Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hands, tall grass and tadpoles

The joy of watching the kids become good friends and chatting while hiking and exploring. We are such lucky teachers! We've had an amazing spring with real heat making all of the plants at Farrel McWhirter grow to amazing heights!  The grass is already over the kids's heads and they had such fun today walking through it.
 But we were headed to one of our furthest destinations today; the forest at Juel Park.  If you haven't seen the wonderful wetlands there, it is worth a saturday visit.  We told the kids to stay out of the water in order to look for tadpoles and to not disturb the animals living in the slow moving and shallow stream.  Pretty soon Conrad spotted a frog hiding under a log. Most of us peered under the log and saw it's hiding place.
We also watched a few tadpoles darting through the water, also hiding from our shadows.  We sang "One Little Speckled Frog" while we waited for them to show themselves. We ate a quick lunch on the side of the forest and then high-tailed it back to meet the parents by 1230pm.

What I noticed today:
Kids were very attached to their friends.
Some kids were very intent on pulling the wagon and very proud of their work.  (Clara, Sruthi)
Some kids got hot but no one complained that it was too far to walk.
Everyone was very busy and intent on what they wanted to see, look at and explore.
Everyone was careful to stay out of the stream and jumped across the water when they wanted to cross it.
Some people remembered going to Juel Park in the beginning of the year-others were amazed and said they had never seen it before.  (everyone had but September is a long time ago when you are little!)

Parents:  It is almost the end of the year!  What an incredible year it has been!  Roo and I have watched these kids become avid, eager explorers.  A wonder to behold!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Water Play Teaches Concepts of Volume!

 Today was a warm and sunny day.  A perfect day for water play!  The kids learned how to use the water faucet and how to turn it on and off. They carefully filled up buckets and spray bottles and then were ingenious on how to use them. Some kids "painted" the park bench with water and watched how the wood changed colors.  Others created a puddle in a hole in the grass and made potions and "poisons".  Many kids harmlessly sprayed each other and the teachers with spray on our waterproof boots and pants.  There were huge giggles and laughing along with very concentrated carrying of full buckets to their special destination.  The play went on for a whole hour before we interrupted them for snack and stories.  Everyone was engaged in the water play.  Everyone was a bit wet-but no more wet then a regular rainy day in the Northwest!  Pretty soon we were taking off layers and enjoying our stories about frogs and rabbits on the grass.

We expect Thursday to be hotter then today.  Please send your child in a t-shirt underneath whatever layers you choose so we can get down to the lowest layer easily.  Please DO send them in boots-but you do not need waterproof jackets or pants.  It just may be too hot!  ( I don't say that too often!)

Have I mentioned lately all that your children are learning at TOP?  Today we had a special lesson on nettles since they are prolific this time of year.  We learned how to identify them :  Heart shaped with sharks teeth on the outside .  We learned that you can use the underside of a sword fern that has spores to help get the sting out if you get nettles on your skin.  Or you can use the slime from a banana slug to anesthetize your skin.

We also learned about volume.  Filling containers up with water, watching it pour out, water the water go down in the spray bottle.  These actions all teach about volume.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Earth Day at TOP

The sun and the water and sticks.
We celebrated Earth Day at TOP by creating some "earth art" with coffee filters, markers and spray bottles.  Everyone was enthusiastic about the project.  Flora said "Earth!!  My mommy and daddy and grandma and grampa live there!"  We learned 2 songs about the world and will continue to sing them as our new circle time songs.

Reduce Reuse Recycle Song ( sung to the tune of Have you ever seen a lassie)

Reduce Reuse Recycle, recycle recycle
Reduce Reuse Recycle It's easy to do.
Cause your wold is my world, and my world is your world.
Reduce Reuse Recycle It's easy to do.

We've got the whole world, in our hands
We've got the whole world, in our hands
We've got the whole wild world, in our hands
We've got the whole world, in our hands
We've got the whole world, in our hands

We've got the little bitty babies, in our hands
We've got the little bitty babies, in our hands
We've got the little bitty babies, in our hands
We've got the whole world, in our hands

We've got the Outdoor Preschool, in our hands
We've got the Outdoor Preschool, in our hands
We've got the Outdoor Preschool, in our hands
We've got the whole world, in our hands

(then we make up our own verses!)

