Wild Life Forest Preschool - Story of the Week
January 29, 2020 (Tree Frog Program)
Hey Tree Frogs!
Another week in the books! Last week I wrote to you about individual growth and how much of it I've seen in our students. I've also seen the sideways steps that always accompany growth. It's impossible for our development to look perfect and smooth all the way through, and it's vital that the community around us is there with love and support when sideways steps happen. My favorite part about this week has been the love and support we've all shown each other when challenges inevitably arise. Our cardinal rule is Stay Together, and it means much more than keeping our bodies close on the trail. It means sticking together through thick and thin. It means protecting your own space, asserting your needs, but also expecting the best from each other.
The Tree Frogs arrived on Monday as they always do, to new things happening in the play yard. Mr. Britt was working hard to assemble the new Owl House while Miss Jeannie could be found trimming and preparing huge palm fronds for our enjoyment on the play yard. Like a lot of things we bring to the school with an intention or purpose, the kids saw it differently, using the fronds as fans for kids relaxing in the new owl house or sticking them in the sand box to create shade at the beach. Loose parts are a huge part of a forest school's pedagogy. It's the idea that items with one use require less imaginary development, while "loose" items like these palm fronds stimulate the divergent thinking, turning them into fans and umbrellas and surfboards. This is the foundation of problem solving! Loose part items require more to be fun, but when used properly, become the most fun things ever. Eventually we added the fronds to the roof of our shelter where the chalkboard is, but they were many things before that. It would have been silly of us as teachers to install them before the kids arrived. I don't think the palm fronds would have had as much fun either.
Same with the owl house, which was half-assembled when the kids arrived on Monday. Those with tinkering minds really enjoyed helping, and some of the parts needed tiny screws more suited to tiny hands. I like that the kids helped me put it together - it is now more theirs and more likely to be treated with care. This new Owl House is awesome - it has a waterproof cushion in the bottom and a mail slot by the front door. I laughed out loud when the kids started writing letters to each other, or "snail mail." We are 100% in the future, folks. But the game required great creativity, thoughtfulness, and imagination, as scribbles on paper turned in to elaborate treasure maps, secret messages, or important warnings of impending monster visits. Throughout the day each child received and wrote at least one letter, all of which spiraled into some awesome adventure out in nature.
Wednesday took us on our biggest hike yet, all the way around the forest. We're starting to spend more of our time on the move in these later months of the school year, especially as plants and weather show up to support us. On our way we found a new trail that took us through an old sheet metal barn with salvageable metal and tools, a chicken coop, a riding lawn mower, PVC piping, and more. Talk about loose parts. As we approached the barn something jumped off the roof and into a tree. A big black bird which Orion was first to identify.... a vulture! Black feathers, ground scratchings and a possible egg shell told us that this old barn's inhabitants are no longer human, but avian! Vultures live here now. We learned a lot about vultures today, who are super weird. They hang out together and eat dead animals. Wait a second.... a lot of us do that too! Maybe not so weird.
I love teaching about vultures. I always thank them as we imagine all the dirty things they clean up for us with total joy. Did you know vultures can eat bones? Their stomach bile is more corrosive than battery acid! They can also eat diseases with ease... in a big way, vultures keep us safe! Give the vultures a big thank you when you see them.
Through the barn we opened up onto my favorite place in the forest, where I've spent a lot of hours just sitting. The kids named it Chickweed Gardens, as it's covered in edible chickweed! Chickweed taste like alfalfa sprouts, and since HEB doesn't sell them, I come out here a lot. We also introduced the kids to one of the most challenging things any of us could try in the forest. More challenging that shelter-building, water purification, carving or fire-starting.... sitting alone quietly. At most Earth Native programs, sit-spot is a core routine. It is a meditative practice, a grounding practice, and a challenge for self sufficiency and identity. More than that, sitting still alone outside is an invitation for magic. I took each kid into a different spot and sat them there, leaving them alone for as long as they could manage. Kids noticed waterfall sounds, woodpecker knockings, funny bugs and delicious plants, all of which were easy to step over or trod through. Slowing down can really speed up learning, and like a big deep breath the kids emerged from their spots a little calmer and a little more connected. Try finding a sit spot at home for your child to access. And try to imagine - how often is your child ever really alone? These kids go from care giver to care giver, as their age requires, but for a lot of them alone time is a basic need like physical touch, good vegetables, etc.
Finally, it was time to head back. Hiking all the way back through Chickweed Gardens, the barn, etc felt like a forever trip, so we kept pushing forward, popping out across a creek in a very familiar spot. Hey! It's Pecan Bottom! We're right by the school! It's amazing to see a group of hikers suddenly realize their bearings. This is their forest now, in a way it wasn't last week or the week before. Each week we explore we understand the forest better and our stewardship increases. If you know a person better, you tend to love them more. It's the same for the forest and whole big world.
See you guys next week!
December 20, 2019
Hello Wild Life Family!
I hope everyone was able to attend our Midwinter Celebration! For those who didn't, it went like this: The kids worked all week preparing the school for your arrival. We created gifts, decorations, lanterns, firewood, wreaths, food, space, and more. We hiked and found mistletoe, which is a parasitic plant found mostly on oak branches. It taught us so much, and our harvest was perfect for suspending ornaments from the trees in our garden and all over the play yard. At school, if you're caught under the mistletoe with someone, you have to high-five or hug! There was a lot of good, gentle companionship throughout the week. Our brightest ornaments combined mistletoe, juniper sprigs, rosemary clippings, and Possumhaw sticks with festive red berries. All of these plants have been used in some capacity during the school year, whether they were for tea, smudge making, or fire-tending. Revisiting them this week and sharing them with the families felt like sharing our memories of school. Our hands remember, even when at times our young brains do not.
