News from the Wild #23


We started out for Far Corner one day, but never made it past the giant Beech Tree (aka Pooh Tree). And that’s okay. Magic happens along the way.

The seasons they go round and round, and suddenly we find ourselves with summer round the bend. We asked the Oaks where they wanted to be sure to go, and what they really hoped to be able to do in our last two weeks of school. We made a list and day by day have been visiting those special places. The Ultimate Climber, The Campfire Circle, The Workshop, Far Corner and the Hollow Tree, the Pond, and Hilltop Home, of course. Choice is such a powerful thing to offer children. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do there?


On a thunderstorm day, we started out in the Mansion, but as the storm passed, we offered a choice: go out in the rain or stay in?


Thunderstorm day, playing the bird beak game (different beaks for different foods), after a tour of all the stuffed birds in the library to observe their beaks.


After the storm passed, some Oaks chose to take stock of the creek in flood, while a few chose to stay dry inside the Mansion


Dam removal engineers discuss the plan and roles


Oaks visitor #1 swings across!


Oaks visitor #2 builds a bridge

We have been talking to the children about their favorite places at Audubon. Some of the destinations above were favorites, but the one that surprised us was our Lunch Spot  – AKA The Stumps and Wobbly Logs. I had just read a blog post about the value of returning with children to the same place in nature over and over. To me, this was our outdoor classroom, Hilltop Home. And yet, our lunch spot is the place we spend the most time. We go there almost every day. We eat together and then as they finish eating, the children move off in twos and threes. They climb trees. They play in the old foundation. They look for tiny critters and mushrooms. They become superheroes or other imaginary characters. They play. And by playing in this one little patch of semi-wild, day after day, in all seasons, it becomes dear to their hearts. “There are so many different things to do there.”


Time together in a tree


Taking turns


Teamwork to roll the wobbly log


Hollow Tree acrobats


Pirate captain on the lookout

There is value too in the new and unexplored. We found a few stones still left unturned..


The Rock Mountains!


Playing 1,2,3 Tree!



Exploring leaves, all shapes and sizes.


Favorite garden leaf – sorrel


Tasty tulip petals


Ants, birds, and butterflies like nectar and the Oaks do too!

Meanwhile at our other favorite haunt, Hilltop, new loose parts sparked new play.


A bundle of hardy kiwi vines…


Transformed this fort into a dragon…


and these Oaks into equestrian princesses


A stick makes a most excellent steed!


We brought some math skills into the play at Hilltop. Cookies arranged just so.






And counting

One of the children wished to go to the Ultimate Climber, and another wished for a game of Camouflage, so we hid and sought among the fallen trees. But first, we read one of the children’s favorite books, brought from home, about a tortoise whose burrow shelters many other living things. The story brought up the concept of a keystone species, and a discussion of intrinsic value (does it matter to humans that this special tortoise is so important to other animals?). Forest Kindergarten philosophy.


You can read a story anywhere!


Playing Camouflage. The seeker must stand in one spot and try to see the hiders.


Entering the age of rule-bound play. They are using “eenie meenie” to choose who gets to be the seeker next. Their idea, their negotiation. Ready for the playground.


“In the Workshop, we can build.” Adding a roof.


Up in the Oaks-built roof under a leafy roof


Favorite story time, about how you never forget a friend.

A fascinating thing happened at the Workshop this week that speaks to this sense of place, to the magic that happens when you return to a particular spot. This little corner of Woodend is likely only ever visited by the Oaks (and critters). It’s a hidden alcove with a few fallen trees surrounded by bush honeysuckle. You have to wade through tall grass to get there. Way back in October, a child started a simple game called Wheat Store. Collect grass seeds and “sell” them. Others joined. I introduced the idea of grinding the “wheat” on a stump. Today, as soon as they saw that particular stump, the game jumped back to life. Only this time it was bigger and better. More children got involved. The story grew. “We are a family living in another country and we have go gather the wheat and then grind it and then bake it and then take it to market to sell it. I’m the sister.” Each child had a role, in the family and the narrative. They added an oven, collecting bags, and myriad details, all negotiated with each other independently. It was beautiful and a testament to how much these children have grown.


