What an amazing start to the school year! From catching rain on tongues to meeting best beetles and millipedes, the Detectives jumped rain boots first into Nature Preschool. We had so much fun exploring outside and inside, a few highlights being climbing at the bird blind, digging for treasure in the sandbox, and decorating our detective bags and cubby tags! In the weeks to come, we will be writing posts in full about our adventures, so stay tuned!
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?
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.”
There is value too in the new and unexplored. We found a few stones still left unturned..
Meanwhile at our other favorite haunt, Hilltop, new loose parts sparked new play.
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.
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.
With the warm weather, wildlife discoveries abounded.
Opening Song: Make New Friends
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 Outdoors:
The past two weeks at Nature Preschool have been fun-filled and full of exciting nature adventure. Birds were on our minds as we went off on a circuitous hike around the grounds looking in the many bird boxes that are scattered about. We brought along a map of Woodend and when we found a box we checked it for any bird nesting activity, then labeled on the map where it was located. We’ve found as many as eighteen bird boxes around the grounds, with more yet to be discovered for another time.
The discoveries didn’t end there. While hiking with the Naturalist, Hummingbird the kids looked for seeds that the birds might like to eat, and found two fascinating animal homes! The first animal home discovery came when some of the Nature Detectives were checking out what was once a den used by a groundhog…but now is the home of a fox! The kids spotted LOTS of fox scat, left over bones, fur and feathers from some past feasts! No sign of the fox (so far) but we’re keeping our eyes open! The second discovery came when we got word of a mother raccoon and some baby raccoons that are nesting in a hollow at the top of a tree near the snake nest. We trudged over there on a rainy day and sure enough, spotted a little raccoon face peering out at us! No sign of the babies yet, but our fingers are crossed for an less obscured sighting!
To make our bird week extra special the PM class got a rare daytime sighting of a large Barred Owl. It was perched in a tree near the bamboo forest, and then soared over our heads! The true icing on the bird study cake was our family bird walk. Thanks to some nice spring weather, we spotted lots of birds and the kids got to share their bird knowledge with their families!
We followed up our bird unit by talking about planting. With Hummingbird, the kids got to plant some radishes in the planter boxes in the outdoor classroom. We also collected seeds from nature to study more in the classroom and checked out the compost bins to check in on the worms. With some heavy rain at the end of the week, we capped off our outdoor adventures with a slog through the muddy trails to look for waterfalls along the creek. We even spied the ducks having their lunch at the pond!
News from the Classroom:
The nature detectives were equally busy in the classroom as well. They clipped out photos of birds and pasted them to giant sky murals (now on display in the cubby room), used the build-a-bird toys, measured their block creations by using cut-outs of bird wingspans and made bird feeders out of cereal. The kids also made paper towel tube binoculars for easier bird-spotting, and used tongs and tweasers of various sizes to simulate bird beaks and pluck plastic worms out of bark mulch in the lab table. The kids also worked diligently on bird journals, and got plenty of practice with the “I Met a Bird at the Playground Gate” song for the family bird walk.
The Nature Detectives also revisited an activity from earlier in the year by drawing new self-portraits! They also wrote a message on their artwork about something they can do now that they couldn’t do back in the Fall when we did our first round of self-portraits. We look forward to showing families both versions of the self portraits at the conferences.
The kids found lots of other cool planting and flower-themed activities in the classroom this past week. They played a seed matching game in the discovery table, did some still-life drawings of a potted plants, and made flowery creations with the Magic Nuudles.
There were butterfly wings, puppets and flowers to pollinate in the dramatic play area and kids even made giant flowers out of tangram shapes in the block area. All told, it was an exciting and busy two weeks of indoor exploration and learning!
Weekly Top Hits:
I Met a Bird at the Playgound Gate
Books We Read:
Planting a Wild Garden by Katherine Galbraith
Oh Say Can you Seed by Bonnie Worth
Have you Heard the Nesting Bird by Rita Grey
The Birdwatchers by Simon James
“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.
On Friday, we went on a long hike to the Rock Creek side, turned left instead of right, and were glad we did!
We realized the path was leading to….a playground! Field trip within a field trip.
Once we left the playground, things got wild quickly!
