Our Tuesday Forest Play sessions have been in full swing since the winter holidays with only a couple of cancellations due to extreme weather. Spring is here and we’ve been exploring some very special habitats at our favourite forest. The kids were so excited to spot water snakes, water striders, and dragonfly nymphs. This was the second time the kids were here (sadly the girls and I missed out last week) and I know there were lots of exciting discoveries made the week before. A big thank you to Andrea for taking the lead and introducing our group to vernal pools, and next week to Bird and Frog Songs!
“Vernal ponds are temporary wetlands that fill after the snowfall each spring. They become the seasonal breeding and feeding grounds for many intriguing amphibians and insects, as well as the reptiles, birds, and mammals that depend on them for food. you may have been led to this pond by the unmistakable sounds of spring peepers and wood frogs calling for a mate.
If you crouch by the water’s edge, you’ll find an entire community of creatures. you might witness the bustling activity of salamanders, frogs, toads, and newts that have come to breed, as well as all kinds of aquatic insects and their eggs that will develop over the spring months. Jellylike masses and strings of eggs will be visible in the water and on the pond vegetation, where salamanders and frogs have left them behind.
Vernal ponds are extraordinary wetlands fascinating to observe and essential to the lives of many woodland species. With the rapid population declines of so many amphibian species, it’s crucial that these often unnoticed habitats be recognized and protected.” – Vernal Ponds: Seasonal Habitats for Wildlife
Inspired by the educators at Forest School Canada, authors like Peter Gray and Richard Louv, I made a commitment last fall to not only get my girls out in nature on a regular basis but the kids in our homeschool community as well. With that, Tuesday’s “Free Range Forest Play” sessions were born. I see this as my first step towards a full-fledged Forest School in the future.
The idea was simple, to bring together parents and children in a beautiful natural location where the children can explore freely, play freely, build freely, take risks, solve conflicts, and ultimately exert full control over how they spend their time in nature (no adult directed agenda).
Parents were encouraged to spend time together away from the playing children in the woods. It all evolved naturally, some days we were all in the woods together, some days the parents shared, connected and commiserated at the picnic table over the joys and hardships that come with homeschooling spirited young ones. Friendships were strengthened, new skills were shared and learned and most importantly we built a community. A community that is growing and at the heart of it, is creating a much-needed safe, natural space for the children to be well, children.
There’s never a shortage of amazing places and programs to take our children to. GRCA’s nature programs are available to all and often get booked for school field trips, scout trips and of course homeschoolers. Our local group of homeschoolers is amazing and the parents are so active in the community arranging and organizing a huge variety of field trips on a regular basis. Alicia arranged this (6? or 8?) week program for us and naturally, I jumped on the opportunity to get my wildings outside some more (thanks Alicia!)
Week 1 started with a Water Study!
Heidi was the youngest of the group and the oldest I believe was 11. I love when little ones get to participate in group activities with older kids. There’s so much valuable learning happening and it benefits both the littles and the older kids in very different ways.
Have you heard of a Sit Spot? Or a Magic Spot? A place you go to in nature, alone, to just be and take in all that’s around you. You sit still and quiet and become invisible, a part of the landscape and all of a sudden the magic of the natural world unfolds around you. A place you go to again and again. There’s been so much written about meditation and the benefits of mindfulness and this is a way to get all those same benefits while opening the door to deep connections with the wild around you.
A Sit Spot can become like an anchor in your life — a place to settle down, cultivate present-moment awareness and a quieter mind, and to observe the flow of reality occurring around you. It’s also a place where you can notice what the animals are up to. And they can get to know you. By visiting your Sit Spot, you may begin to discover which birds tend to sing first at sunrise, the circuit a mother raccoon follows each morning with her little ones, where the deer like to bed down, and where a robin sits fluffed over sky-blue eggs. Over time, you can notice the changes that occur with the inhabitants of your spot, how they interact, what their rhythms and routines are, and where new events come into play.
