Another year in the forest has ended and it is time to say goodbye to all of the friends we have made, all the activities we have enjoyed and all of the places we have loved. Immersed in the local environment, the children have been engaged in long-term place-based education. As we move through the forest in Pacific Spirit Park, we remember and recognize the flora we love: the hemlock tree, the vine maples, the elderberry, salmonberry and huckleberry bushes, the cedar stump. When the children play, they are grounded and rooted in the ecology of the Pacific Northwest, with all of its beauty and wonder.
Over the last several weeks, we have focused on revisiting favourite activities so the children can practice their new skills. Working with real tools is very satisfying and engaging for many children. They will whittle sticks and hammer nails for an incredibly long time.
Building shelters, fairy houses and fires is another activity that is constantly being revisited. Sometimes the structures are small, other times they are big enough for two or more children to climb into. We have seen more and more complex and cooperative building projects, such as entire fairy villages, fairy gardens, even fairy pools, hot tubs and rivers. Occasionally the villages, homes and castles are attacked by other children pretending to be foxes, knights or robbers and large battles ensue. These are great opportunities for children to learn conflict resolution skills and how to set boundaries around their play. For example, sometimes it is fun and delightful for children to guard their structures from pretend invaders, other times they want to be left alone. As the year has gone on, we have needed to facilitate fewer and fewer conversations because the children have been empowered to say to each other, "Stop!" and "I don't want to play that game!"
Ropes are also a favourite forest play prop. Over the last year, we have explored many different uses for ropes: pulleys, zip lines, climbing structures, swings, tug-of-wars, knots. Rope play also provides rich creative possibilities. Ropes have been spiderwebs, leashes for pretend animals and boundaries for forest homes.
It is also worth noting how well the children internalized the rhythms and routines of their days in the forest. Because we keep the same routine day after day, the children grow to feel safety and comfort in knowing what to expect. They also experience a sense of respect knowing that they can opt out of any activity they are not interested in. For example, we read a story every class and occasionally children are too busy playing to sit and listen to the story so they play elsewhere.
At our last visit to the farm, we had the pleasure of eating food that we grew ourselves. We were able to harvest beans, carrots, lettuce and herbs.
The children said goodbye to the farm animals. Most of the children showed increased confidence and competence in their care and feeding of the animals.
For one of our final crafts, we made bird feeders out of oranges.
It has been such a pleasure getting to know the Vancouver Fresh Air Learning children and their families over the last few months or more. Some of you we will see at our summer camps, some of you we will see next year and others are ready to move on to new and different adventures. Wherever life takes you, we hope you take the joy and wonder of your Fresh Air Learning experiences with you always.