Oaks News from the Wild # 5

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When environmental conservationists were asked what factors influenced their life’s work, one thing stood out: many childhood hours spent in nature with a caring adult. We teach them about seasons and spiders, but mostly we let their hearts fill with love, knowing that’s what they’ll carry with them.

Looking at the photos from the last two weeks, I am also awed by the creativity we see, inside and out. We provide some interesting things and watch the play explode.

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Tunnel bridge

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Power ring

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Making a “bamboo crusher machine”

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Man and machine

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Ship captains

And the play continues inside…

And it’s easy to see how work is play and play is work.

As the leaves burst into color and then fell, the Oaks explored, learning about why leaves change color, how to find spiders, and the best places for slugs, worms, millipedes and Bess beetles.

At Hilltop Home, we played Meet a Tree, worked on the fairy playground (the fairies write back!), settled into Sit Spots, and played, played, played.

At the end of this week, we made Journey Sticks. The children each chose a special stick, added rubber bands and cloth. We went on a longer hike around Woodend, collecting small memories as we went. We added a colorful leaf or a turkey tail mushroom or a piece of licheny bark to our Journey Sticks, and then told our stories at closing circle and in journals the next day.

We celebrated a birthday, with a Circling the Sun ceremony. We read, and read and read some more.

We had a visit from our first Planet Pal, Mother Earth, who rapped about being green, then led the Oaks in a lively discussion about things we can do to take care of her. “Pick up trash!” “Take care of the animals!” “Drive an electric vehicle!” As a first step, we decided to let our class toads go live a happy toad life in the woods, so they have time to get ready for winter. This was hard, but we read the marvelous book The Bog Baby and got some encouragement from Mother Earth. Then the Oaks found some choice spots near the pond and stream bed and watched Mama and Papa Toads hop away.

Since Mother Earth also reminded the Oaks that their first job is to love her,  we gave them lots of time to do just that. And no outdoor play in Autumn would be complete without some flying leaps into piles of leaves!

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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