There was good music, good food, and jobs assigned to each preschooler who hosted their families at the party. Many of you were welcomed to the party by Greeters, who opened the front gate for loved ones and helped them find the sharing table or bathrooms. We had sweepers sweeping and fire-tenders tending.... it really was a team effort to pull each party together. Just like food we grow ourselves tasting better, this party we made ourselves felt so, so good.
We talked about our jobs at the party, including the difference between being a host and being a guest. We are the hosts, we decided, because we are here before the party has even started. It is our job to be welcoming... but how? In addition to their individual jobs, I asked the kids to do one more thing - have as much fun as possible. In each class, I was so proud to see parents and family members following their children into the fun on the play ground. I saw moms in leaf piles, grandpas burying apples, and one dad swinging in the owl house.... It is clear to me why my days have been so enjoyable. I get to spend time with kids who are well loved and well respected - and who have such fun parents! I appreciate you all for coming with a lightness in your heart.
As the play slowed and the end of the party neared, the kids gathered their families at the desert gate. With a friction fire coal from our morning fire, we walked to nearby Red Oak, a covered space for ceremony and gathering adjacent to the preschool. Each child gave their breath to the coal as we moved, careful not to let the flame go out. Children themselves are the human process of "not letting the flame go out." They are our hope, our second chances, and our new light in the cold. Once we arrived at Red Oak we placed our coal into the fire. When it met the pre-built fire structure it smoked, crackled, and roared into life.
First, we would honor the children, without whom a school cannot exist. The support systems of each child were given a sprig of juniper to toss into the fire, which we did in a big circle, all at once. The sprigs crackled and filled the room with smoke, which covered the kids like a shield with good, loving intentions. Each child became bigger, stronger, and more kind over the first half of our year together. This offering to the fire will not only protect our kids, but it will also clear space for more good energy to come their way. Good job preschoolers! You are amazing.
Next, we honored the grown ups. We honored parents, grandparents, builders, neighbors, teachers, and anyone we could think of. This time, each preschooler was given juniper and asked to step into the circle. We wanted to acknowledge how much faith you've put into our school and offer a shared space for those thoughts that must exist in the mind of every good parent. What if my child gets hurt? Lost? Cold? Bit? The juniper cleansed those thoughts and allowed us all space for new ones. We will always worry and care about our kids, but its important to acknowledge you families for pushing through and coming to forest school anyway. We believe it's the best possible thing you can do for a preschooler. Even (maybe especially) when it's hard! From one grown-up to another, thank you.
After acknowledging the children and the grownups, we had one more big thing to do. We walked out of Red Oak to find Miss Jeannie at a table full of apples. The last, and final part of our day would be for the land, this forest that held us each day and made space for our human presence. Each family was invited to bury an apple somewhere on the land, with the intention being to give back to a forest we have taken so much from. We took space to build the school. We eat Wood Sorel and Wild Onion when we're hungry. We take clay for creations and animals in our hands for our curiosities. It felt right to leave something ripe and whole in the ground during these winter months, not only for the energy of the apple itself, but for the energy that comes from a group of humans moving behind a shared thought. Again, good intentions, which must be present to begin something good. I think the land heard us this week, this month, this year. We've been happy, safe, and full.
As the families returned from their hikes they were in for one more surprise.... lanterns! The kids have spent the last few weeks designing and decorating their own lanterns, complete with leather handle and a candle inside. If you miss school (or even if you don't) light that candle up over the holidays. Your friends will be lighting their candles too, keeping us close while we are away.
Thank you, again, for your commitment to our school. No matter when you come, how, or what you contribute to the group, your presence is felt. One of the biggest lessons we teach at Wild Life is that it takes a village to raise a child. This week showed the children an image of that village. Imagine how loved they must feel.
Wild Life will resume classes on the week of January 6th. See you all in the new year!
Lots of love,
Wild Life Forest Preschool
December 13, 2020 (Hedgehog Program)
Hi Hedgehog families!
"Oh, Miss Jeannie! Here is some lichen! Weren't you looking for lichen?"
That's just an example of some of the conversations I have with your brilliant three- to five-year-olds. Most adults wouldn't even know what lichen is if you just happened to ask someone on the street, but our tiny preschool beings know exactly what it is and where to find it!
When I approached with the lichen and the thoughtfulness of this Hedgehog, I was overcome with a sense of gratitude over everything we are creating here at Wild Life Forest Preschool. Not only are we teaching our young kiddos impressive nature vocabulary and knowledge, we are teaching them to recognize and acknowledge their emotions and how to express them in a healthy way. We prioritize looking after each other and always offering a helping hand. I felt so grateful to be a part of this story and to have the privilege of a guiding hand in the big feelings of such tiny humans. It was such a special feeling that I just had to share with you all!
Today we began work on our Winter Solstice lanterns that will be sent home with the kiddos next week. Two weeks feels like a very long time to a preschooler, and we wanted them to know that we are here for them even if we don't see each other for a little bit. The idea of creating their own lantern came about as a way to remind them of that. They can light their lantern whenever they are missing school, their friends, and their teachers.
I brought several different colors of tissue paper with me today, thinking initially that the kids would want to decorate them in Christmas colors, but then realizing some might go for a "Frozen II" theme, I included blues and white with the green and red. The end result was some of the most colorful tissue paper covered mason jars I've ever seen! Only one person wanted to go with strictly red and green which really surprised me! I like that this way the lanterns can be used year round!
At circle time, we went on an exciting trip to Grandpa's Farm! Well, not really. We sang a lively song about all of the animals at Grandpa's farm and the sounds they make. It was a song I learned at a storytelling and song workshop I attended in Maine. It's so catchy, you only need to hear it once to remember it always! Catchy songs like that are always a hit with preschoolers, and that was evidenced by the kids singing it loudly the whole way to and from Rainbow Rock this afternoon. I used the usual farm animals to start, but then we took turns with each kiddo, giving them the opportunity to add their own animals from their farms. We had ducks, monkeys, unicorns, flamingos, and so much more! Definitely an exciting treat for the kids and a rousing circle time for all of us!
