We in Vancouver have been enjoying getting to know Jericho Beach Park in new ways as we explore the forest and the beach. One favourite stop along our hike to our main forest play spot is "The Rock," a large, rough-textured rock with a gently sloping side, perfect for working on our climbing. With one teacher on top of the rock and the other at the bottom, we can support children to work on their climbing skills and take on some exhilarating (and developmentally appropriate) physical risks.
The Rock is very forgiving. The rock is rough-textured to allow for good traction with our boots, sloping so as to facilitate climbing, yet not so easy as to be unchallenging to the 3 and 4 year old person. The first step of learning to climb to rock is watching others try. Next, touching the rock, taking a few tentative steps onto the first inviting foothold. Finally, the courage and confidence are gathered to attempt the climb.
And what a feeling of pride and accomplishment, the first time a child summits the rock! With a big smile on their face and their chin held high, they can say "I did it!" and all with the patient support of teachers around them. We support them verbally and with a helping hand, but do not lift them higher than they can climb themselves. A place like this provides children with an invaluable opportunity to develop their common-sense risk assessment skills, by trying out something challenging, listening to what their bodies are capable of, recognizing when they need support, and what kind. It is a wealth of these experiences in childhood which will contribute to sound risk assessment for the rest of their lives - important for learning to make decisions and navigate the challenges of life.
For variety, we have generally been maintaining our monthly cycle of: two weeks in the forest, a week at the farm, and a week at the beach. The children often seem to greatly look forward to beach day, where they enjoy a change of scene, as well as the chance to access our full kitchen tool collection! The beach is a little bit different every time we go - the tide is at a different point, different logs or stones have been thrown into the sand, or we may find different kinds of seaweeds and shells. Some children get right to work collecting.
Making collections can be an absorbing solo project, or a fertile jumping-off point to collaboration and connection. Sometimes children make collections of mixed objects, such as in the first picture, or focused collections of one particular item, such as the second picture. I see how satisfying it can be to make an ordered collection out of the seeming chaos on a beach, to find patterns and similarities between the textures and shapes that can be found in nature. There is also a thrilling, treasure-hunting aspect to this activity that can really enliven and inspire certain children!
Another common activity pursued at the beach is manipulation and construction with sand. Some children enjoy digging holes, while others enjoy filling them! Some children build castles on the edge of the tideline, working in a frenzy to maintain structural integrity as the tide inevitably comes in to undermine the foundations. Throughout all their play is a thread of impermeability - nothing we construct on the beach will last forever. By working on projects that will eventually fall apart, children encounter feelings such as disappointment, sadness, grief, and frustration, and develop their skills at managing these sometimes-intense experiences.
One thing I am grateful for with our programs being at Jericho is the many amazing encounters we can have with wildlife such as herons, crows, coyotes, frogs, turtles, insects, and rabbits. On beach day we walk by a particular spot where we often see rabbits munching away on clover. One of our groups has taken to working to see how close we can get to the rabbits. Making our bodies still or quiet, or learning to move slowly but also in a relaxed kind of way, offers many opportunities to practice self-regulation and discipline. Not to mention the sheer joy of watching a round little rabbit munching happily on her lunch! These moments of stillness and excited connection are ones I truly treasure at Fresh Air Learning.