Gathering “wheat”


Grinding wheat. This particular stump is linked in their collective minds to this game.


The stump that started it all.


You will need pouches to carry the grains to the shop and to market. “I know how to make a bag!”

With the warm weather, wildlife discoveries abounded.


Garter snake!


Brood X Cicada (visiting, not found at Woodend)


Releasing wood frog tadpoles


Checking for signs of the fox family


Box turtle!


Pride of the finder


Pride of the finder

Opening Song: Make New Friends

Closing Poem: 

I’m unique.

In this whole world

There is no one else

Just like me.

Books we read:

The Adventures of Sophie Mouse: A New Friend by Poppy Green

Bimwili and the Zimwi by Verna Aardema

The Empty Lot by Dale Fife

At Home with the Gopher Tortoise – the Story of a Keystone Species by Madeleine Dunphy

Forget Me Not – Friendship Blossoms by Michael Broad

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin


News from the Wild #22


“That’s so cool! I love nature. It’s my favorite place in the whole world,” said an Oak today. I had just shown the children how water beads up on the leaves of jewelweed down by the pond. It reminded me of a t-shirt I saw recently of a tiny bird, that said, “The little things are the big things.” Here are these small humans, learning about a new plant, with wonder in their eyes. Here are their small muddy hands holding a giant worm so gently. Here are their fingers, pointing at a flash of red – “Cardinal!” Here they are, in shock and awe, watching a snake trying to eat a toad, and a frog trying to eat a dragonfly. Here they are, exploring, climbing, creating, discovering. Each moment, one could say, is a little thing. But they all add up to minds full of connections and hearts full of love. Each child, one could say, is a little thing. And yet, they will grow as surely as the seasons turn. And we will send them off into the wide world, with nature as a life-long friend.


Playing “Follow the Bird”


Bamboo forest meditation


We brought a camp stove to Hilltop to cook up some invasive bamboo shoots.


The verdict: YUM! The proposal title: Invasives Eradication by Hungry Kids (Extra kids courtesy of Take Your Child to Work Day : )


Potion-making never gets old –  the ingredients on offer are constantly changing!


Demolition team


The treasure tree is laden with treasure!


“Ninja Warrior” is all the rage, so we built a course at Hilltop


Ninja in training


Happy swinging climbing. Patient turn waiting.



Bird nest at Hilltop. With door mat.

On Friday, we went on a long hike to the Rock Creek side, turned left instead of right, and were glad we did!


Wetland wonders: turtles sunning, green heron fishing

We realized the path was leading to….a playground! Field trip within a field trip.


Field trip to civilization! Learning to pump on the swings.


The Oaks’ favorite snack.

Once we left the playground, things got wild quickly!


Garter snake snacking on a toad.


Hard to watch. Hard to walk away. Lots to think about. An experience that calls for some comfort from a friend. 

With such an audience, the snake gave up. “We saved the toad!” But what will the snake eat? Nature is not all flowers.

Part of feeling at home in nature is knowing you have friends there. The Oaks became  enthusiastic birders over the last two weeks, learning bird calls, sighting birds on the wing and in the trees. We made bird food, created bird-inspired art, and played bird games.




Painting with feathers and writing with quills.


Self-portrait, with bird and love.


Making “bird pudding”. Look at all those hands sharing space and resources!


Bird chefs


Hanging the treats

We played bird call hide and seek, with paired musical instruments. Bird one hides. Bird two calls and listens for the answering call, before trying to find her partner.


Hiding bird makes her call


Seeking bird calls back, and is off!

We wrapped up our Spring Journals in the Blair Native Plant Garden. Each child chose a plant and followed its changes over six weeks.


