When Marshauna and I embarked on this nature immersion journey, we had to conjure up a bit of faith. Were we seriously about to simply enter into the woods with our students and sit back while the lessons revealed themselves? Were we really not going to have a plan b for the inevitable breakdowns and challenges? Minimal lesson plans? No curriculum?
In our individual homeschooling experiences, we had seen it work. We had seen the magic of the forest transform our lessons into child-directed free flowing learning, but that was with our own kids. Could we achieve the same with a group of children who didn't belong to us?
During our forest school teacher training with Erin Kenny, Director of Cedarsong Nature School, we saw it unfold and faith began to build. Cedarsong's child-led, child-inspired model further instilled our trust in the nature immersion process. There is no pre-set schedule or curriculum at the entirely outdoor school. What takes place in this free form style of education, is that children's play guides their education. Their constant wonder and subsequent investigation allows them to relish in the learning process while identifying their natural inclinations.
After witnessing, first hand the beauty of a program that allowed children to "simply" play, we were certain this was the adventure for us. In our first year, we have held three forest school inspired summer camps and are currently in our 5th week of forest classes. I am honored to be able to send out this post and give families insight into what "simply" playing actually means.
The deep learning that has taken place in our camps and at the start of our classes has had students studying areas of ecology, biology, botany, ethnobotany, etymology, math, physics and engineering. On the social/emotional scale, we have explored kindness, compassion, empathy, cooperation and teamwork. Needless to say, we have reached a place where we fully trust the magic of the forest when it comes to learning and education.
Take a look...
We made charcoal discoveries - charcoal is great for face painting, drawing, and rubbings.
Not all trees smell the same! A crowd favorite was the Jeffrey Pine which smells like butterscotch and vanilla.
When you're hungry in the forest that are snacks everywhere. We identified fireweed, wild strawberries, white fir needles, valerian root, and wild onions. Yum!
We discovered a secret sacred spring and we sprinkled the water on ourselves.
Lots and lots of mud play! making cakes and throwing mud to see which surface it sticks to best, wood won over concrete.
We tested our shelter building abilities.
We raced boats that we built ourselves and went mushroom hunting. We discovered an edible bolete mushroom. We ventured into the ethnobotany world and identified many medicinal 'snacks' in the forest including Penny Royal, Bitterbush and Sage. A friend got a bee sting and we made a spit poultice of Yarrow to ease the pain.
Beetles love rotting logs and grubs do too. We built habitats and studied the ABCs with rocks.
We find that when we work as a team the forts get built faster and stronger.
We harvested Thimbleberries and worked together to find enough berries for everyone to try one.
We raced boats and got wet! We discovered the life of an engineer is tedious. We made many revisions on our boat designs until they floated well. We warmed ourselves in the sun and helped our smaller friends on the hike back to main camp.
The entire class - 11 kids - worked together to build a dam. They all loved helping each other and took on different jobs to make dam building successful.
We played a game that taught us to survive in the forest. We planned our survival using only what could be found in our environment. Hard work makes us feel proud and satisfied.
We made new friends and took care of our forest friends. We made a nest for a bird and created an extra soft spot for the eggs.
We make cakes in the mud kitchen and discovered a caterpillar. We were soft and kind to the caterpillar so it would feel safe.
Social and emotional intelligence abounds! We love playing with our friends and realized that even though we get mad sometimes, we can always make up and start over.
We took care of make believe animals and made protections for real ones (a crayfish).
We studied the flow of the water and learned how we can change it by building rock walls.
The discussions were deep as we talked about earthquakes and how the plates of the Earth bump into each other.
We ventured to the river and embarked on boat building. Using sticks, grasses, and willow, we tested our designs in the water and made modifications as needed. We shared our boat designs with our friends and helped each other build. We raced our boats in the stream, cheering each other on.
We climbed rocks and discovered we were better at climbing than we had been in earlier classes.
The forest is full of medicine! We harvested rose hips to make syrup out of. We learned that rose hips are high in vitamin c and can help strengthen our immune systems.
Discussions on the food chain were sparked by crayfish traps in the river and all decided to give thanks to the food that nourishes us.
We had our first forest rainy day and got soaked exploring a new meadow. We had our first camp fire and told stories around as we dried off and felt like a family.
We look forward to sharing more with you as our journey continues! See you in the woods.