Daily Diary 10/15/19

A day of firsts! It was our first day with seven Forest Kindergarteners (due to vacations, illness, etc). It was also our first semi-rainy day. The forest stayed mostly dry, given the overhang. Many children enjoyed having multiple layers to peel off and replace throughout the day. In our morning circle, we discussed Halloween costumes, which became an opportunity to embody those characters on the way into the forest. These wild characters and animals are learning to balance their wildness and the guardrails of staying between the adults as we travel to our site. AFK-ers baked a variety of mud pies and cupcakes. (So many flavors!) With the arrival of new people, children are working to broaden games to include close, long-time friends as well as new friends. Educators are helping them navigate this space as friendships grow and evolve. During snack, we read two long stories, which the children enjoyed. One about a Gecko in Bali, the other about fairies in Wales. After snack, the energy between children balanced and new teams formed and reformed in the superhero game. Wendell and Robin also had a conversation during some quiet time about how much zipper space the tooth fairy would need to access his backpack. We did some call and response clapping and made the sound “om” together at our closing circle. Sarah asked the children to listen for the sound of “ommmmm” in their houses and neighborhoods before our next session!

Daily Diary 10/10/19

We started the day by collecting “gold coins” that educators noticed on the ground in the drop-off area. We used this opportunity to bring joy to our responsibility of care for the Earth by collecting the littered confetti (aka gold coins). The children were engaged in and excited about this activity for the duration of the drop off period. We were joined in our morning routine by a stick bug and a daddy long leg spider, and each had a role in helping our morning move forward. Once in the forest, all the children jumped right into playing their respective games. Jarrett enjoyed “Monster Under the Bridge”; Charlie drew Leonardo (TMNT); Larkin looked up at the leaves with Kylie; Sammy, Wendell, Miles, and Jarrett found their favorite sticks for the day and agreed on a stick game with set safety limitations. Their respective games blended and separated as play evolved throughout the morning. Larkin was interested in writing her name and wrote an ‘L’ on her paper. Miles wanted to draw a special kind of dog, but wasn’t sure how to draw it. Kylie talked with him about the shapes that he could use to draw the dog. He started with a circle as the body, added lines for legs, circles for eyes and a nose. As we discussed the shapes his confidence grew in drawing the dog. 

Co-regulation and the stages of play

This post was co-written by Nicollette & Sarah

Last week, we had an opportunity to observe how the children reacted to changes in the offerings we presented. Although we focus on unstructured play, the implementation of our emergent curriculum calls us to respond to children’s needs, interests, the dynamics of the group, and even situational factors, like the weather! Since the weather has been SO HOT, we decided to experiment with ways to co-regulate the children’s energy and emotions. On Tuesday, Robin offered a variety of quiet activities for the children to engage in, whenever they felt they needed or wanted a more restful activity. Eden was especially interested in stringing leaves together! Charlie was pleased to find the fairy house he built on the previous Thursday still intact and played with that for a while.

Educators witnessed some “play in proximity” unfold between Charlie's endeavors and the ever-evolving superhero/Wild Kratts-inspired game that Wendell, Sammy, and Beck invested their time in. Although such parallel play or associative play most commonly emerges in toddlerhood, it is not surprising to see our 5 and 6 year olds circle back through the stages of play as they settle in to new environments with new social norms and expectations. And indeed, we saw that after the snack break, these big kids were on to a full expression of social play, with Charlie joining the game! He was able to offer his interest in writing to create "plans" for the group. Eden came in and out of that play, sometimes running full speed down the hill, and other times collecting leaves of various shapes, sizes and colors.

Thursday the dynamics shifted yet again with several children out sick and the addition of our new friend, Miles. The experienced forest kindergarteners were compassionate and patient with the young newcomer and the modeling that happened between the children was more meaningful than anything we adults could have directed! We started the day with a focus on forest animals— enjoying both a frog Sammy caught and our observations of an enormous “cow killer” ant. The park manager, Bob, caught up with us to let us know they were taking a nearby tree down. This was exciting, as the children remembered the educators flagging certain trees of concern, and allowed us to venture casually into the topic of how wild spaces are managed by humans. We listened for the tree and discussed the many sounds we heard.

Deepening our connections to place

While observation is always important in an emergent curriculum, it is especially apparent in the first couple weeks of a program. Children and adults are observing space, materials, one another, and themselves as they begin to build relationships in and with the forest. The forest too, observes. Just as the deer leave evidence of their use of a ground nest we built for snack time, we leave evidence of our presence and play. We are in conversation with the forest.

In our third week together, educators invited the children to consider place in their play. What do games and narratives look like if we play in ways that only the forest allows? What does the forest make possible in our our imaginations?

  1. Eden and Larkin observed a group of spiders under the bridge and, after counting them, spun a narrative about the family and each spider’s role.

  2. The story of Little Buddy (the frog) trapped in a log with needle ants resurfaced several times as a physical, logical, and emotional pursuit. The children showed an interest in drawing/writing, and Beck, Sammy, and Wendell worked to draw up and follow plans to save their froggy friend.

  3. Many times, the rocks of the forest have captured attention for their sparkly surfaces. We have rock collectors in Eden and Larkin! Charlie noticed that hitting one rock with another can manipulate shape to create tools.

  4. Kylie introduced the possibility of building fairy homes on Thursday. Charlie spent deliberate and detailed time with his constructions, while others popped in and out of that particular invitation.

  5. Of course, I cannot forget the dinosaur skull! The act of digging around roots produced this storyline of finding the fossils of a new species of dinosaur (name TBD)!

As we spend more time together in the forest, we notice the possibilities are endless, and we continue to look forward to all these moments and relationships in/with the the forest offer.

Week 2 photo fest!

I am belatedly posting this as a brief photo record of so many great things that happened in our second week at SCP! The continuation of the HEAT was a theme. Following the children’s leads allowed us to discover what “slowing down” to cope with the heat means to these energetic, curious, and creative friends! We saw extended teacher story times at snack, lots of writing, drawing, and map-making with their newly introduced clipboards, “kasplooshing” rocks into the lake, and quiet play after lunch in the shade of the bush. Also seen: Charlie invents a tool and teaches Larkin how to build one too, we continue to add nature treasures to our listening stick, a long tutorial from Sammy about how to “take a deep breath” to help Larkin get ready for the jump she was building up to do off the bridge!

Settling in to our first week at Sandy Creek Park

In reflecting about the wide range of strengths in our small class, this excerpt from the article Amy selected for this year’s parent orientation packet came to mind: 


“Unlike self-esteem, which often depends on praise from others, self-efficacy develops when children have opportunities to discover their personal strengths. These will range from child to child. Some children discover an aptitude for balancing on logs and ice. Others develop empathy for animals. Still others are good at making friends, at playing cooperatively, or at solving problems.” Even with our small group, it’s easy for the educator team to see a range of aptitudes and passions in the children! We strive to build on their inclinations and encourage them to discover new opportunities through the authentic opportunities that arise in a child-centered, play-based program. 


A particularly smooth and easy moment for our foursome of older children happened this week when they found a small frog and wanted to find a good home for it! The emotionally taxing work of negotiating roles in their superhero/bad guy/explorer games just moments before melted away as they came up with a plan for why, when, and how to get the little frog established in a moist and safe new home. They got water from our dispenser, scouted the area, and worked together to get (this year’s!) “Little Buddy” somewhere safe. The Educators took note of some of the prosocial work happening for these older children in the context of Little Buddy. We will be helping the children increase their social-emotional self-efficacy by helping them draw on this moment for ideas of how to use similar language to solve problems and deepen friendships. 


Learning and negotiating social norms is a big part of how new groups form, and in play-based early childhood programs like ours, children expend a lot of energy on building community. However, it manifests differently with different age groups. We saw Larkin and Eden crossing the bridge near our play site over and over and observed complex rule-making in the process. They were moving like butterflies and working out how they would take turns, where each would stand to watch the other, and what they would say after they were done watching. 