A new place to climb.
 Hiking on Tuesday was exciting.  Everyone was glad to be back from spring break.  There were lots of changes in the forest.  The water was high and rushing along.  We looked for the owls but didn't see them.  We saw lichen and moss and new fern fronds.  The kids found secret places to climb on top of and scampered up familiar climbing areas.  The sun was shining on the stream in places making it a cool place to  watch how the current changes with sticks.  The sun came out and pretty soon jackets and hats were off and everyone was happy to have lunch in the sunlight.

When the sun came out, we got to have a picnic!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Inspiration from Norway!

What path is this?

Teachers Roo and Ann had an amazing week with a continuing education seminar at UW.  There were 2 professors visiting from the University of Queen Maud in Trondheim Norway.  We had about 30 professors, preschool teachers and students come and visit TOP last week.  We got some great feedback about our program.  People were impressed with our kids and all that they get to experience with TOP.  They loved our circle time and how the kids use the forest as their playground.  It was reassuring to get this good feedback and now we are invited to come to Norway to see their program there!

So you can see what they do in Norway, here is a fun video of preschoolers in an outdoor preschool in Norway.

So, you ask: What did we learn at this seminar?

1. Risk taking is good for children.  It is important that children get the chance to try and sometimes fail at climbing, hiking, running, exploring.  This way they learn how far to push themselves and what their limits are without someone telling them.  They learn intrinsically in a way that is a much deeper learning.

2. In Norway babies are put outside to sleep, even in the extreme cold weather.  They believe that the fresh air is important for their health.  They put them in very warm sleeping bags and put them outside under a covering.(!!)

3. In Norway the preschools have cross country skis to use and sleds play with.  (Too bad we don't have more snow!)

Roo and I ended up inspired to let our kids do lots of exploring and climbing.  Of course we already do this!  But some of the things we are trying that are new:
  • The kids are making their own rules during circle time.  We vote on the new rule to see if we all agree whether it is a good rule or not.  They can also be revisited in the future if we need to. (Just so you know-the kids restated all of the rules we already have and voted they were all good ones.  The only one we changed was letting the kids hike with sticks.  We will revisit this rule if it doesn't work out.)

  • We are letting the kids have more autonomy in their choices and decisions of where they want to explore for the day or what they would like to do.

  • We are letting the children work out their differences more.  We will be intervening less to see if they can figure out what is going on with their friends.  More speaking to each other about what they are unhappy about or how that person made them feel and less coming to us and telling us what happened.  We will help to facilitate the discussions as needed but be stepping in less.

And to you parents: Thank you for letting us have your children each week and letting them have these amazing outdoor experiences with TOP

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Littlest Explorers!

Scrambling off trail.
The kids this week were so adventurous and ready to explore everywhere in the park.  Here we are after scrambling under and over branches and bushes to find this new spot for snack.  As I stumbled through the bush trying to keep up the kids kept saying "can we have snack here Teacher Ann?"  and  Flora said to  "This is so fun!"  They carefully balanced on this log to eat their snack and hear a story about Curious George and There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.

Exploring the new swampy area.
 There is a new swampy area at FM Park that we had lots of fun exploring this week.  There was good deep mud to squish in and get stuck in.  It is an area we haven't explored this year (isn't it great that we still have new areas to find!) plus since there has been so much rain the grass has turned to new streams and squashy-ness.
Getting through the mud by climbing on the log.

 And I can't end this blog without mentioning the physics lesson we worked on while swinging.  Conrad asked why the tire swing didn't stay as high as when I first pushed the swing.  We had a lively discussion about what that might be. We did an experiment-Conrad thought if I pushed the swing more than the usual 10 times-we might get the swing to stay high.  So I pushed 15 times and the swing again gradually slowed down.  Conrad thought and thought and then decided the tire "gets too heavy."  We didn't get into gravity-but that was pretty close!
A lesson in gravity.
If you plan on coming back to TOP in the fall of 2014-Sign up for fall is March 18th. There is no preferential registration for current TOP families.  The registration turns on at midnight (March 17th).  It may behoove you to sign up then-or at least first thing in the morning of March 18th.  We have a number of new families who are ready to join us in the fall!

