November

“Do you know what ‘persist’ means?”

One of the children posed this question to the group recently as they all crouched balancing on the rocky shore of the pond dipping their nets and hoping to fish a crawdad from the leaf-topped water.

“It means,” he continued, “that you keep going and keep going until you reach the top of your mountain!”

We had been talking about the patience it takes to net a crawdad. The kids often get discouraged when they dip their net a few times and come up empty, but fishing nonetheless remains a favorite activity at our school .

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Humans have always been inspired by nature, which gives us endless possibilities for materials and innovation. This child created a homemade net by making holes in an old tin and attaching it to a long stick.

 A larger-than-usual Crawdad was fun to observe—the kids named it Orca.

A larger-than-usual Crawdad was fun to observe—the kids named it Orca.

So many things that the kids do in the forest allow them to practice trail and error. One child wanted to add a chimney to the top of the firewood shelter—quite out of reach! She tried climbing, and slid down the sloped sides. Next, she installed a wood plank on the sloped “roof” as a foothold. “It collapsed!” she remarked, mildly frustrated but undaunted. Finally, she stood on a stump on the other side and cheered with victory as the chimney finally decorated the apex. A pair of friends wanted to build a log cabin in the woods. They selected and hauled their lumber from the wood pile. When the planks would collapse, they did not seek an adult to fix their cabin—instead their excitement intensified as they figured out how to lean braces against the sides. Their satisfaction at building the cabin was evident—and soon after it was built, it was abandoned for a new game. So often, kids are provided with complete products to play with, and they lose interest quickly. It is the lack of challenge and creative process that leads them to move on from adult-built toys. Their minds are hungry for an interesting problem to solve !

 Here is the cabin in progress, Isn’t it neat how they used the tree trunk to make a corner?

Here is the cabin in progress, Isn’t it neat how they used the tree trunk to make a corner?

 These children found an interesting plank and tested it out in different areas to see which location made the best trampoline, then they took turns using it. One of the older children took the lead in making sure everyone got a fair turn to hop.

These children found an interesting plank and tested it out in different areas to see which location made the best trampoline, then they took turns using it. One of the older children took the lead in making sure everyone got a fair turn to hop.

We are continuously amazed and dazzled at the kindness and empathy we are seeing from the children. They are increasingly excited to lend a helping hand, or to encourage one another. On Friday, the children decided to have a footrace down our dirt road, They helped each other line up at the start. One child who did not want to race was elected to be the race official—she was quite proud to say “Ready, Set, GO!” When one little friend needed to take a break before running back to the finish, the group cheered him on as he returned and they waited until he was back before racing again. It didn't seem to matter who was fastest…the race was the game and the finish line appeared to be a minor detail. The true joy of the game appeared to be organizing the event and cheering for each other. To our adult eyes, at first the children appeared to be competing—but a step back to observe revealed that they actually were collaborating!

 All smiles during this racing game. The kids cheered for each other and enjoyed organizing the races.

All smiles during this racing game. The kids cheered for each other and enjoyed organizing the races.

Thank you all so much for you continued support! Our little school is such a wonderful community with such a big heart! Happy leaf-crunching days!

Mid-October

Autumn is truly in full-swing as we relish each cool day outdoors! Its no surprise that fall is a favorite season for so many. Besides no longer having mosquitoes to contend with outdoors, the temperatures are just perfect for playing. Play is the theme on our minds this month as the kids form friendships in the forest, create their own games and navigate social situations. We are seeing so many different types of play—chasing, building, variants of Tag and Hide and Seek, collecting and organizing, dramatic social play—and playing is truly the most important thing we do at Wee Folk Forest School. Study after study in both the Education and Psychology fields have shown that children’s brains learn best through play—preferably in mixed-age groups and with minimal adult intervention.

 The children enjoyed a morning of sledding down the mulch piles. At first, they wanted a teacher to help them bring the sleds to the top. Soon enough, they were doing it themselves and helping each other. They impressed me with their skilled sharing and turn-taking—the children are discovering that a game continues pleasantly when each player strives to keep each other happy.

The children enjoyed a morning of sledding down the mulch piles. At first, they wanted a teacher to help them bring the sleds to the top. Soon enough, they were doing it themselves and helping each other. They impressed me with their skilled sharing and turn-taking—the children are discovering that a game continues pleasantly when each player strives to keep each other happy.

