Oaks News from the Wild # 4

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During the past few weeks, the Oaks class has enjoyed many wonder-filled fall days at Woodend.  We have gotten to explore even more of the 40 acre grounds, though we make sure to return to our favorite outdoor space, Hilltop Home, several times each week.  When we go to Hilltop Home, we always start by gathering to share a carefully chosen book.  After the read aloud, the children visit their “sit spots” to have a little peaceful time alone in nature.  When play time begins, children are free to explore, build, create and imagine however they like.  Often small groups of children play/work together on projects, such as constructing the fairy playground, writing notes to the fairies, building forts, digging for critters, pretending to be ninjas, aliens and more.  None of us want this time to end, and we always look forward to returning to continue playing in this special place.

Trees, Leaves and Fun in the Fall

In support of our study of trees in the fall, several master naturalists, Carol, Nancy, Ann-Mari and Barbara, shared their expertise with the Oaks class.  How fortunate we are to have these wonderful volunteers at Audubon!  Nancy led us on a leaf collection and tree identification walk.  Using the leaves we found, we made beautiful leaf rubbings, and Ann-Mari helped the children create lovely leaf prints.   We also made our own fall leaves using droppers of watercolor paint on coffee filter paper leaf shapes, and then hung them on a tree branch in the classroom.  Then Barbara read a book about trees chasing through the seasons, and she took us on a nature walk measuring the circumferences of different sized trees and doing bark rubbings.


Fall Celebration

All last week our class prepared for our celebration of fall.  We made leaf decorations for the classroom, wove natural materials and little decorations into crowns, and practiced singing and signing seasonal songs.  Before the parents arrived Friday morning, the children created hiding places on the playground and made notes to trick their parents into thinking they were “eaten by black mambas,” “flamed by fireball,” and “lost in the woods.”  When the celebration began, the parents and children shared laughs as the children were found on the playground.  Next we gathered in a circle and shared three beautiful seasonal songs with the parents (using voice and American Sign Language)- “Round and Round the Seasons Go,” “Fall is Here,” and “The Leaves on the Trees are Falling Down.”  Following the singing, the children enjoyed a picnic snack with their families.  Next we all went inside where everyone was enthralled by the book “Leaf Man,” read by a parent.  Inspired by the leaf collage art work in the book, the children made their own leaf creations by placing leaves and other natural materials on contact paper.  The celebration concluded with a closing circle outside, and the singing of “Go Now in Peace,” as each child received a little golden acorn and walked carefully with family members through our bamboo labyrinth.

Pumpkin Carving

On the day before Halloween, we carved a pumpkin, saving the seeds and roasting them for a delicious snack.  The children drew jack-o-lantern designs, and we combined ideas and carved our class jack=o-lantern.  The children then added pipe cleaner spiders and shells for teeth.

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Animal Dress-Up Day on Halloween

What fun we had dressing up as animals for Halloween!  In the morning, the children drew and dictated their thoughts about their animals in their journals with Carol’s help.  After lunch, we acted out the story of “The Enormous Pumpkin” with the children dressed up as animals becoming the characters in the story.  In the afternoon at Hilltop Home, some children enjoyed making dens for their animals, and at the end of the day, we played a hide and seek animal camouflage game.  What a great day!

 


Beetles and Salamanders and Chicks- Oh My!

The children continue to find lots of creatures around Woodend.  They look under logs, dig and search for the animals living in the great outdoors.  Just today the children found our first salamander and discovered that bess beetles make sounds.  And, on this same day, Shannon brought her family’s baby chicks, much to the children’s surprise and joy!  The children observed these precious little creatures and loved touching their soft feathers and laughing as a few chicks lightly pecked at their fingers.

Indoor Time

We spend around an hour and a half in our beautiful indoor classroom space everyday (except Friday).  When we first go inside after playing on the Oaks playground, we gather on our campfire rug for our morning circle.  After that, the children draw and share their thoughts and stories, read books, chat and eat snack, build ships, rockets, and parking garages, count, sort and make patterns with natural materials, engage in pretend play (often with toy animals and dress ups), and enjoy special projects. Happy chatter fills the room and teachers guide children in resolving conflicts when help is needed.

Artist’s Visit

We are fortunate that a father of one of the children is an artist, and he offered to come to Woodend to paint and share his skill and love of art with the class.  The children got to see his beautiful painting and then climb up on his stool to look at the painting and see the mansion and grounds from the same perspective.  The children learned about looking closely at what they see and mixing paints to match what is seen.  Then the children chose things around them to look at carefully and draw.

