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.