Dusty Snow

Today we had a small group of boys who were very excited to use our snow shovels to make a big pile of snow first thing this morning. I was impressed at how adept several of them were at using their shovel; they were an excellent demonstration of why children deserve child-size real tools.

The rest of us learned about mustelids. I specifically wanted to teach about otters because they are playful, beautiful embodiments of pure feminine maternal grace however I didn’t really have enough resources to make it just about otters. So we learned that River Otters are the biggest in their family of mustelae here in BC and that weasels are the smallest, with animals such as mink, marten and wolverine all being in the middle.

One of our friends had a marvelous story of a group of River Otters he observed on the dock of their summer cabin enjoying a tasty goose for lunch. He reflected that when he came near they jumped off the dock and swam under it, taking their goose with them, but he couldn’t quite figure out where they went to eat it.

We observed the extremely sharp teeth of our two weasel skulls and learned that all mustelids are fierce predators, many of whom love to eat fish! This led into Miss Krystal teaching everyone how to play a very fun, fast paced wild game called Otter Steals Fish which requires stealth, speed and precision.

We ate our snack quickly outside and then made our way North to our furthest North playsite we call North Bank which is beside the car bridge that comes from the hospital. Along the way several boys attempted to break the ice that was forming along the edges of Peterson Creek and discovered it was MUCH more solid than any of us expected. It was also particularly beautiful.

We noticed several shapes in the ice. This one was a leaf shape.

After crossing the road safely we saw that North Bank is quite a large and open playsite that immediately drew the boys directly to the creek to see if they could break the ice after all. Turns out they could not and that ice is quite slippery when you are standing on the edge of it and trying to use your full force to smash a shovel through its surface! Only one of the boys fell in and Miss Krystal quickly scooped him out and made sure he didn’t turn into a kid-sicle.

The teachers added some powdered paint to the powdery snow which resulted quickly in many questions being asked:

“What is that for?”
“Can we play with it?”
“What is it?”
“Are there more colours?”
“T__ made green!”
“How did you make that?”
“Look what color I made.”
“I don’t want any leaves in mine.”
“I can shovel mix it, see?”
“Can you find me a stick?”

Several of the children carefully scooped and stirred snow into their buckets, observing the changes each scoop made. Others quickly tired of the paint and looked for bigger sticks for bigger play, ie. sword fighting.

One of the first workshops I ever went to, even before I was an ECE or had a single student, was about rough and tumble play. It was (poorly) titled, “Boys will be boys” and I went to try and better understand this kind of play that I had seen my son and his friends engage in and made me nothing but uncomfortable. I learned that children make sense of their world through play and that sword, gun, and physical play are all ways that children try to sort out their new found power over the world. All of the people in the workshop were women who were clearly just as challenged by it as I was but I resolved to make space for it and to create some rules I would ask the children to adhere to so I felt everyone was safe.

Our rules are simple:

  1. Pushing from behind is unkind.
  2. Sticks hit sticks.
  3. Stop means stop….immediately.

We also talk about the importance of learning to ask permission, “Do you want to wrestle?” before giving someone a playful shove! And trying to remember which of our friends do not like it.

This seems to be enough to keep it in check and still allow children to freely engage in the play of their choosing. Afterall that is what they came here for and is an ethos of Forest School.

Since then I have also engaged specifically with as many male teachers and forest school leaders as I can to gain a male perspective on the subject. Their feedback and insights have guided my practice around this type of play that admittedly leaves most educators squirming right on the edge of their comfort zone.

Perhaps the most important reason I allow truly free rough and tumble play (with close supervision) is that it teaches self-regulation, self-control and empathy. When you get pushed by a friend you understand what it feels like to be pushed. When someone tells you to stop you must do so immediately and you need to check in with your friend who likely just got hurt. If you want to continue to play the game you MUST engage in such a way that feels safe to your friends or they will leave.

It is where I see friendships become stronger.

It is where I hear children find their voice to advocate for themselves.

It is where I say some of the biggest learning happens.

But also…we don’t wrestle at circle or snack time 😉 Or while we are walking!

See you all tomorrow.

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