Part 2 of a series of posts that share how one Early Childhood Educator and her colleagues bring some of the children in their care to Assiniboine Forest once a week for 6 weeks to offer them an experience with Forest School principles in play.
Day 1: It was a damp and cloudy day. The children were geared up in their blue Muddy Buddy rain suits. There had been a lot of role-play and book exploration around fairies at the centre lately. I was so excited to show them all the tree holes and magical looking logs in nature to get their imaginations moving towards where the fairies might actually be!
In my favourite textbook, Infants and Children by Laura Berk, it states, “Between ages 4 and 8, as children gain familiarity with physical events and principles, their magical beliefs decline (p.324, 2012).” It’s important to me to encourage this kind of imaginative thinking in a way that inspires them, because I feel that believing in things one can’t see is an important tool in life.
During our ride there, I explained the only two rules we’ll have in the forest:
#1 – Stick Together: We need to stay with the group, close enough so we can hear each other talking without raising our voices too loud.
#2 – Be Gentle: That includes being gentle with each other, gentle to ourselves by moving slow and carefully through the trees and gentle to all living things with our hands and feet.
When we got there, we gathered at the closest bench and I pulled out my phone for some geocaching navigation! We chose a location about 350m Southeast of us. We ran through a thin trail in the grass, but some of the kids ran ahead. “Rule number one!” I called out. The kids in front stopped and one of them called back “Stick together!”
We entered the the forest and someone noticed that bark been stripped off many of the trees, in neat rows. Our bus driver’s eye brows sank as he said, “I don’t know who would do such a thing. That’s going make the trees very sick.” Children stopped to look at the damaged trees and we could see signs of sadness on their faces too.
We continued our hike down another narrow trail, this time through the woods. When we got to a clearing there were two possible trails to take. We consulted the GPS and followed the arrow on the screen down the path to the left. We emerged from this trail and entered a part of the forest where the Aspen trees ended and the Oak trees took over. The Oak were much more spaced out, it made for a perfect place for exploring!
The geocache was close now and the GPS led us to an old Oak tree. They lifted a loose piece of bark that was placed in the center of the tree and found a container with a few toys! The kids were elated! I explained the give-and-take system geocaching, so we left all the toys in there and covered it back up in its original spot for the next person to find.
There were many loose, dead branches on the ground, so I picked one up suggested that we build a Fairy house! I started by picking up some long ones and placing them against a tree to build a sort of fort for the children to sit in. Some of the children joined me, while the others worked together on a smaller house for the fairies. After about 15 minutes of collaboration and teamwork, some of the children lost interest and wanted to continue our nature hike. I reassured the dedicated workers that we could return next week and keep working on our huts.
We continued down in a different direction and came upon a spot where there were many downed trees. We walked along them like giant balance beams! Once we were on a mulch trail, each of the children were eager to lead and they worked out a system of turn taking and then choosing which way to go when we came to an intersection. With still plenty of time and no fear of getting lost, we followed the children’s lead until we got to a cement path. Our bus driver mentioned that the cement path would lead us to a hill with a marsh on the other side. The kids nominated him as our new leader without hesitation.
The space on the hill was covered in tall grass and I announced to the children that now a good time to really stretch their legs and run around. They kids ran and rolled and laughed at each other as they goofed around, falling in their slapstick style. I told them to let it all out, because when it’s time to go to the lake we need to be still slow and careful.
Less than five minutes later they were ready to go to the marsh. We gathered together in a huddle and I whispered the rules for near the water.
-Everybody has a partner
-We use slow walking feet
-We will use small whisper voices and
-We stay away from the edge of the water
As we got closer down the hill, there were so many sounds: multiple species of birds singing and frogs croaking. This was why it’s important to be quiet, I explained to them, so we can truly understand how much life is near the water, it’s not that noisy in the woods.
At the bottom of the small path there’s a bit of a place to stand and in front of us, in a shallow part of the marsh there was a dead fish floating near the bottom. “Can we poke it?” someone asks. I explained that it’s not respectful to poke dead things, and that another animal might come and eat it, so it’s best to leave things the way they are.
Travelling back to the bus on the cement path, “I like the trails in the woods better than the concrete.” said one five year old. We then headed back to daycare for some well earned snack.