Our emergent curriculum means that we are not just willing to change our plans but actively looking for direction from the children for the most meaningful next steps we can take. We saw a theme emerge throughout the week, which showed us the children’s deep fascination with plant identification. Kylie shared some of her knowledge and passion about plants when she was with us on Thursday, helping children identify muscadine vines and make jewelry from it, dig up and delight in the strong scent of wild ginger, and learn some of the characteristics of poison ivy so they could better identify it in the wild. We we will be incorporating some new invitations and provocations so they can expand upon their interest.


Some children were unhappy on Tuesday about the safety vests we added this year, so we talked to them about ways to make the idea work better for them. Everyone had their own improvements in mind, all of which had to do with aesthetics! So on Thursday before lunch we spent about 20 minutes outside personalizing vests and collecting bags with fabric paint! 


Likewise, we followed the needs of the group after a particularly hot and subdued snack time on Thursday. The children kept asking for one more story from our new book of world folk tales. It was such a small and beautiful thing to be able to follow their interest and stay in our cozy circle for nearly 40 minutes listening to Nicollette read! It was a welcome respite from the heat and the children were ready to explore afterwards because the break fulfilled their need for rest more than the loosely allotted 15 minutes would have. 


We are happy to have each of your families along for the process of co-creating the best version of forest kindergarten possible!

Discovering Springtime through Bugs and Birds

We had a small group this week, with 9 children in attendance, which made for some very focused small group time after snack. Kylie offered children a chance to catch bugs, while Amy offered a bird walk and nest building activity.  Our small group time is a chance for teachers to get to know children and their interests more deeply, and for children to get focused attention from the teachers. Small group time also helps us plan for the next week of Forest Kindergarten, as we can take what we learn from the children and incorporate it into our discussions with the children the next week and look for provocations in the forest that might help children extend their learning interests.

Amy’s small group started with a bird walk where we looked and listened for birds. The children directed the walk and the direction we took, deciding which spots would be the best places to see birds. They felt like we should find a high spot so we could be closer to where the birds were, and that would give us the best chance to see one. We spotted a downed tree that stuck up into the air, and the kids climbed up it like a mountain. When we couldn’t spot any birds from there, Amy asked if there was another spot we might try. The kids walked us up a hill through the woods until we found another downed tree that made a bridge over a depression in the forest. The kids were all able to sit on the tree, and then we took turns using the pair of binoculars that Amy brought for bird watching. It was exciting for the kids to use this special tool for birding, and they tried out looking at each other and looking from both ends of the binoculars. They also agreed to the challenge of using the one pair of binoculars that Amy had. The 4 children in the group passed the binoculars on to each other when Amy prompted, and willingly shared the binoculars while we birded.  The binoculars also led to children investigating other activities happening in nature. When the kids used them to look at the log we were sitting on, they found ants traveling around and a very large mealworm!

Bugs are frequently a provocation that engages children with nature, and just as our birding group got interested in bugs our bug group came back with several of their finds! The children shared their finds with the whole group, and we had a chance to observe how some of the smallest creatures can help children learn skills of nurturing and gentleness.  The bug group found several eastern tent caterpillars that are safe for children to hold. They are very soft and most children feel very comfortable holding them. Almost all of our children wanted a chance to hold one of the caterpillars and once the caterpillars were in their hands, the children slowed their movements and calmly watched them move. When another child asked to hold the caterpillar, the children wanted to be the ones to pass them on instead of a teacher helping them. Each time they passed the caterpillar, they very carefully picked it up and gave it to the next child. At one point, the teachers were able to just sit back and watch the children share the caterpillar experience with each other. They showed an extreme amount of care for the living creatures, and asked questions about how they moved, what they ate and if they could take them home. We discussed what the caterpillars needed for living, and the children agreed that we should find homes in the forest for the caterpillars before we left the woods for lunch.

We enjoyed our Friday together as a small group of 9, but we really look forward to next week and more of our friends being back with us as we look for more signs of spring in the forest!

Prosocial Behavior in the Forest

Working at Forest Kindergarten is a fantastic opportunity to observe what I have read in the research on environmental education and nature play come to life. This week, I was struck by the many instances of prosocial behaviors I saw among the children. Whenever I attend a conference or read a blog advocating for nature play for children, evidence of how nature play promotes cooperative behavior amongst children and reduces conflict is almost always put forth. For example, a recent research article I read about how children play and use natural schoolyards found this:
”The young elementary school students overwhelmingly chose wooded areas over a playground for play during recess. Reported benefits include physical independence, supportive social relationships, and imaginative play. Children learned physical and social competence, formed complex cultures and alliances, and developed autonomy. Teachers and parents observed enhanced attention and decreased anxiety among the children.” You can read the full research summary here.

What I thought was especially interesting about this article, was how children chose the wooded areas over playgrounds. Play is important and when children play on traditional playgrounds at school, they do develop prosocial skills. Yet, when given the autonomy to choose their play, this research shows children prefer the woods.  How exciting for us at Forest Kindergarten to have evidence that the environment we are offering children for learning and experiencing the world honors a choice that children seem to prefer.

Of course, what is also exciting is seeing the research in action- and there was ample evidence this week to support everything I have read!!  From simple acts of helpfulness to the formation of new relationships, the children’s actions together showed how our regular time in the forest has provided opportunities for children to develop prosocial skills. One small story was between Will and Larkin.  Will kept losing one of his boots this week, and needed help getting it back on. Teachers try intentionally to encourage children to seek the help of other children, instead of always relying on us for help. We also encourage children to notice when someone in our group needs help. In this instance, when Will’s boot fell off, Larkin was very close by. Amy asked Larkin if she could pass Will his boot. Instead of just passing it to him, she picked it up and told him she would help him put it on. She then gently pushed it on his foot and helped him stand up in it. From our experience with lots of rainy and muddy days, the children know how important boots are to playing comfortably in the woods. Larkin took an extra step of helpfulness that made sure Will could keep playing easily with the group.

Forest play also offers children opportunities to challenge their physical abilities, and develop physical independence that they are deservedly proud of. The pride children have in mastering a complex physical challenge that they chose for themselves is something they want to share, and this can also lead to prosocial behavior. On Friday, Luke wanted to move across a steep slope, a task made even more difficult by the slippery mud coating the slope. Luke asked Amy for help, but Wendell was nearby and had just made the crossing. Wendell was very proud of his skill, and offered to show Luke how to do it. Wendell took on the role of teacher, and told Luke how he used a root to hold onto and talked Luke through how he moved his feet to keep from slipping. Both children were able to cross in this way, and share a sense of accomplishment together.

The many different components of the forest also provide children a chance to develop new relationships, based on shared interests. Not every child will be interested in mushrooms, but two children who have not played together much before may find a new way to share play based on an interest in mushrooms. The same goes for acorns, leaves, squirrels, sticks, and the many other natural provocations we find and could not replicate in an indoor setting. During small group this week, Sammy chose not to play with his regular playgroup and picked doing a mushroom hike with a few other children and Kylie. Margaret also enjoyed finding mushrooms and this shared activity created new bonds among children. By lunch time, Sammy and Margaret wanted to sit next to each other!

We don’t get to see every instance of children cooperating, helping each other, and building new relationships but we keep watching each week to see what happens between and among children as we play in the forest. New opportunities for children to work together will arise, and as spring progresses over the next 3 weeks, changes in the forest may provoke other children to play with new companions and celebrate shared interests together!

Our emergent snail curriculum

One of the things I most enjoy about Forest Kindergarten is how being outside exposes us to so many inspirations for sharing our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. We get to hear from the children what they are learning about and wondering about as they explore. We get insight into who each child is, in the moment, and realize how fully capable they are of directing their own learning. The discussion we had at morning meeting on Friday reminded me of the Reggio image of the child that we hold in Forest Kindergarten, and that I shared with you in last week’s blog:  

“At the heart of this system is the powerful image of the child. Children are not empty vessels that require filling with facts. Rather children are full of potential, competent and capable of directing their interests and building their own theories”.

Amy, our flag, and a line of sweet children!

Amy, our flag, and a line of sweet children!