Sitting in the pews at Lakeside Hope House in Guelph, waiting to hear Richard Louv (author, journalist and co-founder of Children and Nature Network) and Jon Young (naturalist, author, and mentor) speak the excitement in the air was palpable. Last night was an evening of sharing stories, connection, and affirmation for the simple truths that resonate with all of us. It was an urging to get back to nature, to get back outside and to facilitate meaningful time in nature for all the children in our lives. There’s no longer a doubt about the profound healing effects and the absolute necessity of immersion amongst trees, meadows, and beautiful spaces the natural world has to offer.
Richard and Jon took that one step further and asserted that nature connection is as essential to our well-being, as water, food, and air. It’s essential to our children’s mental health and a birthright that needs to be honored for all. We know this. I know it, you know it, and yet a shift happened, something changed and our children are now suffering because of it. This change crept up on us and we didn’t notice at first. We’ve been so busy, working so much, life is speeding up and we can’t seem to slow down. Thankfully we have people like Richard and Jon and countless others who are so wonderfully advocating for that which we know is true. Through their work, mentorship, training and encouragement, parents and educators all over the world are turning the tide in their community. Continue Reading…
I’ve loved the principles of alternative education since I first came across them, the innovative schools around the world approaching education and students in a completely different way resonated deeply. I’ve always been a little (recently more than a little) on the banks of the mainstream current, and it makes me happy. I’ve played with the idea of starting an alternative school, a forest school and would whisper it to close friends who encourage me, pushed me to turn that whisper into more.
It’s happening now, and it’s because of all the support, encouragement and love I’ve received from the community around me. Thank you so much to each and every one of you that are walking this way with me. It wouldn’t be happening without you.
So, I’d like to share with you our favourite nature journal. It’s the first book we reach for when we plan to spend some time outside.
And the first one Amina excitedly grabs to record her animal, bird or flower drawings. It’s filled with beautiful illustrations and helpful guides as well as plenty of pages to record your own. Continue Reading…
We’re finally settling in after an adventurous few weeks (posts about that coming later!) spent camping at some of our favourite places. We’ve had time to explore together, push personal boundaries and discover beautiful new locations.
Best of all, our girls had the opportunity to make connections with kids of all ages and the freedom to explore away from our watchful gaze. By now I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “free range kids” and you’ve come to some conclusions about what that entails.
For me, it means allowing our girls to have the space and freedom to discover just how much they’re capable of, just how competent they really are and to practice self-reliance and problem solving on their own. But it’s also so much more than that. It’s challenging my own belief systems, the ones that urge me to keep them close, keep them safe. The ones that flash worst case scenarios in my mind until I feel my chest tighten.
We have bi-weekley scheduled hikes with Certified Ontario Hike Leader Jeff Campbell. We were fortunate enough to hike the Webster’s Falls trail just recently as it has now been closed to the public. It was a challenging hike with huge parts of the trail completely eroded away. The kids all loved it of course and we stopped a few times to let them explore some steep hills and rocky areas. We ended our hike at the bottom of the falls where Heidi in typical fashion demanded to get naked so she could swim “in my pool”.
I’m registered and will be attending Forest School Canada’s Practitioner’s Course . This will allow me to eventually have a certified Forest School, its the very first step. A type of first step that I haven’t taken since my eldest was born. I’m so excited and so ready for this! Ottawa here I come! (In a few months that is lol).
This course will give educators the pedagogical and practical tools they need to safely and effectively establish and run their own quality Forest and Nature School programs. Themes to be covered include Pedagogy and Theory, Practical Skills, and Establishment and Delivery. There is a strong emphasis in this course on self-directed learning, experiential learning, inquiry-based learning, and place-based education. These are the underpinnings of Forest and Nature School, and through this course you will have an opportunity to experience first hand this kind of learning, in order to then shift into being this kind of educator.
The course consists of a five-day intensive, residential program where all educators stay on site to facilitate the formation of a ‘community of practice’. These five days are physically and mentally engaging, and are meant to be a transformative and immersive nature-based experience for those involved. Following these five days, educators return home to launch into course work, which includes developing a portfolio, various assignments, delivering six practice Forest School sessions to a student group, and video documentation of your practice. During this time you will be assessed to ensure you are meeting all course assessment criteria, and best practices in the Forest and Nature School field.