Final documentation of their chosen plant


“You can use the colors you see and the colors you imagine.”




Careful details


Using teamwork and a lever to break off a coveted branch.


“Look at all the eggs!”


A huge goal achieved- getting inside the lunch spot silver maple!


Taking a peek into the deep


All the way in!



Listening to the story of Herman the Worm


Getting reading for ponding


“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”


“The worm will feel right at home here!”


Time and space to just be.

News from the Wild #21


Spring has fully sprung. Woodend is painted twenty shades of green and alive with insects, snakes, turtles, frogs, and birds. Foxes, raccoons, and deer leave their prints for us to follow. Dens are dug, nests built. And everywhere the children explore, discover, ask questions, and play. Each day there is something new. Each day new words and new ideas flow all around us in a never-ending stream. We pluck them from the warm spring air and add them to our webs of knowledge. Learning is as simple as opening your eyes and wondering. We feel so lucky to have this bounty around us.


What will we find today?


Wood frog and catcher. You can’t see the frog, but you can see the pride.


Dragonfly nymphs (think about the concepts within concepts to talk about with just this find – metamorphosis, life cycles, habitat, classification (“It has six legs!”), predator/prey (right after this find, we found a wood frog trying to eat an adult dragonfly!), and on and on. Language, language and more language.


“The skunk cabbage is almost as big as me!”


Time to be together


Time to be alone


Water and sunlight and time for quiet reflection

With this bounty all around us, we are experimenting with shortening the formal teacher-directed time in our program. The children need the time to revel in all there is to see, and time to “get up steam” in their play. There is still never enough time.


Using rotting wood to clean the tadpole tank.


Teamwork to carry heavy tiles


Building a world in the dig pit. So much negotiation.

The Oaks have been building their own obstacle course at Hilltop. They talk about where it starts and ends, what else is needed, and how to make it even more challenging.


Obstacle course: Rock hop


Obstacle course: through the tree


There is a plan here, you can be sure.


There is so much you can do with bamboo, like form a band of two.


Watching a pileated woodpecker eat a snack (look closely at the pointy standing stump!)


Snacking on wild edibles – greenbriar tips and garlic mustard


“Is this actually good for me?”


The foxes have been hard at work


Using a “beater tray” to study arboreal insects. You whack the branches with a stick, holding the tray beneath to catch what falls. Science is fun!



Lunch perch


Into the hollow tree


What child?


Climbing out by himself – this takes serious upper body strength!


Cozy friends inside the tree


Now for the next tree-caving expedition…


Getting used to the ladder. Waiting in line is a thing you have to learn…


Spring journalling in the Blair Garden. So much change, you might have to document three plants or four…


Slug trails on thunderstorm/tornado day


Does Lesser Celandine make yellow? Yes! What else could we use?


Colors of Spring: Violets, Lesser Celandine, Garlic Mustard, Redbuds


In celebration of Earth Day, we went on a long hike around Woodend to look for spring wildflowers and…garlic mustard (an invasive plant). Chelsea taught the Oaks a new word: eradicate. They are now master garlic mustard eradicators!


Earth Day Garlic Mustard Hunt


“We filled two whole bags!”


“I found some that didn’t even have flowers on it yet!”


News from the Wild #20

Emotions always bubble at the surface when you are five or six. And now, with spring truly launched, there is change in the air. The children know by now what comes next. Spring means the school year is winding down towards summer. Then comes fall and the great unknown. What will Kindergarten or First Grade be like? Some of the children can and will tell you that’s what they are thinking about. Some of them just pick up a little anxiety like radio signals in the air. It flickers out, causing small social fires. They know some of what will be expected of them. “I don’t know how to read,” one tells me. “I can’t write it,” says another.

