• Caitlan Read

Giving Thanks

Our nine-month programs have come to a close. It's a time for reflection in our community, of what we did, how we grew, and our goals for the future. For some children (and parents!) it is hard to let go to a treasured class, play group, or teacher. Our year at Fresh Air Learning can feel like an era, especially from a child's perspective. Change is hard. Other children are bursting with readiness for a change of pace, a fresh class, a new learning opportunity or environment. As we say goodbye, they look forward to the next stage of their learning, whether it's public school, our FAL elementary program, Soaring Eagle or something else entirely.

This year we have been giving a lot of thought and feeling to what we are grateful for in each other, and in the land we are lucky to work and play on. We've been taking a moment at the end of each class to express our gratitude to the forest for all of its gifts. As a culmination of our gratitude practice, we created an opportunity for children to make a physical offering of thanks to the special places we have played in throughout the year.

We asked children to bring a nature treasure such as flowers, special stones, and other materials from home, and to think about something they were grateful for. We also provided lots of materials. We made a heart out of stones on the forest floor, creating a space to make an offering of grateful words and treasures. Children came one by one to make their offering, or to simply sit and explore the materials we had brought. We modelled our gratitude towards the forest and asked the children what they loved about this place.

We were touched to see the beautiful offerings brought my children, and to hear from parents about how seriously they took our invitation. However, they wouldn't be Fresh Air Learnings without their goofy playfulness!

Some of the things children were grateful for:

"Thank you trees for helping us make spider webs!" (a rope climbing activity the children love)

"Thank you for the yummy berries"

"Thank you for giving the birds a home"

"Thank you for everything!"

At the end of the day, our hearts felt full. Even our youngest students connected with the idea of offering thanks to the forest. I believe it is this dialogue with the forest, this act of addressing it as a living system and a living place, that can really open our eyes and hearts to the vital, aware, aliveness of nature.

In Vancouver we said goodbye to our beloved Pacific Spirit Park, as we prepare the move our programs to Jericho Park starting with this year's summer camps. PSP is where the Vancouver program was born, with Cara Agro as the founding teacher, and lots of support and collaboration with Metro Vancouver. We are thrilled to see a variety of groups interested in bring groups into PSP, and feel very excited to be exploring and learning in at Jericho. Jericho park is a beautiful place, with forest, field, beach and pond habitats to explore. There will also be opportunities for hands-on stewardship of the forest through invasive plant management.

Throughout these last few weeks I have been quite struck by the generous acts of care I have observed between children, and between children and the creatures and plants they encounter in the forest. On one occasion one of our students tripped on a rock and banged his shin. Though no blood was drawn, he was distraught with many tears. As we sat with him and comforted him, another child came up with an offering of a juicy salmon berry picked especially for him. The child's face brightened as he was offered the berry, he sat up, and looked at his friend with a smile. Afterwards the child who had brought the salmon berry continued to monitor the other child with a caring hand on his knee, even as the play started up again.

Another time children found a hungry slug and offered them a salmon berry (slugs are both male and female, so I like to use "them" for a pronoun!) To the children's surprise, the slug eagerly munched the berry! We could see their mouth working at the berry, in slow, enormous bites. Over the course of the class the children monitored the slug's progress, ready with a second berry should the slug finish the first.

I feel so grateful to be able to spend my days outside in the forest with children, connecting with the land and taking care of it, offering thanks and learning through play, immersed in this beautiful place. I know they will take these lessons of resilience, problem-solving, joy and connection into whatever comes next for them, and into their families and futures. May all people everywhere have more opportunities to spend time connecting to nature in whatever form in may take in their lives. We are beyond fortunate to call this green place home.


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