Fall Reflections in Forest School
In North Vancouver we have enjoyed several weeks of brilliant fall weather. Crisp, cool, sunny mornings and mellow afternoons. It has been fascinating to work with our new groups and see the unique character of each one. During the first few weeks of class, children are getting a sense of what forest school is all about. I am imagine children asking themselves:
What are the rules?
How will the adults around me support me?
What projects and games might I enjoy?
How do I connect with that interesting person?
There are many new friends to encounter and begin to get to know. Along with the new social environment there are special places in the forest to meet and begin to get to know as we begin to open our minds and hearts to what the forest has to teach us this year. Fall is naturally connected to ideas around letting go, allowing for change, and taking on new projects. We say goodbye to the summer and watch our beloved trees and plants go to sleep for the winter. Sometimes children (and adults!) feel sad at this time of year, as we face the coming cold rainy days, and shift into a more work or play-focused season. Sometimes we are not ready to see the trees let go of their leaves, but it continues nonetheless. It can be energizing to spend time in the forest in Fall, because we can see how the forest needs the rain, and we can celebrate the gifts of the season in a concrete way together.
In the image above a group of 3-year olds have undertaken an ambitious climbing project. Three children climbed into the stump, one after the other. After a little play, they decided it was time to climb out. But how to do so? Climbing into a stump is often easier than climbing out. This was a wonderful opportunity for the children to face a challenge with the support of their teachers. We support children when climbing with coaching, encouragement, and supervision, however we don't lift children out of trees or stumps unless there is a safety issue. The children worked hard to solve this problem, allowing themselves to be encouraged and coached through the tricky climb out of the stump. Frustration and anxiety, and some tears were faced as they had to attempt it a few times. Each child emerged from the stump with a look of triumph on their face, proud to have faced a difficult task and succeeded.
We've been enjoying exploring the big-leaf maple leaves that fall on the path on our way to Bear Trail. These leaves are enormous and with the cool sunny days we've been having they have been brighter than usual. The children have delighted in gathering leaves, making collections, comparing their characteristics and using them to build nests, fairy homes, and line their "bear dens". One day we were walking slowly to bear trail and came across a beautiful path someone had made with yellow big-leaf maple leaves. This unexpected beauty beckoned us forwards in the most magical way. We wondered allowed who had made the path? And why? Where did it lead?
Our week at Maplewood Farm was rich this month. One sweet sunny day saw us raking leaves for over an hour, creating and deconstructing piles, tossing them playfully in the air, and revelling in their sweet scent. Some children worked together to make piles, while others worked quietly alone. The opportunity to do something they had seen their parents do seemed exciting to the children. There is something very satisfying about raking leaves, and seeing how the pile grows quickly with each pull of the rake. Then there is the interesting experience of burying oneself or one's willing friend or teacher in leaves, and being surrounded by their moist, sweet scent. Being buried was an experience some enjoyed for a long while, while others found it overwhelming. It was definitely an "edge" experience for many children, something totally new and strange to explore that might bring up feelings of great excitement, risk, or disgust. And some were not interested in being buried at all, but felt excited at the prospect of burying others! Isn't it interesting how differently two children can experience the same environment?
At Maplewood Farm we have the opportunity to care for the animals, including a group of wild mallards and wood ducks who frequent the pond at the farm. Often children will ask about the ducks as soon as they arrive at the beginning of class. They seem to enjoy the opportunity to offer the ducks and geese scoops of corn and wheat, and seeing if they can make their bodies still enough to have the ducks come close. The bunch of ducks swimming in the pond can present a certain mesmerizing beauty to children as they gaze into the water. We are careful to allow children this time to dream quietly throughout the day, when the mood strikes them. Sometimes observing quietly without comment is exactly what children need to do. Other times we ask questions together. We notice and comment upon the different types of ducks and their many interesting behaviours. Many children love it when the ducks dabble, that is when they tip forwards to search for food under the water. We also notice how the water flows off their backs in beads, and we notice how sometimes the ducks nip and peck each other. We notice and wonder about their preening. It strikes me as such a simple chore, feeding the ducks, yet it provides such a rich environment for observing, connecting with and appreciating these beautifully common animals.
Back in the forest, two children created an interesting game with a couple of old bike tubes and a stick. The children decided to hook the looped bike tube over a sturdy branch stub on a fallen log. They then slipped a strong stick into the loop at the other end. Backing up carefully, they would slowly stretch the tube, feeling the tension increase with every backwards step. Then, they would let the handle-stick go, launching it with a great smack into the base of the fallen log. An exciting game indeed! After pausing the game to consider some risks and how we might mitigate them, these two children worked at the game for many minutes, eventually inviting others to try. After observing them complete this process many times, eventually I was invited to try the device, and I realized then why it was such a compelling activity. Feeling the tension build up in the tube, and knowing I could release it at any moment, and then finally doing so, was wonderfully cathartic and a quietly surprising emotional release. I wondered if the children's experience was similar to mine, or if they were enjoying some other aspect of the game I hadn't yet observed. I was curious to observe the game further, but it has not been taken up again.
Our Tuesday morning north Vancouver class really enjoyed playing with miniature pumpkins this October. Here they are playing a tossing game they invented. They worked together to create a safe way to throw their pumpkins, with our empty gear bag as a target. Some of the pumpkins eventually broke open! We scooped out the seeds and roasted them the next day on a little coleman stove for closing circle. A warm and salty treat, perfect for a rainy day.
Overall it has been a glorious sunshiny start to our year, with many returning and many new students forming vibrant, ever-changing learning and play communities. It is days like the one shown above, when the sun is shining through the rain-wet trees and children are laughing and tumbling down the trail, that I feel wonderfully grateful to be able to spend time here on this land, feeling held by the forest and connecting in new and surprising ways to this place with every passing week.