After circle time we headed down to the seasonal creek to see what the rain from this week had left behind. Hardly any signs of the heavy rain were to be seen! The creek bed was all but dry as we weaved through it on our journey to Rainbow Rock. Once at Rainbow Rock we were delighted to find one small puddle left and quickly went to throwing rocks, sticks and leaves into the muddy water. There is also a very steep hill with a long, strong root running up it. This spot is known to all Earth Native hikers as a great spot for climbing. One by one, the kids took their turn grabbing on to the root a climbing to the top. There, it was the perfect slide down and the kids screamed in delight as they slid down one after the other. There is such support and encouragement between the Hedgehogs that becomes very apparent when out on hikes. When one friend climbs to a new spot, they coach and encourage the others to follow their steps and join them. It is one of the most heartwarming aspects of teaching such young people!
It was such a beautiful day with our Hedgehogs. The day was so outrageously gorgeous and it created the perfect setting for learning and play. Paired with the Hedgehog's curiosity and willingness to learn, it was a textbook forest preschool day and as a teacher I couldn't ask for anything more!
Until next time,
November 21, 2019 (Box Turtle Program)
Once upon a time....
....there was a family of Box Turtles. Some of them liked to climb, some of them liked to paint, some of them liked to build fires and some of them liked to work in the garden. Even though they all did separate things, the Box Turtles helped each other by helping the forest. The climbers kept an eye out for danger. The painters made the forest more beautiful. The fire keepers made the forest warm. The gardeners made the forest yummy!
Just when the Box Turtles thought they knew everything about their forest, they arrived in the morning to something brand new... corn! Whether they got to eat it or just help cook it, the Box Turtles had so much fun shucking, blanching, foiling, and roasting the corn on an open fire. The leftover husks and tassels made amazing material for corn-husk doll making! The Box Turtles made unicorns, mermaids, unicorn-mermaids, hikers with acorn-cap baskets, corn ghosts, and more. They used all sorts of skills like carving, knot-tying, fire-building, and cooking to get the job done. These were some pretty impressive turtles.
While the corn was cooking, the Box Turtles got back to their favorite jobs. Travis the Box Turtle drove his truck, looking for leaf loads or sand to fill puddles. Iris the Box Turtle climbed up in the windy trees, feeling her turtle hair blowing in the sky. Dakota the Box Turtle made a super cool robot. Kaiya, Harley, Jessica, Sally, and Elia, the sister Box Turtles painted a really big tree cookie, then painted their own arms. Gren, Aya, and Orion Turtle swung in the owl house or collected berries from the Possumhaw tree. Rocky Box Turtle planted lettuce and spinach in the front gardens, while Billy Box Turtle had the fire stick and kept the fire going all morning. Nora Box Turtle painted herself up and helped all her other friends get painted. The forest was full of Box Turtles doing Box Turtle things.
Then came a loud call from their teacher, Miss Jeannie the Box Turtle. CORN'S READY! In an instant, all the Box Turtles stopped their jobs and came quickly over to the picnic table. Their attention was gathered, their appetites primed. Now the teachers had their chance. First, the Box Turtles learned that corn is delicious. No words were needed for that. Next they learned that corn is grown by farmers and that farmers sell their corn to grocery stores, where most of the Box Turtles buy it with their families. They also learned about harvest season, which most of them celebrate in some way. Whether the Box Turtles observe Thanksgiving or not, they all showed appreciation for an Earth that produces good food and the people who protect it for us. The Box Turtles imagined their special forest over Thanksgiving break, with all of its good food and resources given the chance to grow back. Everybody needs a break... even the woods!
When the corn was finished, it was time for the Box Turtles to meet their teacher, Mr. Britt, inside the forest classroom. He said he had a story, but one with no words, and as Mr. Britt sat down he started to take a lot of strange things out of his bag. First, a bow, that looked like it was made for shooting arrows. But Mr. Britt had no arrows! Next, a handhold, which looked like a little half moon made of wood. A spindle, a baseboard, and a metal rectangle came out next.... what was Mr. Britt up to? The Box Turtles wondered what this story was all about.
The spindle looped around the string on the bow, then found its way into a charred hole on the baseboard. The handhold topped the swindle, then crank, crank, crank... Mr. Britt started to drill the bow back and forth, causing the spindle to spin! As he worked, smoke rose up from his feet. The smell of fire drifted into Box Turtle noses. He kept cranking, back and forth, until smoke rose to the top of the forest classroom. Then, the magical end of the story, a little baby coal toppled out of the baseboard and onto the metal rectangle. Fire! A story of flame with no matches, no lighters.... a story of people a long, long time ago. Many of the Box Turtles had never heard such a tale.
Next, Mr. Britt put the baby coal into a premade tinder bundle and rocked it back and forth, just as you would rock a baby. This gave the baby fire just a little bit of air. Then, the turtles took turns blowing their most gentle breaths into the bundle, where orange lights appeared inside. Finally, with one big gust from his dragon beard, Mr. Britt blew and fire appeared in his hands.... awesome!
The Box Turtles learned not only that food comes from the land, but so does fire. Everything required for our survival can be found outside. That makes the forest a pretty safe and special place.... it has everything we need! This is indeed something to be grateful for.
As cool as it was to see Mr. Britt's fire story, the Box Turtles had more important jobs to do. They needed to make their own fires, visit their own special places, or refine their own skills. So, the Box Turtles got to choose. Some of them hiked to the river, where giant sycamore leaves floated like boats down the stream. Others hiked farther down the seasonal creek than ever before, to a new camp with expertly made shelters. All the time, the Box Turtles are discovering more secrets about the forest. If fire can be coaxed out of wood, then truly anything is possible with enough kindness, patience, and skill. Magic is real! It is here in the Box Turtle woods!
