News from the Wild #23

IMG_4732

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?

IMG_0522

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?

IMG_4657

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.

IMG_4660

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

IMG_4667

Dam removal engineers discuss the plan and roles

IMG_4663

Oaks visitor #1 swings across!

IMG_4662

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.”

IMG_0542

Time together in a tree

IMG_0543

Taking turns

IMG_4718

Teamwork to roll the wobbly log

IMG_0554

Hollow Tree acrobats

IMG_4696

Pirate captain on the lookout

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

IMG_4754

The Rock Mountains!

IMG_4753

Playing 1,2,3 Tree!

 

IMG_4737

Exploring leaves, all shapes and sizes.

IMG_4751

Favorite garden leaf – sorrel

IMG_4725

Tasty tulip petals

IMG_4724

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

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

IMG_0536

A bundle of hardy kiwi vines…

IMG_0538

Transformed this fort into a dragon…

IMG_4825

and these Oaks into equestrian princesses

IMG_4822

A stick makes a most excellent steed!

IMG_0537

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

IMG_0535

Patterning

IMG_4709

Patterning

IMG_4705

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.

IMG_0545

You can read a story anywhere!

IMG_0546

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

IMG_4830

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.

IMG_0553

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

IMG_4843

Up in the Oaks-built roof under a leafy roof

IMG_4840

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.

IMG_0551

Gathering “wheat”

IMG_4845

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

IMG_0550

The stump that started it all.

IMG_4860

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.

IMG_4817

Garter snake!

IMG_4748

Brood X Cicada (visiting, not found at Woodend)

IMG_4722

Releasing wood frog tadpoles

IMG_4700

Checking for signs of the fox family

IMG_4857

Box turtle!

IMG_4854

Pride of the finder

img_4854.jpg

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

IMG_4641

“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.

IMG_4419

Playing “Follow the Bird”

IMG_0467

Bamboo forest meditation

IMG_4452

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

IMG_4479

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

IMG_4399

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

IMG_4462

Demolition team

IMG_4465

The treasure tree is laden with treasure!

IMG_0493

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

IMG_4582

Ninja in training

IMG_4579

Happy swinging climbing. Patient turn waiting.

IMG_4409

IMG_4580

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!

IMG_0479

Wetland wonders: turtles sunning, green heron fishing

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

IMG_0482

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

IMG_4485

The Oaks’ favorite snack.

Once we left the playground, things got wild quickly!

IMG_4487

Garter snake snacking on a toad.

IMG_0490

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.

IMG_0511

Birdathon!

IMG_4442

Painting with feathers and writing with quills.

IMG_0476

Self-portrait, with bird and love.

IMG_4595

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

IMG_0498

Bird chefs

IMG_0501

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.

IMG_0514

Hiding bird makes her call

IMG_0513

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.

IMG_4597

Final documentation of their chosen plant

IMG_4611

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

IMG_4607

Focus

IMG_0510

Careful details

IMG_4628

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

IMG_0470

“Look at all the eggs!”

IMG_4433

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

IMG_4431

Taking a peek into the deep

IMG_4430

All the way in!

 

IMG_0478

Listening to the story of Herman the Worm

IMG_4632

Getting reading for ponding

fullsizeoutput_2e4c

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

IMG_4652

“The worm will feel right at home here!”

IMG_4506

Time and space to just be.

News from the Wild #21

IMG_4278

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.

IMG_4332

What will we find today?

IMG_4343

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

IMG_4334

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.

IMG_4337

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

IMG_0456

Time to be together

IMG_0454

Time to be alone

IMG_4333

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.

IMG_4263

Using rotting wood to clean the tadpole tank.

IMG_4097

Teamwork to carry heavy tiles

IMG_4093

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.

IMG_0441

Obstacle course: Rock hop

IMG_0440

Obstacle course: through the tree

IMG_4100

There is a plan here, you can be sure.

