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!