I want to share with you our discussion in this week’s blog, and reflect on just how valuable it is to listen to children’s ideas, allow them to express their theories, and give them the space and tools they need to test these theories out for themselves. It is so important to allow this process to happen, instead of just telling children information and expecting them to absorb it. During our morning discussion, I learned so much about the children in the group and how they think and feel. It made me excited to see how they were incorporating information from so many different experiences to have a lively discussion about our topic: snails!

We did not start out talking or intending to talk about snails. Our discussion got started with the topic of our new play space. The teachers decided to move the children to a new side of Ayeli to play on in the morning, and we wanted to know what the children thought about it. What did they discover? Did they get to explore it much? What other parts of it did they want to see? We didn’t have much time to explore and play this morning, so we wondered what were the things they might want to do when we play there again? Some of the things children had done that morning were climb the trees, check under logs for insects, and find some very big snails.  Amy asked what they thought about the snails, and thus our snail discussion began.

Wendell mentioned that he thought snails did not like dirt, and Amy asked why he thought that. He explained that he had seen a show and that snails didn’t like dirt in it. Ellie chimed in to say she had seen a show and that snails lived in water and could move and swim with bubbles. This idea seemed to reinforce Wendell’s idea that snails didn’t like dirt, but Cristian spoke up and mentioned that he thought snails did like dirt. Cristian repeated his idea, and did not allow any of the other children to change his mind. He had seen snails in the dirt, and so he knew snails liked dirt. Several other children agreed with Cristian, that they had seen snails in dirt. One child mentioned, “but they make slime in dirt.”  Amy wondered at this point if some snails could like dirt and some snails could not like dirt? Our children who had already taken sides on the dirt vs. no dirt were not ready to budge their thinking, but some of the other children in the group thought that they might. Amy acknowledged both Wendell’s thinking and Cristian’s, and then put forth the thought that perhaps there might be a way to figure out an answer out in the woods. How could we test out our idea? Children mentioned that we could look for snails, and Amy ended the discussion with the lingering thought that we could try and see where snails were living in the woods to test out our ideas.

During this discussion, the children illustrated how they are actively thinking about the natural world and trying to use information from many sources to figure things out. They are also willing to enter into discussion and disagreement with each other, and to stand firm on their beliefs. At the same time, they remain open to the idea of testing their theories out and getting more evidence and information to evaluate their beliefs. How fantastic that we are able to spend time on these discussions, without having to rush the children to learn a certain fact or standard. Amy will definitely bring up our snail discussion again, perhaps this week since we might have a rainy day again- and the snails might be out for us to investigate our ideas!! It is especially exciting to think about next year, when we will meet twice a week and we can return to our ideas and hypotheses right away to continue investigating and extending our learning!

Margaret initiated a poignant moment checking on a friend who was upset, asking her about her feelings and not rushing to distraction the way so many adults might. She was just there to be with Eden who was sad her mommy went to the bathroom.

Margaret initiated a poignant moment checking on a friend who was upset, asking her about her feelings and not rushing to distraction the way so many adults might. She was just there to be with Eden who was sad her mommy went to the bathroom.

We did read a book at snack time, and one happened to be a book with information about snails: About Mollusks, by Cathryn and John Sill.  (completely coincidental. The book is one of Amy’s daughter’s favorites and it just called out to Amy in the morning to be brought to AFK!)

One other reading that I think may be of interest to parents is some new research that has come out about encouraging girls in science. During our discussion above and when the children are outside playing, we are always doing science. This new research supports just how important it is to get girls doing science: https://naaee.org/eepro/blog/what-should-inclusive-science-education

It is always interesting as a teacher to read information like this, and think about how we approach it in our own space. Certainly looking for snails and wondering where they like and don’t like to live is doing science, and I will keep looking for all the other ways we do science at AFK!

Making Marks to Make Meaning with our Flag

Returning from Spring Break is a good time to introduce a new element to our Forest Kindergarten. This week, we introduced the idea of a flag for Forest Kindergarten. The teachers want the children to know the flag, and always look for it as a marker of our place in the woods. But the children also got excited when we introduced the concept.  We explained that whenever we are at a site, we will plant the flag and the children have to always be able to see it. To make sure it is fun to spot, we asked them how we might decorate it. Immediately, children had ideas. Sammy said the first thing we should do is put “AFK” on it. When asked, he explained that AFK was for Athens Forest Kindergarten. Several children suggested we use markers to color it, and others wanted to paint it. We let them know that we would decorate the flag in the forest, and let them continue to think about what they wanted on it.

Out in the forest, we practiced finding our flag. The children were engaged in making sure they could see it from whatever spot they were playing in- and several wanted to help Amy plant the flag in the forest. Mabry helped Amy dig a hole to put the flag in, and several children (Cristian, Margaret, and August) searched for a big stick to tie our flag to.  They all still wanted to know when we would decorate it, and we let them know we would do it after snack time. We could see the attachment to the flag as part of our group growing, as we incorporated it into our routine at Root World.

Snack time and small group time came really quickly this week, perhaps because of the amazing sunny weather. Our morning at Root World was very settled, and we transitioned easily into snack. We read a book called “Spectacular Spots” that illustrates many patterns and brightly colored animals, and enjoyed reading “Bear’s Loose Tooth” at snack too!  After snack, we offered the children two choices: 1. Decorate our flag with Sarah or 2. Go on a Spring Color hunt with Amy. The children make their own choice about the small group they want to go to, and August, Cristian, Wendell, Felix and Sammy decided to decorate the flag, while Charlotte, Luke, Larkin, Margaret, Eden, Mabry, and Ellie came on the color hunt.

We enjoyed looking for colors on our color hunt and spotted the purple on the redbud trees, that was close to a color match with Amy’s jacket! We also spotted purple violets, green baby leaves, and Luke really looked hard for the color red. Brown, of course, was still the predominant color we found. But the colors themselves were not even the most exciting part of our color hunt. We decided to go off the trail to look for more colors, and as we navigated through the woods we came across a big, rotting log.  The children took an immediate interest in it. Amy drummed a little on it as we waited for the group, and the children became interested in exploring the different sounds that the log could make. It was interesting to see how they interpreted music through the log, and to hear what the log sounded like to them. We noticed that it sounded like a helicopter passing overhead, and that it sounded different on the sides than on the top.

Once the children were engaged with the log, their exploration of the log took off and so many more interesting ideas began to emerge that made the log a place we could have stayed for the next hour. As Amy watched the children exploring and sharing in dialogue together, it made her think about what our image of the child is.  So often, we want to look at this type of exploration as an opportunity for the teachers to step in and take advantage of a “teachable moment”. Amy could have started to tell the children all about the many important ways that rotting logs contribute to the forest ecosystem, and then asked them several questions to collect data on what they had learned- or to make sure they were growing concepts that would make them ready for school. Had Amy started talking here in the moment, several children probably would have listened, and she could have felt satisfied that she filled them with knowledge.  However, she chose to watch and record what the conversations were that were happening between children and what dialogues the children were having with the log through their words and actions. Our image of the child at Forest Kindergarten is that each child brings their own knowledge and capabilities to the experience, and we as the teachers learn alongside them and honor their methods for bringing meaning to their experiences. While watching, Amy observed this dialogue emerge:

