Wild Life Forest Preschool - Story of the Day
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,
October 24, 2018 (Box Turtle Program)
Helloooo Box Turtles!
Happy Halloween! Me and the crew had an awesome week together out in the forest. Hopefully you had a good Halloween, in spite of the rains, and bagged some good candy. We certainly got some good weather after it all ended.
Tuesday was the first day we felt comfortable going to the spring fed creek since the big rains. A lot has happened down there, and it was peaking our curiosity to go check what may have washed up. We left as soon as we were ready, like treasure hunters with our backpacks, collection bags, and hiking sticks. We had everything we needed, and good thing because the haul was substantial. We picked up dozens of fiery red, orange, and yellow leaves that had fallen from the sycamore trees near the water. Their veins were highlighted by fall color, and it was easy for us to draw parallels between the veins in our wrists and the veins in the leaf, and indeed, the functions of both. We're still working on understanding the vitality of the plants around us, and seeing veins in the leaves so clearly helps to make those connections stronger.
At the creek itself we found many new things uncovered by the moving water. We learned how to tell how high the river used to be by looking at the rattle bush pressed down, and we imagined we were at the bottom of a great sea. In truth, in Texas, we are. We played one of my all time favorite games here, called catch a leaf, where everyone lays down and waits for the wind to blow, and from that position tries to catch a leaf before it hits the ground. The sycamore trees by that part of the creek are so tall that following a single leaf all the way down is nearly impossible. But when one blows out of your awareness, another inevitably blows in, and the trick of the endeavor (for me) is having a calm mind at the last, critical moment.
There was also some really, really good mud. It was almost like soft-serve ice cream, only not as cold, and this one particular pit was perfect for so many activities. We built spooky skeletons out of sticks and grasses. We made mud balls which when placed in the creek would billow into the water and change it's color. We made turtle nests using carefully chosen rocks as eggs. We did mud high-gives, which splattered the mud or squished it between our fingers. We painted our faces with it, becoming mud cats with cat noses and whiskers. We found tracks in it, a raccoon going one way, a coyote the other, and wondered if they saw each other or went at different times. The mud triggered our imaginations, which in turn allowed our commitment to full body engagement and learning. Basically, when things are fun, you commit more, and every child committed in ways I was really proud of.
A moment also for the rocks - I have never seen so many beautiful stones in one place. We are endlessly finding new colors and patterns, even petrified wood keeps turning up. We had fun building our little island farther into the creek, like a jetty, by lifting large amounts of stones in our shirt baskets and dumping them in place, which again committed our bodies to their full capacity for development. There are no idle hands or bodies in this area. We made up a game where I would toss a large stone into the air, and the kids would try to hit it with their own stone before it reached the water. We spent both days hiking to this area. It is without doubt our favorite.
Another Tuesday to Thursday connection was our engagement with Roberta and Ginger, who made a special appearance for Halloween week. Roberta is a Brazilian Red Tarantula, and Ginger is an Orange Knee Tarantula. They are two of my four tarantulas, and they are so handy to have as a teacher. Their enclosures travel well, as they do not require much water and the spiders themselves are pretty resilient. I find they make excellent examples of nature's more primitive processes. We talked a lot about which bug we might feed a spider, and decided we needed one that moves around a lot. Spiders and many other predatory animals will only eat the living. On top of that, they will only eat the moving, an evolutionary preventative against eating diseased or otherwise sick animals. We thought about caterpillars but didn't feel too sure about it - we know some are dangerous and we wanted them to have the chance to be butterflies. We thought about beetles, but they are master burrowers and usually end up coexisting with my spiders. Then by the sandbox we saw the perfect thing. A cricket!
These animals are powerhouse super generators for the environment they live in, sustaining the base predatory level of the food chain for so many different creatures. In some cave systems, they are the only source of outside energy, venturing in and out each day to forage and poop and forage and poop. They are like the sun, and to me it felt OK catching a couple to feed to our animals. And it sure was exciting, as we all got to see Ginger chomp up a big cricket for lunch. How cool!