But you do. You can. Reading and writing are so much more than decoding the letters on a page, more than sounding out and printing words. Yes, that’s a part of it, but it’s like the turret on top of a indomitable castle. There’s a solid foundation, three-foot-thick walls, and buttresses holding the whole thing up. Before you read, you have to love stories, you have to have a sense of the way tales are spun. Before you write, you have to have your own story. Before you do either, you need words and ideas, lots and lots of them. In the words of British educator James Britton, “Reading and writing float on a sea of talk.”


Notice how each of these children is doing his/her own thing? Some are weeding, some are eating the weeds, some are watching. Some aren’t even in the frame. They are each in their own story. And it’s all learning.


The planting brings everyone together in the gardening story. First we weed, then we add compost, then we build the trellis, then we plant peas and we water…and hopefully for a grand finale, we eat!


If you let them, children will create their own individual lesson plans: Notice plants growing in the bottom of the compost. Investigate clues. Identify sprout as a pumpkin “Look how it’s coming out of the seed!” Remember the Halloween pumpkins that got composted last fall. Decide to rescue sprout by planting it in the garden where it can get sunlight. Mark it with a sign. “How do you write pumpkin?” 


It looks like a sunny day, but there is of course danger in this story. A hurricane or bad guys or both…where is the safe zone?


This hideout is alternately a safe castle or a dungeon. It changes. They discuss it and come to an agreement – because play revolves around agreement on the story you are all in.


It’s moments like this, bathed in light, together in a bush, immersed in a story of their own making.


You are also safe if you can get into a tree that no one else can climb to. Perfectly safe, 10 feet off the ground. That’s his story.

We continue to talk about the important things in life: kindness, bravery, resilience, encouragement, respect, empathy.


Wagon team getting up the hill


The weatherman was wrong about clouds but no rain, so we huddled in a stick shelter for circle and story.


Resilience is being wet and cold and squashed together and still being able to respectfully talk and listen.

We read a book that for me was love at first word. Mattland, by Hazel Hutchins. It’s about a kind of play that I fear is being lost – about creating something out of what you find. It’s about connection and friendship. A lonely boy builds his own small world in an empty lot, and without saying a word, makes a friend. We talked about going to new schools and different ways to make friends. Some people talk to new people right away. Some people wait and watch. Some people, like Matt, just start playing.  Then the waiting and watching children come closer and closer still.


Building Oaks Land


Some dive in, some wait and watch.


Just look how many stories there are here. Dragon lair, tunnels, bridges, rollercoasters…and more. 


Warming up with March Wind Blows. A game of connections.


Once upon a time, I found a Giant Worm…

As far as the sea of talk goes, there is really nothing better than spending your days in nature. Always changing, always full of stories. As part of our Signs of Spring unit, we started looking at arthropods. This week, we built pit traps and went on a spider hunt.


Digging an insect pit trap


How much soil can we put in the bottom to make them comfortable, but not let them out?


Language counts: We are scientists setting up a sampling site at our monitoring station.


Look what we found!


Every single pocket in this root ball has a resident spider!


Look what I found! The treasure tree is full of stories.


Confidence is one of those stalwart building blocks. “Belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities.”


Visitors! The afternoon Saplings visit Hilltop Home. New people, new play, new stories.


Kid-built obstacle course.


What’s changed in the Blair Native Plant Garden in the last two weeks? A lot!

There is so much more to the story of building the foundations for literacy. There are chapters on core strength and fine motor skills, on crossing the midline, on understanding symbol, on sequencing, on making connections, and yes on awareness of phonemes. But mostly it’s about making meaning from the story and have a deep well of words from which to draw upon. So, parents, be aware of your own anxiety about what comes next. The best thing we can do for both literacy and emotional growth is to talk and to read and to talk some more.


The pond finally looks like a pond!


A little help for a friend


We made an island and a lake.

Thunderstorms were forecast today, so we headed inside for an indoor arthropod hunt, some games and indoor play.


There is an evil queen in this castle land, and booby traps…


Snail’s Pace Race


Small world dramatic play – who’s in the animal family? What will happen? (characters and plot) What is that cat (?) up to?


