as a way to identify our native trees. We have felt the bark with our hands and we have also drawn on them with big chalk to feel the textural difference. We have also spent alot of time collecting fallen leaves and sorting them based on their differences. We have also had the opportunity to talk about the roots of plants, observing that tree roots look very different than the roots of bushes. The prevalence of roots at this time of year, because it has been so dry, has lead to discussions about erosion: what it is, how it occurs and what we can do to prevent it. We have also talked about the three things most plants need to grow: water, sun and dirt.
The children have been very active this month, singing and dancing and running. The children have also been challenging themselves to find as many nature instruments as possible, such as sticks, logs, leaves, rocks, etc. We have been playing some of our favorite nature games, including eagle eye, howl and seek, and treasure hunting. The children have also created some forest theater performances and engaged in some elaborate story telling.
We have talked about this transition from summer to fall and explored the many differences in the two seasons, such as falling leaves, cooler weather, fewer insects, less sun and more clothing. As the rain begins again, the children are discovering where the puddles form and realizing that the ground will now be damp until spring. Several days, we used our careful listening to try and figure out if we were hearing rain drops or leaves falling in the breeze. We challenged ourselves to be as quiet as possible and to find out how many different things we could hear.
It has bee a very busy and exciting month to start the new school year. The children are all very interested in learning about their new school environment and they are thrilled that they all can use their outdoor voices as much as they want in the forest!
By Erin Kenny ©2011