Ellie found a place on the log to sit, and immediately noticed there were some holes in the log. Without seeing any beetles, she announced that the holes were probably homes for beetles, and she began to feel protective of the space she inhabited on the log.  Further down the log, Luke had been taking many small pieces of the log off. The destruction of the log was also a very satisfying activity that several other children and our Forest Helper, Graham, became deeply involved in. Many pieces of the log had a very spongy texture that the children delighted in, and our Forest Kindergarten children know from experience that all sorts of creatures and other treasures might be hiding in the log.  But, when Luke came up to the area where Ellie was sitting, she defended her space. She did not want him to destroy the area of the log she was sitting on, because she wanted to protect the unseen beetles home. Luke still wanted to pull off more of the log and Amy helped Ellie and Luke work out an agreement so that he found other spots on the log to continue to pull apart, while Ellie could continue to protect her area. Around this time, we heard from the children at the top of the log that they had found a beetle! Amy came over and helped pick up the beetle, and we all wondered at the beetle. Some children only wanted to look, but Eden was immediately comfortable with the beetle and wanted to hold it and show it to the other children. Which encouraged several other children to try holding it in their hands. During this time, Amy heard Ellie say “Its body shines when the sun hits it” which was a beautiful description of what we were seeing that came entirely from Ellie’s own feelings from seeing the beetle in front of her.  We then found a second beetle, and Amy noticed how Ellie became more excited. For Ellie, her idea that the holes in the log were the homes of beetles was being confirmed. She immediately stated that it was a mommy and daddy beetle, and then noted that maybe the holes were for their babies and their babies were hiding, since the mommy and daddy were living in a different part of the log than the area she had been protecting. Seeing this process unfold, and Ellie have the opportunity to feel comfortable announcing an idea, and then getting an opportunity to put all the pieces of what she had hypothesized come together was exactly what Forest Kindergarten is about. Ellie has started synthesizing her experiences in the forest by connecting it to her own life experience and telling stories about it. She is grasping important concepts about habitats and ecology through telling her own stories, and the teachers are excited to continue to see how Ellie and the other children in Forest Kindergarten use the experiences of AFK to tell their own stories as they build their understanding of the world.

The image of the child and how we understand children and the way they are interacting with their world is so important to guiding us as teachers at Forest Kindergarten. Especially as we move towards the end of our first year together, Amy wants to touch more on this topic. There is much more to examine than what I have provided in this weekly blog, and I would like to suggest all our families also read this short blog post as a way of gaining more understanding of how we approach the image of the child in Forest Kindergarten: https://www.nordangliaeducation.com/our-schools/houston/british-international/article/2017/1/6/the-image-of-the-child

Then, let us know if you have questions or your own thoughts that come out of this!  

Backyard Fairies and Forest Friend Houses

The children displayed such patience waiting while those before them experimented!

The children displayed such patience waiting while those before them experimented!

Post by: Kylie Hamlin-Filkins

What an exciting day full of adventure for the Forest Kindergarteners. Our day began with an impromptu exploration of sound and vibrations using Sarah’s singing bowl. Without direction from adults, the children decided to take turns trying to figure out how to make the singing bowl sing! Each child patiently waited their turn to attempt to make the bowl chime using a wooden mallet. While cupping the bowl, some children struck the bowl forcefully, some quietly, some repeatedly, but the bowl wouldn’t chime. When it was Sammy’s turn, he set the bowl in the deck instead of holding it in his palm and it sang beautifully when struck. The children discussed what makes sounds and why they thought the bowl rang better on the deck (or a flat surface) compared to being cupped in a hand.

After our time at Ayeli, we hiked into the forest and made our way to Root World where the children began to climb trees, bake mud muffins, collect treasures, and further explore their abilities.

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For snack, we circled around and enjoyed hibiscus tea and a cashew trail mix. Jess read ‘In the Tall, Tall Grass,’ by Denise Fleming and ‘Scoot,’ by Cathryn Falwell. Kylie read ‘Backyard Fairies,’ by Phoebe Wahl. The children really enjoyed the stories!

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Larkin and Kylie made some bark rubbings with dirt.

Larkin and Kylie made some bark rubbings with dirt.

After snack time, the children were give the option to join one of three groups; forest games with Jess, explore the forest with Sarah, or make bark rubbings with Kylie. There was a lot of back and forth for some children. I could understand it being difficult to choose just one fun activity! After some time, all the children ended up in Jess’ group for games. We walked around the forest trail making our way to the ‘Junkyard’ but taking time to play in small groups along the way.

In one game, each child selected a forest treasure to be their forest friend and built a teeny tiny home for them. The homes were so intricate complete with chandeliers, swimming pools and diving boards, fences, chimneys, plates and bowls. I was thoroughly impressed with how thoughtful each child was in creating the house for their new forest friend.

Rain clouds rolled in and the educators began to set up tarps and put rain gear on each child. The Forest Helper headed back to Ayeli to prep lunch, and while our attention was focused on caring individual children, two children quickly and quietly followed the forest helper down the trail! When the educators did a head count, we called ‘Pineapple’ since we didn’t have the correct number of students! As we got out the phone to call the Forest Helper, she called us to let us know the children made their way back to Ayeli safely and were so proud of their independence. It was a great teaching opportunity for all of us. As Sarah mentioned in an email to parents and educators, we are making safety protocol improvements so it won’t happen again. We are so thankful for the positive outcome of this scenario!

More rain rolled in as we ate lunch at Ayeli and listened to the rain on the tin roof and deck. It was nice to be dry inside.  As we finished eating and had closing circle, the children shared stories about how they had been a friend during the day. They were proud of sharing with and caring for each other. We are looking forward to another fun day together at Earthsong after Spring Break!

Practicing "STOP" - Deepening Friendships Sometimes Means Clarifying Boundaries

In the mornings, we start our day with our welcome song and a morning meeting.  Morning meeting is brief, but an important time for our entire group to sit together and discuss matters that are important to our group.  It is an opportunity for teachers and children to share words, thoughts and ideas and our morning meeting topic can be prompted by something the children have been talking about by playing or by something the teachers feel is important to discuss, based on their observations of the children at play. It is important for us to hear the children’s words and stories on different topics, and grow an understanding of how they internalize the rules and guiding principles of our group.  When we have a discussion like this, the teachers can start to how different children understand the morning meeting topic, and how we can help them as teachers grow to understand it more.

This week, morning meeting was about the word “stop”.  We asked the children what they though “stop” meant. The first comments went immediately to where they here the word “stop” the most, when we walk together out to our play site. We often play a game where children can run ahead to a specific spot (like, run ahead to the dandelions and then stop), and when they reach that spot they have to stop or freeze their feet.  They might pretend to be a statue and practice being as still as possible until a teacher tells them to go again. When it was really cold outside we pretended to be frozen in a block of ice and they couldn’t unfreeze until a teacher unfroze them. Playing this game gives them an opportunity to move their body the way they need to, some children run very quickly to the next spot while others just walk at the back, but can also draw their attention to landmarks and help them with mapping the space. Learning how to self-regulate and stop their body, even when they want to keep running, is also an important skill to acquire. Several children showed that they understand when a teacher says “Stop” during this game, they are supposed to stop moving and not run, walk or any other motion. But the teachers wondered if we ever use “stop” for other things.

One area we want children to understand is that if another child says “Stop” when they are playing, they need to stop the play.  This sometimes happens when two or more children are playing a game of chase. The children being chased might start saying “stop”, but still get chased. We want the children to understand that when they use the word “Stop”, it really means “Stop” and that they do not like the play and they want the play to end. We discussed using a strong voice to say “stop” and that if a friend says “Stop” we should stop our play.  We also talked about how the teachers are there to help, and if you say “Stop” to another child but what you don’t like continues, you can get a teacher to help. Some children gave examples of things they don’t like, like being pushed, and we discussed how we can tell a friend to “Stop. I don’t like being pushed, it hurts my body.” to help another friend understand what is wrong about the play. We also practiced saying the word “Stop” with a strong voice, and the teachers are carefully observing to see when children need help to play together and enjoy the play together.

Having discussions like this is all about getting to know one another. Seeing what the children play in the forest is another way to get to know each other. This week, there were several new play themes that emerged that gave us more information about the children and their interests.  The first was our mud kitchen being used by a new group of children in a new way. Up to this point, it has been used on occasion to make a few muffins or mud pies. This week, though, Felix, Sammy and Wendell used it for deep imaginative play for the first time. They settled under root world, and began creating several intricate dishes with ingredients like chocolate (the mud), mint (holly leaves) and orange (brown leaves).  The dishes had to go into the oven and bake, and they even made dinging sounds when the food was ready. Amy was close by during this time, and was told very seriously that she was not supposed to look at what they were doing because they were making a surprise for her. The boys had to work together to agree on ingredients for each dish and to agree on what they were making. Was it a pie or a cake, a popsicle or a cotton candy stick? Had it been in the oven long enough and was it ready to give to Amy or not? They had to negotiate these disagreements and decisions over and over during the play, but no pushing or shoving ever occurred. Amy ended up getting three very yummy dishes to eat.  

