It’s finally spring! After such a cold winter, these last few weeks at Forest School have felt like an exhalation – a sigh of relief – and a celebration of freedom! All of the kids, from 2.5 to 12, now free of snow and snowsuits, and with months of experience at Forest School under their belts, are noticeably more confident exploring the forest, and man are they quicker on their feet!
I always wish for spring to come faster. I tend to fixate on the challenges of winter and wish them all away in eagerness for the gifts of spring. But, really, each season has its own (sometimes surprising) set of pros and cons, its particular hazards and risks. And each change of season really profoundly changes our program at Forest School, how we experience it, what we do during it, and the rules we follow to stay safe.
Emerging, as we are, from winter, the challenges of that season are obvious: the cold, and the limited range of movement caused by snow and snowsuits, to name two. But the gifts are maybe less obvious: winter really brought out rich imaginative play in our students, and brought them together in that play. I wrote more about that here. And winter, because of how limited we were by the cold (which affected how long we’d stay out for each stint), the deep snow, and our snowsuits, actually afforded a kind of freedom in that students were largely able to go where they wanted (because they never tended to go far) and do what they wanted, without my having to be overly supervisory. See these posts here and here about that.
So spring, for all the relief it affords, has actually presented us with a new set of challenges. We’re not encumbered by snowsuits or inhibited by snow and risk of frost bite anymore, it’s true, but we do have to temper our newfound freedom and exuberance with consideration for the fact that the forest is waking up, and so are its large inhabitants! This led us (the adults at Forest School) to decide last week that it was time for us all to start behaving a little more like a “wolf pack” ourselves: we’d stick closer together, and move as a group.
Sticking together, moving and making decisions as a group - this asks a lot of the students. Most days at Forest School begin with a meeting, something we did in other seasons, too. But now, in addition to just checking in and sharing important announcements, we also ask students to share their hopes for the day, where they might like to go, what they might like to do. Then we make a plan together. This requires the kids, first, to identify what their own desires are, and then to share them, which can feel like a risky thing to do – it requires some vulnerability. It also requires patience and attentiveness while their peers are speaking, a kind of delaying gratification, a kind of self-control. That is again asked of them when the group decides to go somewhere or do something that maybe they didn’t themselves want to do, when they don’t get their first choice. We’ve been talking a lot about how to handle that disappointment or frustration with flexibility – “oh well, maybe later…” – instead of tantrums or pouting. Sticking closer together also means having to compromise about resources, whether that means taking turns with tools, letting someone else have the stick you maybe both wanted, or letting someone else occupy the space you wanted, in a puddle, or on the edge of a pond, for example.
I had grown really attached to the freedom that winter afforded – the lack of group process and close surveillance necessary – and in all my wishing for spring, I hadn’t even noticed. So I anticipated launching these new changes, the ethos of the wolf pack, with some trepidation. I anticipated having to micromanage conflict resolution and to endure much whining and complaining, but I have been so pleasantly surprised! The kids have largely really taken to this wolf pack thing, and seem ripe and ready for the challenge of compromising about where to go and what to do!
(Sidenote: When am I going to stop being surprised by kids’ capacity for self-regulation? It does not reflect well on me!)
So far the wolf pack has circumnavigated the beaver pond, operated a diamond mine and made numerous forays into “puddle valley”, and one subgroup of the wolf pack – the rainbow treasure hunter no complainers – has also gone on a treasure hunt, in the rain, no less! We’ll see what this week brings…