Tall tall towers. Patterns in construction…math in play is another story.


New partnerships form when you both love the same game: Obstacles. Games can also be stories and this one is one of the best. How will we use these tools to get past the obstacles and back to home?

Books we read:

Equinox story (oral) from A New Beginning by Wendy Pfeffer

And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano

Finding Spring by Carin Berger

Mattland by Hazel Hutchins

Spiders Spin Webs by Yvonne Winer

How Full is Your Bucket? for Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer,

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder


News from the Wild #19


Creating a challenge – one child tied a vine up high, the rest had to try to work together to pull it down. All their idea.

We started these last two weeks welcoming spring, and ended up saying hello again to winter. Be ready for what comes your way. A life lesson – one of many we learn in Forest Kindergarten. Its important to shine the light on these lessons as they happen, with the children. Look what you are learning RIGHT now. Look how hard you worked on that. Look at that teamwork. See it. Name it. Celebrate it.

There is a big difference between praise and encouragement, between saying, “good job” or “you’re so brave (smart, strong, etc)” and giving specific observations about what you see a child doing or trying to do.

What is bravery actually? What does it look like? For one child, it is crawling through a hollow log. For another, it is sounding out words and writing. For another, it is reaching out to play in a new way, or with a new person. We gave a journal prompt “Tell about a time you felt brave during Oaks.” And they all started, “I felt really scared…but then I ….” Yes, you did. Shine that light.

Spring was lovely, while it lasted. We kept adding, “plant peas and greens” to our plan…and then decided we’d better just wait. We started Spring Journals, where each child chose a plant in the Blair Native Plant Garden to observe and document each week. Not this week. Flexibility is another goal!


Weeding and tasting the spring greens


Spring Journals


Observe, document and question…how do you think your plant will change?

We took advantage of a fabulous fiber arts exhibit on birds in the Mansion and went on a private guided museum field trip. No bus required. Note the “Art Critic’s Poses” (hands behind backs to remember not to touch) I learned from Lesley Romanoff at the Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School.


Private art gallery tour!


Magpie nest – so shiny!

We enjoyed some Hilltop time, finding yet again how the addition of new props, loose parts and tools can shake up the play in fabulous ways. The buried bones from the week before started a cooperative digging frenzy, attracting children who are not the usual dig pit customers. After the new outdoor kitchen became a hit in the preschool play yard, I drew a cook top on an old shelf we’ve had at Hilltop for ages, placed it just so on a log with the kitchen pots below, and added some shiny glass tiles. Now that’s a kitchen!


Checking on the wood frog eggs we are hoping will hatch.


Journal time with Carol. First you have to think of the story you want to tell. See the thought in your head, find the words to express your idea, and at the same time, think forward to what comes next. Writing is so much more than putting letters on a page.


Team shoveling. How deep can they go?


Happy chef in the kitchen


Double, double, toil and trouble


Playing Camouflage (a version of hide and seek). You have to be able to see the seeker but not be seen yourself.


Seeking a challenge. “That was a really tricky part. How did you feel crossing it?”


And a challenge of a different kind – learning how to draw a cat, by reading steps in a book. “Look, you are reading! You followed the directions. You drew a cat.”

On winter’s first day back, we planned a stream bed hike, from one end of Woodend to the other. It’s not very far, actually, but an hour’s not even enough time. When you “hike” with young children, there is no need to rush. There is so much to see right where you are, always.


Walking the stream bed from Jone’s Mill to Brierly


Lots of “obstacles” (AKA points of interest) along the way


Hail! It bounces! It’s ice! It tastes cold.


Testing a bouncy rotting log. “It’s like a trampoline!”


Sometimes you have to lie down to be fully in it.


Pause. Look up. Just be.


We made it to the other fence!

And since 90 minutes in the wet and cold is a lot of hardiness (Look how resilient we are!), we headed in to the Mansion to warm up.