IMG_4114

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

IMG_4327

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

IMG_4269

Snacking on wild edibles – greenbriar tips and garlic mustard

IMG_4266

“Is this actually good for me?”

IMG_4280

The foxes have been hard at work

IMG_4124

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!

IMG_4120

IMG_4318

Lunch perch

IMG_0460

Into the hollow tree

IMG_4314

What child?

IMG_4317

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

fullsizeoutput_2c9b

Cozy friends inside the tree

IMG_4320

Now for the next tree-caving expedition…

IMG_0450

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

IMG_4276

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

IMG_4131

Slug trails on thunderstorm/tornado day

IMG_4111

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

IMG_4110

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

IMG_0442

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!

IMG_4350

Earth Day Garlic Mustard Hunt

IMG_4354

“We filled two whole bags!”

IMG_4358

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

IMG_0461IMG_0458

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.”

IMG_3920

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.

IMG_3921

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!

IMG_3923

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?” 

IMG_3910

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?

IMG_3914

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.

IMG_3913

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

IMG_3911

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.

IMG_4038

Wagon team getting up the hill

IMG_3928

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

IMG_3926

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.

IMG_3932

Building Oaks Land

IMG_3944

Some dive in, some wait and watch.

IMG_3952

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

IMG_3935

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

IMG_3941

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.

IMG_3979

Digging an insect pit trap

IMG_3974

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

IMG_3982

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

IMG_4008

Look what we found!

IMG_4007

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

IMG_3984

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

IMG_3988

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

IMG_4018

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

IMG_4021

Kid-built obstacle course.

IMG_4031

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.

IMG_4041

The pond finally looks like a pond!

IMG_4043

A little help for a friend

IMG_4045

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.

IMG_4048

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

IMG_4051

Snail’s Pace Race

IMG_4055

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

IMG_4057

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

IMG_4066

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

 

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.

img_3661

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

img_3658

“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.

img_3641

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.

img_3582

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.

img_3547

“You could make a love potion.”

img_3546

Potion party

img_3558

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

img_3644

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

img_3646

“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.

img_3664

Skunk cabbage! 

img_3569

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.

img_3650

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.

img_3572

img_3652

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!

img_3676

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.

img_3564img_3523

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

Oaks Forest Kindergarten News from the Wild #17

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

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

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

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

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

fullsizeoutput_29d5

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

img_0421

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

img_3292

Map of Wild Island

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

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

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

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

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

img_3427img_3410

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

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

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

img_0420

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

img_3490

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

Then there was this…

img_3464

A 30-foot hollow log!

img_3462

Yes, they can fit inside. 

img_7567

Thinking about it

img_7568

All the way through!

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

img_7586

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

img_7596

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

img_7590

Tree home, with room to stand. 

img_3473

Tree caver

img_3483

“We are really inside a real tree!”

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

img_0401

 

Oaks Forest Kindergarten News from the Wild # 16

img_0363

The Oaks continue to investigate cartography. We have visitors to Hilltop, so we proposed the need for a map and directions to help people find their way. We talked about the way points the Oaks use between the Preschool and Hilltop Home. The Oaks agreed that there were at least six way points. We have been naming these places since the beginning of the year, and they each have meaning to the children.

img_2503

The tree cookies represented different way points. There are many ways to represent something else. The tree cookies marked stations for drawing the way points.

 

On a cold rainy day, we took advantage of our dry, windless indoor space to draw pictures of each way point: The Preschool, The Safe Spot, The Lunch Spot, The Bridge and Benches, The Lookout, and Hilltop Home. The next day the sun shone, and the children worked on gluing all of their Way point pictures in order to show the route between Hilltop and the Preschool.

img_0365img_0364

In addition to practicing representational drawing, this mapping activity was also an exercise in sequencing, an essential cognitive skill that is a key building block for reading, writing and math. Sequencing is the process of putting events, ideas, and objects in a logical order. We practice sequencing every day – our class circle ritual is an exercise in sequencing; we talk about sequencing in stories (what happened first, what’s going to happen next); songs and poems; counting and much more. Parents practice sequencing at home with every day routines. Asking children to think about what comes next is a great sequencing prompt.

