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”.   

We named the trail "The Forest Root Trail" because "it's at Forest School and has a lot of roots"! We marked it with pictures of some of the creatures we've been seeing around here.

We named the trail "The Forest Root Trail" because "it's at Forest School and has a lot of roots"! We marked it with pictures of some of the creatures we've been seeing around here.

Then the “lean to survival shelter” (formerly the “ultimate play structure” and actually most recently a giant pile that made for maybe the largest game of “pick up sticks” ever played) evolved into a log cabin, complete with windows, a bench, and a teeter-totter and balance beam outside.

Pick Up Sticks, supersized. 

Pick Up Sticks, supersized. 

Finally, we set one of those same logs from the ultimate play structure on top of the open shed doors, hung sheets as curtains, and spent hours putting on plays (epic dramas about getting to and from Forest School).

We had spent the day engaged for hours on end in three projects - only three projects - which was different than our other two sessions together when we had bounced a bit from making art to hiking to hunting for critters to building a web and so on. For that student it felt at first like she’d done “nothing” (though once we reflected on the day together she saw that it had in fact been a really full one!) but for me it shows a settling in, a comfort and familiarity that we’re building together as a group and with the site that I’m really happy about. With that comfort and familiarity come the sustained engagement, the great questions, the deep thinking, and the really free and creative play that are at the heart of Forest School, and that I love.

 For example, this:

This web/slackline/low ropes climbing course actually evolved out of site risk assessment I was doing with a student. We were wandering around, talking about the various hazards present, what kind of risk they posed, and what we could do to do mitigate those risks. Our focus was mainly on dead trees and branches that might fall and really hurt someone/thing, but the student also began to notice smaller dead trees that he could knock over himself (this is not surprising if you’ve ever been in the woods with an 11 year old boy before!)

In the midst of this we came across a really long rope that had been forgotten out in that part of the forest, and Z. quickly used it (and me!) to help pull down a particularly stubborn tree. We couldn’t get the tree down with our own strength, so we tried pulling the ropes around other trees for leverage. Still that wasn’t enough, so Z. actually tried hanging off of and jumping on the ropes. In the end that tree was so stubborn, even with the ropes wrapped and re-wrapped around other trees, so Z. actually tried hanging off of and jumping on the ropes. And the low-ropes course was born! (Good thing the tree was so strong!)

It’s so fascinating to watch play evolve – from risk assessment to dead tree dropping to low ropes climbing – and, similarly, to watch the same object(s) be used in many different ways.

 We ended last week at Forest School by welcoming over 50 educators to our site for a daylong introduction to Forest School as part of the Early Learning in Nature Conference co-hosted by the City of Ottawa and Algonquin College. I’ll also write more on that wonderful day in a separate post, but having so many educators get to know our site through play, listening to their questions and concerns, hopes and ideas, sharing lunch around the fire with them – that was all part of the shift into settling in that happened last week. I’m so looking forward to what the next weeks will bring…