With a snack…


A game of Obstacles (a highly recommended cooperative game that celebrates creativity)


And a visit from Maisie the friendly corn snake. Bravery of yet a different kind.

Then winter REALLY arrived (finally!). We decided to go sledding, because we could. I honestly hadn’t thought about all the educational value there would be in getting 11 children with 11 sleds safely up and down a very slippery meadow hill (we had a few guests). I just thought it would be fun. But actually, it was a giant lesson in all kinds of essential skills. From gross-motor coordination (climb a slippery, snowy hill pulling a sled) and planning (how do I lean my body to steer and when?),  self-regulation (I want to just go NOW, but I have to wait until it’s my turn. Or, my sled won’t go where I want it to!), multi-step direction following (walk up in the grass on the right, wait your turn, make sure the path is clear, sit securely on the sled, push off, stay in the path, roll out if you head the wrong way), risk-assessment (What is safe? If we start from too high up, we get going too fast. If you are heading for the woods, it’s time to bail out), communication (what does “bail out!” mean?), teamwork (“Hold my sled while I get on” “Do you want to ride with me?” “Can I go in the back?” “Are you ready?”), spatial awareness and topography (Actually, your sled won’t go uphill. If you start here, where will your sled go? Where does the hill go? Where are the trees?). And more. Wow. Who knew all the things you need to learn to sled safely? (Stephanie, actually). Then just think about how those skills translate to life. There are not a lot of pictures – the three adults were too busy!


We christened the new classroom with a picnic lunch!


Learning where to walk up the hill (not in the sledding path)


You have to wait your turn. You may need help from a friend to get started…


Staying near the edge of the pond – how frozen is it?


Luge or half-pipe…it was slick and just right for body-sliding

We ended up our week with a campfire day and more fun with the icy snow.


Story time in the relaxing tree 


Building a fortress/castle/museum for the jewels


Safe from thieves


Campfire treats



Books we read:


The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

Stone Soup by Jon Muth

Brave Irene by William Steig

Oaks News from the Wild #18

The psychologist Alfred Adler believed that the primary goal of all human behavior is social belonging. Young children often try on roles to see how others react. “Will this help me belong?” As teachers we want the children to find the connection between kindness and belonging. These past weeks, as we dip into and out of spring, we’ve also been digging a little deeper into what it looks like to be kind and how it feels to be included or excluded.


Playing “The March Wind Blows.” Group games can bring children together.


“The March Wind Blows for anyone whose favorite color is red!”

Books are one of the great ways to get the wheels turning in children’s minds and spark conversations. We read two great books about bullying and belonging this week. In Willow Finds a Way, Willow has to learn to stand up to a classmate who is using her birthday party list to manipulate friends. In One by Kathryn Otoshi, RED bullies all the other colors to make himself feel big, until 1 comes along. When we returned to our chapter book, The Night Fairy, Flory gave us lots of opportunities to talk about prejudice, grudges, manipulation and (eventually) finding forgiveness and kindness in your heart.

I have found it interesting to see how much the environment affects the way the children interact with each other. At Hilltop Home, they know every nook and cranny of those woods. They have well worn paths and stomping grounds. They make bee-lines to their current projects or favorite activities. They find their friends and fall right into play. As teachers we can tweak the environment by bringing in new items or digging out forgotten ones. We often don’t have to say anything – just put something new out, and suddenly new ideas emerge, the play changes course, and children connect in new ways.


Some well-placed old bones under the dig pit = paleontologist heaven. The bones brought together the regular diggers with some who rarely touch the shovels.


I left out some sandpaper, and that simple addition sparked a new play arc: Fairy Cheese Shop. You have to sand the pieces of cheese of course, before anyone will buy them. There is stinky cheese and cheddar.

Adults can also purposefully scaffold children’s play and learning, through questions and planted ideas. Scaffolding brings what the children are doing naturally to the next level.


“You could make a love potion.”