At the end of Tuesday we watched a big fire, as Neal and Dave burned off the remainder of brush once cleared from our own preschool playground. The kids looked pretty cool all perched on the play yard fence, watching the fire blaze, like an album cover. I think they felt pretty cool too. We talked about how silly it would be to put sticks in a trash bag, and how fire will help get rid of these things in a cleaner, easier way. Thursday ended with a new home for Roberta, including gifts and carefully worded drawings, as well as more leaf-pile jumping as we had done at the start of the day. Texas will give us a few more fake outs, but I'm ready for weather like we had on Thursday. It was a serene day in the forest, filled with the laughter of many children of many different ages, some of whom we passed doing cool things on their own journeys. Some of these older kids at Earth Native have been students of mine, and it's really amazing to see them walking confidently in the forest, clear-eyed and supportive of their friends.
I see the same thing happening in our little group of Box Turtles. Good job team. And happy Halloween!
All the love
October 3, 2018 (Tree Frog Program)
Hello Tree Frog families!
We had an awesome week together away from the screens. The forest continues to provide amazing spaces, some more hidden than others, and this week was all about the hidden ones. Though we missed Arlo on Wednesday, we're so excited to show him what we found.
Maybe you don't know this - Earth Native has "camps" set up all throughout it's 25 acres. A camp is usually a fire pit, a tarp shelter, and logs lashed up to trees for backpack storage. We've spent the last few weeks stopping at these camps on the trail, to gather ourselves or leave mushroom experiments, and on Monday, the group found it's way as deep into the forest as we've ever gone, to a camp near the northwest edge of the land. There were adult-worthy shelters, a fire pit, and several log benches, but the kids went straight for a large grape vine hanging between two trees. It looped down just perfect to thrust one's belly onto, and it rocked us pretty far out with a decent push.
We took a moment together to address the trees our grape vine was pulling on. Though the trees were pretty new and hardy, we wanted to make sure no dead branches were loosely stored above us. It's good to note that Pecan trees are particularly dangerous for this kind of thing. It looked good, so we kept going. We played and played, until climbing on the shelter became the thing. Climbing ON the shelter. Here's this perfectly built lean-to shelter, ideal for item storage or imaginary house play, maybe a nature store, but because a stack of firewood was placed in just the right location, the fort of sticks was just begging to be climbed on. We all got up there with a little help.
The whole time at the camp reminded me how animal we are in our development at these preschool ages. The choices we make in our play are instinctual. Here is a camp full of functional objects - a fire pit, benches, a shelter. We used none of it as it intended. But we learned so much, and our bodies directed us towards the learning we each needed. Ultimately I did use one thing as intended, the adult that I am, and started a fire in the pit. With our bodies tiring, and frustrations mounting on the shelter, it felt like a good way to draw attention into our quieter bodies. In our human animal forms, the fire drew us in. We drank water, fed the tiny flames, and heard a story about some kids who protected the forest from bulldozers.
On Wednesday we found out what, or rather, who the camps are for. It's the first week of the month so our McKinney Falls classes happen on the Bastrop Land. It's an awesome way for us to expose the preschoolers to some of the cooler stuff they might do through the years at Earth Native. These kids carve with real knives, make rope out of plants, practice archery, make fish traps, and loads more. Though it was jarring to discover these big kids near our mushroom experiment, it was super cool to see what they where up to. It also forced us to find a spot that fit us, and only us. I was skeptical, but up for it. I, in fact, am not preschool sized.
Near a rocky path we saw a meadow, which looked open enough for us to veer into. This was our first real off-the-trail work, so we practiced each step and alerted each other to danger. Ants! Cactus! We got through it, until a preschool sized portal in the greenbriar emerged on the edge of the meadow. I had to leave my backpack, but we went through it, and I'm sure glad we did. On the other side was large downed pecan tree, it's twisted arms still reaching out and up. It was covered in moss and peelable bark, the perfect double discovery for bug-hunting climbers. We found a cool inchworm, lots of millipedes, and the work of a woodpecker from when the tree was tall. We laid on its trunk and watched the clouds. This was such a cool spot, in fact, that we named it. Ask your kids about Moose Tree. They even took me back a little later, navigating there almost entirely on their own.
Back at the school we played with our first favorite tree, the big post oak on the play yard we are starting to call Momma. Another unintentional but obvious and amazing thing - to RIDE the big purple tetherball instead of hitting it back and forth. Of course it took some preschoolers to see it. We spent the rest of the time taking rides on the purple planet, blasting off over the hill and back into our space.
See you all next week!