Further studies have shown that outdoors in nature is the optimal location for play. It is easy to see why: nature provides just the right mixture of risk, mystery, and challenge as well as nearly all the materials a kid needs to create miniature worlds and adventure. A playground is designed by an adult architect who guesses at what kids might enjoy…but in the forest the kids are the architects designing the environment into their games. They are the storytellers and the artists making magic that is breathtaking.

 While some children were working on a fairy den, one child wanted to join in by taking the sticks apart, and luckily good-natured laughter ensued—what a funny trick! The children are learning all kinds of social communication, which will serve these little forest folk well throughout their lives.

While some children were working on a fairy den, one child wanted to join in by taking the sticks apart, and luckily good-natured laughter ensued—what a funny trick! The children are learning all kinds of social communication, which will serve these little forest folk well throughout their lives.

Having children ranging in age from 2-6 provides amazing benefits and opportunities that might be missed homogenous age-grouped classrooms. We are seeing the older children begin to adapt their play to suit the younger children. For example, our littlest Wee Folk are often recruited to be a baby animal in a dramatic play episode created by the oldest children. We have also observed the older children constructing bridges and gardens for the little ones to knock over. A gentleness is emerging as the older children see the limitations of their little friends’ age. Conversely, the littlest children are always trying to keep up with the long strides and leaps of those agile “big kids.” Another wonderful perk is that our kids all seem to be wildlife experts and they are sharing their knowledge with each other. It is much more exciting to learn the difference between a moth and a butterfly from another child. Seeing a child just slightly older who can do such amazing acrobatics and knows so much about the world gives the younger child the feeling that their own days of expertise and agility aren’t so very far away.

 Here is a beautiful example of the joy of mixed-age grouping—an older child is leading a meeting with two younger children and leading them in a story-telling session. Earlier they had been watching as he used a reference book to research a bird.

Here is a beautiful example of the joy of mixed-age grouping—an older child is leading a meeting with two younger children and leading them in a story-telling session. Earlier they had been watching as he used a reference book to research a bird.

The children are getting lots of opportunities to experiment, learn and practice using social skills in all kinds of situations. We see the kids proud to help one-another and doing so without any prompting. We see the kids listening to each other as they tell stories around the campfire or in the tipi. We see that they value each other’s words when they retell another child’s story or laugh uproariously at a silly surprise story ending. Naturally, they still must navigate social challenges—especially around sharing playmates and materials. We teachers will be spending lots of time gently helping them to navigate these challenges and identify their feelings while celebrating all the successes along the way. There certainly is a lot to celebrate!

 We are celebrating the wonderful social behaviors we observe. One child saw his friend struggling with a load of wood, and ran to help on his own volition.

We are celebrating the wonderful social behaviors we observe. One child saw his friend struggling with a load of wood, and ran to help on his own volition.

 Whittling has begun! Many of the children have been interested to try peeling a stick with a veggie peeler. They have been very responsible about using the peelers safely. It is exciting to see the beautiful swirls of color under the bark.

Whittling has begun! Many of the children have been interested to try peeling a stick with a veggie peeler. They have been very responsible about using the peelers safely. It is exciting to see the beautiful swirls of color under the bark.

Thank you to everyone who made our Family Work Day such an outstanding success. It is truly amazing to have such a strong and supportive community come together for a shared vision. We are so grateful to you all, our Forest Families!

 We love having the freedom and time to see each child develop their own individual interests.

We love having the freedom and time to see each child develop their own individual interests.

October 9, 2018

Happy October! Didn’t fall arrive quickly this year? We certainly are feeling the energy and excitement that accompany the changing seasons. There is something about the crisp air that makes the kids extra playful. Maybe it is also a matter of them feeling more at home in the forest! The kids are now running full-speed through the forest, playing lots of chasing games. Pretending to be a forest animal (or sometimes a dragon) is great fun! If you listen closely to our Wee Folk at play, you may hear the calls of eagles, mountain lions, porcupine, and hawks. The kids enjoy embodying these creatures and making dens and nests to fit their current zoomorphism. So far, the real critters we have seen include deer, magpie, a skunk (smelled, not seen), voles, owls, hawks, and of course our dear crawdads.

