As the warmth of spring approaches I notice there is a buzz of beaming energy surrounding the children. This distinct form of expression spills out to the forest with the children’s desire to venture outside the classroom area and explore some less familiar places. With this in mind I invited the children to wander over to an area we used during the summer for our forest school and nature play. This area is fairly wooded and demands the children to pay attention to the terrain as well as the obstacle of tree branches as they move through the area. This environment encourages children to explore various aspects of spatial awareness by adjusting their body position in relationship to the trees in the forest. It sparks an increase in body awareness, perception and overall well-being.
While traveling through the forest there were many falls, but no crying, there were pokes from branches and jumps over logs, laughter, and a collaboration as we moved apart, yet together as a unit. A child led us on a path of discovery, as we followed her up the hill the children determined what path suited them best to get there. The smaller children went under a fallen tree, while the taller children went over, demonstrating their ability to identify individual strategies. Once we reached to top of the hill, down was the only direction. Some children ran, while others rolled down (always a fun way to reach the bottom) and waited for us slow pokes.
Children were interested in cutting wood with scissors. This naturally graduated to using potato peelers. Children were focused for long periods of time, adjusting their body position for optimum control and problem solving the location of the wood itself. As the children became more confident I limited my interactions with them and took the role of an observer. Children were focused on their work which created a calming effect. Continue reading
The forest terrain has been very icy for the last few weeks so we have been on some outdoor adventures. On our way back from the tobboganing hill, the children discovered a large “mountain” made by the snow plows. As they began to scatter up the mountain, one child slowly and cautiously made her way to the top and sat down. She looked down the mountain and began to whimper. Another child who is quite skillful at climbing, quickly made his way up to the top and inquired: “why you sad?” She looked up at him “ I am scared to go down”. A big smile came upon his face; “ I will help you!” As she carefully listened to his instructions, he instinctively stayed close to her, encouraging her the entire way down. This heartfelt interaction between two four-year-old children demonstrates the value of cultivating authentic relationships that are built on respect, understanding and empathy. These are core values that will continue to develop and mature into our future community leaders!
During our walk through the forest, a child found a “special” stick. It was full of angles and “pointy things” and very long. She pulled it, dragged it and carried it, testing her balance, coordination, exploring the weight and height of the large stick and determining through her movement the most comfortable method of transportation.
She dabbled in weight distribution, collecting data on how the stick moved and could be manipulated with the least amount of effort. Her ability to test, adjust her thinking, then re-test again, demonstrated her full engagement and commitment to walking with the stick. Spatial awareness was evident when she adjusted the stick from vertical to horizontal and she cradled it her arms with intention and gratification.
Committed to the task at hand, her interactions with the “special”stick persisted for 2 kilometres. Her curiosity once again flourished when she encountered bullrushes (a plant at the waters edge), she contemplated keeping both items however she was not able to do so. She gently rested her stick on the ground and moved towards the bullrushes for closer look. Her journey with the stick was for done, at least for now.
Our walk into the forest was full of conversation between the college students. They appeared to be excited for this new experience. As we gathered at the “meeting place” I shared the different areas of the forest school classroom. I invited everyone to form groups and build a structure using the affordance of the forest with the criteria that one person must be able to fit into the structure.
As the students diligently worked at building there was a positive energy in the air. The sun peaking through canopy of trees and the birds were communicating through and students were fully engaged and authentically involved in building. Logs were being selected (based on criteria discussed amongst the group members) and transported on the uneven terrain to the building area. Some even wandered into the bush area to find the perfect log. This genuine level of engagement demonstrated challenges of balancing the logs, planning how it will look, exchanging and questioning ideas and concepts, comparing weight and height and so much more. These are all fundamental math and science skills rolled into problem solving through articulating thoughts and trail and error. The learning that was uncovered was magical. The students were motivated, deeply engaged, physically challenged and respectful of the ideas of others.
Next were our “sit spots” where we find a quiet area in the forest alone away from everyone and look and listen. I invited students to find a spot and suggested 5 minutes… which many students felt was too long. We collectively agreed on three minutes. Coming back to the meeting area, students slowly walked back as if not wanting to return. The moments spent quietly looking closely than as a waste of time. Many of the students expressed during our closing meeting that the “sits spots” were their favourite part and valued that time of disconnecting from everything.
THE FOLLOWING WEEK…
I presented images on the large screen of our outdoor experience. Students began to identify who they were and what they were doing. This appeared to influence positive conversation in the room through discussion of the “happenings” of the forest, although many students were tired due to their work load. My lecture began with the usual power point, inviting students into the learning by sharing examples from placement. It was challenging to persuade students to engage in conversation, yet a few minutes earlier the room was full of meaningful dialogue. As a reflective practitioner I began to think about my observations during our outdoor learning experience and wondered how to capture that within the walls of a classroom?
Try as I may, I think mother nature has a true advantage over the four walls of restriction. The reality is that nature sparks curiosity and wonder of the world around us no matter what the age of the person. It is a place of tranquility, understanding and true acceptance of yourself and others.
Children are innately attracted to the calmness and tranquility of Lake Seneca. It’s a place where we can make connections with the wonders of nature. We marvel at the movement of the water by simply throwing a rock and delighting in the circles that appear. We watch the wind gently touch the water causing soft ripples on the surface. We witnessed a flock of geese skimming the top of the water and landing with ease. We encountered fish moving close to the edge of the water as if greeting us to their home.These experiences with the world around us appear to slow us down, and the children begin to look closely at what surrounds them. As I quietly observe, I am reminded of how competent and capable children are as they demonstrate a realistic sense of awareness and personal control over their own learning. It is truly magical!