Love you guys. See you after the Thanksgiving break!
October 23, 2019 (Tree Frogs Program)
Hi Tree Frogs!
This happens to be one of those weeks where the stories tell themselves, and I don't have to work very hard at all to illustrate the magic of our days. There is something so special about the current weather; arriving at the land in the morning all bundled up in the chill, gradually shedding layers throughout the morning until we're back in our summer shorts and t-shirts by lunch. It's nature's way of easing us into the transition of summer to winter and I personally am grateful for the gradual summer send-off.
The Tree Frogs arrived Monday morning to find a great red cedar tree across the playground. A few friends recalled how it was the same tree Mr. Britt was sawing in the woods on our hike last week. We told them the grand story of how it took sixteen hedgehogs and two teachers (and later one very strong parent) to carry the tree very slowly back to school. It soon became a hub for pretend play. At times it was a train or a see-saw, but everyone's favorite choice was an airplane.
At circle time, we gathered around a piece of technology for quite a bit of change to our nature preschool routine. We discussed how technology (in this case a laptop) can often be a tool to help us learn more about nature. Mr. Britt had set up a game camera in the garden over the weekend, and we all delighted in flipping through the pictures of visitors to our school. The camera captured an armadillo, a raccoon, a cat, and a fox! The nighttime pictures were a little harder to make out so we talked about the different characteristics of each animal to make sure we were correct. For instance, we could make out the black mask and ringed tail of the raccoon. The fox had an even bushier tail than the raccoon and a black tip at the very end of it. It was amazing to see the kids use their ever-expanding knowledge of the animals around us to correctly identify our visitors.
Just as we were leaving for a hike to the creek, very excited about the buckets and fishing nets we were bringing with us, we heard Harley let out a big shriek. "A snake!" she cried. Oftentimes our preschool friends get overly excited about a worm, caterpillar, or stick that for a split second look like a snake. But as I joined her in the garden, I could see that this time it was absolutely a snake! A small, bright green snake slithered into the garden and up the tropical sage. Mr. Britt was able to catch it and held it gently for us to look at and touch. We released the snake into the tree next to us, and watched in awe as it climbed up, up, up and away until we could no longer see it. We quickly ran to our field guides and flipped the pages until we found it: a rough green snake!
With our spirits higher than ever, we headed to the creek to do some fishing. We cast our nets into the cool creek water and practiced our patience and awareness to dip them in just at the right time. The water beetles were plentiful, but a few lucky friends caught some minnows and even a tiny crawfish.
We did deal with a bit of sad news today on the playground: our beloved big purple ball finally bit the dust! Mr. Britt and I have recognized that this day would soon be approaching and have been tossing ideas back and forth as to what to replace it with. I've found that when you're feeling stuck idea-wise, always ask the small children in your life! Don't know what to be for Halloween? Ask a Tree Frog! You'll get an answer like a walking haunted tree--Goodwill here I come! Ask a Tree Frog what should hang on the rope swing and you'll get a ton of fun answers, like the one we agreed on, a scarecrow! We quickly began working to make the pieces come together. Mordecai began raking mulch to stuff old clothes with. Mr. Britt found some old boots. Annabelle began drawing a face on a pumpkin. The pieces still need to be combined to complete our scarecrow masterpiece, but the excitement, teamwork, and creativity of the Tree Frogs today was a thing to behold!
We enjoyed more fishing and climbing at the creek today. I led a group of eight to the creek, while four followed ten minutes after with Mr. Britt. My group and I took a quick break at Pecan Bottom to check on the status of their log shelter and Sepp gave us the brilliant idea of hiding from Mr. Britt and the rest of our friends. We all climbed into the house and waited patiently for our friends to cross our path. "BOOOO!" we all screamed as we jumped out of the house. We gave our friends a fright for sure! I'm looking forward to expanding on that spooky, fun-loving energy next week for Halloween.
Lastly, we welcomed a new Tree Frog today, Valentino! He is the perfect fit to our fun, kind, creative Monday/Wednesday group and we are so happy to have him. Please be sure to welcome him and his parents Enrique and Pamela to our little community!
What a sweet and playful week full of learning with our Tree Frogs. Thank you for instilling creativity, curiosity, and kindness in them and as always, thank you for sharing them with us.
Until next time,
October 11, 2019 (Hedgehog Program)
Wow. What an incredible day. The cool, wet air breathed new life into our forest preschool day. It was certainly the first day for me walking onto the Earth Native land feeling chilly. All I have known so far is our routine days of pouring sweat in the sun and making sure enough water was being drunk. I felt a great deal of excitement with this new chilly element, and it wasn't long before the Hedgehogs started to arrive and I recognized that their excitement matched mine!
While Mr. Britt and I had planned for activities and stories focused on birds this week, the reality is that the chilly, rainy weather brought more relevant interests for the kids. And that's okay! One of the beauties of nature preschool is being able to mold and adapt teaching plans based on the environment provided and the guidance of the kids (what is lighting them up with excitement) on any given day. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to force a lesson or activity that doesn't match the group's energy or interest. It's like trying to herd cats, trust me! There are many elements of freedom in nature preschool, emergent curriculum being one of them, and that freedom allows for more exploration and creativity.
Probably the central element to our day was the fire Mr. Britt started in the fire pit before school started. It brought us much needed warmth and was the inspiration for many lessons, stories, and pretend play. Shamon told me several times throughout the day while gesturing at the fire: "I'm so glad you guys had this today!" There is so much for our friends to learn about fire; not only how to build and sustain a successful fire, but also how to use it safely and with respect. Its presence in the fire pit established new rules for our preschool agreements: no throwing things in the fire, no running or pushing near the fire pit, and so on. Through Mr. Britt's circle time story about a wildfire tearing through a forest and an exciting group field trip to collect logs, I hope that we instilled in the Hedgehogs today a feeling of respect and caution for fire, but also a passion and curiosity that will grow with them.
