Part 4 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.
Walking down the concrete path to get to the trails at Assiniboine Forest, the white smoke along the tree line had our attention right away.
“It looks like they’re burning the grass to protect the forest.” said Bruce our trusty bus driver and retired fire fighter. There was many park attendants and fire fighters on the scene as we slowly walked forward to see if we could get past them or if the park was closed for the day. A park employee approached us to tell us that the trails to the East were safe but the ones in front of us are closed for maintenance. Our bridge and forts were just beyond the burn line. Disappointed, we turned around and ventured down a different path.
Summer hit the forest quickly, it was a very hot, dry day. The kids were thirsty right away. We stopped for a water break within 10 minutes. Thees paths were on were not conducive for going off trail. Beside the mulch trail on both sides were wet and marshy grasses and today we were only wearing our runners.
There was a lot of interest in an ant hill with giant ants we repeatedly saw, as well as the variety of spiders that skittered across our path. For the most part though, the children focused on the fact that they were hot, and thirsty and getting bored. The children were looking forward to building and exploring, and the long hot walk was much less exciting.
As we neared the bottom of the water jug, I spun our adventure into a survival game! We need to find the bus! Now! But which way to go!? We let Bruce lead us back to the bus, all the while pretending it was a life or death situation. Oh! The drama!
When we got back on the bus, we called the centre to give the okay for us to go to Assiniboine Park instead of coming back to daycare early. When we got the park we left the bus by the duck pond and I then remembered the forts my classmates and I made this winter during one of our nature play workshops!
In February my ECE class went on a forest feild trip of our own and found some big sticks for building forts with. It was surely a strange sight for anyone onlooking to see a group of 30 grown women playing in the woods and hauling ice blocks from the road into the trees to build houses, boats and hotels. I led them down the path that was covered in snow the last time I was here.
When I showed the children what we had made they were amazed! The forts were so tall and adult sized, they were instantly in character playing house. Dads, brothers, babies, dogs, they role played with ease as some other picked up more sticks to add to the fort. There were new rooms and additions being built on the back.
There were larger trees to climb up like ramps and slide down like a nature made slide!
With all of the exploring off trail, there is a lot of uneven terrain, dips in the ground and branches to walk over; it was the perfect challenge for these children to work on their gross motor skills and spatial awareness. With any challenge is a little risk and after jumping over a log one of the boys fell over and got a thick splinter in his ankle. He sat down and we talked about the survival experience we went through earlier that afternoon. Now we can add injury to our survival repertoire! I pulled out the splinter with tweezers and bandaged it up with gauze and tape for dramatic effect. We called it the ‘Super Hardcore Band-aid.’ Some of the other kids were jealous of his band-aid and were looking for any old scrape they could find to get one. I let them know that this boy earned his band aid and maybe they can get one next time! It really helped make the painful splinter feel like no big deal and that child went home proud of his resiliency.
Building resiliency is one of my highest goals for these forest experiences, next to connection with nature and a boost in self-efficacy. This ‘survival’ style field trip definitely taught us to adapt, which was helpful in turning our initial disappointment into an incredible adventure after all.