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After a few weeks break due to teacher training and dangerous weather conditions, the Forest Friends united again! Since Ohio decided to give us some record breaking weather conditions this New Year, we moved our Forest Adventures to W.W. Knight Nature Preserve this week and secured an indoor space for the safety of small fingers and noses if we found ourselves to be too cold. Friday turned out to be a bit colder than predicted but we persevered and began our day at the Nature Center.
Some days things just don't go as planned, but part of the beauty of a Forest School is those days lead to some of the best discoveries and bonding. We found that a lot of our day ended up revolving around exploring our 5 senses. Our Forest Friends had quite a bit of energy to wear off after several days of being cooped up inside and our space at the Nature Center worked wonderfully for them. They were able to let off a little steam by playing animal games and every child's favorite, chase. Once the Explorers had worked out their energy we sat down and created fire starters together using wax paper and an old candle. Our Adventurers had a wonderful time exploring some of their 5 senses during this project. They could smell the candle's scent, hear the wax paper crinkle, feel the wax on their hands... they really enjoyed the sensory experience of the wax and worked together to figure out how to break the old candle into pieces suited for small fire starters. They took turns breaking the candle a part with a stick, then using a grater to churn the candle into shaved pieces. This activity helped our Adventurers develop camaraderie as a group and problem-solving/social skills as well as practicing their fine motor skills.
After some play time in the Nature Center's Children's Room (we highly recommend you take your child here if you have not, they have some great hands-on activities that change with the seasons), we got ready to venture outdoors. We spent nearly 30 minutes dressing each child appropriately for temperatures in the mid teens, but it was all worth it for the fun we had at the Natural Play Space at W.W. Knight.
Our Forest Friends wasted no time and immediately began doing what children do best, playing. They were not bothered by the mid teen temperatures, their faces were flushed with excitement and heat as they trampled through the snow, climbing on stumps, fallen trees, and forts. Yet again we can hear our Explorers reaching out to one another for help and asking to help others as they reach new heights in their exploration. Their senses were tested as they climbed on iced/snowy branches and logs for the first time this session. They tested their sight to see where the snow had turned to ice, or branches may be reaching out dangerously; they used their sense of touch to know when a branch was stable enough to support their weight. As observers, the parents and teachers worked hard to let them learn their own limitations and use words that could help them on their way; instead of simply saying "be careful!" we tried to use words like, "watch the way the branch is bending as you step on it, do you think it can hold your weight?" We discussed with the Adventurers that if they felt they were unstable the best thing to do is to get themselves to their belly and slide down whatever obstacle they were on with their toes pointed towards the ground, ensuring that they have the best reach and will land on their feet and not fall.
We gathered for a sit spot on the raised platform created by weaved branches and enjoyed herbal Apple Cinnamon tea. The Forest Friends enjoyed the mini break but were back at it exploring the woods. This time many of them ventured off independently exploring, showing a growth of self-assurance and confidence. After awhile the Forest Friends came to the decision that they wanted to return indoors for a warm snack of oatmeal and toppings. As we trekked back to the Nature Center we observed the ice underneath the snow on the trail and how the snow provided our feet with more friction and traction than the ice might have offered. We talked about the frozen ponds that were covered with snow now and camouflaged into the Winter wonderland now.
We enjoyed hot oatmeal, craisins, sunflower seeds, and dried figs upon our return inside and a special guest, Chris, appeared with a spectacular show. Chris was the man in charge of feeding the snake and turtles that reside in the room we reserved. Our little Adventurers can now say they have had lunch with a snake as we watched Chris tempt the snake with a dead mouse, he played the show up for the children by giving a playful commentary of the mouse trying to run away and hide from the snake. When the snake grabbed for the mouse to strangle it there was an audible gasp from both children and adults at the wonder of nature. Our Forest Friends were fascinated by the snake as it ate the mouse whole from head to tail. What a treat for the senses of sight and sound to observe the snake and his caregiver, Chris.
Once the snake had finished its meal the Adventurers attention was turned to a new project: mapping . Sherri had the children retrace our steps through the park and draw out a map of our excursion. She explained that by asking the Explorers to rethink their adventures through mapping, they would develop a sense of noting their surroundings and direction when encountering spaces. Something fun to practice with your child at home is to ask them to create maps of their home or backyard. You can make it doubly fun by making the map a treasure map with a goal to find a simple treasure, such as a rock or special toy, where X marks the spot.
We ended the day with a story and a treasure hunt. Sherri told the Forest Friends the story of The Mitten and then asked the parents to hide white circle cut-outs of animals and people from the story for the children to find and then place on a matching grid. The children were thrilled with the hunt and ran all around the room picking up "treasures" and helping one another find their own. After all the spots were found they met to match their animals and people to the grid. They used their sight to locate the "treasures" and they worked on developing recognition as they placed matching pictures to their homes on the paper. This activity provides teamwork and independent play as the Explorers worked together to find treasures for the team as a whole. An additional round of treasure hunting was requested as the last activity for the day as the Forest Friends wanted to hide the treasures themselves as well.
It was a great class this week, we were so grateful to W.W. Knight Nature Preserve for providing us with the space to warm our hearts and hands as Ohio brings in the blistering winter weather. We have another short break due to teacher training but look forward to meeting up with everyone at our next session!