Monday, November 25, 2013

Letting the kids drive the play

One of my real joys at teaching outdoor education to children under 5 is watching their transformation physically.  Some of the kids arrive at The Outdoor Preschool already climbers and explorers but many are new to the thrills of going deep into the woods.  As we end the first trimester of TOP we start seeing such adventuring in the kids.  Even the littlest ones are ready to go off trail and do some scrambling.

Last week I attended to a preschool conference and heard some speakers that are very cutting edge with play-based education.  I came back to The Outdoor Preschool ready to try some newly learned techniques. One was to really let the children lead the learning.  Now-this has always been my philosophy but I wondered if I could try and relax even a bit more and see where the children would lead us.

As the yellow group left circle time and we headed into the woods the hike took us by a favorite log to walk on.  As we passed the log, Clara and Adela naturally stopped and began walking and balancing on the log. I made a conscious decision not to tell the rest of the kids to STOP and wait.   As one child asked for my hand and the other said she didn't need it, I looked ahead on the trail to see how the other children dealt with this hike delay. As the two girls walked again and again on the log I quietly observed a few of the boys hanging out by a bridge-but they appeared to be just chatting away.They had stopped on their own. No one said to the girls to stop climbing and balancing.   I could see the boys gesturing towards the running water and perhaps to the horse and property next to the fence.  They didn't seem bothered or bored-just hanging with friends.

So-I kept standing near the balancing girls while they practiced - again and again and again walking the log-jumping down-climbing back up and walking again.    Their bodies were beginning to understand balancing-And they were gaining confidence in their skills.  Pretty soon-neither wanted my hands and they walked further on the log until it met another log and another.  As they naturally finished their exercise Conrad said, "Let's go this way!"  Then the whole group was ready to move on.  They were calling to each other "come on! Over here!"  Everyone joined back up and we were going off the trail, over logs and into uncharted territory.  Sometimes they helped each other get over the difficult bits.  They waited for the group patiently and exclaimed over found mushrooms and crunchy leaves.

They had become a community, a unit working together for the overall fun of the group.  What a wonderful lesson in life.  There are challenges, some waiting and hanging and some exploration.  It might be difficult and it might be scary but it might be exciting and rewarding. However it turns out-let's do it together!

PS  If you want to learn more about the invigorating speakers I heard,  try:

Teacher Tom
The Ooey Gooey Lady
Erin Kenny

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dissecting Sunflowers is cool!

For gathering time we put out some sunflowers that were drying out and getting ready to display their seeds. Some of the kids spent time picking off the smaller flowers and pulling out the seeds from the flower head.  If you get some home you can plant them now-or wait till spring.  We have been told that they can spend the winter in the ground and still sprout when the weather warms up.  Let us know if they do sprout in May or June!

It was fascinating to watch them work on their fine motor skills-pulling out the small seeds with their fingers and placing them carefully into a paper cup.  As they dissected the flowers we game names to the parts of the flowers. Disk flowers and ray flowers and seeds, stem and leaves.  We even pretended to be sunflower seeds sprouting during circle time with one hand going down into the soil and another reaching for the sun high in the sky. As we rose from our seated position to standing-pretty soon we were doing a yoga pose, tree pose-but making it into a sunflower pose with sunflowers coming out our hands.  Pretending to be part of nature is so fun.

On Tuesday the yellow group went on a long hike all around the park on a trail even I had never been on.  Logan found a cool log for us to have snack on-since he lives close by and knows all the trails well.  As we walked we counted trees - to see where we should stop next.  We found a stream and bridge that was new, a cool hollowed out log and finally the horse corral.  I asked the kids which way was the way back to lunch-and they all knew.  Smart kids!  Again, it was unanimous!

The blue group had stayed and played next to the stream the whole time we were on our big walk.  Funny, because the class before it was the opposite-the yellow group enjoyed the stream and didn't want to leave and the blue group did a big hike.  We just keep shaking it up here at TOP!