Birthday Celebration

We had our first birthday celebration at school!  The birthday child made a crown and got to play with “Birthday Raccoon” all day.   We read a silly book, Elephant and Piggie’s Happy Pig Day book and giggled as we sang the tune of the birthday song using pig language- “oinky oink oink oink oink….”.  All the children contributed a page to make a book for the birthday boy which we read aloud when it was complete.  And at the end of the school day, the birthday child held an Earth ball and walked in a circle around a sun candle for each year he has been alive as we all looked at his growing up photos that his dad shared with us, and we sang, “The Earth goes round the sun.  The Earth goes round the sun. The Earth goes round the sun, and ____ turned five!”

Books, Books and More Books

The Oaks enjoy reading lots of books at school, inside, on the playground and out in the woods.

BOOKS We Read

Round and Round the Seasons Go by Rozanne Williams

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlers

Ska-tat by Kimberly Knutson

Big Wolf & Little Wolf, The Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall by Nadine Brun-Cosme & Joy Sorman

Pumpkin Trouble by Jan Thomas

Elephant and Piggie’s Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems

Ish by Peter Reynolds

There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly

& more
A Special Story We Told

We told the children the story of “The Enormous Pumpkin” (a version of the folk tale “The Enormous Turnip”) and the children helped us act it out with puppets for the characters of a farmer, his wife, their daughter, a dog, a cat and a little mouse.  Then on Animal Dress-Up Day, we told the Oaks’ version of the story with the children dressed up as animals becoming the characters that “pulled and tugged and tugged and pulled” until all together they snapped the pumpkin off the vine and turned it into a jack-o-lantern.

 

SONGS We Sang

“Round and Round the Seasons Go”

Round and round the seasons go.  Winter comes, cold while snow.  Round and round the seasons go.  Spring comes, flowers grow.  Round and round the seasons go.  Summer comes, hot and slow.  Round and round the seasons go.  Fall comes, leaves blow.

“Fall is Here”  (Tune: “Frere Jacques”)

Fall is here.  Fall is here.  Time for fun.  Time for fun.  Piles of leaves for jumping.  Carving out the pumpkin.  Blackbirds fly.  Apple pie.

“The Leaves on the Trees”  (Tune: “London Bridge is Falling Down”)

The leaves on the trees are falling down, falling down, falling down.  The leaves on the trees are falling down, red, yellow, orange and brown.

“There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly”

& more

Oaks News from the Wild # 3

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The very tricky lava ledge pass.

One day we headed out to a “mystery location” in Woodend. Last year’s class had a name for this particular tumble of fallen logs, but we have purposefully NOT named some favorite destinations yet this year. The children will find their own names, and in the naming, make these places their own. They are not the same places after all. Wood decomposes and bark falls off, new trees fall, new animals move in, and the children bring their own transformative ideas.

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There are definitely zombies living inside this hollow tree. But they are apparently known to bury treasure right at the just-safe-enough-just-scary-enough opening.

As teachers, we bring our own ideas, but we also leave big spaces open for the children to explore. We often find something interesting and bring it to the play-yard or the classroom – a new wooden pallet, flexible tubing, stumps, boxes, concrete blocks. “What is this for?” a child asks. “I don’t know. What would you do with it?” And his face lights up, and the ideas pour out. And then another child joins, and the ideas join and change. And at some point, the whole thing comes down to make space for something new.

We went on our first class field trip, to the Patuxent Research Refuge and the National Wildlife Visitor Center. Highlights of the trip included a tram ride around the refuge’s wetland habitats, an education program on otters, and a hike to a pond.

On our return we lucked into some rain and a lot of puddles. The children are learning to manage their outdoor gear, and to assess their own comfort level with exploring nature’s gifts of water and mud. Some jump right in, while others watch and dip their toes.

We enjoyed our first visits with our volunteer naturalist Nancy, who joins the Oaks on Wednesday mornings to explore Woodend. A parent volunteer, Nikki, demonstrated a home-made water rocket, which shot high above the Oaks play-yard to squeals of amazement and delight.

Our program is so much about choice, about honoring children’s interests while at the same time offering them space to stretch and grow. On a visit to the “Pooh Tree” the children remembered learning about beech trees on their field trip. They noticed that people had carved letters and names into the tree, and were inspired to make signs to protect the tree. This is emergent literacy – seeing a reason to write, wanting to write, making your mark (just not on the tree!).

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At the same time, some children just need to climb the tree and give it a hug. All are equally important!