Potion party


“What are the ingredients in your potion?” Writing as a part of play.


“How is this dirt different than the other dirt? Let’s add water.”


“You can use mud to draw.”

When we go exploring, the focus is different. The children’s attention is on the newness of the environment, on discovery. What’s over here? What can I do here? Their attention on their peers is focused on what friends may have discovered in this new place. It takes a while for them to turn back towards each other in play. The setting is too new. The new place is like a new character they have to get to know.


Skunk cabbage! 


The fairies left a map to hidden treasure at the Far Corner. Kindness Jewels!

Now of course, there are not many places at Woodend that the Oaks have not explored…but we’ll still find some. After a few visits The Far Corner is already becoming a comfortable friend. After checking on the fox den (they are still digging), it was time to turn the children towards each other. So this week, we brought a few props. Digging tools, a bucket and a rope. The excavators got to work making the tree cave a little bigger.


Of course, it’s not yet too comfortable. With the addition of a headlamp, two more children made it all the way through the log tunnel. And a few more can now climb in and out of the tree cave independently.



We returned this week to one of our autumn haunts, the garden. We harvested compost, found compost critters, and prepared a garden bed for planting next week..when spring will hopefully be here for good!


Worms and centipedes, oh my!

Physical challenges continue to attract and bring the children together. We never need to set up an obstacle course  – the children do it for themselves!

While we want the children to feel connected, we also honor their need for alone time. Part of belonging is also having a sense of self – knowing how you are unique and special.


Today, we’re heading off to explore The Other Side (Aka Woodend on the other side of Jones Mill) and all the way to Rock Creek. Going on an adventure with a destination that feels farther or more challenging is another way to bond. We are all in this together.

Songs for February and March

Loving Kindness Song

May (I, you, we) be happy, may we be well.

May we be safe and sound.

May we be peaceful, may we be at ease.

With love in our hearts and all around.

Spring is Here (to tune of Frere Jacques)

I see robins,

I see birds nests,

Butterflies too,

Flowers too.

Everything is growing,

The wind is gently blowing.

Spring is here, spring is here.


Spring waits in the wings

Out of the Earth, overnight,

One perfect Snowdrop.


Winds of March, we welcome you,

There is work for you to do.

Work and play and blow all day,

Blow the winter cold away.


Books we’ve read

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

Willow Finds a Way by Lana Button

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Oaks Forest Kindergarten News from the Wild #17

These last two weeks the Oaks made me think a lot about framing – about knowing yourself and knowing the children you teach, about how to find the right angle and choose the right word to light the right spark. It’s one of the key skills to scaffolding children’s play and learning.

We started out last week building fairy houses. At least that’s how we first described the activity. I spent my childhood building these houses in the roots and hollow places in trees. It’s one of my favorite things to do, still.  Though some of the Oaks had built a few other small world creations, including fairy playgrounds, it wasn’t an activity that ever  took off like fort-building or potion-making. But with the Fairies and Gnomes unit going strong in Saplings, it was time.

The girls took right to it. There was a hollow tree at the entrance to Hilltop that had been begging all year to be a fairy house (at least to me!). We scavenged some great bark and an empty knothole and even a coconut shell bed; they made a throne, tables, bedding, a toilet and a shower. The house had multiple levels and a pretend elevator. It was homey upstairs with space for a ball in the entrance hall. They left notes asking about fairy water and food sources and fairy families and fairy locomotion. Exactly what I imagined.

A few of the boys groaned. They had BIG forts to build and holes to dig. So I said, “What if it were a Fairy Fortress?” “Wait,” they asked,”are there Elves here too?” Soon a super secret fortified Elven city was under construction. Part of it was underground. It had sharp stakes for protection. It was so secret, we had to promise that if we teachers mentioned it, we’d say it was, “100 miles away from Audubon.” Key words changed the framing. Fortress. Secret. Elves. On it!