Thank you for sending your children in plenty of layers.  I had one child announce on Tuesday-"Teacher Ann-I have 3 pairs of pants on!"  I told her "So do I!"  Unfortunately I didn't have 2 pink pair and a purple pair like she did.  (wish I did!)  We will continue to take off layers or put then on as needed. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mushrooms are never green

Ok-today it was WET and COLD!  It has become that time of year where it is hard to have too many clothes on!  But the kids didn't seem to mind.  They had a blast running through the deep puddles and sweeping the water here and there. 

We decided to have circle time under the monkey tree-because it was semi-dry under there.  During circle time we talked about mushrooms.  Did you know that there aren't any green mushrooms because they don't have chlorophyll?  Luckily we had Teacher Roo,  the biologist, to explain mushrooms and fungi to us all!  We learned that mushrooms are not plants.  Also that they don't have seeds but use spores to grow new mushrooms.  We will continue to study mushrooms this fall since they are so prolific this time of year.
We also talked at circle time about splitting up the groups but then meeting at the secret spot to create a new fort.  So the blue group went off hiking-first swinging by the yellow group's pumpkin and then taking the long hike with frequent stops for mushroom sightings.
The yellow group made it as far as the stream-then spent the entire hour plus following leaves as they floated down with the current.  The kids put in small sticks and then bigger and bigger branches to see what they would do in the water.  Did they move with the water or were they too big?  Did the extra branches on the sticks make it so it couldn't go under the bridge? The TOP kids seemed fascinated by observing the path a leaf would take down the stream.  They ran along side of their leaf as it floated along in the stream-following it the 20-30 feet along the bank.
The kids worked together to move big branches and sometimes figuring out how to rescue branches that got caught under the bridge.  I mentioned that we should go catch up with the blue group but my group was having too much fun with the stream.  As it turned out, the blue group was having too much fun finding mushrooms so neither of us made it to the secret spot.  But that is the way we roll at TOP.  We follow what the kids are interested in and give small, discreet lessons on whatever they are observing.  I'm hoping that some of the kids went home and mentioned the "current" of the stream or that mushrooms are never green.

Follow the signs to the pumpkin

It was the blue groups turn to lead the yellow group to their pumpkin.  The kids were very excited to lead the way.  The yellow group gave them a head start by taking time to visit Herbert the Giant Flemish Rabbit.  We had fun petting him and watching him hide under his house. 
Then we started looking for clues to follow the other group.  There were giant arrows made by sticks and sometimes drawn into the dirt. Each time we found a clue there were squeals of excitement!

When we got to the group they were having snack under the tree next to their pumpkin who was being eaten by a slug.  Then we all played in the stream that overflows the bank. 

Some of the kids wanted to kick up the water.  It only took one suggestion that they kick away from their friends and pretty soon there were 5 kids standing next to each other and kicking away into the weeds.  There was lots of fun splashing with no fear of getting kicked.  The amount of fun these kids can have in the water is amazing!

FYI Parents!  As the weather gets wetter and colder I have a few suggestions that can help us as teachers and perhaps you as parents.

1. Please label all of your child's clothing - including their mittens, gloves, hats, backpacks, lunchboxes.  It can be hard to tell one child's items from another.  Thanks!
2. Please send extra gloves with your child as they tend to put their hands-gloves and all-right into the water and then they are cold again! Mittens can be easier to get on then gloves if their hands are wet.
3.  You may want to invest in handwarmers.  You can buy them in bulk at Costco.  We suggest opening them in the car so they are warm by the time your kids begin to get cold.  It takes about 15 minutes before they warm up.
4. It is time to put wool socks on their feet.  Many layers under jackets.  I personally wear 2 layers under my waterproof pants and I had on 3 layers under my jacket today (and I still got a little cold.  I'll wear more next week.)
5. It is very tiring to get cold.  I suggest a warm bath when they get home and some quiet time.  Not every child needs it-but your child may!  For instance, don't expect to go shopping right after preschool. That may be too much! And don't forget the change of clothes in the car.  I'd include a towel also!

We are still having a blast even if we get wet!  We try to limit the getting super wet till the end of the day so they aren't wet the entire class.

See you next week!