The Opportunities of Nature Play
Winter at Fresh Air Learning has been a magical time. This is the time of the year where friendships have formed with peers and space, the children have their favourite spots, the interactive play has deepened and personalities are shining!
The children have been connecting with space, watching it change with the seasons and we have official favourite spots that the children look forward to visiting along our walks. The big rock provides an excellent opportunity for gross motor exercise, for challenging strength, balance and spacial awareness. It is also often a place to be still, a chance for the little ones to get up high, turning their attention upwards; sparking conversation and wonder about the height, age and differences of the many trees around us. The puddle path on the beach is a familiar stopping point, a lovely opportunity to stomp and marvel at how our movements change the water and impact the movement of the water. The woodchip path is a newer discovery for us, with the added excitement and challenge of rock hopping across a small stream; providing chances for increasing balance, waiting and encouraging friends as we each cross one at a time.
This year’s groups have been fascinated by ropes and knots. They have been working cooperatively to make nets, webs and even imaginative and effective ways of tying up Tim! Ropes are an excellent opportunity for teamwork. We often only bring one or two really big ropes as this creates opportunities for negotiation, conversation and working together. We also bring shorter ropes that the children use creatively in play. Tying knots and trying to translate one’s creative ideas into reality creates chances for tactile problem solving and the creation of improvised toys with limitless possibilities.
One of the ways we have seen the children utilizing the ropes, and the many other loose parts in the forest is by creating nests. This rich, imaginative play fosters empathy and the care taking of living things. It sparks conversations about animal families, nesting habitats and the differences between mammals, birds, and insects. These beautiful creations are a wonderful opportunity for creative and artistic expression.
We also see the children working together to create beautiful things! Nature art is ever present in our days together. And even though our work is temporary, it is stunning in its imaginative expression.
We have been doing a lot of work with tools in the last few weeks. Magnifying glasses are utilized to observe our forest more closely. With peelers, we work to carve sticks and work with a small saw to cut larger sticks into smaller pieces.
One of our ongoing missions to help to forest is helping to remove the invasive species. We have had conversations about what an invasive species is and why we can pick them verses the other things that we shouldn't be picking in the forest. Pulling up ivy has been a favourite and we have noticed a significant change in the amount of it growing around our place spaces since the beginning of the year.
The beach is certainly another favourite spot for many of our children. Here, we bring magnifying glasses and kitchen stuff for the children to use in their explorations of space. Collections are made and shared, friends gathered to cooperatively move gigantic logs and many squeals of delight at throwing rocks and sticks into the ocean. This space provokes conversations about our home life; working with kitchen stuff leads to thoughts of home and food we can chat about our differences and similarities and celebrate all that makes us, us! This is also a space for teamwork, big logs require a friend to help achieve the goals our Fresh Air Learners have in play. Many conversations and observations about water displacement occur at the beach (and at puddles play), children notice the basic laws of physics, learning just a little bit more about the world around them with every splash. The beach is also a wonderful space to take a moment and appreciate the beauty of the environment around us, to watch the waves and notice the changing tides as we visit time and time again.
At Fresh Air Learning, we value moments of quiet observation, wonder and reflection as much as moments of active questioning and play. Sit spots provide a chance for the children to be still and notice the world around them. During sit spots, we first gather together and remind each other what we are trying to do with this time. We give reminders about being still and silent so the animals will not be startled by us. We encourage everyone to search for something they have never noticed before or just something they think is beautiful or amazing! We drop “the veil of silence” and head off to our own spaces for 3-5 minutes of quiet observation. Once the time is up, we gather the group with a raven call and have a short sharing time to discuss the things the children have noticed. Here we can ask questions and learn from one another as we discover the space around us in community.
Our farm weeks provide a change of pace and opportunities to take on more responsibility. Our time here is often spent caring for the animals. Each day, we check that everyone has food and water, feed the chickens, and sometimes help to make sure they have a clean and cozy place to sleep. We learn how to communicate with the animals, learning how to hold our bodies to let each animal know they are safe and how to read the body language of our farm friends to know how they are feeling and what they may need from us. The colder weather has seen us building fires together, learning about the three things needed to have a fire (oxygen, fuel and heat) and learning through observation how fire behaves and burns through the tinder, kindling and wood. The tire swing is a favourite spot where we begin and end each farm day. In addition to the tire swing, the farm often provides many loose parts that the children can utilize in play. Building pirate ships, a working seesaw and homes for kittens have been among our favourite endeavours as we work, build and play together at the farm.