These last few sunny days of fall feel particularly precious.

Activate: to make something active or operative.

This week was all about our senses. A child’s development is inherently tied into their sensory experiences. How we experience nature is also inherently tied into our senses. By this time in our program the children are becoming more comfortable with our routines and our daily practices, which gives us the freedom to begin to activate the children’s connection with nature more fully. 

We started off the week with a scavenger hunt, forest school style. The main field where we start our day is our anchor point in the program. We start and end our day in the same space. For convenience, certainly, but also for familiarity, comfort, security. The more time the children spend in theses spaces the more comfortable they are and the more they take ownership of these small pieces of nature. The structure of our program exists inside Peterson Creek. We move through a series of play sites to inspire the children and allow for new experiences and opportunities for play, but the anchor point of where our day starts and ends creates a secure base for the children to explore the rest of the park. Because we use the field as our anchor point and it is consistent, we decided to host our first scavenger hunt right after morning circle. Krystal chose the components of the hunt with care, choosing those things that are familiar and some that are less familiar. The children were invited to view the scavenger hunt, to identify and examine each component and fix it in their minds. And then they set off! 

What a fun opportunity to activate all of their senses! Also at this stage, the children rely on each other so much that the activity always becomes a group effort. Some children zero right in on a specific component, others follow behind more slowly. But it is so wonderful to watch them work through this challenge together. They communicate, exchange ideas, share and help each other through the process. They are excited to discover and rediscover familiar areas of the field. They trace a leaf in their hands, discuss its shape, count each lobe. They gather to discuss the challenge of finding the lone pine tree under which the coveted pine cones have fallen. Each group approached the challenges of the scavenger hunt with their own ideas and solutions!

Aside from the scavenger hunt, the children explored boats in the creek with Miss Krystal, hunted for sunshine at the top of a hill, learned to drill with hand drills, celebrated a birthday, discovered a giant slug (a rare sight in our usually dry valley!) and even spotted a kestrel chasing the flickers through the trees! The boats activated the children’s interest in science, cause and effect, and sparked their imagination. The discovery of a cozy patch of sunshine, inspired some children to climb the steepest hill and lounge atop it. They seemed to enjoy experiencing being higher than everyone around them and able to view all of the activities the other children were engaging in. The hand drills posed quite the challenge, as they required both hands, appropriate pressure and proper coordination. Their pride in the final project was beautiful to behold. We had one of our youngest children celebrate a birthday over the weekend. We think it’s important to notice and celebrate these important moments with our students, so we “baked” up a lovely “cake” at circle time, lit some candles, and sang our song. After blowing out the candles, the birthday boy was kind enough to share out his cake and let us all giggle together as we “ate” the “cake.” What a fun exercise in imagination and sharing. The giant slug and the kestrel was yet another example of the third teacher stepping in and offering us a lesson. The slug required our “owl eyes” to suss out it’s hiding spot in spite of it’s exceptional camouflage. The kestrel invited us to use our “deer ears” and notice how all the little birds and even the squirrels had quieted their ever present chirping while they hid from his sharp eyes.

The end of the week also saw our first truly challenging weather day. As teachers it is always an interesting challenge to see how the children adapt to significant changes in the weather. And how we as teachers manage the changes to suit the group. This week, the rain occurred on the back of a particularly cold downturn in the weather. The children arrived in high spirits with great active energy. Taking their energy as a lead, we made the decision to remain in the field instead of heading to our regular play site. Our regular playsite is situated right on the creek and promised an exceptionally cold and wet morning, which we worried would hinder the kind of positive connection we want the children to be making. So we stayed in the field!

Miss Krystal took the children on a sneaky hike that brought them right back to their starting point and while they were gone Miss Matthia set up a shelter and brought out the ropes and flags and play kitchen. The change in site was the perfect decision for the day. Many of the children were energized by the rain and seemed to have a strong need to run and chase, the perfect activity for a wide open, grassy field. Some of the other children found the combination of fence and rope just too irresistible, and got to work on some fine motor skill activities. Some of the children practiced tying and other practiced lacing. Later on, the children discovered that bowls, buckets and ice cream scoops in the mud kitchen can double as a drum set! It started with one child, then another, and another until five children were banging away on their drums. I saw a perfect opportunity to enrich their play by suggesting we sing along. What a wonderful noisy way to end the day!

The final cherry on our rainy Thursday was a visit by a tiny little harvest mouse. It was such a surprise. One of our younger students used his “owl eyes” to good effect and spotted the tiny creature in the grass. To all of our surprise, he was completely unperturbed by our presence. The children quickly crowded around to watch our visitor meander through the grass, nibble on shoots and wash his tiny face. He was so comfortable with us as his audience that we had to remind some of the children to move back. Even such a small and friendly seeming creature can bite! We lingered so long with our tiny friend that we had to skip our closing circle completely to make it back across the bridge on time. It was such a treat to see the children so engaged and rewarded for their engagement with such a surprise.

“When we connect with nature, we awaken a powerful source of energy and healing in our lives. The dooryway to nature is through our senses. When we awaken the senses, we discover an expanded awareness, and a new richness of relationship with the world we are a part of.”

-John Young

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