Many of you know I (Keri) spent many years as a classroom teacher. What is so remarkable to me about our forest school is that the learning in the forest is so very authentic—difficult to nearly impossible to replicate in the classroom. My teacher-brain is simply amazed watching the kids delve into concepts that I used to try to re-create through indoor lesson plans. For example, preschool teachers often herald the changing of seasons by having children color a picture of a tree. At Wee Folk Forest School, the kids are experiencing every part of the changing seasons—not just the iconic leaf colors—but the crisp air, the vanishing insects, the dry flowers and seed pods, and other indescribable sensations. Our forest is our co-teacher, and it sure does a great job!


 These dragons are on the chase, running after a mountain lion and some birds of prey. This game was invented by the children when they noticed that they could see their breath (hence the fire-breathing dragons)—they negotiated the rules and added extensions to the game, including a dragon trap.

These dragons are on the chase, running after a mountain lion and some birds of prey. This game was invented by the children when they noticed that they could see their breath (hence the fire-breathing dragons)—they negotiated the rules and added extensions to the game, including a dragon trap.

The children continue to be engrossed in their woodworking projects, including the original bridge-building projects (which have been extended to include signs and guardrails) and catapults. During the past two weeks, a new child-initiated project has emerged: building garden beds! The kids are proud and amazed that they can make them stand up “with NO NAILS!” Once again, I can draw a parallel to an indoor preschool goal—at local STEM schools, pre-k students do a project where they “engineer” shapes from craft sticks. Here at the forest, it has happened naturally and was initiated by the children! The kids found planks approximately the same length and made right-angles to make a square or rectangular garden bed.


 Working together—later these two plus another friend tilled their soil with sticks. The shorter sticks were easier to use, they reported.

Working together—later these two plus another friend tilled their soil with sticks. The shorter sticks were easier to use, they reported.

 Learning to care for one another is a big part of our mission—and we often see it in action. One child helped another plant a flower in a beautifully constructed garden bed!

Learning to care for one another is a big part of our mission—and we often see it in action. One child helped another plant a flower in a beautifully constructed garden bed!

Outdoors, there is so much to discover. Each day, something wonderful and new unfolds…like a dinosaur dig! What might look like a partially-buried rock to our adult eyes is actually a dinosaur bone. The kids rallied to find a way to dig it out. Since we purposely limit the pre-made tools and toys here, they had to get creative. Working together, they tried to use rocks and buckets to dig before agreeing that a strong stick works best. It took a lot of grit and hard work, but they did not give up and soon several fossils were excavated and ready to be put on display. A unique board with holes made the perfect museum, and I was a willing sign-maker as they dictated the labels for their exhibit!

 Using a bucket to try to dig up a “fossil.”

Using a bucket to try to dig up a “fossil.”

 The museum project—the children organized and displayed the items and told me what to write in order to create a labeled exhibit.

The museum project—the children organized and displayed the items and told me what to write in order to create a labeled exhibit.

 This paleontologist wanted to assemble a dinosaur skeleton after the museum project was complete. Fortunately, we enjoy the freedom and time to delve into their interests!

This paleontologist wanted to assemble a dinosaur skeleton after the museum project was complete. Fortunately, we enjoy the freedom and time to delve into their interests!

In addition to building, chasing each other, and digging, storytelling has become a staple at our forest. The children are sharing stories with each other. They may ask Ms. Jen or Ms. Keri to share the first story, and then they will each take a turn sharing and listening to each other. We teachers are so impressed by their ability to attend to each other’s stories. Sometimes one story will be so much fun that we will hear a “theme and variation” pattern, where each child changes the same story just slightly to make it their own! We also hear a mix of factual pieces from a family vacation, or fantasies of living with eagles and other wild beasts. This storytelling not only activates the children’s visualization of language, it helps them learn to sequence events, use interesting language, use story elements (setting, problem/solution, characters). It also builds their listening skills and stamina. These skills will help them in the future, when they are learning to read, write and pay attention at school.

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 Very respectful turn-taking: examining a jaw bone we discovered. What could it be from?

Very respectful turn-taking: examining a jaw bone we discovered. What could it be from?

 Enjoying a cup of cherry tea in the tipi! Sharing tea is one of our daily rituals.

Enjoying a cup of cherry tea in the tipi! Sharing tea is one of our daily rituals.

We plan to begin introducing very basic whittling to the children. This will be done with safety as our utmost priority, starting with learning to peel soft bark from a stick with a potato peeler. We will be doing this in very small groups (1-2 kids at a time) and teaching them how to hold the stick firmly while moving the peeler away from their bodies. We will also be using safety gloves. Please feel free to ask us any questions!