In competition with the fascination of our fire was the introduction of many new pumpkins on our playground, so generously given to us by you, the parents. What began as simply carrying the pumpkins from spot to spot, ended with the majority of pumpkins smashed to pieces and pumpkin guts spread across the yard. In between, there was a lot of play with pumpkins as fire swords, ice guns, and shields. It wasn't long before one friend recognized that the small pumpkins roll hastily down the hill and into the fence and beyond. The next time I glanced up from the fire, about ten pumpkins were rolling every which way down the hill, with kids giggling and running up and down the hill behind them. Mr. Britt set up the tepee as a sort of goal for the pumpkins, and even the dump truck came hurtling down to the goal with pumpkins in tow. Alas, even with our goal many pumpkins made it past the gate and into the woods. Matthew cleverly thought of using a long branch to scoot the pumpkins back under the fence, and his friends looked on in awe of his ingenuity and cheered each time a pumpkin was returned.
Ryden and Arya Jade reminded us that there is delicious treasure waiting inside the hard rinds of the pumpkins and the kids all worked together to whack a crack into the biggest pumpkin with shovels, sticks, and rocks. Once a few cracks were established, Arya hurled the big pumpkin onto the concrete and the giant "SPLAT!" was met with squeals of delight. The kids began to collect the slimy guts and seeds and place them in little cups. We decided that some should be saved for roasting and eating and some could be planted in the garden. More than anything, it was an awesome, natural way to have a sensory experience with the slime and seeds. The kids enjoyed breaking up the big pumpkin so much that they soon began taking a crack at the rest. Sorry parents! The pumpkins were all but destroyed, but thoroughly enjoyed.
While we prepared to take a hike past Ringtail camp with our binoculars after lunch, suddenly a gigantic rainstorm descended upon us! It threatened our fire and soaked our clothes. We enjoyed several books inside while the brunt of the storm passed, and by that time it was close to the end of our day. So I opened up the side gate into the games field and we extended our playground for the last thirty minutes. The games field was a sloppy, sandy, mushy mess and the kids were thrilled to run as fast as they could while stomping through the puddles. Some friends agreed to a bit of a mud fight with each other, and it was just as if we had hiked to the creek. Some of us made handprints in the mud and some of us wrote our names. Julia and I even made a gigantic circle around us that fit all of the Hedgehogs. It was a great way to get the last of their energy out while bonding and laughing with each other.
What a fantastic day with the extraordinary Hedgehogs. They bring to life the most idyllic pictures of forest preschool that I've long kept stored in my head. They are kind, hilarious, helpful, creative little people and I love spending my Friday's with them. Here's to many more days just like this one!
Until next time,
September 12, 2019 (Box Turtle Program)
Hey Box Turtles!
Whereas last week ended with a surprise shower from the play yard’s water hose, this week ended in a trip to our land’s main water source, the spring-fed creek. Everything flows out of this spring - not just cool, clear water but the animals who drink the water, the seeds that travel great distances from lands far away, the clay and paint stone, mudslides and buried treasure. Even the preschool water (the sink, the hose, the bathroom) exists because of this water, and on hot days like today we feel so grateful to have it. Our learning flows out of that creek. It is relief and curiosity and joy.
These first few weeks are all about welcoming your children to the preschool. While visiting amazing places like the creek will help this acclimatization, hands-on activities on the play yard or at circle time give our students an impact on the grounds that make them feel at home. Miss Jeannie worked this week with the flowers that inspire her, bringing many different species and colors to the play yard for us to create with. On Tuesday the students made masking-tape bracelets with flower petals, lichen, and other treasures they collected from the world. We supported this activity with field guides that helped us identify the plants we were using - we met buttonbush and peacock flower and primrose and yucca buds. Not only did we identify and name these flowers, but we practiced the important skill of following our curiosity into a resource in search of answers. I think this is a vital skill for all humans, especially in 2019. If we want to know something, where do we go to find the answer? Do we have the patience to find the right answer, instead of the first answer?
This project blossomed further when the kids arrived on Thursday to a flower fence on the play yard. The same materials were used to tape off a large section between trees. Our solo projects were now being done in a communal space, which pushed our students to create something beautiful in tandem with their peers. We had similar plant-learning with the added lesson of space-sharing and communication, lessons ALL preschoolers are still practicing. Don’t worry if your children or their peers are still working on managing their energy in a space full of others. Likely they’ve never practiced before! We will keep them all safe as we guide them through these early lessons.
I loved how our interest in Miss Jeannie’s flowers spilled over into the other activities on the play yard. Lots of new life is skittering through the preschool, especially Texas Spiny Lizards and Gulf Coast Toads. Many were caught and protected in our critter keepers, and it wasn’t long before each toad or lizard had a bed of soft flowers to lay on. I must admit, I’m pretty sensitive about catching small animals. My form of love and protection comes out in watching, observing, and studying these animals, while catching them sometimes pulls too hard on my empathy muscle. It is, however, fruitful for our students to catch and keep animals for a brief time. We learn alertness, body control, firm but gentle hands, but crucially, we learn how to love something without having to have it. We will always let our creatures go at the end of the day. That might be the most important lesson. Think about what you want…. Do these animals want it too? Do they want to explore the whole world, or just a little box?
Circle time continued the move from solo to group as we passed out shirts and celebrated the Box Turtles as a team. In the past I’ve passed out shirts to parents and totally missed an awesome opportunity, so on Tuesday we presented each child with a special shirt, called them up by name, and celebrated their addition to the Box Turtle team. Each child brings their own unique set of passions and skills to the table, and we wanted to be really clear about how needed they each are. Stay Together is not just a hiking rule, but a rule for everything we do as Box Turtles.
