Tree Climbing at North Bank

This October has been unseasonably cold, as this last week was eager to remind us. Children arrived with extra layers, warm mittens, and even snow pants by the end of the week. All those preparations kept play going all morning long. Which was lucky for the children, since they had a new site to discover!

The walk to North Bend is beautiful. The trail wanders alongside the creek. The tall cottonwoods that grow beside it are golden in the fall and have been dropping their glorious heart shaped leaves for weeks now. The older children run ahead, constantly checking behind to stay in sight, or running back when the teachers coyote yip to bring them back to the group. The younger and smaller children take their time on the trek. They wave to Woodpecker Wood where we started our session off, and pause questioningly at Curly Willow Bend. But that is not where we are stopping today. A few minutes farther along and we come to the car bridge. The children are careful and wait for everyone to come together. We check together as a group, “Do you see a car coming?”

Across the road we go and into North Bend. North Bend is our farthest north site, and thus the closest to the bustle of the city and usually bears the most evidence of passersby. One teacher helps the children with their bags while the other does a thorough site check. All clear! It’s time to play.

The willow leaves are golden and green and the ground beneath the tree is thick with them. The long arms of the tree sway towards the ground, creating a secret, cozy place to play. There are no logs to be found today, so making swings will have to wait for another day. One of the children is drawn almost immediately to the creek. The bank is steep here and the creek is less accessible than at other sites. The child steps carefully close to the steep sides of the bank before deciding to sit. It seems logical to our adult eyes, but it’s an important bit of risk assessment happening. This child was able to see the steepness of the bank and decide for himself when and where to sit. He scoots forward, closer to the creek, leaning back but with one leg stretched out. There’s a stick he can see, right at the water’s edge. With careful movements and patience, he fishes it out with his foot until he can reach down and take it with his hand. Stick retrieved, he scoots back.

Out from underneath the spreading willow there are several short elm trees. Their twisted trunks and branches provide perfect hand and footholds for tree climbing! Some of the children are avid and accomplished tree climbers and they scramble up the trees with abandon. They know the rules about tree climbing at preschool and still they push the limits. “Is this too high? Can you reach me here?” It becomes a game, but they are only teasing and they stay where they know they should. Another child is new, though. He looks questioningly up at me, as if to ask if it’s okay to climb. I nod and smile, “Go ahead!”

He pulls himself onto a low branch that has fallen away from the tree but remained attached, it is almost a big around as the trunk and grow in such a way as to make a perfect step. But from there, the next branch is nearly at chest height to him. He reaches with is hands and pulls half-heartedly and then glances back. “I want to go up there,” he says, the expectation clear. Help me. But the rule at preschool is that if you can’t climb up on your own, you can’t climb up. I encourage him with words and pat the tree where he should use a leg to pull himself up. This is the help that teachers can offer, help that teaches a skill and allow the child to complete the task on their own. This time however, the child decides against tree climbing and runs off to the willow tree. But a few minutes later, he’s back once again. And once again he tries. This time, there is another child climbing before him. He watches intently to see where each foot is placed. His concentration is fierce. The tree is clear and it’s his turn now. He steps up onto the branch, a small frown on his face as places his hands where the other child did. Braced and ready, he jumps, swings his leg, and pulls himself up! Success!

“Can you take me down now?” he asks, a little plaintively. Uh-oh…well… there’s a rule at preschool. If you climb up, you have to climb down. Time for another lesson…

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