Not too far away, Mabry and Will were interacting with each other as Mabry attempted to climb a grape vine. She was having difficulty getting up the vine, and commented aloud about how she couldn’t get her feet to go up. Will stood by her side, and gave her an encouragement. He told her, “I know you can do it.”  It is special to see these moments when children hear the frustration of other children, and want to offer support. He was ready to help Mabry, and did not need a teacher to tell him to help her out.

When we left RootWorld to go to our junkyard, another new play emerged partly inspired by our snack time book, A Little House of Your Own. This is a very old book that talks about how every child needs a little place of their own to play, like under the dining room table or in a treehouse or under a big bush.  Some of the ideas are dated, but Amy changed those to be relevant to children now as she read. What was important about the book is that we do have so many “hidden worlds” in the forest where children might want to play quietly on their own or with just a few people. And sometimes that is ok. It is also ok for children to want to create their own special little house, and expect that the rest of the group respect and care for it. When we got to the junkyard, several children decided to build their own little houses. Will and Cristian worked on their own little house made of small sticks, while Charlotte, Ellie, Margaret and Eden made a little house together from the loose logs. It required patience and focus to build these houses, and children built a sense of pride in their creation.  Later, when some other children destroyed the houses without asking, we were able to have a discussion about how important it is to be respectful and take care of the things that others make. It is a hard talk to have, because children have many feelings about the things they make and what others make- and what they want to do, but it is important for us to discuss and keep discussing why we should take care of the creations of others, even if we don’t understand them, and to build among the children the sense that their hard work will be respected and honored at Forest Kindergarten.

A final note for the day- it is March and amphibians are starting to be on the move! We found our very first salamander at Earthsong. It was uncovered by our apprentice teacher, Kylie, who was able to show it to the children! Just like when we found the toad, we discussed how salamanders breathe through their skin. Children were asked to wipe their hands on mud and leaves before touching, so we didn’t accidentally get soap or lotion on the salamander. We all agreed that it would be gross to breathe in soap or lotion! Amy believes it is a species of Slimy Salamander, but just to be sure, she is sending the photo of the salamander to a herpetologist to see if he knows which species it is exactly! She will let you know once she hears back from him!

When the Unexpected Chill Arises

This week, teachers and children were faced with handling the unexpected. This is an aspect of Forest Kindergarten that is such an important piece of our learning together. We plan our days, have a general routine, and take many steps to be prepared for the outdoors.  Yet, we cannot predict every aspect of nature and it takes the ability to be flexible and open-minded to make quick decisions and manage the unexpected!! Children and teachers learn important skills like perseverance and adaptability when faced with an unexpected event during our day- and nature often gives us many more opportunities to handle the unexpected than an indoor classroom!

Our unexpected event this week was extra surprising because it had to do with rain, something most of our group are very familiar with and adjusted to! This week though, the weather misled us.  When we had morning circle, we reflected on the weather. Sammy brought up that it was foggy, and Amy asked what foggy was. Ellie described how fog was like clouds you could walk through that weren’t fluffy.  This brought up a conversation with the kids about how the fog clouds were not very solid and it even came up that we couldn’t have a cloud car with fog clouds! Our interest in the weather and thinking about it in real and magical ways is an interesting thread for the teachers and children to follow in the coming weeks, but the conversation did not take us into predicting how the weather would go throughout the course of our day!

When we entered the forest it was warm and a light drizzle soon started.  We were able to easily start our regular play at Root World, and Sarah brought us tarps so we could set up some shelters.  All of these elements are our usual rain preparations. Even as the rain started to become more steady, we continued our play and mud play began in earnest.  The mud kitchen began to get used, the splats we make from the red clay for throwing against tree trunks were formed, and children enjoyed the challenge of balancing on the wet logs without slipping.  Teachers helped some of the children who did not want to be out in the rain, by showing them how they could play under the tarps. We were in our groove and ready to continue our day as normal, when the temperature dropped rapidly and our day suddenly turned to playing in the cold rain!

The warmth of the cloudy morning had caused us all to shed our warm layers.  We did not bring them out with us to the forest, because we did not want them to sit around getting wet.  But by 10:15 am, they were needed! The children do tell us when they feel uncomfortable, so the teachers began to think about how our day might need to be changed. We decided to have story and snack, with hot tea, to see if the children could warm up by taking a break from the rain. This strategy worked for a bit, but when it was time to go back out and play, there was reluctance among much of the group. It was hard to get back in the rain and cold! The teachers decided to go back and get warm gear from Ayeli, and see if we could play a little longer before probably heading inside.  While Sarah went back, Amy worked on engaging the children in play.

This meant directing the play much more than usual.  We had a “warming station”, which was Amy encouraging the kids to warm their bodies and rubbing their arms to create friction and heat them up. After visiting the station, they could go play for a bit! When the kids began to stand around just not enjoying the game, Amy pretended to be on a boat and wondered aloud why it wasn’t moving.  This entertained the children for a while, as they tried to convince Amy that it was not a boat but a log- and she kept telling them it was a boat. They would challenge her and ask her where her oars were, and she would pick up sticks. They would laugh and tell her those were just sticks, and then ask her where the engine was. This playful game between teachers and students helped distract us from the rain for a time, but ultimately, we had to recognize that today was not a day we were ready for the weather and we began to head back inside before our warm gear could arrive!

On our walk back to Ayeli, the children began again to be able to entertain and enjoy themselves. They found a mud puddle to jump in, and some were even ready for a choice to stay outside a little longer! While we were jumping in the puddle, we heard the call of a frog and Amy suggested we try to go find it in the garden.  She let the children reflect on how their bodies felt, and choose to go back with our Forest Helper to play inside or stay with her and visit the garden. Four or five children recognized that their bodies were ready for a break from the outside, while the rest decided they wanted to go searching for frogs. Going on this frog hunt emerged from our unexpected change in plans, and the children made the most of it.  When we got very close to where we could hear the frog, they all agreed to hide and be completely quiet to see if we could hear the frog sing more and not scare it away! While we did not get to see the frog, we were all excited for the opportunity and we can see if the experience inspires us to further frog hunts or other related activities at future sessions.

At the end of the day, we all got to enjoy playing inside a doing activities that are not our usual at Forest Kindergarten, like drawing with markers and using special crayons to draw on the glass doors! We got back into our normal routine with lunch, and our gratitude practice, and ended the day much like usual. It was nice to see that even with a big change to our day, when the unexpected chill arose, we were all able to adjust and continue enjoying playing and learning together.

The Power of Peer Learning

This week, several experiences encouraged the teachers to look more deeply at how skill building occurs at Forest Kindergarten. There are many opportunities for children to build basic skills through teacher-child interactions, interactions of children with nature, and interactions between children. At Forest Kindergarten, we want children to build the basic social-emotional, cognitive, and physical skills they will need to navigate their world.  This week, opportunities for building critical physical and cognitive skills emerged and teachers, children, and nature were all involved in the process.

One of the things I often hear from other teachers is how challenging it is to teach mixed age-groups. I don’t disagree, however I see the challenge as encouraging as opposed to discouraging. One of the wonderful things that often emerges in a mixed age-group is that children teach each other basic skills.  This happened twice on Friday at Forest Kindergarten (and probably more, but these stories are what I recorded!). During our play at Root World, Maddux became very busy working on his balancing skills on a large, downed tree. He would walk up the tree with his arms outstretched, and would concentrate hard to increase his pace without losing his balance. He did not need to crawl at any point during this process, and he was always able to catch his balance whenever he began to slightly lose his footing.  His face showed how proud he was of this ability. Amy felt the need to acknowledge his pride in his accomplishment, and told Maddux she could see he had worked hard on balancing and he had become great at it. Maddux replied, “I know, I am a really good balancer”. Not long after this, August, who is one year younger than Maddux began to work on balancing on the same spot. August had been working at Root World behind Maddux, and observed some of Maddux’s work. Observation of other children (and teachers!) is one of many ways children learn skills, and August showed how powerful observation can be. He too began to climb along the tree, practiced standing up and walking, just in the way Maddux had done.  August does love climbing, but it is hard not to believe that the observation of another child practicing a skill didn’t motivate him to work on the very same skill! Although the children did not directly teach each other during this interaction, it is an example of how interactions among children can encourage basic skill building.