Thursday’s circle continued in the same vein, as the kids came in to the school house to find a rolled up piece of paper tied with leather cordage. On the scroll a message - for the Box Turtles Only! I told the kids I was desperate all morning to open it, but couldn’t because I wasn’t the only Box Turtle. Not until all of us are together can we do the best things, so we gathered our focus, calmed our bodies, and finally unfurled the parchment. A map! But not just any map…. a treasure map! The large red X identified the burial site clearly. But what was this place? The map showed a fire circle, a water pump, a large purple ball, a climbing teepee…. again, we wanted our students to feel ownership of their school and a big impact on its happenings. Seeing their play yard in map form and recognizing it further drives home these lessons. It was a huge highlight of my week seeing our kids sprint out of circle time in search of treasure. We followed the map past a small post oak tree, around the sandbox, past the water pump, until finally we found a small canister buried beneath leaves by the climbing teepee. Tight. Air-sealed. It must be something important!
We carried our treasure to the picnic table where we cracked it open to unveil the surprise. There were lots of nature treasures in there, including crystals, lichen, moss, carved sticks and Wild Life Preschool patches, but there was also a note! Inside the note was a list of helpful tips the Box Turtles made last year - things like 7.) Don’t Worry, School is Safe and 13.) You can bring nature books to school! Seeing this message with signed thumbprints from last year’s Box Turtles (including Nora!) made us realize how big our team really is. Not only are we loved and supported by this year’s Box Turtles, but by last year’s and all the other students currently learning at Wild Life Forest Preschool. Sally was so clever to mention that next year, she can make a message and bury it for new students. Exactly! It may seem far away, but these kids will grow so much and become the wisdom-keepers for following years of preschool. They will pass down important stuff for sure. They (and you!) are part of our culture.
I’ll end this letter as I started - with the creek. It really is a special place. The banks are lined with clay deposits, which the kids scraped out with their claws or drove sticks into dramatically. The rocks are bright red or lined with calcite deposits or swirled like mysterious planets. The water moves fast enough to be fun but is only ankle deep, making it a perfect wading space for preschoolers. While we never swim in our preschool program, we do splash and slide and fish and build dams and throw rocks and make boats and so much more. You could see the relief on our Texas children as their bodies hit the cool water. You could see constant learning, body management, coordination, dexterity, teamwork, and nature exposure. You could see so much fun!
You could also see how tired our students were after the week. In a way, these introductory weeks are the hardest our preschool has to offer. Though we will work through harder challenges and nature skills in the near future, these weeks are hot, new, and a little scary. The Box Turtles are going to get tougher. These hikes to the creek and other magical places will feel like short strolls before long. But for now I want to share my appreciation for each student - they are trying new things everything second of every day. I think each of them are amazing for leaving their parents behind so gracefully, for pushing their young bodies and minds, and for trusting Miss Jeannie and I with their education. I am grateful that each challenge we face is a Box Turtle challenge. And each success is a Box Turtle victory!
Until next time,
September 5, 2019 (Box Turtle Program)
Hello Box Turtle Families!
Miss Jeannie here, writing her very first Story of the Week at her very first Earth Native School year, on her very first day with the wonderful Box Turtles! As returning families already know, and what new families will soon learn next week, Mr. Britt sets the bar very high for Stories of the Week, and storytelling in general. He is a hard act to follow in terms of summarizing our day, but I hope to add my own exciting and colorful stories to the mix. The kiddos have SO much to learn from Mr. Britt, and I do too!
I suspect that many of you are reading this post-nap, as it was a hot, active, and exciting day at school! While I had a little taste of what our preschool days will look like having had an awesome day with the Tree Frogs yesterday, I knew I had an entire new group to meet, and little but mighty individuals to get to know today. I love that Wild Life Forest Preschool offers a big space to provide each child with an activity that meets their needs each morning, and that they weren't all forced to do one activity of the teacher's choice. For example, Dakota went straight for the big purple ball and pushed it with all his might and observed, "I can throw it so much farther than last year!" while admiring his slightly longer limbs and bigger muscles. Billy and Iris went straight to work on creating a beautiful, deep red mud paint in the mortar and pestles and tested the paint out by putting a few strokes on their arms. Billy even created some war paint and covered his cheeks and eyebrows as well! Soon Iris realized that it was much more effective to spread the mud paint with paintbrushes and she began painting the picnic table which caught the attention of Nora, Elia, and Aya and they began a painting spree that turned our old collected cow bones into deep red painted artifacts. Meanwhile, Rocky enjoyed the rope tunnel and the archery range and Grenfall and Orion had so much excitement and curiosity coursing through their bodies that they explored every inch of the playground and every toy inside!
Soon it was time to head inside for our very first circle time as a group. While the kiddos still had quite a bit of wiggles and giggles to get out, they were soon rapt with attention listening to Mr. Britt's story about a little Icelandic girl named Tuva who goes on a brave adventure to find her favorite cow, Booklah. Throughout the story, Tuva sings to her cow, "Booklah, Booklah, moo if you can hear me!" and each time Tuva would hear a small moo which signaled that Booklah was near. It's a pretty catchy tune, I have to admit, and soon we were all singing "Booklah, Booklah, moo if you can hear me!" and responding with all of our different "moos." Through this story we learned that it is always better to stay together, because we are stronger when we stay together. It became our first agreement for the school year and our motto for our first hike.
