Last Week at Forest School: On Getting Out of the Way

The highlight of last week was the “Deer Trap”.  When C. arrived at Forest School on Tuesday morning, he ran to check his “deer trap”: two sticks he had stuck in the snow behind the amphitheatre the previous Tuesday. His enthusiasm was so infectious; all of the students ran to follow him. (They even ran away from taking turns using the bow saw!)

They found no deer in his trap. Some of the kids were confused by this. Some were disappointed, and others had already moved on to making suggestions for improvements to the trap. I watched and listened for a while, holding myself back from comforting the disappointed, from finessing the suggestion making, and from making my own suggestions about why the trap hadn’t worked and how we could improve it. Holding myself back – getting out of the way! – is often hard for me to do, but it’s something I’m currently really focusing on, as it’s one of the primary ways through which we can be truly child-led at Forest School, and promote kids’ problem solving and creativity.

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A Fall Highlight: The Ice City

Just before the holidays, a small group of us headed down the “Forest Root Trail” behind the cabin. There wasn’t much snow yet, just a thin layer, yet we kept sinking and tripping the way one does in deeper, icy snow. Almost where the Forest Root Trail meets the main trail, after one more trip and fall, we finally took a closer look at the ground to see just what was going on. What we found were amazing ice crystals, like the stalactites or stalagmites that grow in caves. The crystals had grown between the ground and the leaves, raising the leaf layer up in an icy crust – that’s what we kept sinking through and then stumbling over. 

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This Week at Forest School: Embracing Deep Snow, Deep Cold, and Risk

Right off the bat this week I learned (again) not to underestimate the determination and sheer physical strength of preschoolers! The snow is just getting deeper for them – it’s even above the knees for some of them now – but when A. noticed the triangular signs on the trees that mark the “Forest Root Trail” behind the cabin, he wouldn’t be deterred from checking out every single one of them!

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This Week at Forest School: First Week Back

This first week (back) at Forest School was a chilly one, but all of our students and families, both new and returning, met the cold with a sense of adventure, positivity, and creativity. Monday and Tuesday weren't too bad, so we were able to get out on a "crunch walk" with Monday's preschoolers, wondering why it was that sometimes little feet broke through the thick layer of ice that was hiding under the lightest dusting of powdery snow, while other times they could slip along on top (big feet seemed to crunch through with each step!). That walk was full of learning to keep our balance both on top of and after stepping through the ice, and to pick ourselves up when we fell, despite uneven, slippery ground and cumbersome snowsuits! Lessons in gross motor strength and coordination, and persevering through frustration with a sense of humour, for sure!

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"Salt Hands": Forest School Canada Edition

There’s a children’s book called “Salt Hands” by Jane Chelsea Aragon. It’s about a little girl who wakes up in the middle of the night and looks out her window to see a deer standing by a pear tree in the moonlight. The little girl creeps downstairs, pours some salt into her hands, and then goes outside where she kneels quietly and waits for the deer to approach her. It is a beautiful book, told from the perspective of the child in short, simple sentences. It perfectly evokes that excited, hold-your-breath, whispered magic of seeing a wild animal.

 This morning at Forest School, we had our own “Salt Hands” experience. A buck wandered very close by our cabin where C., our student teacher, and O., a three-year-old student, were reading stories on the porch.  I’m going to try here to describe the experience like Aragon does, from the perspective of O., who sat in stillness and silence for nearly half an hour watching the deer.

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"What Does Dead Mean?"

One of my students asked me that last week. He's three. We were collecting firewood, (something we've been doing a lot of these days) and in doing that, I've been talking quite a bit about dead wood versus wood that is alive. I think that's where this question came from.

"I think it means not alive," I said. "What do you think alive means?"

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Week 3: A Shift

Something shifted last week. On Monday, one of our students asked a wonderful question, the kind that’s rich with potential for deep thinking and learning, and that gets to a really fundamental understanding about our world: that water and life are intimately connected. More on that here.

 On Tuesday, when it was getting to be time to tidy up and go home, a student said to me, “Already? But we haven’t done anything yet!”

 In fact we had done a lot! We named and marked with hand-drawn signs the path we’ve been using to get from our cabin to the main trail at the site, and began to clear it, pretending to be “Forest Rangers”.   

