Part 3 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.
“With brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Oh! The places you’ll go! by Dr. Suess
In the middle of May, we were still dressed in our rain gear.
The children were eager to revisit our forts and fairy houses and to add to our construction. At the centre this week, we made Popsicle stick doors with the intention that we would place on the fairy houses we might find. On day 1 we used the geocaching app on my phone to find our way through the woods. On this day, I wanted to try a different method of navigation for a more interactive experience. We were going to use our ‘Brain Compass’. We were going to find our way to the Oak tree hideouts by remembering the landmarks we saw the week earlier.
We went through the grass, passed the trees with missing bark and then came our first choice of trail. The children’s vote was in a 50/50 split between two possible paths, one we used before and one we had not. We ended up choosing the one we had not used before. Some chose to go along with that option with the confidence that it was the trail we used last week and the rest went along also confident that their peers would soon see that they were not correct.
That path ended up being a dead end, there was no trail to follow. We then, stepped carefully though the brush and found the original path on our right. As we continued on, some of the children’s internal compass’ started kicking in!
“We’ve been here before!”
“I remember this place!”
We followed a few of the 6 year old’s suggestions regarding our next trail choice and came across a shallow ditch filled with water.
“Let’s make a bridge!” Exclaimed one boy. It didn’t take long before all 11 children were looking for sticks and adding to the bridge.
This kind of project was exactly the kind of thing that excited me about bring the kids to the woods: loose parts, child led direction, collaboration and leadership. Trial-and-error style problem solving, construction ideas, and task delegation among the young peers: it is a beautiful thing to witness.
It was thrilling for me to watch the focus and concentration these children had during their project that lasted close to 25 minutes.
While the majority of the group worked on the bridge construction, the other children climbed on a low lying tree that had nearly fallen over. In an Aspen forest, finding trees to climb is a challenge in itself! Climbing horizontally meant we were able to bend the traditional ‘one at a time’ rule that we use when we climb the trees near our centre. It was exciting because bending rules in a safe and fun way is one of the most empowering feelings!
The next part of the forest that caught our interest and attention was when our bus driver led us to the catwalks over the marsh. Finding a real bridge in the forest was poetic after they had spent so much time building their own! The bridge by the marsh took us passed a part of the woods that had been recently burnt by a forest fire. “It smells like camping.” a four year old observed. As we slowed down our walking pace the children looked at the damaged trees. The sadness on the children’s faces were similar to the ones I saw when they noticed the missing bark last week.
There was great conversation about how dangerous fire is for people and the animals that live in the forest, and obviously also for the trees. We discussed how people sometimes hurt nature by being careless. “Like littering!” one child added. “Yes,” I acknowledged. “The firefighters don’t know why this fire happened, but someone might have littered fire.” I explained. What seemed to others like just a walk in the woods, was in fact a very exciting 3 hour field trip! With the open-ended construction time, magical fairy house search, geocashing and the emotional reactions to the fire damage, we touched on all of the developmental domains in meaningful, memorable ways.
Other Amazing moments: We saw a DEER!! It was mesmerizing! It was not concerned about us, she stopped to look in our direction for a minute or so, then casually walked away. The children were awe-struck and wouldn’t stop looking for her after that. Playing with the toys in the geocache was pretty fun too!