Of course, children teaching other children is not limited to our older children teaching younger children basic skills. Younger children are also capable of providing important basic skills to older children, and children of the same age often teach each other, too.  In our second story of child interactions, Margaret showed interest in the activity Cristian had made up for himself using 3 small stumps. Cristian, who is 4, was enjoying jumping with two feet from stump to stump, working hard to keep his balance when they wobbled. He practiced over and over again, until he could successfully jump from one to another without falling off. His delight at this activity drew the interest of Margaret, who is also 4.  Margaret is our most recent addition to the Forest Kindergarten family, and Cristian was very welcoming to her. Margaret wanted to know if she could try, and Cristian agreed to give her a turn. When she moved from stump to stump one foot at a time, instead of both, Cristian offered to show her how he had done it. He demonstrated how he jumped with both feet, and encouraged Margaret to try again! Although she was hesitant to try it his way, Margaret was encouraged by Cristian’s support and gave it another shot. It was enjoyable being a teacher watching this interaction, and observing how the children used verbal and body language to express themselves and help each other!

The physical components of nature provided the space for these physical skill building activities to occur.  Nature also provides many opportunities for building cognitive skills and helping children understand more about the way the world works. The teachers have noticed different interests in the group, and work to bring in activities that will engage children in thinking about their world and wondering how things happen. One thing that has happened often is children being interested in seeds and how things grow. They have found maple seeds and tried planting them, and even wondered if the planted a dead bug if it would come back to life. Thinking about children’s interest in growing things has been part of our motivation to be more intentional about our composting work. Amy is looking for spaces during our Forest Kindergarten day when it makes sense to discuss composting and gardening.  During story time is one part of our day when it is possible to directly engage children in doing some basic cognitive skill building. Our first story this week was the classic, The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss.  When working with mixed ages, it is important to provide varied ways of engaging children’s cognitive skills that are developmentally appropriate. Our younger children enjoy story time as much as our older children, and are making important literacy connections when we read to them and choose engaging stories.  Amy chose The Carrot Seed this week, because we began our compost crew in earnest last week- and conversations about gardening had begun. The Carrot Seed, which shows a boy caring for the carrot he planted and patiently waiting for it to grow, opened a dialogue with several of our 4 and 5 year olds about what they know about gardening and growing things. They understood that seeds need water to grow, that weeds take up space and keep the seed from growing well, and that seeds need sun! The children also knew that carrots grow under the ground, and we talked about all the different colors a carrot might come in. This enthusiasm about gardening and caring for a plant makes our composting more relevant for the children.  Amy could begin to understand what children already know about the basic requirements for plant life, and can add in a discussion about why compost for a garden is important. Children know plants have to drink water to grow, and get sun, so it is an opening for us to discuss how they also need to eat! Children also understand that living things like plants need care, which is another reason we are composting. We want to teach children about caring for our space at Earthsong and the living things that are here. By introducing composting and caring for our good scraps each week, we are modeling ways children can care for the world around them.

Books we read at storytime:

The Carrot Seed, Ruth Krauss

The First Strawberries, Joseph Bruchac

Other good books about growing/gardening:

How Groundhog’s Garden Grew, Lynne Cherry

Planting a Rainbow, Lois Ehlert

The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle

The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown

Befriending Bugs and Befriending Each Other

We had a lovely sunny and warm day today! Our warmer weather day brought us opportunities to easily play in a variety of spaces, and to teach some basic skills and concepts to children.  The warmer weather makes it easier for us to find insects and other invertebrates, which was an opportunity for the teachers to share some basic life science concepts. We also played in multiple spots where spaces could be tight children had to learn some basic skills of expressing their own wants and needs, understanding others wants and needs, negotiating conflicts, solving problems.

The teachers want children to be able to talk about what they want during their play, and understand the needs and wants of other children. When we are all playing in the same space, this can be difficult and give us many opportunities to do those other two important skills mentioned earlier- negotiate conflicts and solve problems. It is important for us to remember that young children do not always have the words to express their needs or wants, and that our job as teachers is to recognize when direct instruction on how to develop this skill is needed. Today, Sammy, Wendell and Felix were playing in a tight space under some fallen tree limbs. They had carved out 3 rooms and were busy at work inside this hideout.  A complex game was developing among them, but they were also having to negotiate being almost on top of one another and feeling frustrated when on child got in the way of another child. Cristian noticed the play and crawled over into the space, wanting to join. A crowded space got even more crowded and the first thing the boys said was that they only had 3 rooms, so there was not space for Cristian. This was an opportunity for the teachers to help the children express their own wants and needs, understand another child’s wants and needs, and solve a problem! Amy decided that this problem was not one the children were ready to solve on their own, so she commented that it looked like their play area was very crowded, so it would be hard for four people to fit. But it also looked like Cristian thought they were playing a cool game and just wanted to know more. She wondered if there was a way to make the play area bigger, so they could get the more space that they really needed and Cristian could get what he wanted- a place to check out their cool game. The boys were not sure, and explained to Amy that there were only 3 spots.  So, Amy tried a different observation. She mentioned that at her house there were only two bedrooms, but she needed a third bedroom for when more people came to live with her. So- they made a third room on the house (we turned a small office into a small guest room). She wondered if they could build more rooms on their space to give everyone more more places to play, which is what they wanted from the beginning. The boys agreed that building a new room was acceptable, and started to find sticks and a place to make the new addition. Amy helped them find the sticks they were looking for, and they began a new type of play that required them to figure out just how to make an addition to their “house”.

The warmer weather reminded Amy of a continuous theme at Forest Kindergarten: bugs.  We have several children that love to find bugs, and have learned to turn over rocks and logs or search under leaves for bugs and other invertebrates. An important thing Amy learned from reading research in environmental education is that solely imparting knowledge does not lead to children or adults who actively choose to engage in environmental behaviors. Instead, directly interacting with nature and having a mentor that helps you wonder about nature leads to people that behave in pro-environmental ways. This is one major reason that the teachers at Forest Kindergarten do not give children a worksheet to color about the life cycle of an insect or plan a circle time where they show kids pictures of insects and tell kids all about how insects have 3 body parts, six legs, etc.  Instead, we allow the cognitive learning about insects to emerge from our experience in the forest and build children’s understanding of concepts about insects by asking them open-ended questions when we encounter a bug. Amy has kept track of how interested we are in insects, and how several children always look for them and enjoy touching and holding them. They have different questions about how they live and what they do, and we discuss those. Today, Amy also brought out a book we had already read before to engage the children on the topic of insects and gauge what they remembered and where their interests in insects were heading. We read A Mealworm’s Life, by John Himmelman. (John Himmelman has a very lovely, simple series of natural science books for young children that Amy has found are beloved by children! She has been reading her daughter the books since she was an infant, and they are some of the most requested books we read at bedtime these days!).  The vivid illustrations and simple text capture children’s attention, and provide many opportunities for children to ask questions about insects and wonder about their life cycle. While reading, we wondered if we could find a mealworm. We wondered why the mealworm sought a warm place in winter, and why it became a pupa. We wondered if other insects became pupa- and some children new about how caterpillars make cocoons or chrysalises (the children knew these words) and then become butterflies. The next time we find a mealworm, we may wonder about what it is doing in its lifecycle. Do we think it is looking for food? What do we think it might be eating? Is it going to become a pupa? Will this mealworm become a beetle like the one in our book? How could we find out? As the weather works its way towards spring, we will probably find more mealworms and other insects and invertebrates to wonder about and observe, and we will continue to help the children develop their cognitive knowledge of these animals through active engagement and wondering questions!

Books we read:

A Mealworm’s Life, by John Himmelman.