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The First Five Weeks at Forest School Canada

Oh man, is this post ever overdue. Since I last wrote on this blog, I’ve moved my life to Ottawa, and at Forest School Canada (FSC) we’ve now finished our second week of Fall programs after having run three successful week-long Forest School “Taster Sessions” in August.

 Some highlights and some reflections from our first five weeks:

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Risk

t’s been quite some time since I last posted here on the blog. The school year has ended, and my life has seen some big changes, with more on the way. I’ve said goodbye to the wonderful K-pals and their incredibly supportive families, and I’m now preparing to move to Ottawa to begin a new job.

 I will be working at Forest School Canada, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing exemplary and accessible Forest School programming, and developing national standards and a community of practice in Forest and Nature Schooling in Canada. This August we will be offering “taster sessions” of Forest School for children ages 2.5 through 10 at our new site at the Wesley Clover Campground, just west of Ottawa. (So come! Camp at the campsite, send your kids to Forest School! Click here!)

 I had some unfinished posts about my last adventures with the K-pals waiting to be polished up and published, and while the time for that seems (mostly) to have passed now, interestingly, the theme running through those last unfinished posts is one that’s really on my mind these days as I sit on the cusp of uprooting my life and taking on a new role: risk.

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Double Weekly Roundup: Reggio, Representation, and Forts

Another double roundup this week as I took last week off from blogging. Thanks Miss K. for holding down the fort for us both! Luckily there seems to be some common highlights of both this week and last: water (surprise!), forts (again) (surprise!), and ending the week with a treat cooked over a fire. 

First, water, and some context. A few weeks ago I started reading this book, having been inspired to do so at a David Hawkins/Reggio seminar I attended in March. 

I really love to read, but even still I am always surprised at how much a good book reinvigorates me and rekindles my passion for my work. I usually save teaching-related books for the summer, but I couldn't resist this one, and the excitement it's causing me is actually really well timed. I always find I need a bit of fuel for my fire at this time of the school year.

Anyway, as I'm reading, I'm coming to understand that one of the fundamental tenets of the Reggio method is to constantly ask the child to represent his/her understanding of the world with various media. Lots of teachers do this, I think, but the difference, it seems to me, is that Reggio teachers then look at those representations with an attitude of great respect, believing them to have been created with intention, and believing that they communicate something of real import and value. For me, this also has to do with seeing kids as more 

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Weekly Roundup: Extended Edition

Friday was a day we've been slowly building up to all year, without even really realizing it.

We followed the creek from the lake all the way up to the waterfall near the edge of the school property. After debating whether the lake was a starting point or an ending point (and ultimately settling on the idea that it was our starting point for our hike, but definitely more of an end point for all the water that flows to it and then "just sits"), we followed the creek's twists and turns, sometimes hugging in close to it, sometimes fanning out as it flooded its banks, sometimes climbing high above it to get a bird's eye view. We "scaled cliffs" and then carefully picked our way back down, like mountain goats. We crossed "snowy plains" and a log bridge. We got a bit scared at times, a bit tired at others, hungry, and thirsty, but we never gave up. With each challenge we were more confident and more determined, and finally, we made it to the waterfall. It took all morning to get there, and it has taken all year to build the strength, endurance, confidence, and trust that were necessary to make such a long, demanding journey. 

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Weekly Roundup: Water is Blue, Right?

This week we dove (haha!) deeply into our water inquiry. We started by having the students describe water. Describing different things (from bananas to scarves) after paying close attention to them with all the senses, and guessing objects based on lists of adjectives are two of the activities we've recently been including in our morning literacy lesson as we work to broaden our students' awareness and knowledge of adjectives.

Right off the bat the conversation was richer than Miss K. and I had even anticipated, and that was a happy trend that continued through to the end of the week, confirming over and over again that changing course and inquiring into water instead of birds was the right choice. We had expected to generate a simple list of adjectives, but instead, competing theories about where water comes from (the earth's core, where from molten lava pushes water out through cracks into rivers and lakes and the ocean versus "I thought water came from the sky") and misconceptions about the colour of water all arose, and suddenly we had already had our first knowledge building circle!

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