As we move through the year and the seasons in the forest, we notice changes in our environment as well as changes in the children. Many of the children have been playing and creating with us for over six months now and we have noticed subtle shifts in their attitudes, skills and abilities. When we first started the program, many children were not used to walking long distances with backpacks and would hike up to our play spot slowly and reluctantly. Now those same children can easily carry the packs on their backs and race up and down the trail. One child who is a self-professed avoider of all things dirty or muddy decided one day that he might be ok with a little bit of mud and proceeded to jump and splash into every puddle he could find.
With many of our classes, we have also noticed an increased desire to work and play together as a team. The children will organize their own games of tag, or guard the castle, or hide-and-go-seek or follow the leader. As these games are invented and led by the children, much discussion and conflict ensues: "I want to be first!" or "I don't want to be a princess!" or "Let's play this instead." For the most part, we allow the children to solve these conflicts on their own, intervening and offering suggestions only when necessary. We are often amazed at the creative solutions they can come up with to solve their own problems. We have even heard spontaneous chants of "Teamwork! Teamwork!" as the children figured out a way to move their dinosaur eggs (aka. rocks) safely up the hill using a bucket, rope and pulley.
Working together, the children have also made increasingly more complex shelters, forts and secret hideaways. The have helped each other climb trees, build pretend stoves, make bowls of chocolate flowers and create secret networks of "spies." One class spent an entire afternoon together using ropes to pretend to pump water out of a well.
One thing that is wonderful about allowing the children lots of time for free play and the opportunity to choose their own activities is that they can decide if they want to play with a group of children or work on something quietly on their own. Many children are displaying incredible amounts of persistance in their determination to master certain skills such as knot tying, whittling, balancing or climbing. They will sit with one stick and spend an entire afternoon peeling every last piece of bark off it then proudly show it to us: "Look what I did! Isn't it so smooth?" Or they will climb one tree and jump off it over and over again and exclaim about what good climbers they are.
At Southlands farm this month, we were greeted by a bright field of daffodils that provided a beautiful backdrop to our spring planting activity. After checking on the horses, sheep and chickens, we brought the children to our classroom garden to do some weeding and prepare the earth for planting. The children were delighted by all of the worms they managed to find while digging. We also brought some compost over from the farm compost pile and mixed it into our soil. Last month we planted some seeds for the children to take home and grow into seedlings. Some of them grew into huge plants and some of them didn't grow at all. We provided extra seedlings for the children whose seeds didn't grow or who forgot them at home. Then we dug holes in rows and planted the little seedlings in the ground. I can't wait to return to the farm next month to see how much they have grown!
Wishing everyone a fantastic Spring Break. Hope you get lots of opportunity to play outside!