 Riding a horse together. Each child found a height they could climb on and saddle up!

Riding a horse together. Each child found a height they could climb on and saddle up!

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As always, a huge thank you for sending the kids so well-dressed and allowing them to get dirty! Now that colder weather is here, it is a good idea to send extra socks and gloves, and even an extra pair of boots for those really wet days (full day kids).

September 24, 2018

Happy fall, forest families!

The forest is putting on a wonderful display of falling leaves for us. One of the best things about allowing kids to spend lots of time in one natural environment that is close to their home is that they get to watch that place change with the seasons. At Contrast Farm, the wind whooshes through the trees and the kids have noticed that they can listen for that sound and anticipate a gust of wind. The gusts were met with lots of laughter and games: some of the kids screamed with joy as leaves rained down into our snack picnic, while others pretended to be turtles and tucked into their shells. We noticed the colors of the leaves had changed from green to shades of brown and yellow. Some have stripes from the veins in the leaves being darker, and some are spotted. No matter the color, they are FUN! The kids worked together to create leaf piles, or to fill a bucket with leaves. Then they took turns dumping the leaf bucket on their heads.

 The kids helped each other fill the bucket and then took turns dumping in on their heads.

The kids helped each other fill the bucket and then took turns dumping in on their heads.

 Joyful play is so important! The kids got a healthy dose of joy thanks to our friendly trees dropping their leaves on us.

Joyful play is so important! The kids got a healthy dose of joy thanks to our friendly trees dropping their leaves on us.


Another activity that our kids are enjoying is building bridges over the tiny ditch that runs alongside the dirt road. They are using lots of pre-mathematical skills and concepts, such as estimation and measurement. In order to create a bridge that works, they must examine the size of the ditch, visit the wood pile and find a board that is the right length and decide if it is strong enough to hold them as they cross. Sometimes they discover a board is too heavy and a friend will offer to help them carry it. It is truly amazing to watch their teamwork and problem-solving. Once the children decide the bridges are complete, the enjoy testing them out by running across. If something isn’t quite right, they try out a new design. Demolishing a bridge can also be great fun…then you can build it again!


 Pretending to fish off a finished bridge

Pretending to fish off a finished bridge

Our bridge materials gave rise to a new experience in our Monday group this week: levers and fulcra! This idea was born when one of the boards was halfway on the path and halfway in an indentation. The kids quickly saw the possibilities and began to balance and try to seesaw with each other. Next, they created difference types of fulcra using thin wood scraps, rocks, roots, and holes. Two different experiments unfolded simultaneously: one group of kids was launching dirt clods by using their levers as catapults. The other group was trying to figure out a way to balance one adult and three kids on different sides of the lever. This led to a discussion (kid initiated!) about how to tell who has heaviest using the lever as a balance. This all happened naturally, and now these kids have internalized physics concepts that are difficult to explain. Our young physicists got a whole lot of science in the forest! My sneaky-stealthy teacher wish is that the same scenario will unfold in the Friday group!


 The kids wondered if it was magic that made the lever lift them up and down when the forces on the sides changed.

The kids wondered if it was magic that made the lever lift them up and down when the forces on the sides changed.

 Catapulting pieces of mulch and lumps of mud was great fun! The kids noticed that the force of their jump or stomp made the object fly higher or lower. Some noticed that the size of the fulcrum also changed their results!

Catapulting pieces of mulch and lumps of mud was great fun! The kids noticed that the force of their jump or stomp made the object fly higher or lower. Some noticed that the size of the fulcrum also changed their results!

In addition to our physics experiments, there have been other opportunities for the kids to problem-solve. The Monday afternoon crew was in for a surprise when one of the crawdad buckets became airborne in the wind and blew clear across the pond to the opposite side. The children were absolutely riveted trying to figure out a way to rescue the bucket—their suggestions included having the swimming farm dog fetch it, taking the paddle boat across the pond (don’t worry…the suggestions were gently tempered by a more cautious adult), and finding hidden paths to the far side through the cattails. At press time, the bucket was still enjoying its vacation to the east shore. Perhaps the wind will shift it back our way, or perhaps the swimming dog will oblige our wish!

 Setting some of our crawdad friends free.

Setting some of our crawdad friends free.