With the story of Booklah fresh in our minds, we all lined up excitedly at the back gate. We followed Mr. Britt through a few twists and turns and one big hill as we made our way to Ringtail Camp, which a few kids remembered from our Meet the Teacher event. In a heartwarming moment, Aya thought she might like to try and walk the balance beam with my help, until she saw Mr. Britt and the rest of her friends walking to a little tree shelter further down the path. She had a slight gasp and whispered to herself, "Stay together!" before hopping down, grabbing my hand, and running to the rest of the group. We marveled at the little shelter that had been made by long, thin logs and Iris, Grenfall, Rocky, and Dakota added their own sticks and logs to the walls and sides. Nora and Elia picked the soft, wide leaves of the beauty berry bush and said that they would make excellent blankets for inside of the house--interestingly some of our Tree Frog girls from yesterday had the same idea! Soon the little shelter didn't have as much to offer attention-wise as it was already made and established, so our friends moved on to drawing lines on themselves with some charcoal found from a past fire, much like the mud paint back at the preschool. We also discovered some low branching trees that made for excellent climbing. It offered the kids a personal challenge while still being low and easy enough that it was not too far out of their comfort zone or safety.
As we climbed, drew, and explored, the kids all enjoyed singing "Booklah, Booklah, moo if you can hear me!" with a few variations on subject ("Billy, Billy, moo if you can hear me!") and responding with each of their loudest moos to each other. Mr. Britt mentioned that sometimes we can hear or see neighbor cows in the woods. Little (but loud) "moos" were all we could hear in the forest for a good ten minutes until, out of nowhere--
Everyone stopped mooing and looked around it wonder and surprise. Could it be?! A real cow had heard our joyful singing and called out to join us! The excitement was palpable like Christmas morning as each kiddo looked around at each other with wide eyes. Mr. Britt suggested that we go find the cow, even though we'd have to walk a little bit more and everyone was starting to get hungry. The vote was a unanimous "yes!" between friends as we followed a path through tall, dead grass to the boundary fence where sure enough, a big black mama cow stood on the other side. She had a little brown calf hidden behind her that not everyone could see. Even though she had mooed at us just a few minutes prior, she stood silent, staring at us. Mr. Britt suggested another round of "Booklah, Booklah, moo if you can hear me!" and with subject matter of our story staring straight at us, it was the most enthusiastic round yet! A few moments of silence. Perhaps mama cow didn't like our presence and our singing after all. And then...
We all laughed and squealed with delight and mama cow then began many, many moos. How amazing to actually see a story come to life instead of imagining the pictures of it in our heads. It was truly a magical moment. I think we could have stayed there the rest of the afternoon mooing back and forth to mama cow and her baby, but soon the sound of our growling tummies began to grow louder than the moos themselves. Delighted and with a seemingly new source of energy, we began to hike back to the preschool. When we started to approach the back gate, Grenfall shouted with excitement, "Look! Look! Look! School!" and even though it was a great adventure, I could sense the relief in their spirits as we returned to the comforting arms of our preschool.
A definite sense of community had been formed by having such a magical experience together in the woods and everyone was happy and eager to sit with each other for lunch at the picnic table. Hugs were shared, and even a three-way fist bump exploded down the bench. Perhaps the hike and the cow calling out to us might have been the most exciting thing these very new people have yet to experience. I know that it reminded me of the magic of combining teaching little ones outside, and filled me with even more purpose and passion! Thank you for sharing your sweet souls with us, and for being brave like Toova and allowing them to spend a few hours with us each week. It can be a new and scary experience for you all as parents I'm sure, but you all did just as amazing as your incredible kiddos! I can't wait to see what magic continues to unfold throughout the year as we learn and grow together!
Until next time,
December 5, 2018 (Tree Frogs Program)
Hey Tree Frogs!
Our forest has always been the same size, but it feels bigger each time we discover a new place. We have the River, the Desert, Moose Tree, the Green Top Pond... little microclimates and locales on the mental map of our adventures. It's like Winnie the Pooh's 100-acre wood, only ours, and this week we discovered a new spot that will surely feel our energy again soon. It deserves a sign and a drawing. It's Clay Hill.
First the kids arrived to mounds of clay on a craft table by the sandbox. We rolled it and molded it and made it into so many things. We carried on our creativity and fine motor functioning from last week and then some. Then we applied the next level - "firing" our creations in and around the fire pit, which had been burning hot all morning. The limestone rocks held the heat, and gave some to our clay to remove the moisture inside. Some of our creations cracked. Some got so hard they weren't quite the same thing, but each taught us a natural chemistry lesson, with earth, fire, water and air all represented and in the hands of the child. Eventually, we ran out. We joked that one of us should drive to the store to buy some. Luckily, we didn't have too, as the forest is big and full of wonders.
There's a little creek that runs beneath the lower fence of the preschool. We used it a few weeks ago to race our bamboo boats! But since then it's been empty, and after a few days of the mud drying it became a perfect boardwalk for our curious minds. It's more common to see animal tracks than not, even tiny ones like toads or spiders. Symbols representing a whole thing... reading the footprints of animals and implying their direction, cause, and end result is exactly like reading itself. We practiced our literacy as we walked, recognizing raccoon, deer, cow, toad, and armadillo footprints. I told the kids to watch out for clay, which would be grey or red instead of the constant brown at our feet. We went a new way, beneath a log that stretched like a bridge over the creek, and stopped at a huge gray hill adorned with bright green moss. So. much. clay!
We made bowls and spoons and planters of moss. We hid clay creatures in delicate spots for others to find. I saw an awesome planet with moss and yellow leaves, animal eggs, bowling balls, even the representation of a nightmare one of the kids had. In our creations we played, but we also spoke to each other. We even bagged some up to use at our school later. Success!
On Wednesday we spent most of the time with another part of the ground, the stones. At circle time we talked about collections, as I showed them one of Earth Native's really amazing feather collections. I asked the kids what they collect and how and even why, why do we collect things and what things are OK to collect? What can be removed from nature, and what does nature still need? Through our discussions we realized that almost everyone collected rocks or crystals, so on our hike we wanted to start a rock collection for the school. We knew the river was full rocks, so we set out to bag a few and see what else the river had brought us. After checking for any animals using the space before us, we collected as many different stones as possible. When Annabelle brought me a strange piece of glass, I had an idea.
