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!