There have been requests for the Water Cycle Song.
Here are the words and the link:

Clouds fill up and the rain falls down
Water fallin down to the ground
Big drops small drops all around
This we call precipitation

When the water hits the ground and runs off to the sea
Fill the water way past your knees
Sunshine comes and heats it up
And this we call evaporation

It is a perfect cycle
And it happens every single day and
its called the water cycle

When the mist rises up from the sea
It goes against the force of gravity
Lots of drops and Great big clouds
And this we call condensation

When the Clouds get heavy with all those drops
The cloud will fill till it pops
Clouds burst open and the rain falls down
This we call precipitation

It is a perfect cycle
And it happens every single day and
its called the water cycle

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


The Outdoor Preschool found out today what happens when there are big winds at Farrel McWhirter Park!  The TOP kids snuck up on a big tree that had been blown over this weekend.  Wow!  Luckily there weren't any winds today-just lots of rain!

TOP had its own Olympics today!  We learned about the 5 Olympic rings-some people colored their own rings and we also had our own mini Olympics.  The kids had to balance on a log, jump off a rock, run around a tree and find a spider web to name a few.  We had fun with our Olympic games as we hiked through the park.

Oh yeah!  We also found an animal skull and jawbones with teeth intact.  Teacher Ann will be trying to figure out what animal they might be from!  If you have any suggestions or knowledge it will be appreciated!  The teeth are really sharp and the jaw is quite big.  Opossum has been suggested.  Hmmm....

Owls Hooting in the Woods!

We heard the hoo hoo-ing of owls today.  As we walked through the forest we tried to find them.  We looked up high into the trees and hooted back at them hoping they would respond.

This website has what I think is close to the sound we heard.  Possibly a Great Horned Owl.  And here is what their hooting sounds like.

As we walked along the trail, stopping to play in new and old favorite places, we began to hear the sound of voices, children voices.  And there was the blue group-hidden among the downed trees and bushes.  We had to climb over and under trees to get to them.  The kids were excited to find each other and I could hear the talking about the owls hooting in the trees above.

There was some stump climbing,
 and mud stomping along the way also!
 Oh-and we got to have lunch in the sun!  Hooray for the sunshine!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day fun!

It's the day before Valentines Day and The Outdoor Preschool is ready!  We began by stamping and gluing and cutting to make special valentines for whomever-some for their mommies and some for "me!"  Then we sang a Valentine themed song: The Beatles "All You Need Is Love."  So if your little one is singing "Love, Love Love" -that is what they are singing about.  Next we voted on where to hike to.  It was almost unanimous to go explore the stream/trail over by Mackey Creek.

We headed over there with 10 very excited preschoolers.  When we got to our special stream trail we found that we could get through further then we usually could.  We all decided to plunge through the mud and brambles and see where it would go.  Teacher Roo said that we were like Lewis and Clark on a big adventure.  At the end of the trail we found hummocks of dead grass to play in.  (see the video above)  It was like walking or jumping on a trampoline and so soft to fall into!

After lunch we gave out valentines and then were treated to Menchie's Frozen Yogurt for free!  Menchie's is promoting their new location in Redmond near Whole Foods and gave us all free frozen yogurt to try!  Thanks Menchie's!  We all enjoyed the treat!
Attn TOP Parents:
Next week on February 18th begins the early registration for spring TOP.  Current families have 2 weeks before new people can sign up for spring.  If you want to register your child for next fall, 2014, registration will begin on March 18th.  You can register at midnight if you want to be sure to get a spot....

PSS: I just want to remind TOP parents that we have a 15% discount at Oakiwear.  You type in TOP to the discount section.  They make great waterproof pants and boots and other outdoor wear for kids.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bothy Bags to keep us warm.

Bothy bags are survival tents and last week we used one!  Teacher Roo brought her Bothy Bag to TOP thinking that we might want to warm up since the weather was in the low 20's.  After making our valentine bags inside our own little Farrel House, we marched outside to run around and have fun with the balls and wagon.  Soon it was time for circle time and Teacher Roo taught us all how to set up the Bothy and get inside it.  It seemed like a magic trick to get all of us into that small space.  We crowned in and put the sides of the Bothy under our bottoms.  Not everyone was keen on the idea of squeezing in there-but we all managed.  Pretty soon we were singing the Good Morning song and taking off our gloves and hats. The Bothy held in our natural warmth making it possible to tell stories and sing many songs in spite of the fact that the ground below us was frozen.