Daydreamers: A Journey of Imagination, by Emily Winfield Martin

Suggested Book:

Use Your Words: How Teacher Talk Helps Children Learn, by Carol Garhart Mooney

Although this book is geared to early childhood teachers, Amy has found it invaluable as a parent. She also used it as a reference for much of this blog, since many of the things she saw today at Forest Kindergarten are outlined in the book. It is simply written and gives excellent guidelines on everything from giving directions clearly to ways to correct behavior and discipline children that are developmentally appropriate.

To have meaningful work is a tremendous happiness

This week, we focused on establishing our forest helper jobs for children. Every week of Forest Kindergarten, we look for ways children can contribute to the processes of making our day happen.  This could be as simple as stacking their bowls after snack to the more complex job we introduced this week of safely and responsibly putting out a camp fire. Jobs ensure the children understand the importance of their role in Forest Kindergarten, and also help them learn about different aspects of being outside and caring for the environment.  They also help build other cognitive skills, physical skills, and social-emotional skills! The jobs we focused on this week were our lunch set-up crew, and our fire clean-up crew.

It was so much fun to have a fire again this week! We were able to get our to our fire circle sooner, and there were still visible flames for children to observe. They noticed that the flames were orange, and Amy wondered aloud if there were ever different colored flames. Wendell commented that blue flames were the hottest, and a few other children agreed. Some children expressed surprise at this fact, since they associated blue with cold. But we enjoyed learning this new information about fire! When it was time for us to put out our fire, Amy selected a small group of 4 children to stay with her and learn how to make sure a campfire is completely out.  Maddux, Eden, Mabry and Ellie were eager to learn what jobs were required to safely put out the fire. They first spoke with Amy about why it was important to put out a camp fire. The children were not sure why we could not let the fire keep burning, or why we couldn’t just walk away from the fire. Amy asked them to think about if fire could ever hurt anything. Ellie came up with the idea that if we left the fire burning, a deer might walk through it and get burned because the deer wouldn’t know how to stay safe from fire. The other children agreed that if we left the fire burning in the circle, animals might fall in and get hurt. The children showed that they could make connections between how we knew our own bodies could be hurt by fire and that animals bodies would probably also get hurt by fire.  Amy asked the children if the fire could ever move out of the fire circle and burn the plants and leaves in the forest. The children were not sure if this could happen, so Amy explained that if we did not watch our fire or completely put it out when we left it, the fire could move out of the circle and catch our forest on fire. There were no visible flames now, so we put our hands over just the very edge of the circle and felt how hot it still was- even when we couldn’t see any fire! The children recognized that we couldn’t leave the heat, and wondered how we could make it not hot anymore. We then took turns with our fire jobs. Amy explained that the first thing we would do was pour water on the fire. The children loved hearing the sizzle and watching the smoke rise up after we poured water on the fire wood! After pouring water, Amy asked the children if it still felt hot near the fire.  It did, so we moved to our next fire job. We dug up cold, wet soil from around the forest and poured it on top of the fire wood. We kept doing this, and then mixing the soil in with long sticks, until the children noticed that there was no more smoke coming off the wood. Amy then asked the kids to only watch the last step, and reminded them that the wood and coals might still be hot. The last step was Amy gently touching the wood and coals to see if any heat remained. They were all cool to touch, and Amy then let the children touch them and test it too. Amy checked with the children, and we were all satisfied that we had put out our fire completely and it was safe to leave it. Amy let the children know she would return with one more round of water, just to be sure, but we had done a great job all together!

Lunch is another time when children can really help make our day at Forest Kindergarten run smoothly.  We are planning to take turns each week with different lunch helpers. Currently, every child is responsible for picking up their carpet dot and placing it in the circle.  Once children have placed their dot, they can sit down and get ready for the lunch helpers to pass out our silverware and napkins. Lunch helpers who get assigned the job of passing out spoons have to be able to make sure each child gets a spoon. They have to know that there is one spoon to be given to every one child, and have the patience to go all the way around the circle! Our napkin helpers have a similar task, and it is important for them to make sure every child in the circle gets one napkin.  If a child is in the restroom, and not sitting on their dot, the lunch helper must still recognize that they need to put one spoon or one napkin on that spot. Children who help will learn different ways to make sure they get each child a spoon and a napkin. Some may start to count and make sure they hand out 13 spoons and napkins (not forgetting themselves!) Others may prefer to make it a social activity, and ask the other children if they have a spoon yet. The teachers will continue to help and support the lunch helpers, and keep track of who helps each week. Every child wants to help, so it is important for the teachers to ensure all children get a chance at these important jobs!

A job we have mentioned to children that they have all helped with is making a compost bowl after we finish our meals. We have briefly talked about what happens to the food we don’t eat, and how we can use it to make good soil for growing new food. The teachers would like to continue to think about this job, and other ways to involve the children in composting! We will update you on how we go about this, and if you compost at home, we encourage you to talk with your children about how they can also do this at Forest Kindergarten!

Our First Fire and a Lunchtime Orchestra

Our day was defined by having our first campfire at Forest Kindergarten! Morning circle became a time to discuss the fire and how we could enjoy it, while keeping ourselves and each other safe. The children were full of ideas and eager to share their own stories about fire, being near hot things, or getting burned.  This new element to our day gave us a chance to learn more about each other and to hear about the children’s relationship to fire. It also encouraged children so share ideas with the group and work together for the first part of the morning, before splitting off into smaller groups for play in the forest.

Before going to the fire, we discussed what it would look like and how we should act around it. Amy let the children know it would be in a fire circle, with the wood and flames in the middle and a circle of rocks around it.  She let them know that they needed to stay outside of the rocks and not try and reach into the circle where the fire was, and then she asked the children if they knew why they shouldn’t go into the fire circle. Children were eager to share their knowledge.  Ellie explained that the fire would be very hot and if they got too close to it they could get burned and that would hurt. Several other children reinforced her response, and a few wanted to tell their own stories about getting little burns. Sammy explained that we shouldn’t run around the fire circle either, because we might fall into the fire.  It was a good reminder of being aware of how we play in different places, and understanding the environment around us. Children asked about putting sticks in the fire and were told that for this week we would not be adding new sticks to the fire, we were just going to look at the fire with our eyes and enjoy sitting near its warmth.

The walk to the fire required us to go further than we usually do for our first play site.  As soon as we hit the entrance to the woods, we could smell the fire burning. The children were excited and wondered when we would be able to see the fire.  We wondered if the smell would get stronger as we got closer, or if we would see smoke. It felt like such a long walk to all of us while we anticipated the fire, but having to wait so long to get to the fire had a positive side. The children were not sure of our end point, and could not run past everything to just get to the play spot. Trying to figure out when we would get to the fire caused children to pay attention to the landscape around us.  They wondered if the fire would be at the top of the hill, or if it would be after we passed the downed log. It was a great example to the teachers of how changing our routine could also result in changes to the way we view the world around us.

Once we got to the fire, the children were interested in it and wondered again about putting more sticks on. We decided not to, since we were still in our large group, but if we do future fires this could be a task for a small group that is well supervised by a teacher to help learn about fire safety and how to properly handle a campfire.  Additionally, helping us put out the fire responsibly could be a task for a very small group of children with a teacher and remind children about how important it is to tend to a fire outside and never leave it alone. These are important outdoor skills for children to understand, and build a healthy respect for fire and its combined comforting and destructive abilities.  The children definitely learned about smoke today and wind, as they had to keep moving to get out of the way of the smoke that would switch directions! They also learned how much a fire can do to warm up a space, as we ate our snack and had story time by the fire. None of us were cold, and the children whose backs were to the fire noticed how much heat was being given off and were ready to take off their jackets.

To play, we had to depart our fire circle.  We really appreciate our forest helper, Rocio, continuing to tend to it while we played in a spot nearby.  Keeping the fire going was a nice option, if children got cold further away and wanted to go visit again to warm up.  In our first play spot, moss growing on a tree became a very interesting play thing for many of the children. Amy wonders if it was so engaging  and inviting to the children today, when it has been overlooked in the past, because the bright green color stood out so well against the brown and gray backdrop that was everywhere else.

