For three glorious Wednesday mornings, Ashwood’s newest Early Childhood program, the Forest Kindergarten, has been going to the woods! When the children arrive at school, they put their backpacks, containing a full water bottle and a change of clothes, on an outside bench, go to the bathroom, then don their rain pants and say goodbye to their parents.
Once everyone has arrived, we say goodbye to Ms. Beth and the children in her group. The children take their backpacks, Jen and I hoist our bags (the teachers’ bags carry a water jug, towels, snack food, ropes, tools…) onto our backs, we sing a gathering song, and head for the woods; one adult in front (usually holding a hand or two), the other at the back.
The morning walk is a very social time. Children have many stories to tell, usually triggered by something we see. Looking at tracks: “Oh, I wonder which animal passed through this muddy puddle?” Stories emerge from the children, often based on their observations or experiences and always enriched by their imagination.
On our way we greet “grandfather maple tree”; we notice his little round holes from the sap collected in past winters (an occasion for children to tell about maple syrup experiences, pancake breakfasts, etc.) We tell him how we look forward to collecting some of his sap late next winter. We notice “squirrels’ restaurants,” stumps covered in acorn or pinecone debris; see how this week there are many more yellow leaves…. Marvel at how Big Rock sits all alone at the edge of the woods…. Many of those passing remarks and the stories we create and tell are foundations for future scientific learning. In the Forest Kindergarten we observe, marvel, wonder, and learn to feel at home in the woods.
When we arrive to our “home clearing” by the stream, we have a short greeting and seasonal circle, a game or two, and then the children take off to play. During that time the teachers, always with some children’s help, occupy themselves at preparing our snack; tying colored strings between trees to mark the boundaries; fixing tools; building a temporary shelter (ropes and a tarp, until we have a permanent one). These activities render our space more hospitable and allow us teachers to roam close by without hovering over the children. We influence or transform (if necessary) the children’s play without words, just by imitation. The children play in total freedom and safety!
With a flute song, the children are called to snack. Mud-covered hands are roughly washed in some puddles before a real tub wash, a rinse with clear water from our jug, and drying. We sit on the leafy ground, around a tablecloth, sing a grace in French, eat our snack, and return to play until story time, at the end of the morning. Then we go back to Rosewood, dirty, hungry, and tired. What a treat to arrive to a classroom where the table is set and lunch smells SO GOOD! The “indoor” kindergarteners and their teacher have been busy! The Forest Kindergarten day ends with cleaning up, changing into clean clothes, and sitting at the table for a lunch of delicious soup!