It wasn't glass, but flint, a little shard of it. It's a good observation in truth - flint can break off in shards similar to glass, making it very useful for tool-making. It's hard enough to hold shape under duress, but soft enough to be shaped in the first place. I showed the kids how to carefully flintknap by pressing a hammer stone down into the thinnest edge of the flint, flaking it away and creating a sharp, smooth edge. From a safe distance I broke a few larger pieces to show them the conchoidal fracturing, how flint and other brittle materials break in shard-like pieces, making it ready-made for sharper tools like knives and arrows. We also talked about how none of these rocks can be used as weapons. For people who needed them, they were just like forks and spoons, eating tools that had to be used to consume and survive. We decided to leave our sharper work at the creek, and bring back a few larger, non-sharp pieces to show our families.
We are recognizing the names of places and the names of little parts of the ground. In a development sense, your children are expanding their individual bubble to include the names of others, both places and people. Soon, they will care very much about the opinion of their peers. They do now, in flashes, but most of the time they are outwardly themselves with confidence and passion. They ask for what they need and say what they are feeling. They are so grounded. I love them each for that. Enjoy these moments of happy growth, honest effort, and joy when it happens.
Have a great weekend,
November 28, 2018 (Tree Frogs Program)
Welcome back Tree Frogs!
A break, as well, for the land. Though a few non-preschool classes have happened in the week since we've seen each other, it feels as though our forest has been given new life. The animals who watch us play each morning finally got their shot. We found a praying mantis egg case on the hose, armadillo poop and tracks in the palm hut, amazing acorns, stunningly bright leaves, and more to the point it will be hard to write about everything. But I'm grateful that the forest had a chance to breathe while we were gone. And I'm so grateful to see everyone again.
My first favorite memory happened on Monday. On the way down to the creek Briar noticed a small, rounded feather and brought it over to show me. It was a beautiful feather, black and white all swirled together, and it didn't know what it was, so it was even more special. But it got lost in our collection bag somewhere between there and the water - it must have fallen out. We weren't too bummed, and soon forgot the feather as play took the form of ascending and descending the big hill. What a progress report this hill is for me. Most of us had trouble coming down at the start of our year together. Now we can throw our bodies down the soft dirt and tumble and roll with ease. Your kids are growing, for certain, and after our bodies were swept up and dizzy with dirt, we made our way back towards school for lunch. I don't remember what drove our attention a different way, but we hugged the left-most trail near creekside when we almost always go right... maybe we are getting bigger in our challenges too. Whatever the case we hit the feather jackpot. Seventeen (and counting!) pristine pileated woodpecker feathers. No blood, bones, heads or guts, just feathers tucked like children into beds of yellow leaves. Everyone found at least one, if not more, in a way that doesn't always happen. Sometimes whoever's in front with me gets the moment before the animal scurries away, or whatever event completes itself, but this was magic for everyone. I am grateful for that woodpecker, who opened up a portal for our learning, and who is now part of the body of another strong animal. We wondered for a while what could have happened. We practiced wondering itself, as that is the motivation for learning.
My second favorite memory was unloading the sand with Mr. Dave on Wednesday. In preparation we raked our preschool sandbox of leaves and rolled them in a cart to the fire, where we burned most of them away. Some leaves joined our giant leaf pile, which has grown throughout the week and is huge now. When Mr. Dave pulled up we were ready. We grabbed shovels, a wheel barrow, bowls and cups and got to work unloading the new sand from the trailer, careful to drop as little as possible. Some of the kids used their tiger claws to spread the sand after we dumped the wheelbarrow, and before long we were halfway, then all the way done with our load. The sandbox was full, and so was our play. The reason I love this memory so much is because we never asked the kids to help. They were all motivated to take part in the big goings on of our school, and I firmly believe that whenever possible the care and maintenance of a space should include the children. It gives them a love and ownership of the space, which allows them to feel more comfortable and therefore learn better.
My third favorite memory might be my favorite. On the trails we found an old soda bottle. The kids have always helped me pick up trash. We take a bag for it on every hike. It's our way of giving back to nature when sometimes we take things like stones or feathers. But usually the trash we find is junk like plastic ties, food wrappers, plastic bag scraps... things that aren't quite usable and aren't quite fun. But a 2-liter soda bottle is gold. At the creek we made a fish trap out of it. We cut the top off near the neck and flipped it back inside itself, creating a funnel for fish to happily enter but one they have trouble finding the exit to. Imagine trying to drop a peanut down one side of a funnel, versus the other. We laid the trap near the bank of water, first stalking slowly to spot where fish might be. After weighing down the trap with stones, Mordecai built a "scare trap" to frighten the fish into our bottle. It must have worked because when we came back to check our trap we had eleven little minnows! A week of big numbers. They were hard to count swirling in the bottle. Some of us wondered if we could eat them, since after all that's what fishing is for, but we talked about how fish like these make better bait for catching the fish a person may be able to eat if she were hungry. As always, I reminded the kids about the amazing food we get in our lunch boxes. If we needed food, we'd be well on our way to a fish dinner, but instead we let our minnows go to remain energy for the forest. I love that a little trash gave us the chance to learn so much, and that the kids felt strong but also kind.
As pictures of our week emerge, you will see just how full it was. We had activities like nature story boards and bur oak acorn carving. We built fires and handmade rakes. We invited families to celebrate our triumphs (happy birthday Annabelle!). We stayed outside. The kids seem full of the capacity to learn. Their brains are craving experience and information, and they are finding it. They will find it wherever they are, because they are well loved and growing, but in nature it feels like they find a little more each time. There's an added layer of depth with the texture of wood and the cold on our hands, always there, in the warm rocks by the fire, or in the woodpecker that isn't there anymore, but was. We don't teach these things - preschool should be light and happy. But we are around these things in a way that helps us to recognize them, like a feeling we've had before, but don't quite know the name of. Again, I am very proud of the Tree Frogs. You should be too.
All the love,