A new year has started at Fresh Air Learning in Vancouver. We have seen former students rejoice upon returning to their favourite spaces; noticing the differences or cuddling up against a welcoming, familiar tree. We have seen new students skip through the forest in awe; exploring their new play spaces with curiosity, wonder and adventure.
With a new year comes the creation of new dynamics for both new and experienced forest kids alike. In our environment, as the summer passed the things formerly in bloom have begun to wilt, the bright green deciduous leaves have turned darker or have begun to turn vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red. Spider webs have been shinning in the sunlight and catching raindrops in beautiful and captivating ways. Our play space is ever changing and always exciting.
Over these first few weeks, the children have been exploring, getting to know the forest and their new peer groups at the same time. Forming a relationship with space can often mirror forming personal relationships with peers. The Fresh Air Learners have been putting their energies into testing the waters, experimenting with boundaries and exploring different skills. As they figure out which trees are good for climbing, sitting, sliding, what log makes the best pirate ship, castle or owl nest, and even what trees are best for tying one another to (with enthusiastic consent of course!); they are also figuring out who likes to play which games, who likes to spend their time quietly, who likes to run and move quickly.
Through these explorations, the group dynamics are forming in our classes. It is a joy to watch friendships emerge and the joyful hugs as friends arrive to class and greet one another. To observe discussions about likes and dislikes as they work to find things they have in common and to celebrate each other’s differences. To see groups revisit a play narrative class after class, with children taking on different roles or changing the play slightly to meet their ever evolving developmental needs and life experience.
As friendships build, so too does trust and the ability to work cooperatively. Teamwork can often make projects easier (and much more fun!). At Fresh Air Learning in these first few weeks, we have seen the children banding together to work as a team more and more. Sometimes making a giant slingshot is much easier with 3 people tying and testing it out and, with ideas from more people, a “teacher-trap” can be most effective.
Most notably, the children showed excellent cooperation while at the farm. Through working together, some of the children built a fire, weeded a much overrun garlic, planted a bed of garlic and gathered enough manure to feed it through the winter. In the straw pile, the groups worked together to build massive pile of straw and they took turns jumping in the pile and helping each other to build it up again for the next person. Some children even worked to help one another find (and sometimes carry) the perfect pumpkin to take home this Halloween season.
The Fresh Air Learners have truly begun to care for their environments and for one another. They have also been caring for their animal friends at the farm. At Southlands, we have been talking about how to communicate with the animals through our body language and how to read theirs as well. We have spent time with the goats, chickens and horses discussing what they need, how they play, what they eat and how to show them that we care for them.
Our adventures have only just begun, with everyday bringing a new discovery, new skills to learn, new friendships and new ways to be together in community. We look forward to exploring what lies ahead for us at Fresh Air Learning this year.