In our second play spot, the moss was left behind because we made a return to our junkyard.  Just like last week, the junkyard ignited children’s imaginations. This pile of sticks and downed limbs makes children feel challenged when they try to move through it, and they love the sense of accomplishment they get when they manage to navigate to the spot they had their eye on.  Like last week, too, some children preferred to think of the junkyard as a jungle and this time a family of tigers moved in. This particular spot has so many different ways for children to play in close proximity to each other, while playing completely different imaginative scenarios. We definitely want to come back and observe more of how the elements in the space challenge children physically, socially, and cognitively.

Because of the time it took us to get to our fire and enjoy it, we did not have time to get to Root World this week! A few children mentioned the absence of going to their favorite place but were satisfied with the idea that we could return to it the next week or the week after. They were also full of ideas from their junkyard play, and so they handled the disappointment of missing their favorite place well. We will return to Root World, but it was a positive development that the camp fire forced to make us change our routine.  We might discover new ways to play at Rootworld, inspired by our time playing in our new spots.

On the deck of Ayeli, Sarah and the children had an impromptu discovery, initiated by the children’s own questioning about sounds. As children finished eating they banged their metal spoons against their metal bowls. Ellie noticed that the sound was different when different people banged their bowls. Sammy piped up with some suggestion of what might make different sounds, “It could be different food in the bowls!” When pressed to come up with more and deeper hypotheses the children talked their ideas related to the amount of food inside each bowl, what material the various spoons and bowls might be made of, how hard they were tapping, where they were tapping, what was underneath the bowl, and more! It was a beautiful example of inquiry-based learning and the teachers plan to revisit it to encourage more hypothesis testing! When the banging got too loud, Sarah held up her hands and said “I’m your conductor, watch my hands!” and amazingly, the closed fist turned out to be a universally understandable signal for quiet! The children enjoyed their lunchtime orchestra rehearsal for quite some time, practicing following the conductor’s hands over and over, with great success!

Climbing Challenges, in Community!

Our second week back was all about continuing to reestablish our routines, both old and new, and introducing new opportunities to play.  We began our day again at Ayeli, playing in the woods surrounding the porch. From there, we moved to Root World and played in some usual spots and new spots we are discovering.  During small group time, we found all new ways to play at an old spot just above Root World. And once we got back to Ayeli, we enjoyed our second shared lunch and continuing our routine of reflecting on our day and being grateful to the nature all around us!

At Root World, several children have discovered a “harder” place to climb that we only used a few times during the fall.  This area, which provides many tree limbs of differing heights and thicknesses, is an exciting way for the children to challenge their ever-increasing tree climbing abilities.  Sammy, Wendell and Felix are starting to seek out new spots on the trees that will be harder to climb to. Sammy tested several different approaches to getting to a seat on a new tree limb. He tried to approach it from several different angles, and although he didn’t succeed at getting where he wanted to be, he tested the limits of his climbing abilities multiple times and showed great persistence and problem solving abilities! Another interesting development arising from this becoming a popular climbing spot, is that many of the children are drawn to try climbing here.  Will, Ellie and Mabry also visited, as did Cristian and Maddux. Cristian, who has only had two chances to try climbing here, was determined to try and climb to new spots today. The other children, who had more experience climbing in the area, were able to coach him on where and how to try and start climbing. It was fun to watch the kids start to help one another in their endeavors.

During small groups, we moved up to our mud kitchen area just above Root World.  Although we have been to this spot before, the loose logs that exist there have not been used quite so extensively as they were today.  Children tried building a house out of them, discovered they needed more logs, and eagerly went to collect more. Eventually, some of the children who went to collect more became more excited by all the downed limbs that were on the site and began playing in this area that they referred to as a “junk yard”.  Others continued to build with the logs and eventually created a pretend fire!

The “junkyard” idea was a new one that really came to life and drew many kids! As Wendell, Sammy, Felix, Cristian and Maddux found limb parts to use for their rocket packs, others began to explore the junkyard like it was a jungle. August came crashing through the jungle, enjoying the sensation of breaking through the limbs and looking for places to climb.  Charlotte and Larkin dove deep into imaginative play, and became a mommy and a baby elephant. They played this game for the rest of Forest Kindergarten, finding places in the jungle to sleep, to talk sweetly to each other, and to find food! It is interesting to see how one type of play can inspire another!

The children got to practice our routine of reflection and saying thank you to nature at the end of our day. We’re working on introducing the concepts of ritual and symbolism by bringing out a candle to close each session. Since this was our second time with the routine, more children knew what to expect and tried it out on their own. We will continue this routine next week, and watch and see how children respond as it become integrated into the fabric of our Fridays at Earthsong!

Greeting a New Year with New Friends

Today we reacquainted ourselves with Earthsong and with each other! Spending a sunny, but chilly day outside was the ideal way to welcome the new year, returning friends, and new friends!

Our Forest Kindergarten group has grown, and we welcomed 5 new friends on Friday! We are thrilled to have Charlotte, Cristian, August, Larkin, and Ellie join us to play in the forest. The teachers are excited to observe how new ideas and ways of play will emerge as our new children interact with our well-seasoned returners! We also anticipate the many ways in which our returning students will get to share their rich knowledge of the forest with our new friends. It is an exciting start, with so many opportunities for us all to grow.

When we got to Root World for our first hour of play, all the children quickly found a place to play. It was wonderful to see our new students quickly finding ways to play and making new friends with our returning students. Luke and Charlotte particularly took the opportunity to learn from each other. Luke found a way to ask Charlotte to play with him and showed her how to slide down a muddy bank. Charlotte encouraged Luke to keep playing, and took his advice on how to climb back up the bank using a tree root as a rope. They both delighted in this shared experience!

Much like our group, Root World was familiar to us but a little bit different and a little bit new after our 3 week break. While we sat on the trail eating snack, Amy asked the kids to look at Root world and see if it looked different. This was meant to help us get reacquainted with the place, but also notice things that were there that we had never seen before. We could see more of the sky, since the leaves were off the trees. We also noticed that some trees still had green leaves- our holly, or “power berry”, trees! We talked briefly about how some trees lose their leaves in winter, but others keep green leaves year round. Amy wonders how making these observations might impact how children perceive the place as it continues to change through the season.

After snack, some children wanted to continue their play at Root world with Amy while others took a hike with Sarah. The teachers are excited to have small group experiences with the kids after snack each week! It was fun for Amy to see how all the children in her small group eventually ended up playing together in the same small space. Sammy, Wendell, and Felix wanted to build a machine and fly on it amongst many downed limbs. Maddux and Cristian wanted to join, and the boys worked out jobs and seats for everyone on the machine. Eventually, Will, who had played on his own near the group  was drawn to the play and found his very own seat to ride on with the group!

We began a new ritual for lunch, having a shared meal of rice and beans together this week. We also began to establish a ritual of reflecting on our play time in the woods, and being thankful for the nature all around us. Eating and sharing together at Ayeli was a special feeling, and we are eager to see how this ritual grows with our group.

Winter is an interesting and wonderful time of year to think about growth. There is so much happening under the surface of things that we do not see. Perhaps, in the next few weeks, we will notice that there are buds on the trees that lost their leaves, hiding and protecting the new leaves growing inside. Or maybe we will discover a hidden world of insects hiding under leaves and bark, getting ready for warmer temperatures. Whatever our discovery might be, winter reminds us that even when we can't see it, growth is happening. The teachers know that there is so much unseen growth happening in the children at Forest Kindergarten. On our first day back, we got to see the start of new friendships and children re-learning the spaces and places of Earthsong. But we look forward to the many weeks ahead of us, and discovering what hidden growth has been happening amongst the children that has yet to reveal itself!

Last AFK Day of 2018 - in pictures

Our last day was a whirlwind of memory-making, celebrating Isla’s last day with us, having our first shared lunch, reflecting on what we’ve learned, what we’ve loved, and how we’ve grown. Amy and Sarah don’t have their usual in-depth summary but here’s a pictorial record of the last Forest Kindergarten Friday of 2018.