After coming out of the Bothy and getting everyone's gloves and hats situated again, we headed out together to find the frozen parts of the park.  There was ice to break and smash and slide over.  There was our favorite hill to slide down, logs to balance on and cool bubbled frozen bits next to the streams.
Everyone kept moving and no one complained about the cold!  We did eat lunch indoors-the first time in 2 years. These kids are hearty, dressed warmly and fun to be around!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bellis the Cow, Mud and Ice!

We were lucky to have a special time with Bellis the cow and Farmer Elise today.  Farmer Elise talked to us while she brushed Bellis and changed out her water.  Bellis seemed to enjoy being taken care of and we enjoyed watching her use her long tongue to lick the clean water.  Bellis is pregnant and due to give birth any day now.  One of these days we will arrive at Farrel McWhirter to meet a new calf!  How exciting!

There was ice on the mud and mole hills today.  The kids picked up ice crystals and some wanted to take their ice home.  I wonder how long it lasted in the car?
Some of the kids found the mud and tromped around in it.  Others wanted to climb on the "castle."  The castle is a big Douglas Fir stump with lots of climbing possibilities. 

The blue group today ended up on a very long hike around the perimeter of the park.  Don't be surprised if you little blue TOP kid is very tired today!

We ended the day eating in the mild sunshine.  Please know that we are doing our best to keep the TOP kids warm.  We kept on the move today with fun games like Red Light, Green Light, Blue Light and Yellow Light!  (You can ask your kids what we do when the other colors are called! ) We also learned to swing our arms around and did some jumping and dancing.  If the weather gets too cold on Thursday we have the option to eat lunch indoors.  If you have hand warmers I recommend you open them at home before you leave so they are starting to get warm when you arrive.  They can take an 1/2 hour to warm up.  Then they last for 4-8 hours afterwards!

Thank you for trusting your kids to TOP during this winter session!  We are still having lots of fun in the cold!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tree dust and BIG Animal Prints!

Wow!  Those are big animal prints! 

On Monday my tiny treks class found large animal prints in the mud next to the first little bridge at Farrel McWhirter Park.  So I downloaded a bunch of images of possible large animals and their prints to have The Outdoor Preschool kids help to figure out what animal they might be from.

We had a neat time learning about animal prints.  We checked out and counted how many toes the animal had.  Could we see claws?  Yes!  That probably means not a cat.  I have to say I was a little relieved that it probably wasn't a cougar.  A large coyote?  Maybe.  Definitely not a bear.  Everyone was very attentive and watched and listened carefully to the information and comparisons to the photos I brought. 
After our lesson on animal prints we hiked until we came to on of the kids secret spot.  As the kids ran under the trees they were excited and shocked to see that there was a new dead tree down in the stream.  We searched the area until we found the tree stump it came from.  As we examined it we found the inside of the tree had turned to mush!  The kids were eager to dig their hands into the sawdust middle of the tree.
They were all walking around with this soft, smushy decomposed tree dust and squeezing it into shapes with their little hands.   We talked about how this tree wasn't a healthy tree and we observed that bugs had been eating the tree as well.  We wondered how the tree had gotten into the stream from the stump and when it came down.  Maybe in the last storm?

Who knows what wonders we will find next time at The Outdoor Preschool?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Creativity and Democracy

The sun was shining and all was right in the world. 

One thing I love about The Outdoor Preschool kids is that all it takes is putting out a toy and they get right to "work".  Usually one of them decides how to use a new tool-in this case shovels and pails-then pretty soon many of them follow the idea.  It takes very little direction from us as teachers. 

There is new research that has come to light about what happens when you "show" a child how to use a toy.  The toy that has been given without any instructions is used the most creatively.  A toy that is shown how to be played with is often played with only one way. 
Yesterday cups and straws were offered out by the swings and soon the kids were making "ice cream" and "smoothies" with their utensils.  This play was spontaneous and deep learning was happening on many levels.  There was creativity going on, sharing, social interaction and fine motor skills to name a few.