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.
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.
We wrapped up our Spring Journals in the Blair Native Plant Garden. Each child chose a plant and followed its changes over six weeks.
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.
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.
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.
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!
News from the Outdoors:
The Nature Detectives have spent the past two weeks doing what they do best, exploring nature at Woodend…except with a twist, and a trip down a time tunnel to the age of dinosaurs! You may not know, (or were recently informed by a small child) that millions of years ago Maryland was home to dinosaurs, (triceratops on the beltway!) and even though dinos were here long, long ago, there are still distant relatives of dinosaurs and a few living fossils right here at Woodend that we can explore.
We began our dino exploration by talking about how dinos and birds have a lot in common, and are more closely related than one might imagine. Egg laying, foot shape, feathered bodies, the power of flight are a few connections the two creatures share. With these dino-bird connections in mind our Naturalist, Blue Crab led us to a cache of hidden snake eggs to talk about these connections.
The fun really erupted when Nature Detectives constructed their very own volcanoes near the bamboo forest, then filled them with red watercolor paint, baking powder, and vinegar then stood back and watched as the lava flowed down the mountainside! There was more great dinosaur fun to be had outside as buried dinosaurs were found in the sandbox, games of dino hide and seek were played at the bird blind, and baby dinos were hatched out of ice cubes.
On their latest hike with Blue Crab, the nature detectives searched around Woodend for living fossils, (plants and animals that were around in the time of dinosaurs). They found ferns, moss, looked for salamanders and got to meet Boris the Tortoise who is another distant relative to dinosaurs. The Nature Detectives capped off their outdoors dino-adventures by going on a dinosaur hunt to find some hidden dinosaur toys around the trails.
News From the Classroom:
With the dinosaur exploration in full swing, the Nature Detectives found that every corner of the classroom was covered and smothered in dino-goodness. They found dino books in the Book Nook, a dinosaur island in the block area, T-Rex footprints covering the carpets, a mini dino world in the Discovery Table, a Paleontologist work site in the Dramatic Play, and bones and treasure in the Lab Table. They also got to explore some cool animal x-rays on the light table and use pattern blocks with the playdough to make dinosaur creatures.
A quick visit to the cubby room or classroom will show that the Nature Detectives were also quite busy on the artistic front these past two weeks as well. There is an amazing, creative and hilarious dinosaur museum display in the cubby room of real and fantastical dinos the kids drew. In the classroom, the kids quickly filled our two new bulletin boards with art. There’s dinosaurs with pasta skeletons on one and dinosaur footprint paintings on the other.
The Nature Detectives also made their own triceratops masks, made fern prints with Ann-Mari, and worked on Dinosaur Journals as well! Additionally, the kids also made nests for dinosaur eggs with the blocks, started a new daily question answering activity at circle time, and created dinos, robots, spiders and more with the zoobs.
If all that wasn’t enough, the Nature Detectives learned about their Brain House on Mindfulness Monday, had their regular, exciting weekly visits from Ann-Mari and Ms. Susan and to add in an extra dash of fun and youthful energy, the Oaks and the PM nature detectives had a special visit from Sam, a volunteer who has been helping out for the past two weeks. Sam’s vast wealth of dinosaur knowledge, dino games and willingness to give epic sled rides in the kayak has added an extra dimension of fun to the dinosaur unit. We’ll miss her for sure and hope she comes for a visit soon!
Weekly Top Hits:
The Little Baby Dinosaur (Tune: The Itsy Bitsy Spider)
The little baby dinosaur climbed up to the top
of a volcano that was ready to pop
out came the lava so very very hot
and the little baby dinosaur ran home without a stop!
Dinosaur Friends (Tune: Twinkle Twinkle)
Dinos, dinos lived long ago
some ran fast and some ran slow
some ate plants and some ate meat
some were fierce and some were sweet
some that ran and some that flew
dinos, dinos we love you!
Books We Read:
T Is For Terrible by Peter McCarthy
Dinosaur Bones by Bob Barner
Fossils Tell of Long Ago by Aliki
Bones Bones Dinosaur Bones By Byron Barton
Next week we’ll prepare for our Celebration of Spring
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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,
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