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We continued to explore the theme of friendship through stories, games, and of course play – inside and out. It is primarily through play that children gain the robust oral language that underlies literacy, along with key social emotional skills – self regulation, collaboration, negotiation, empathy and much more.

We have some avid artists in the Oaks class, so drawing happens anywhere, anytime. Lately, they’ve been working on large-format collaborative art. Just imagine the discussions as they each add their piece and explain how it all comes together in a story. Emergent literacy again.

On one hike, we collected acorns, chestnuts, redbud seed pods and many other natural treasures. Back in the classroom, the Oaks sorted and counted their finds. Math foundations at this age include counting with one-to-one correspondence, sorting items, recognizing and making patterns, being able to know how many items are there without counting, one-digit addition and subtraction, and numeral recognition. Any time you can count things with children, do!

This week, we started a unit on insects and other arthropods. They are the creatures we see most often at Woodend, so we wanted to learn a bit more about them. We sang the Insect Body Parts song, adding new verses each day. We searched for insects in the woods, under logs, in the meadow and even in the trees using a “beater tray”  –  a white sheet on a frame that catches insects as they fall from tree branches.  We observed insects in the classroom with magnifiers. The children made fingerprint bug art, play-dough insects, and wrote about their favorite insect in their journals.

We conducted a science lab on pill bugs, practicing asking questions, making testable hypotheses, setting up an experiment, recording our observations and making conclusions. One Oak stated, “I think pill bugs will like the dark more than the light, because when I find them, they are usually hiding underneath things like logs.” How can we find out? We used a special tray and covered one side, then counted the pill bugs. This led to more and more questions, as science often does. Do they like sand? Or sand and soil? Or just soil? How about wood? How about plants and soil together? How moist do they like the soil? What do they eat?

The children take time each day at Hilltop to visit their “Sit Spots”, observing what has changed, and taking a few minutes to sit in silence outside.

If you visit Hilltop Home, you will find an elaborate and ever-changing fairy adventure playground. The project started with a few Oaks and some stumps and twigs, and has now expanded to a whole-class design crew armed with color, sparkle and a lot of ideas. There are swings, a zip line, a tight rope, slides, bridges, a ladder, an underground lava-heated pool, and even anchors to keep it in place until the builders return. Notes have been left for the fairies who are sure to have a great weekend of play.

And then we explored, and played and climbed some more!

SONGS We Sang

I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

The Insect Body Part Song (to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes)

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

Compound eyes and an exoskeleton

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

(additional verses)

Some have wings and antennae too

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

They come from eggs and

Most have a larval stage

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

 

Books we read:

Wetlands

Rain Song by Lezlie Evans

The Surprise (Frog and Toad) by Arnold Label

Big Wolf and Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Olivier Tallec

I Will Surprise My Friend (Elephant and Piggie) by Mo Willems

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder

Bug Hunt by Neecy Twinum

Bugs – A Closer Look

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Hank’s Big Day  – the Story of a Bug – by Evan Kuhlman

Fly Guy stories by Tedd Arnold

The Amazing Book of Insect Records

 

 

 

 

 

Oaks News from the Wild #2

The Oaks have been busy exploring, creating and playing with friends in the fabulous fall weather.  We have been focusing on building friendships, expanding imaginative play, and enjoying the natural world.

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Snake! 

Turtles and Worms and Slugs- Oh my!

The children have observed many animals over the past few weeks including an Eastern Box Turtle, green frogs, toads, millipedes, centipedes, butterflies and moths, worms, slugs, spiders, roly polies, beetles and a snake.

 

Outdoor Exploration

We spend hours outdoors every day with the children engaging in activities that foster  their language, fine motor, gross motor, math and social-emotional development- and their love of nature!

 

 

Several kids worked together for three days at Hilltop Home, collecting rocks and making the Titanic, then a dragon’s den and, finally, a ring of fire (like the Pacific volcanos).  They stretched their bodies, imaginations and social skills.

 

 

We worked as a class to build a bridge across the dry creek bed.  Hoping for some rain soon!

 

 

 

Playground Fun

At the start of the day, the children enjoy creative play on the Oaks playground.  We read the book, Not a Box, and many kids have enjoyed turning boxes into rocketships, houses (for people and worms), the Titanic and more!

 

 

Indoor Exploration

In our beautiful indoor space the children are free to choose what they want to do.  They enjoy treasures from nature, building materials, dress ups, blocks, toy animals, little people, vehicles, puzzles, magnatiles, play dough, drawing and writing materials, books and more,

 

 

Reading Wonderful Books

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We read “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” at the “Troll Bridge” and then acted out our own versions of the story (with trolls, then cheetahs, and tigers and ninjas!)