We continue to enjoy fishing for crawdads (aka mud bugs/crawfish/crayfish/fresh water lobsters) and observing them up close and in the pond. So far, we have learned quite a lot about them! The kids could probably tell you they have pinchers and antennae. They also can swim backward. Most of all, the kids seem fascinated by the variety of sizes we have found. Some are about the size of a 4 year-old’s foot, while others are as tiny as grasshoppers. The large ones are more elusive, so we haven’t netted one yet.


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Every now and then, a less welcome picnic guest will arrive during snack or lunch time. This week we had a brief visit with a curious yellowjacket who must have been attracted by the yummy food smells wafting through the woods. Luckily, one of the kids shouted “Go away, yogurtjacket!” The insect left immediately—perhaps a bit insulted at its new name!

 There isn’t much you can do indoors that you can’t do outdoors! We even have early literacy going on in the forest. The kids enjoyed making stop signs one morning using wood scraps and charcoal. The tricky part was attaching the sign to a post.

There isn’t much you can do indoors that you can’t do outdoors! We even have early literacy going on in the forest. The kids enjoyed making stop signs one morning using wood scraps and charcoal. The tricky part was attaching the sign to a post.

 The kids were so impressed when one friend wrote his name on this stump that they all added theirs.

The kids were so impressed when one friend wrote his name on this stump that they all added theirs.

 

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Have a peaceful week!









 

September 12, 2018

What a wonderful couple of weeks it has been getting to know those who are new to the forest and seeing “veteran” forest kids in action. So much is happening in our little corners of the woods. The kids have been activating all of their senses…without even noticing! Perhaps you have seen how overwhelming sensory-rich environments can be indoors—loud music, visual clutter, etc. Compare that to the great outdoors, where kids have the wind on their faces, grasses tickling them as they walk, and the sounds of birds and airplanes (and shouting friends!). Not only that, they are walking on uneven terrain and leaping over holes and ditches, which requires a heightened body-awareness which just cannot be replicated indoors. Their muscles are working as they topple stumps to see the universe of creatures living under each one. They are problem-solving and using teamwork to build structures and toys from found items. The list goes on and on! Being outdoors for unstructured playtime is so beneficial for children. We are so happy to have you all along with us on this wonderful journey.

 Watching each other and learning about the land are what our first weeks are all about.

Watching each other and learning about the land are what our first weeks are all about.



The first sessions of forest school are all about allowing the children space to explore their surroundings and develop a sense of their bodies within the space. Soon, the children will begin to engage more deeply with their environment. We are already seeing the kids discover their individual interests.

 Exploring the land means finding interesting things like the “prickle ball” seeds that look and feel just like Velcro. We saw plenty of these near the “cow shed.”

Exploring the land means finding interesting things like the “prickle ball” seeds that look and feel just like Velcro. We saw plenty of these near the “cow shed.”




We are observing the different play styles that kids display at various ages and stages. Some of our older kids already know the land and were ready to jump right in. Our newbies are in a more cautious “watchful” stage—this is very natural and important as the kids process all the new sensory information around them. As we observe the kids, interesting topics will begin to take shape and we will begin to delve deeper into these subjects of interest. The fancy terminology for this teaching method is “emergent curriculum.” This means the adults take a supportive role in helping the kids pursue their passions, allowing time and space for lots of exploration and discovery.

 Walking on uneven ground, scrambling over stumps, balancing on logs and leaping over ditches are all a big part of our time at forest school. The kids are building confidence and core strength which will benefit them throughout their lives!

Walking on uneven ground, scrambling over stumps, balancing on logs and leaping over ditches are all a big part of our time at forest school. The kids are building confidence and core strength which will benefit them throughout their lives!

The kids have enjoyed looking at the insects and other creepy crawlies we find. Crawdads were especially exciting. Are they fish? Big spiders? Lobsters? Bugs? The kids are asking and as adults our job is to listen to the questions. Later we will go into “stealth teacher” mode and lead them to discover the answers themselves!


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We appreciate the mud, and we appreciate you all for allowing your kids to get dirty! It’s all part of the process—the ultimate sensory experience.


 The kids have the space and freedom to engage in different play styles. Here we see a rough-and-tumble chase game alongside dramatic play.

The kids have the space and freedom to engage in different play styles. Here we see a rough-and-tumble chase game alongside dramatic play.

Have a fantastic week!