On the swings the kids are learning how democracy works.  After the kids clamber onto the swings and before I begin pushing, I  tell the kids to ask their friends on the swing if they want to go high or low, fast or slow.  This gets the kids talking to each other about what they want and like.  Often one of the children doesn't want to go high or fast.  The other children sometimes seem a little disappointed but they go with the flow and have a slower ride.  After they have swung for a while I might say-some kids want to go high and fast.  How about if we give them a turn?  The children who don't like the wild ride will get off voluntarily and let the other kids have their turn. After doing this for a month the kids will begin to automatically ask the other kids on the swing how they want to be pushed as soon as they get on.  I like to think that this exercise in asking what others want in a ride will extend to their life.  Perhaps they will learn to communicate their own desires and how to listen to others.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mud slides can be like a sledding hill

When I began The Outdoor Preschool, I couldn't have imagined some of the things kids would find fun.  In the 3 years since I began TOP I have learned just as much from the kids as they have learned from me.  I didn't know that kids could find a steep dirt bank with a trail next to it as compelling as a sledding slope would be.
Once the kids figured out that a dirt/mud bank can be a bit slippery it became the place to be for the morning.  The kids eagerly ran up the bank, giggling and yelling to their friends and laughing as they slipped down.  They were careful to not knock over the other kids and no one got hurt or pushed. 

Other kids decided they wanted to run down the hill on the trail right next to the mud slide.  We hiked up and ran down, hiked up and ran down, hiked up and ran down-you get the picture.  Over and over-just like you would with a sled or on skis. As we ran down we  made noises and some of us put out our arms like we were flying.  Again and again.  Each time we picked up a few more kids until we had about 8 kids running down the hill together.  Again, no one got run over or pushed out of the way-everyone was aware of their body in space even though they were eager to go as fast as they could.

The Outdoor Preschool kids learn how to use their bodies in safe ways because they are out there-where there are no straight lines or man made play grounds.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cooperation, communication and exploration!

I am so glad to be back after our long break and then having the flu.  The kids seemed happy to be back too!  We have a new student, Alexis and next week we will have another new student, Finn.  It is always fun to get to know a new friend at school and it gives all of the kids a chance to practice going over our safety rules and our routine-such as it is.
After a rousing circle time with many people telling what they had gotten for Christmas or where they had traveled, the yellow group was off into the woods.  We started with an exploration of a spot where wild mushrooms had been prolific.  The kids were really wondering where the mushrooms had gone.  When we couldn't find any sign of them, the kids had lots of questions and ideas about where they might have gone. 

During story time we were being serenaded by a perhaps confused frog in the winter.  We spent some time at the stream searching for this frog. We didn't find him but saw some rocks that kind of looked like it could be a frog.

As we trekked along the very familiar trail Adela wanted to climb on a log that we had never noticed.  Bo shouted out "Be careful of the skunk cabbage!"  Then she looked and they were all gone!  Kids were picking up some strange dead plants and showing them to me.  "What is this Teacher Ann?"  It was remnant of the horse tail plant.  All of this dead material led to a discussion about what survives the winter and what dies.

Up at the top of the trail there was another area we had never noticed.  This one with an enticingly big downed log.  Conrad led the way and scrambled up the side and over the log.  Everyone wanted to follow but they weren't sure how to accomplish this.  They turned to me for help but I said I could only help them a little bit. There was a lot of discussion about how to get up.  Pretty soon a couple of the bigger kids had gotten up on their own.  But the smaller ones still hadn't figured it out.  I mentioned that it looked like you could go over the log OR under the log as there was a big opening under the big log.  So Iris checked that out and saw the other side.  Pretty soon they were helping each other up the log.  You can see Bo pushing up Cooper while Conrad helps to pull him up.  They all made it up on the log.  Some over to the other side and some stayed on this side.  We played on this new climbing structure for a long time till we had to rush back for lunch. I'm sure we'll be back there again-bringing the other kids there or remembering how to get up and over. 

Another successful day of cooperation, communication and exploration!