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The Titanic book from a child’s home was fun to share with friends.

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Ahh.  Enjoying a book in solitude lying in a dry creek bed.

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Frog & Toad joined us at Hilltop Home for the story “The Surprise.”

Books We Read

Mattland by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert

If Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

How Full is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

“The Surprise” in Frog and Toad All Year

Up, Up, Down by Robert Munsch

Do Unto Otters: A Book about Manners by Laurie Keller

& The Three Billy Goats Gruff

 

 

Songs We Sang

Fall is Here (Tune: Frere Jacques)
Fall is Here.

Fall is Here.

Time for Fun.

Time for Fun.

Piles of Leaves for Jumping.

Carving out the pumpkin.

Blackbirds fly.

Apple pie.

 

Here We are Together

Here we are together, together, together

Here we together at the Oaks Nature School,

with. (child’s name) and (child’s name).. etc.. and ____.

Here we are together, at the Oaks Nature School.

 

Class Rules (tune: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star)

Here are rules for you and me

See how useful they can be

Show respect, be safe and kind

Be responsible all the time

These are rules that we all know

and we follow these rules wherever we go

 

Clean-up Song

We looked at the clock and what does it say,

Now its time to put everything away,

Clean up time

Clean up time

Now its time to put everything away.

 

& “The Ants Go Marching One by One” & more!

Oaks News from the Wild #1

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As we launch our Forest Kindergarten year, we are fully focused on connections. We weave together activities that will connect the children to each other and to their school home at Woodend. “Is this my school?” asked one child as we hiked from the Ultimate Climber to the Mansion and back through the Meadow to the Oaks classroom. Yes! How lucky we are. We have a beautiful new classroom AND we have 40 + acres of wild space full of wonder.

And what better way to connect to the wild than through some forest friends…so we started our year with Mama and Papa Toad in the classroom, and soon the Oaks were finding toads of all sizes wherever we went.

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We also found many slugs, a box turtle, a big millipede, centipedes and dragonfly larva.

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Making a “home” for the turtle (with a few doors). There are pointy sticks to protect it from predators.

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All you need is a giant slug!

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“Look at this bug I found!”

We made ourselves at home in the Oaks play-yard and at the Oaks’ home base Hilltop Home. After reading the book Happy, the children made mud faces to show how they were feeling on the first week.

 

In just two weeks, we’ve also explored the Children’s Garden, Rain Garden, Bamboo Castle, Fire Circle and Chestnut Tree, the Meadow, the Pond, the fort woods near the mansion and the Ultimate Climber. And there’s still so much more to come!

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“We made it through!”

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Teamwork pulling the wagon up to Hilltop

 

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“Watch me jump!”

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Mud = Happy

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Ponding

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The Chestnut Tree – big enough for everyone

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Tigers prowling in the tall tall grass…

While we help connect children to their home in the wild, we also support them as they forge connections to each other. Through play, they make plans, share ideas and language, negotiate roles, set limits, take turns, form friendships and so much more. Shared stories are one way we help connect children to each other and begin building our class community.

 

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Reading Jack and the Beanstalk

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Reading together

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Reading with a friend

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Who will be Jack? Here are some beans.

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Acting out the story – What happens next?

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Stories of their own outside

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Stories of their own inside

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Building the Titanic. “I can read you the story of the Titanic without the book!”

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Friendship

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Snakes and cars in a castle, what could be better?

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The wild cat and his caretaker in their den.

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Story time at the garden, after picking cucumbers, sorrel and tomatoes for our snack.

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Bonding at the Dig Pit

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Friends on a journey.

We read the book Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis, talked about ways you can play with sticks (and ways you can’t), then the Oaks wrote their own book showing what they would do with sticks.

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Storytime at Hilltop – Not a Stick

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Teamwork: first stick fort

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“It’s NOT a stick…it’s a horse! His name is Johnny.”

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Storytime – Not a Stick, written and illustrated by the “Nature Kids” (aka Oaks)

There is time for solitude. Children also need space and time to listen to their inner voices, to observe, question, experiment, wonder, and express their own stories.

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Making a home for the animals

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Vehicles are actually characters too…

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“I’m a boat and these are my jet engines to move me forward.”

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Checking out the “Feelings Den” at Hilltop

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Personal expression through art and writing

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Quiet reading time

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Creating his own “small world”

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Experimenting with ramps

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Small world play

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What happens if we overfill the jug? Fountain!

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“I have to put the same number and same kinds on each one.”

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Patterning

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The best hiding space!