Then the fairies, gnomes and elves WROTE BACK! This was gender-neutral magic. Tiny handwritten scrolls on aged paper were found tucked into both fairy and elf homes. Children who had not yet built anything joined in writing questions.


Why all the magic on top of this already magical place? Magic touches the heart. And this is the age of magic and make-believe. Amping up the excitement and wonder is like extra fuel for their emotional connection to the natural world and to each other.







We looped back to our cartography exploration by introducing a big laminated map of Woodend. The Oaks had been fascinated by the map in My Father’s Dragon, and were equally drawn to the modified Woodend map. Maps have magic too.



Map of Wild Island

Some key landmarks were on the map, including the waypoints to Hilltop we mapped the week before. But many were intentionally missing. The map now travels with us, so the Oaks can add in their points of interest. So far, they’ve added the Outdoor Classroom and Playground, the Campfire Circle, the Workshop (their name for the area full of bush honeysuckle past the campfire), the Ultimate Climber, the Castle Climber, three fox holes and the new nature see-saw. We’ll continue to add to this map until it truly represents the Oaks’ Woodend.

This week we introduced the concept of protected areas. What if the fairies, gnomes and elves wanted to visit a park? How big would it be? What would they do there? What would they see? We led the children through an activity usually called Micro-Parks or Micro-Trails – but we had to call them Fairy Parks. With toothpick flags, yarn and lots of imagination, the children worked on their own or in pairs to design miniature protected areas. Each needed to have boundaries, trails, a viewpoint, a flora/fauna point of interest, a water feature, a physical challenge, a bridge, and a picnic area.

Again, the Oaks divided themselves into girls and boys. The girls laid out beautifully designed parks with swimming holes and cicada shell interpretive stops and bridges to picnic area view points.

The boys chose the tangly rooted end of a giant fallen log. It’s a favorite play spot, because of the tunnel underneath and the nice loose soil you always find around root balls. It would also look pretty exciting if you were fairy-sized. Having learned my lesson the first time round, I re-framed my description of the activity slightly. The key term to engage the boys was “physical challenges.” Their park had a dark cave, high narrow promontories, rope ladders, an ice waterfall, and of course a ranger station in case of inevitable injuries. There was also an avalanche zone, which sparked discussion about the difference between a hazard and a challenge. A second park (also on a root mass) had an active volcano, steep cliffs, and a thorny vine to climb. Either way, they used up all the red and yellow flags. Those parks weren’t as pretty to look at, but they were treasure troves of imagination and language.

The next step was to make a map of their parks, using a key to show all the points of interest. We were lucky to have a few warm finger-friendly days for outdoor drawing and writing before winter returned.


Even with scaffolding, not all of the children built houses or parks or made maps. But they watched, shared ideas, and asked questions. Participation is a continuum, not just in or out. Making a map or sounding out words is intellectual risk-taking. Just like climbing up or into a tree, some children are ready to jump in right away and others need to observe from the edge until they are ready.

At the end of the week, we set off to explore one of the edges of Woodend that is new to us and off the beaten track. It is wondrous to me that we can spend every day exploring these woods, and still find something new and AMAZING. We had been calling this area the Far Corner (there is magic in names too) and had been meaning to head that way to find some “hidden” fox dens, but somehow never made it that far. This week, we found the dens (fox and groundhog), and much, much more.

It was epic nature explorer MAGIC. It blew our minds. There is no other way to describe it. I’ll let the photos tell the story.


Nature see-saw. We found this one, a gift from the woods!


So good, we had to build a few more in other places…

Then there was this…


A 30-foot hollow log!


Yes, they can fit inside. 


Thinking about it


All the way through!

And it gets even better…right next door we found a giant hollow tulip poplar.


The teacher goes first to make sure we can get in AND out.


You can only see her because she is standing on a stump inside the tree


Tree home, with room to stand. 


Tree caver


“We are really inside a real tree!”

We’ll be back. And we might even make you a map!