As we have children ranging in age from 4 to 6, it was interesting to see the developmental gradient. Some could order and glue and even label their pictures independently and others needed more scaffolding. “Where do we go after the Bridge?” “Which picture is this?”

img_0366

This week, we played Hide a Penny, a treasure map game. Chelsea and I made simple maps of Hilltop, hid pennies, and marked them on our maps. The children used the maps to find the pennies. Then, in a smaller group, they each made their own maps, hid pennies, and swapped maps. After hunting for treasure and finding most of it, we talked together about what made it easy or hard to follow the maps and find the pennies. Pictures that looked like the actual place were helpful, as were labels and accurate detail. We repeated the activity the next day, giving the first group the chance to add to their maps or make new ones. Maps gained detail and accuracy the second time around, and even included features like a blow-up inset to show the penny location inside a stick fort. Again, the children came into the activity in different places, and we could see that like anything, the more they practice, the better their maps will become. It was exciting to see how a child who is often very reluctant to participate in directed activities was the first to raise his hand and jump in.

img_0350

You can learn a lot from other cartographers

img_0351

The map might lead you INSIDE the fort.

img_0354

Time to map AND time to swing (you will not likely see this in regular kindergarten!)

img_0353

The tree cookie circle is the center of Hilltop and was a consistently recognizable feature on the Oaks maps.

Because maps go hand and hand with adventure stories, we also started reading our first chapter book: My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Our new volunteer Carol brought us a laminated map of Wild Island and the Oaks are fascinated. They pass the map around as we read, following the route Elmer Elevator takes as he searches for the dragon. First he takes a boat to Tangerina, then he crosses to Wild Island by hopping from stone to stone (and a whale), then he passes the tortoises and the boars…and then…more trouble is sure to follow. But with a knapsack full of useful things like hair ribbons, rubber bands and chewing gum, he’s ready for anything.

img_0368

This is a “battle tree” with a stockpile of sticks way up high. Teamwork is the only way to make this work.

img_0367

This looks like tree climbing, but is actually pirates manning (womaning) their ship.

The Oaks designed a stellar physical education activity in the old foundation they call the Ice House. No adult would ever come up with something like this, but they could have done it for an hour (or more). It involved climbing into the foundation, collecting brick one by one, and throwing them out to ground level. Then climbing out and throwing them all back in. Super core strength work out, plus motor-planning and communication. All we did was add the rule that everyone should be out of the way before the bricks started flying.

img_0359

Physical Education Oaks-Style: First you throw all the bricks out…

img_0360

You climb out after the bricks…

img_0361

Then you throw them all back in again! And repeat and repeat…

The Oaks had plenty more adventures these past two weeks, including a romping game of Fox and Rabbits in the pouring rain (like hide and seek and tag with base at the rabbit warren); lots of climbing in and out of the old foundation and up into trees; the tearing down and rebuilding of forts; and digging, mixing and moving the glorious mud. There was time to engage with friends in cooperative play and time to play alone. We found an old paper wasp nest, worm castings, puddles, jelly fungi and many many deer.

img_0341_2

Playing Fox and Rabbits

img_0343

Hiding rabbit. They immediately understand that a thicket was better than tall grass.

img_0336

Hiding rabbit

img_0344

You can’t see us…

img_0345

Splash!

img_0331

Bat research pole

img_0347

Placing the wasp nest at the Treasure Tree

img_0348

Carol helping with a new fort

img_0349

How to watch deer

img_0356

Solo birthday party (I think…). I caught this photo when I noticed her talking to herself and carefully placing the stick upright just so. Private speech is important to children’s language and social-emotional development.

img_0362