We brought two kinds of caterpillars into our classroom for the first day. The children observed the caterpillars over the last two weeks, drew pictures, and found their habitat in the meadow. They then imagined what the butterflies might look like and drew and painted pictures. And in the highlight of our week, we got to watch one monarch butterfly emerge today!

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Observational drawing of caterpillars

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Butterfly, imagined

I

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Butterfly, imagined

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“It’s a monarch butterfly!”

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Wonder

Books we read: 

Happy by Miles van Hout

Up Down and All Around by Katherine Ayres

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran

Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

Jack in the Beanstalk

Play with Me by Marie Hall Ets

A Year Around the Great Oak by Gerda Muller

 

News from the Wild #23

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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

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Dam removal engineers discuss the plan and roles

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Oaks visitor #1 swings across!

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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.”

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Time together in a tree

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Taking turns

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Teamwork to roll the wobbly log

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Hollow Tree acrobats

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Pirate captain on the lookout

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

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The Rock Mountains!

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Playing 1,2,3 Tree!

 

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Exploring leaves, all shapes and sizes.

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Favorite garden leaf – sorrel

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Tasty tulip petals

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

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

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A bundle of hardy kiwi vines…

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Transformed this fort into a dragon…

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and these Oaks into equestrian princesses

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A stick makes a most excellent steed!

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

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Patterning

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Patterning

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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.

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You can read a story anywhere!

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

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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.

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

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Up in the Oaks-built roof under a leafy roof

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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.

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Gathering “wheat”

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

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The stump that started it all.

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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.

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Garter snake!

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Brood X Cicada (visiting, not found at Woodend)

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Releasing wood frog tadpoles

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Checking for signs of the fox family

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Box turtle!

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Pride of the finder

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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

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“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.

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Playing “Follow the Bird”

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Bamboo forest meditation

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

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

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

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Demolition team

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The treasure tree is laden with treasure!

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

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Ninja in training

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Happy swinging climbing. Patient turn waiting.

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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!

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Wetland wonders: turtles sunning, green heron fishing

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

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

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The Oaks’ favorite snack.

Once we left the playground, things got wild quickly!

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Garter snake snacking on a toad.

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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.

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Birdathon!

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Painting with feathers and writing with quills.

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Self-portrait, with bird and love.

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

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Bird chefs

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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.

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Hiding bird makes her call

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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.

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Final documentation of their chosen plant

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

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Focus

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Careful details

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

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“Look at all the eggs!”

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

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Taking a peek into the deep

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All the way in!

 

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Listening to the story of Herman the Worm

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Getting reading for ponding

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

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“The worm will feel right at home here!”

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Time and space to just be.

News from the Wild #21

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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.

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What will we find today?

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

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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.

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

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Time to be together

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Time to be alone

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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.

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Using rotting wood to clean the tadpole tank.

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Teamwork to carry heavy tiles

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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.

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Obstacle course: Rock hop

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Obstacle course: through the tree

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There is a plan here, you can be sure.

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

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

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Snacking on wild edibles – greenbriar tips and garlic mustard

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“Is this actually good for me?”

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The foxes have been hard at work

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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!

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Lunch perch

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Into the hollow tree

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What child?

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

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Cozy friends inside the tree

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Now for the next tree-caving expedition…

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

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

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Slug trails on thunderstorm/tornado day

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

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

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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!

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Earth Day Garlic Mustard Hunt

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“We filled two whole bags!”

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

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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?” 

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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Wagon team getting up the hill

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

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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.

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Building Oaks Land

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Some dive in, some wait and watch.

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

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

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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.

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Digging an insect pit trap

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

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

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Look what we found!

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

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

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

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

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Kid-built obstacle course.

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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.

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The pond finally looks like a pond!

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A little help for a friend

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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.

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

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Snail’s Pace Race

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

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

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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

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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!

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Weeding and tasting the spring greens

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Spring Journals

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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.

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Private art gallery tour!

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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!

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

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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.

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Team shoveling. How deep can they go?

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Happy chef in the kitchen

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Double, double, toil and trouble

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

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

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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.

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Walking the stream bed from Jone’s Mill to Brierly

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

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

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

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

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Pause. Look up. Just be.

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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.

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With a snack…

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

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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!

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We christened the new classroom with a picnic lunch!

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

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

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

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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.

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Story time in the relaxing tree 

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Building a fortress/castle/museum for the jewels

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Safe from thieves

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Campfire treats

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Snowman!

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.

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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“You could make a love potion.”

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Potion party

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

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

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“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.

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Skunk cabbage! 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Poems

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