September 28, 2018 (Hedgehog Program)
It's good to be back! Our story begins as it so often will, with the animals of our play yard. What a gift it is to have these co-teachers with me. From the field crickets in the compost to the toad living in the garden hose, to the strange beetle Mr. Dave brought us... we are gifted with abundance even before stepping out of our comfort zone. For many of us, catching these creatures is a matter of comfort itself, something we know how to do and do well in our homes, with our families, etc. It's cool to show off our skills. Some kids catch with fast hands, while others are ambush predators, lying still while the animal walks into their waiting trap of fingers. Whatever the style, catching small animals offers a really big lesson in saying goodbye. Love without ownership...how hard is that for all of us? These animals must be released. Though it can be hard, we practice empathy here in some pretty deep ways. Would you rather live in a small box or the big world?
We chased the toad until she wiggled under the steps to the bathroom. What a stinky, but perfect hiding place. We caught a praying mantis, which our field guide taught us was a female, then invited her to leave by simply leaving the lid off the box. We were excited to see if she'd still be there when we returned from our hike.
A slight chill lingered in the air. We wore jackets, even until mid-morning (so Texas) and discussed the ways we might stay warm. Someone mentioned a fire, so we set out on our hike to make one, stopping first at the woodshed near the roadway where we first arrive at school. There, we found a hatchet, which Mr. Britt showed us how to use. It was cool to see a quiet tool compared to Mr. Dave's loud ones (Dave spent some time at the land cutting sheet metal for the guest house roof. Though he warned us, it was still a little loud and scary!) We talked about fuel and power a lot. What's the fuel for a car? Gas! What's the fuel for our bodies? Food! What's the fuel for fire? We weren't sure yet.
But we remembered last time when the fire was too wet to keep going. Wood must be the fuel for fire, but only dry wood. How will we find dry wood in all this mud and wet? We learned how the inside of wood can stay dryer than the outside, and how certain types of wood are great for fires, while others, like Chinaberry, are not. We admired the smell of the split red cedar, and the maroon color weaving its way down the grain. Maybe this would work! We rubbed up the cedar bark in our hands to make a tinder bundle, then dressed the bundle with small sticks like a house. We learned how fire is like a child, starting small with baby food, then growing and consuming larger and larger things. If we put on a big log right away, or all of our small sticks at once, what happens? Can you feed a baby ten hot dogs? We laughed and learned that no, you can't. Finally, we had a real fire going, which not only offered us warmth, light, and beauty, but a smokey cloud of mosquito repellent! Cedar smoke smells WAY better than bug spray.
After our fire, we continued through the creekside camping spot to our group's favorite area, the spring-fed creek. The big hill is more of an afterthought to us at this point - it's amazing to see how peer groups encourage each other to grow, when our parents and security blankets can sometimes tell us to regress. This is the bright side of a little peer pressure. We don't jeer or make fun of anyone, but rather, we all struggle openly together. We find our way down the hill. That's something special about this particular group of Hedgehogs. I hear unprompted encouragement all the time. Suddenly Matthew and Nora are holding hands, or Annabelle is reminding Jillian how soon the parents are scheduled to return. Sometimes I must do a lot of really intentional work to open a preschooler's empathy for others. Our bubble encloses the individual and a few close family members at age 3-4, and really expands to include our peers between 5-7. Not so with these Hedgehogs, who after only three class days are seeing each other in really profound ways. Some through the shared language of dinosaurs and mud bombs (Kieran, Silas) others through physical labor (Matthew, Prairie) and others still through the repetition of silly language (Annabelle, Nora, Jillian, who couldn't get over those babies eating ten hot dogs. They were like birds calling each other.)
It's important to remember that friendships happen at different paces for different groups of people. Our best friend bubble will include more and more people, each capable of bringing out different strengths within us. Sometimes our best friends are hard to share. Maybe it's similar to the bugs we catch. Letting things go, then hoping they'll come back. But what a great start. For once a week, only three times... I must admit that in my experience it is unusual for things to move THIS quickly. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised. When things are tricky, then rewarding, as nature so often can be, and you look in the eyes of the people there with you and they're looking back - that's one of the best parts of life! Pretty amazing kids you've got.
When we came back, it was definitely time to rest. We changed, ate, and talked about our day. We talked about missing Lana, who would have liked the water. The praying mantis mommy had left. The toad was nowhere to be seen. Then, it was time for us to leave as well, just like the animals, back into our homes to prepare for the next adventure.
Can't wait to do it again,