This week brought us a reprieve from last week’s rather bitter cold. There was even some sun! The children arrived to a surprise in the main field this week. There were five forest animals hidden in five different species of tree. What a challenge! The children had to use their owl eyes and their accumulated learning from these last few weeks to find them all. It was pretty tricky. First one animal was found, then another. As more children arrived and more owl eyes joined in the hunt, more animals were found! On the first day, the bear proved trickiest of all and stayed hidden until the very end. By the end of the week, the only hints that the children needed were clues about what kind of tree!

The beaver is in the Ponderosa Pine tree. Remember, Ponderosa has long green needles instead of leaves.”

And off the children would run to find the hidden animal.

After circle and snack, we gather together to wander down the trail to our play site. The longer walk is getting a little bit easier but it’s still a pretty big challenge for some of our younger students. We take our time and rest often, noticing details as we wander along. The cottonwood leaves have nearly all fallen from their trees and those that remain have faded from their brilliant orange to a dull brown. That tree is where a deer has rubbed his antlers, several children point out as we walk past. Is there ice in the creek today?

When we arrive, creativity seems to be the name of our days. All of the children know how to play out here now. They know what tools we have, what toys we have, what resources they can dig out of that great big green backpack. So now, the time of discovery is passing and it’s time for their creativity to shine through. A group of children approach the day with purpose, today. As soon as we reach the site, the game of Lions has begun. Who will be the daddy lion? the mommy? the baby? Quickly, the roles are set out and play begins. But the creative opportunities here today are so varied, it doesn’t take long for things to shift. One child picks up a stick and suddenly, it’s time to fish along the bank. Another and then another child joins in. Others begin to use the blocks Krystal made as “food” to feed the lions that were abandoned by the children fishing. Some time a little later, one of the children finds a mallet, and the play shifts again. Krystal brings out her trusty tools again and makes some stakes for the children to pound into the soft dirt. First they are set on making traps for animals, measuring out the size of their foot to the area they have staked. Does it fit? Is it big enough for a lion? By the end of the morning, the lion trap has become a mouse’s house.

All of these shifts in play are where the best bits of learning are happening. The conflict that occurred earlier on in the program is starting to fall away as the children have been coached and encouraged to practice negotiating and talking through each issue. The play has settled into a routine and the amount of time children sit quiet and observant is fading, as their comfort grows and their ability to engage with their environment is increasing. There is a quiet sweetness to these last few weeks ahead. The children are really coming into their own and it’s time for us as teacher’s to take a little step back and let them take the reins a little bit more.

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